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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Keeping Money In Its Place

Here's a little experiment I want you to try. All you need is a Bible and a quarter. Put the Bible on a table or counter top in front of you. Now closely inspect the quarter. Make sure there are no holes in it and it has the right dead President on it. Now stand about 3 feet from the Bible holding the quarter in your right hand between your thumb and index finger. While looking at the Bible, close your left eye. Slowly lift the quarter in front of your face, holding it at arms length between you and your Bible. Now slowly bring the quarter towards your open right eye. Bring it closer and closer until it covers your right eye. Now don't poke your eye out with it. Ok, now the observations.
Notice when you had the quarter at arms length you could still see your Bible? And notice how the closer you brought that quarter to your eye, the less of your Bible you could see? And I would guess that once you covered your eye, unless it had holes in it, or you cheated, you could hardly see your Bible or anything else. Ok, now the conclusions.
Without a doubt, we need money. It is a part of this world that we live in and there is nothing wrong with us getting it, having it or using it. But I hope you will see from this simple illustration, that we need to keep it in the proper perspective in our lives. If it's all we desire, all we think about, all we hope for, then it will blind us from the things of God and many other important things as well. But if we keep it in its proper place in our hearts and minds, then we can get it, have it and use it and it won't affect our relationship with God or others.
The Lord knows that we have the tendency to get all funny when it comes to money. Which is why He gives us clear and loving warning in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 "But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows."
So keep money in it's place, and keep your eyes on God!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Blessing of an Unanswered Prayer

I'm about to make a statement, and some of you will immediately understand what I'm saying. Some of you haven't thought about it or yet realized it. Some of you may think I'm full of it. Which is ok, and which is why God is leading me to post this. So, here's the statement.
Sometimes the best answer to a prayer is when that prayer goes unanswered...(Pause to let that bell finish let me ring it again). Sometimes the best answer to a prayer is when that prayer goes unanswered.
Now let me share a story to help you understand how I see this. So, I went to college to be a Social Studies teacher. I majored in History and minored in Education. I finished my coursework, did my student teaching, graduated, and shortly after got a job. I taught two years at Southeast Halifax High School then moved to Beddingfield High School in Wilson. Before I left Southeast, I started working on my master's degree in school administration. My plans were to teach a few years, and then work my way up the administration ranks to the superintendent's office. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my oldest brother Ralph, who had done the same. I really admired him, and still do. Well, while in graduate school, things got pretty rough. Tonya and I started a family, and in case you didn't know, teachers don't make a whole lot for the professionals they are; especially new teachers. Grad school and the travel back and forth was expensive, and the schedule was taking a toll on me. Then, I heard of a program called the Principal Fellows program. It paid for full-time grad school and you worked a part-time internship that also paid. I was like, "Thank You Lord, that is for me!". So I applied for it. I was a babe in Christ at that time, but I knew enough to pray over my application. I felt I was a shoo-in. I was young, ambitious and was making pretty good grades in grad school up to that point. Not to mention...I prayed over my application.
Well, a few weeks later I get a letter from the office of that program. It was a thin letter. You know that's usually not a good sign, because it only takes one page to say "no". But hey, I had prayed over it, so I figured the first letter was to tell me yes, and all the other paperwork would follow. Weeell, I opened it...and it was a no. But, but...I had prayed over it?! It was what I wanted....what I needed....and I had prayed over it. I was devastated. I hadn't thought out a plan B, and honestly I felt let down by God. And that unanswered prayer rested on my heart for some time. I still believed in the Lord, and I still prayed to Him. But I have to admit that for a long time after that, many of my prayers were lobbed up to Heaven followed by a question mark.
Fast forward over many mountains, and through many valleys in my life with God, and I see things differently now. I see that we all have a limited perspective of the world. We can't possibly see the grand plan God has laid out for us. At the time, I couldn't have possibly known that God's plan for me didn't include that program. I didn't know that He was going to switch my careers and lead me to a bi-vocational pastoral ministry with the job I have now. Oh I wish I had the time to share with you all the doors that have closed in my life and all the others that have opened. Let's just say that where I am right now is where God wants me to be, and I would not be where I am if I had gotten into that program. And it is because that and many other things that happened to me are the reasons I can stand flat-footed and say, sometimes the best answer to a prayer is when that prayer goes unanswered.
If you are discouraged because a prayer of yours has gone unanswered, be encouraged in knowing that God's plan is best. Faith requires not only that we believe in Him when we can't see Him, but also that we trust Him when we don't understand Him. His plan for your life is better than the one you've already mapped out, simply because He can see from your beginning all the way to your end. So keep on praying, even when some prayers go unanswered, because it's the conversation with God that brings you closer. Then you will see the blessing of an unanswered prayer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Learn to Like the Rules

Let me ask you this. (About to get up in your business alert!) Did you ever go through a period in your life where one or both of your parents had to stand flat-footed, with finger in your face and say these words, "As long as you live in my house, you will live by my rules", or something to that effect? Oh, you there...that happened to you? More than once? Yeah, I kinda thought so. You over there...never? You sure? Well, bless your heart.
I have to admit that I have, and it's not a nice memory. We all know that kind of statement doesn't come after you've done something good. No parent has ever said those words after you've done all your chores, or brought home straight A's, or ate all your broccoli . No, those words came after you broke their rules. And usually it wasn't a minor infraction either.
If the truth be told, those were words I didn't want to hear, but I desperately needed to hear. I needed those words firmly spoken to snap me out of whatever kind of nonsense I was into. And I knew when I heard those words I had a choice to make. Either I was going to live by their rules, or I was not living in their house. I'm not sure where I was going to go, but I was certainly going to have to leave from there.
Now my initial response to a talking like that from my parents was not an immediate "I sure do appreciate that". In fact my knee-jerk response was to want to talk back, or to walk out the house slamming a door behind me. The fact that I am here to type this post lets you know I didn't do either of those. I just sat there and gritted my teeth while staring at the floor. But over time, I realized they were right and I was wrong, and I needed that reminder about their rules. I shudder to think where I would have ended up had I totally rejected their rules.
Now that I and most of you are grown and setting our own rules, we may think we don't have anyone to answer to. But we still have rules to follow, and if you're a Christian like me, they include God's rules. The Bible is full of them. In scripture they're called commandments, laws, decrees, precepts, and statutes. Though some may not feel this way, God's rules are no more meant to hurt us or steal our fun than our parents rules were. Yet so many reject God because they don't want to accept His rules. While others want to pick and choose which of His rules they want to follow. But here is the truth, and you'd do well to listen closely. God's house...God's rules! Sure we're saved by grace and not by works. I mean my parents loved me even when I was breaking their rules. But they weren't going to tolerate my rule-breaking because of that love. In fact, it was their love that prompted them to discipline me. Same way with God. It might not feel like it at the time, but His rules are meant for our good.
So even now, when God has to have that talk with me, I try to keep my heart soft enough to receive it even when my head isn't. And my prayer is that I can continue to grow into these words written in Psalm 119: 9-16
"How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Let's Get Focused!

Over the last few years, I have grown to love watching football. I guess one of the reasons is because it's an escape. It has absolutely nothing to do with my responsibilities in life. But also I have developed a real respect for the players. I'm amazed not only by the athletic gift they have to do what they do on the field, but I am also impressed by the athletic intelligence it takes for them to play on the professional level.
A game I watched last year comes to mind between the Patriots and the Jets. I'm a Panthers fan, so I didn't have any emotions invested on either side to win. I was kind of pulling for the Jets, because I think the young quarterback starting at the time has potential, and I was afraid if they lost too many more they might bench him. He played pretty well that game. In fact he kept them in the game against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady.

It boiled down to one last field goal attempt by the Jets. The Patriots were only leading by 2, so a 3 pt field goal would have won it for them. Though it was from 58 yards, the Jets' kicker was capable of making it, and the Patriots knew it. The ball was snapped and set. The kicker took his couple of steps forward and kicked it with everything he ha. As soon as his foot hit the ball, the Jets on the sidelines were already jumping up to cheer for their win. But that's when the Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones jumped off the line, raised both hands and swatted the ball right out of the sky. Boy, talk about taking the wind out of somebody's sail. The whole Jets team looked like they were hyperventilating in disbelief.
I was thinking about what it took for Chris Jones to be able to hit that ball when he had those big bodies blocking him. Not to mention that ball was firing off the kickers foot like a rocket. I believe it was his focus. He was able to tune out the crowd, look past the snarls of the offensive linemen, ignore any expectation they would lose the game, and concentrate on that ball. Now that is focus!
That blocked kick reminded me I need to be more focused too. Though I won't ever throw, catch or block an NFL football, I do have a job to do and a position to play. Except my field is the whole world, my game clock reads 'eternity', my goal is heaven, my opponent is my own sin and a team of spiritual forces, and satan is their quarterback. But I need God's help to move past my last play, whether it was a field goal or a fumble. I need to remember that no points have ever been gained by running in the wrong direction. My focus needs to not be on my past but on God's future. I need the Lord to help me clear my head and my heart and block out the noise of the crowd, whether they are cheering me on or booing me out. I want to be useful on the team called the Heavenly Saints, but I need to hear from God my coach to know what to do next. And I need to focus!
I ask that you focus on your own life for a minute. Have you joined the team? No, I don't mean have you joined the church. Have you joined the team? Everybody in the stadium is not on the team, just like everybody in church is not saved. Some are just spectators. If you haven't already, then you need to! We are winning and I don't want you to be left standing on the sideline with your head hung down. I want you to be in the end zone with me celebrating. But don't wait to decide. Just look around. The game clock is ticking down fast. Let's get focused!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Just Keep Pedaling

I was recently thinking that I need to get me another bike. I should have kept the one I used to have back when we lived in Rocky Mount. I used to enjoy riding it. Oh...and when I was a boy..riding my bike was my thing. I used to ride my bike all the time and all over the place.
I guess times were different then. Once I got up past 10 years old, my friends and would ride our bikes all up and down the roads. In fact I was thinking about one day I told my dad that instead of riding with him up to the farm, which was about 5 miles away, I wanted to ride my bike, and he said ok. There were a few different ways I could go, so I had to weigh out my options based on factors like traffic, number of hills, distance, and of course the most important one...dogs! When you know your neighborhood and you spend a lot of time riding your bike around it, you learn where the untied dogs are, and which are the baddest and the fastest. Unfortunately, all of my options on that day had at least one bad dog along the way.
So, I made my choice, and I chose to go the way where I would pass a dog named Sam. I knew all about Sam because he was one of my friend's dogs, and Sam was fierce. So, as I was coming down the road approaching Sam's house, I was getting my strategy together, which I planned to be one of stealth and quickness. I thought I could catch him sleeping or looking the other way and quickly but quietly zoom past Sam's house. That didn't work. Obviously Sam wasn't asleep like I'd hoped, and the chain on my bike wasn't as quiet as I thought. Needless to say, Sam was already stretched out charging across the yard before I even got to it. He wasn't running towards me, he was running towards where he knew I would be by the time he got to the road. It was like he had drawn a triangle, calculated the math, and solved the word problem. So not only was I dealing with a mean dog, and a fast dog, but also a smart dog. I thought my saving grace was coming when I saw my friend's mom in the yard watering flowers. But Sam ignored her repeated calls to come back. He was locked in like a leg-seeking missile.
So in a matter of seconds I had to decide what to do. Should I keep going or should I stop and go back the other way. But, in that brief moment I thought to myself that I had already ridden about 3 miles and I had to make up a really steep hill to get to where I was. I realized that was too much work to have to turn back. So I decided I was going to do the only thing I thought I could do...I kept on pedaling.

I must say that Sam was pretty determined because he chased me a long way. Not to mention just past his house I had to go up another hill. So there I was being chased by a dog up a hill. But, I felt like my only option was still the same...keep on pedaling.
Well, my typing this post is testimony that I survived Sam. But there are a lot of difficult things I still face in this life. Maybe they don't growl and run on all fours, but they are just as viscous and intent on getting me as Sam was. Even recently I have had some days that I felt like I was being chased by a mean dog up a steep hill. But I believe that God reminded me of that story to tell me that He has had to bring me up too many high hills, lifted me out of too many problems, delivered me from too many sins for me to even think about turning back now. So Lord I won't. I will just do the only thing I can do, and that's to keep on pedaling.
I thank God that there is no hill I will climb and no Sam I will face...alone. The Lord has always kept His promise to be with me always, and for that I love Him. .

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Don't Throw Away the Whole Apple

Two apples sitting on the counter in our kitchen caught my attention. They have been there for a few days, and I was thinking that I need to go ahead and eat them before they go bad. I love apples and should eat more of them. I think I got my taste for apples from my dad. Growing up, he was always buying apples; even had apple trees in our yard. He liked to peel his before he ate them. I loved to watch him pull out his pocket knife and attempt the cut the peel off, starting at the top then all the way down in one piece without it breaking. Often he could, and I was really impressed. Then he would cut a big piece off and give it to me.
When it was one of the apples off the trees in our yard or on the farm, when he cut it, he would inspect it before he gave it to me. He was making sure it didn't have a worm in it. Sometimes I thought he was being too cautious because the apple would look perfect on the outside, no sign of a worm hole or a soft spot. But he told me that sometimes even the prettiest of apples could still have a worm in it. So I would look at an unpeeled apple and try to figure out how could a worm sneak in without leaving a trace. Daddy explained to me that there were certain types of flies and moths that would lay their eggs on the apple bud just when it was barely sprouted out from the branches, and as the bud grew into an apple, the egg would be already growing inside. Once that egg turned into a worm-like larvae, it would start eating the apple from the inside out.
I must say that is pretty ingenious for God to give that wisdom to those insects. But it can make for a bad experience for me with an apple. There is a joke I heard a long time ago that goes..'What's worse than finding a worm in your apple?..finding half a worm'. Perhaps worse than that is biting into an apple, seeing where the worm has been, but finding not worm at all. That has happened to me, and to this day I am reluctant to eat apples right off the tree.
Sometimes I see my own and other people's experience with church sort of like biting into those apples. I have been a member of 3 different churches. I have visited too many to count. I have had the perspective from the back pew to the pulpit and everywhere in between. And in my life, I have witnessed people catch their first view of church; often looking at it like a shiny red apple. There is something about it that appeals to them as they view it from the outside. Maybe it's the building, or the fellowship, or the prayer, or the music, or the preaching, or the members, or whatever it is. But it looks appealing to them. So they decide to take a bite, whether that be they come for the first time, or come back for the umteenth time, or may they decide to join or to sign up to serve in some way in the church. But then as they bite deeper, they stay longer, or they work harder, at some point they encounter a worm.

It could be a small worm like maybe a negative comment, or a small disagreement, or it could be a really big worm like false teaching creeping into the pulpit or a leader in the church being exposed on some horrible sin. Whatever it may be, I have seen people bite that apple to reveal a worm and so they decide to throw the apple away. They stop growing, they stop serving, or even they stop going.
My prayer is that God will remind me and others who've had experiences with worms that He gave us His perfect Word to learn and His perfect Son to follow with His perfect Spirit to guide us. And that He have given us this to be done in a local body of believers, we call the church, which is filled with imperfect people...including me. We are all born with the worm of sin already within us, and our struggle TOGETHER is to seek God so it won't eat us from the inside out. We need to be reminded that an occasional worm is not worth throwing away the whole apple.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hold Back the Hulk Inside

I was watching some of the movie The Avengers the other night with my family (notice I said "some", because I fell asleep in the middle of it). I was noticing how some of my favorite comic characters have been given a serious upgrade since when I watched them as a kid. Especially the Incredible Hulk.
I remember as a boy watching the live action series on the Hulk. In fact I saw that version before I ever saw the cartoon or comic book version of him. At first I was afraid to watch it because even the end of intro of the show has this green monster standing in the dark with lightning flashing behind him as he raged in the rain. But I watched it anyway. Even though it was a simpler version compared to today's high tech adaptation, Bill Bixby's portrayal of David Banner and Lou Ferrigno's green body painted portrayal of the Hulk drew me in week after week. The thing to watch was what would it be that would take David Banner over the emotional edge and bring out the Hulk.
I can't relate to what's it's like to be a wondering man with nothing but a stolen set of clothes, a duffel bag and the determination to find a way to reverse the effects of the gamma rays. Nor can I relate to being a Mr. Olympia level raging green beast whose anger will cause him to burst out of all his clothes (except for his pants). But I think I can relate to the person that stood between the two.
See, I know how it is to feel like you have a person locked up inside of you that you never want anyone to see, and yet it wouldn't take much to cause him to break out. I know how it feels when it seems like the person you don't want to be is about to take over the person you had hoped to be. I know how it feels to know what the bible says and how it says we are to think, talk and act, and yet our emotions, whether anger or sadness or hate or frustration or defeat or hopelessness or jealousy or pride or all of them at the same time...they drive you to want to toss all that word right out the window. I know I am to put on the whole armor of God, but sometimes I feel like doing a Hulk and ripping it all off. So I have to pray to God for help, and this is what I pray...
I know that as long as I am breathing on this side of Heaven, and I am living in what God's Word calls the flesh, I will have to keep on fighting back this Hulk of feelings that live inside of me. My prayer is that the Lord will help me so that he won't win. I need God's help so he don't cause me to make long-term decisions based on short-term emotions. I need God to keep him from breaking out and causing me to say or do things that I will have to clean up later. I ask God to not let the person I don't want to be take over the person I had hoped to be.
I pray to God for that because though I'm not strong enough, He is more than able to hold back the hulk inside. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Strong Enough to Pull Me Out

I am grateful that yet again I had the privilege of baptizing another one of God's precious souls this past Sunday. It is such a wonderful event to even witness, and I can hardly believe that I get to actually perform it.
It takes me back to the first time I got baptized. I remember it like it was yesterday, or maybe at least like last week. But, I remember being scared to death. I couldn't swim and the thought of being taken under the water at the hands of another brought about a lot of anxiety. I was glad that our church had recently built a baptismal. Before then people were baptized in a pond. Now that would have been really scary.
My pastor at the time was Rev. T. Brayboy, and he was a man who looked like he was well capable of hanging on to my frail frame. But I was still scared. Even though the baptismal couldn't have been filled with more than 4 feet of water, and Pastor Brayboy was going to be right there with me, I was scared I would drown, or worse...I would take in a nose full of water and come up choking and shooting water out my nose to my embarrassment.
But, there were too many people watching, and too many people to disappoint, so I headed on towards the pool. I realized that morning that I was the first in line to be baptized in this new pool. So my nerves were somewhat calmed by the sense of pride I felt. But I also realized something else...I made a very poor choice in the socks I wore. I had on thin, black dress socks that turned out to be very slippery in that pool. So when Pastor Brayboy leaned me back to baptize me, both of my feet shot right out from under me. Lord You say in Your word that pride goes before the fall, which I found to be literally true that day.
In that moment that I went under, I was thinking that my worse fears were actually coming to pass. I took in a nose and mouth full of water, and I felt like I was drowning. Of course in my mind it seemed like I was under for an eternity, which was probably only 2 seconds. In my split second moment of terror, fear caused me to question whether or not Pastor Brayboy would be able to pull me back up. The more of the fractions of those seconds passed, the less that I thought that he could. Well, of course he could and he did, which my being here typing this post bears witness.
Now that my spiritual eyes are open wider, I can see that what happened on that day is a picture of what God has done for me. There was a time that I was drowning in sin; whether I look at it as I slipped into it, I jumped into it, or Adam and Eve pushed me into it. Either way I was deep in it. And the longer I was in it, the more I questioned whether I could crawl out or anyone could pull me out. But then on that day in 1997, through the murky waters of my wayward life, I could see God's hand reaching down to me. To be honest, I felt like God was close enough for me to reach, but I wasn't sure if He was strong enough to pull me out. But I didn't want to die with the way my life was, and I felt like if He loved me enough come down from His throne to save me, then I should at least try. And of course, I did..and He could..which my being here typing this post bears witness.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

God Loves Rejects

Some time back I was in line at Subway watching and waiting as my sandwich was being made, and the sliced, peel-on cucumbers caught my attention. I know they have been offering that for a while as a topping, but seems a little weird to me to have a raw cucumber on a sub sandwich. Pickles...ok, but cucumber...I don't care for it. But, it's all in what you're used to I guess.
But, I was noticing how big those slices were, and thought they must have come from a huge cucumber. And Lord knows, my one thought can lead to many others in a matter of seconds. See, that made me think about when I was little, my dad used to plant cucumbers on the farm. And I don't mean a few vines in the garden for the dinner salad; I mean an acre or two to pick and take to the market. Back then, there were a lot of people around where I live who did that and a lot of people who picked cucumbers in the summer. I guess my generation may have been the last. If I told my girls we were going to pick cucumbers, they would probably ask at which grocery store.
I suppose child labor laws didn't apply in the rural south because some of my earliest childhood memories were in the field picking cucumbers. In fact I remember being barely big enough to carry the empty bucket out in the field, but once I picked it even half full, my dad had to carry it back for me. But I also remembered it to be fun, not like work, because the whole family was out there, and we would laugh and joke while picking. It was a like treasure hunt for me; turning over the leaves to find that green gold.
But one thing I had to learn was that there is a funny rule about the size of cucumbers that seemed odd at first. I thought, the bigger the better. So I went out hunting around for the biggest cucumbers I could find. So when we got to the market, and my bag of cukes were unloaded into the machine that sorted them into bushel baskets by size, a lot of mine went past the #1's, and #2's, and fell into the basket marked #3, and then one last basket that wasn't labeled. In fact most of mine ended up in that last basket. I was excited thinking I had found more of the best cucumbers over everyone else. But my smile fell to a frown when I was told that the last basket was for the rejects, and those would be thrown away. It was explained to me that the real big ones start to lose their taste and are too big to be used for pickles. Needless to say, I was disgusted. But I also felt bad for those cucumbers...those rejects.
That made me think about how this world has preset standards for what it accepts as being good and worthy and valuable and beautiful. And anything or anyone who does not fall into one of those baskets is cast out as a reject. I think about over the years all the people who have been dropped into the reject basket...the girls whose weight exceeds what's accepted as the norm, the boys who aren't athletic or cool, the people whose skin wasn't the right color, the families who couldn't afford the nice house, the people sick with a disease those around them didn't understand, the people who live for God, and even God's Son who died for them.
I ask God to forgive me if I have ever..even just in my thoughts...have ever rejected anyone because they didn't meet my standards of what's good and acceptable. And thank the Lord for always being better than any friend, especially during the times I have felt like a reject. I pray that anyone reading this who is feeling like the cucumbers in that last basket will come to know and believe in what Jesus said in John 6:37 "Those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them".

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Snake in the Garden

I was recently reminded of a story from my childhood. It's the story 'Rikki Tikki Tavi', which I had seen the animated version of it on tv when I was probably 5 or 6. I was captivated by the story when I first watched it.
The story is about an English family who moved near the jungles of India. As they were fixing up the house that had been abandoned for many years, they came across a mongoose, which they decided to keep as a pet. Good thing they did, because there were two cobras living in the garden who posed a great threat, and God created the mongoose to specialize in snake killing. Well, the cobras decided they needed to do away with the human family so they could once again reign over the garden and house, and they needed to do it before their brood of eggs hatched.
So the male snake waits in the bathroom to kill the father, but Rikki slips in and kills him. Then finally the climactic scene at the end is where the female cobra, driven by rage and revenge, sits coiled and ready to strike the little boy. The snake's threat to the family was "If you move, I will strike the boy...if you do not move, I will strike the boy". I remember thinking "What kind of option is that?'. But anyway, Rikki Tikki is able to lure the snake away from the family as he holds the last of the snake eggs in his mouth (he had smashed all the others), and threatens to destroy it. The snake gives chase and the pursuit ends up back in the snake hole. After a few tense minutes of waiting, Rikki Tikki finally emerges from the hole victorious, having killed the snake.
That was a great story for me to watch and read as a kid, and I think the Lord brought it back to my memory as an adult because He wants me to be reminded of some spiritual truths. In God's word He teaches me that my main spiritual adversary, the devil, came first as a serpent, which was the most cunning beast of the field. And not only was he after Adam and Eve, he is still out seeking to "steal, kill and destroy" today (John 10:10). And though I cannot see him, I know he is lurking in the shadows waiting for his opportunity to strike. And just like the family in the story, the enemy was no threat as long as I stayed away from the garden. But the closer I get to where God would have me to be, and where He intends for me to work, then he gets busy. But I won't worry, because I know I have a protector. Though the threat from that old serpent may draw near, I know it won't do me in. Jesus allowed Himself to be bruised on the Cross so that He could crush my enemy. And for that I am grateful.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cracks in My Plate

Seems like the older I get the more things I miss from my childhood. Even the simplest of things. Like for example, our plates. See nowadays, we often eat on styrofoam plates because in such a busy lifestyle, it's much easier to be able to throw them away and not have to wash a sink full of plates. Even when we're not using disposable plates, we mostly use some fancified plastic ones. It's rare that we use real plates. But when I was growing up, we used real plates all the time. About the only time we saw paper or styrofoam plates was when we had a cookout. So the sound of forks (which weren't plastic of course) clanking against those plates was a common, everyday sound of my childhood, that's now mostly gone.
But, even though we used plates everyday, our plates were not much to look at. Sure we had a good set, we called china, which was only used for special dinners or special company. But our everyday plates were mix-match, well worn, even with chips and cracks. But...they were always clean. I knew the hands that washed them, so I never had to worry about whether they were clean. Not to mention, a plate is only noticed when it's empty. So, once my momma's good cooking was laid on them, no one cared about what the plate looked like.
I know that I have a some chips and cracks in this plate called my life. Had anyone else been given the choice, they may have figured I was only worth throwing away. But like my momma decided with those plates, God determined I was worth washing and using again; and for that I am grateful. I just pray that as He uses me as His servant, that people will look past what He is serving on and see what He is serving. My cracks and chips obviously reveal that I am less than perfect, but that doesn't take away from the fact that God is more than wonderful. But I know I need to be continuously washed, because no matter how good the Gospel might be, no one wants to eat it off a dirty plate.
I hope that through me I will continue to hear the spiritual sounds of forks clanking on my plate. I want everyone I meet to taste of the Lord and see that He is good.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I Wish I Could Dunk!

I passed by a park yesterday and saw some boys playing basketball. That made me think back to my friends and me playing basketball all the time growing up. Even though I liked football and baseball, basketball was more accommodating because we didn't have to have a whole team to play. In fact, I could play it all by myself. And though I was never much better than mediocre at it, I loved it. And like many little boys, I dreamed of being a NBA player one day. I would love to drive down towards the basket pretending I was going to dunk it while shouting "Kareem!", or "Magic!", or "Jordan!". Oh, I wanted to dunk it so badly. And I just knew one day my growth spurt would kick in, and I would grow tall enough to be able to do it.
Well, the growth spurt did kick in, and I made it to a tad over 6 feet tall...but I still couldn't dunk it. So I figured I wasn't using the right technique, or jumping off the right foot, or coming from the right side of the basket or...I don't know maybe not holding my mouth right or something. I tried it all, and I still couldn't dunk it. So, at some point, I just accepted that others, even some shorter than me, could dunk, but I never would be able to. So I just stopped trying.
I thought about my inability to dunk, then I thought about God's command in 1 Peter 1:16 when He said "Be holy for I am holy!". God knows my heart, and He knows I truly believe in Him, and my desire is to live for Him and to be obedient to Him. But living holy...that's hard. It's not like I don't try, but it's hard. I mean, seems like just when I try to get my act together, my mind goes haywire; or when I get my thoughts in check then my mouth gets out of control. So reaching God's standard of holiness seems as much out of my reach as the inside of a basketball rim 10 feet in the air.
But, I promise God this, unlike my aspirations to tomahawk a ball down the middle, I won't stop striving to live holy. Even though this flesh I'm in is holding me down, and the world I'm in is blocking my shot, I will keep reaching for what seems out of my reach. God is worth it all, and I know that He will bless me in my trying.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Getting Ready for My Giant

I know that because of some of the tough things I have been facing lately, God brought to my mind the story of David and Goliath. Well, actually a story that leads up to the story of David and Goliath. I was thinking about how David, as a young man, was standing in the valley of Elah looking up at this 9 foot giant who was intent on killing him. As David was looking at the glare off Goliath's sword and the evil in his eyes, he recalled his own story of an earlier victory. He thought back to when he was tending to his father's sheep, and a lion and a bear tried to attack. As far as I can tell they weren't at the same time, but I'm not sure how far apart they were. But he said that he killed both of them with his bare hands. Wow, that is amazing! It if were not in God's Word, I probably wouldn't believe it.
I would guess that at the time that happened with the lion and the bear, David probably thought that was the hardest thing he would ever go through in life. But as he stood facing the giant, I believe he was retelling that story, not just so the giant would know who's God he was messing with, but I also believe he was reliving that moment as a reminder to himself that he.. was.. prepared! I understand now what David understood then that his fight with the lion and the bear was not to be his greatest story of triumph; it served as preparation for his future giant. He didn't realize at the time, because he didn't know there would be a giant...but God did. And God knew David needed to be prepared for him, or else Goliath would have destroyed him probably faster than the lion or the bear ever would.
I thank God for reminding me that the lions and the bears that I face now are not purposed to destroy me, nor will they ever by my final triumph. They only serve as my preparation, my training ground for the giants I will face in my future. So I ask God to forgive me for grumbling and complaining and questioning all these lions and bears. In stead I should thank Him for loving me enough to get me ready for my giants. So Lord...thank You! Thank You for getting me ready for my giant!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pulling My Wheel to the Right

I am grateful to have cars in my yard where I can go to church and not have to walk there, but I clare there is always something that has to be done to a vehicle. Oil to be changed, tires to be rotated, inspections to be done, oh yeah, and taxes to be paid. Like, I was noticing the other day that my car needs an alignment. I was driving down the road and could feel it pulling to the right. So to keep it straight in the road, I have to ever so gently give the steering wheel a pull to the left. And it's not like I can just give it one slight tug and it straightens itself out for good. No, I have to keep holding it slightly to the left because of its flawed tendency to pull to the right.
I have come to know that as God's student, He keeps me in class all the time, and He use things in everyday life to teach me lessons. Driving down the road tugging on my steering wheel made me think about my life. I realize I was born with my own alignment problems, except mine is a tendency to the left which pulls me away from what's right. Of course before I got saved my alignment was way out of wack. In fact my wheels where going in the opposite direction of where I needed to be heading. But 17 years ago, the Lord used the Cross to turn my wheels around, and now, without a doubt, I am going the right way (I thank God for that assurance). But even though my soul has been saved, I know this sinful body I live in still has an alignment problem; a slight tendency to pull a little to the left.
I think some people might not worry about that. They would just be satisfied to be better than they used to be, glad to be living a life at least clean enough to be accepted in church, and go on without even thinking about their alignment issue. I can't do that. I have to be concerned about it, because I know that if I don't deal with it, then even the slightest drift will eventually run me off the road. So, while I wait for Jesus to fix it, I will keep giving my steering wheel a pull ever so gently towards what's right. I will keep on studying the Word, praying and serving God by serving others. I pray God will give me the strength to hold on to my wheel, especially when I go over some bumps in life. I will keep pulling my wheel to the right because I don't want to disappoint God by doing wrong.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Like Isaac on the Altar

I was thinking about the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. I can see why God moved so mightily through Abraham's life because his faith was so strong. I was already impressed when the Lord told him to leave his home and just start walking and then later He would tell him where he was to go. That took a tremendous amount of faith. But then later God told him to take his own son, the son of promise that he had been waiting for so long, up on a mountain and to sacrifice him. I don't think I could have even looked in the direction of that mountain, much less walked up it with my son to sacrifice him. But Abraham did, because he was ready not to just make a sacrifice FOR his son, many fathers would do that. But he was ready to make a sacrifice OF his son, and I don't know any who would. And he was prepared to do that to glorify God through his obedience.
That story came to mind just as I was sort of feeling a little down about some things in life I have sacrificed for my service to the Lord. I thought about the many personal ambitions and interests I have set aside so that I could pursue my kingdom calling. Sometimes I look around and see others with their hobbies and happenings and realize I can't do much of that because my life is consumed with the work God has put my hands to. Even family time is often limited and interrupted because of my responsibilities to the Father. As I was thinking about all of that, and just at the moment I was about to both give myself a hug and a pat on the back, God brought an image of Abraham and Isaac at the altar to my mind.
That made me realize that I am no more worthy of pity or praise than Isaac for the sacrifice I am making for God. I now see that like Isaac, the sacrifice was not my choosing. God has led me up to my own Mt. Moriah, He prepared the altar, and He have made ready His sacrifice. In fact, I can't even claim to be as noble as Isaac. At least he went willingly and without struggle. I have gone only with kicking and screaming and complaining most of the way up here. I can't even pretend to be credit worthy for choosing God and then making a conscious effort to give up my life for Him. The truth is, God chose me, and He led me out of the life I once lived. The only thing I ever really did was call on Jesus to save me, and even the Holy Spirit gave me the strength to do that.
I understand that I am God's sacrifice, and I am ok with it. God is so good to me that I would rather be His sacrifice on the altar of my life than an exalted king on a throne in this world any day. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:1, I am willing to offer my life as a living sacrifice. I remember what the Lord has done, and I know what lies ahead. So I don't mind being like Isaac on the altar.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Keep My Train on the Track

Recently I heard a colleague sharing with a group of us about his recent trip to Florida on a train. He spoke of how enjoyable it was, and that he'd taken one many times. That has got me thinking that I'd like to take a trip by train too. Not only does it seem like it would be a more relaxing and scenic way to travel, I'm guessing it may be safer too.
I don't hear about a train running off the tracks that often. That is a blessing because something that big, moving that fast, carrying that much stuff can cause serious damage. Makes me think about a movie I watched some time back called "Unstoppable". The whole movie was about the characters trying to keep this speeding training that had a stuck throttle and no breaks from running off the tracks and killing lots of people with the highly explosive cargo it was carrying. Needless to say, Denzel Washington figured it out. He always does.
I realize that life, my life.. could be like one of those trains. In some ways I see myself as the engine pulling a lot of cars behind me; my family, my church, job responsibilities, and many people who rely on me either directly or indirectly. Some cars are closer than others; some heavier than others. But they are all connected to me; they move with me, they stop with me, and if I did, they would run off the tracks with me. There have been times when I felt like I was going down hill with bad breaks and moving too fast. Things were getting away from me, and I feared I would derail. There were other times that I sat at the bottom of a high hill in life and didn't feel like I had the power move another inch, and I feared I would be pushed off the tracks. I know I carry around inside my own toxic, explosive issues that would destroy my life and the lives of others if I ran off the track. And I also know that even if small things caused me to run off the tracks just a little, where I sat halfway on and halfway off, halfway in God's kingdom, and halfway in the world, I would be doubly dangerous because not only will I not move forward, but I'll be blocking the tracks for all the other trains.
I think about these things, but I don't worry about them that much. I know that now God is driving this train. He built it, and He connected the cars, so I know He is the best one to conduct it. So, just as the Lord has been doing all my life, I know He will continue to keep my train on the track. When I go too fast, He will hit my breaks and when I go too slow, He will hit my throttle. He will Keep me on track so that through my life those connected to me will be blessed, and God will be glorified. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reaching Through My Fence

The other day on my way home from work, I noticed a herd of cows in a pasture I travel past all the time. I am so used to passing by this pasture, that I usually don't pay much attention to the cows, but the other day I did. And since then I have been thinking about cows. I grew up around cows. We always had some on the farm, and I have even raised some myself in my adult life. I love to watch them out in the pasture. There have been times that I just stood at the fence and watched them graze. I can't help but feel relaxed because they graze and move so slowly, taking their time, even slow to lift their head and look up if they hear a sound. They rarely rush and appear to never have a worry. I guess I could learn a thing or two from a cow.

One thing I have often seen and found interesting for a cow to do is to stick its head through the fence and reach out as far as it can with its neck to get a bite of tender grass. Though we have gone through a lot of effort and expense to put up a sturdy fence with strong posts and barbed wire, the lure of that tasty grass seems to be just too much for a cow to resist. I have seen them lean against the posts and push through the wire, even until the barbs are sticking into their skin, just to reach a few blades of tender grass. They will stretch out their lips and even stick out their tongue trying to get those few blades that escape them. I have thought to myself, that grass must be mighty good, or at least I hope it is for their sake.

I think the Lord drew my attention to those cows so that He could deposit a thought in my mind. And in thinking about cows, I realize there have been times where I too was leaning against the posts and pushing through the wire. I know that God loves me enough to put up boundaries for me, my own fence that keeps me from going too far; not to deprive me but to save me. I know that without my fence, I would be like those cows and roam wherever my eyes and appetite may lead me. So He blessed me with a fence. But also like those cows, some times I try to test my limits; I try to reach through the wire for blades of grass that I am convinced are better than what I already have. And I know it's not necessarily all bad stuff; sometimes they are good things, just not things that are meant for me, or maybe not meant for me right now. But yet and still I sometimes lean against the posts and push through the wire.

I know the spiritual scratches on my neck and nose bear the signs of my disobedience and impatience. Forgive me for times I've gone too far. I want to live for the Lord within the boundaries of what He has intended for me. So I ask God to bless me with contentment for the grass I can already reach so I can honor Him with the life I live inside my fence.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reaching Past My Issues

Issues....issues, issues, issues. There's always some issues. Issues in the world, at work and at home. Issues that last for a little while, issues that last a lifetime. Everybody has issues, and of course I would much rather talk about theirs than mine. But I guess since mine are the only ones I am responsible for, then they should be the ones I take to God in prayer.
I read in God's word about a lady who had issues too; actually she had one issue that seemed to overshadow all the others. She had an issue of blood. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it must have been pretty serious. In Luke chapter 8 it says that she had it for 12 years, and she spent all she had with doctors trying to get rid of it. But..she still had her issue. I would imagine having that issue for 12 years was something to go through. I mean, having an issue for 12 months is enough to make you want to throw your hands up; but after 12 years she probably felt like her life was then consumed and defined by her issue. In fact, in God's Word, her name is never mentioned; she is only known as the woman with the issue. I'm sure that after 12 years she felt like she was trapped and her issue was her cage.
I am really impressed by this lady. For most people, if they were trapped in that same cage, for the first few days, and weeks and even months, they would stand at the door waiting for someone to come and open it. Probably after 12 months they would maybe look at the door from time to time with hopes that there was still a chance someone would come and set them free from their issue. But after 12 years, they would likely forget there was even a door to be opened, and that issue would just simply become a way of life for them. Not only would others define them by that issue, they would begin to make it a part of how they defined themselves. Father, that's when people say things like, 'That's just how I am', or 'I've learned to live with it because some things just never change". ....But not that lady!
Not only did she never back away from the door of her issue prison, she never stopped reaching out through the bars. It's not recorded, but at first she probably reached out to family and friends, but they couldn't help her. Then she reached out to every doctor who would see her, but they couldn't help her either. Then she reached out to the Lord, literally. As Jesus was passing by, she pressed through the crowd and reached out to touch the hem of His garment. She never stopped reaching until she reached the One who could set her free.
That speaks to me because I have issues too. Sure, some of them last only a while, and as soon as get all worked up over them, they're already on their way out the door. But, there are some that have been around for a long time. Some even more than 12 years. And I have at times felt like I was trapped inside my issue. Before I got saved, I thought I had no choice but to make myself satisfied inside that cage. But since I met the Lord, I know there's always hope for change. So no matter how many issues I have to reach through, I will always keep reaching for Jesus.
My believing is my reaching. I believe God can change me, and I believe just one touch is all I need.So I will keep reaching past my issues.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

I Will Follow the Rules

When I think about it, there are all kinds of rules everywhere for us to follow. Everything from laws to labels. There is always something for us to read, know and do (or not do). Sometimes I wonder if I can keep up with it all. Even a place we stayed at on vacation some time back, I noticed a list of rules that were posted. No loud music; no more than two cars parked at your unit; put your trash in leak proof bags and put the leak proof bags in the designated receptacles; don't hang wet towels off the balcony rail; don't you hang off the balcony rail; keep your dog on a leash and keep his poop off the ground (or something like that). The list was actually much longer. Rule after rule. But, it was ok because I understood why they had those rules. All of them made sense to me and had a valid reason behind them. In fact, I appreciated those rules and probably wouldn't have wanted to stay at a place that didn't have any. I wanted to have a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable family vacation experience, and those rules helped to make it so.
I must admit that early in my life, my view of the Bible was that it was basically a rule book; a long list of do's and don'ts. At that time, my heart was in a place that it wanted what it wanted and it certainly didn't want any dusty old rule book in the way of getting doing what I wanted. Of course I always wanted at least to have the notion of being a Christian, and Heaven was always a place where I wanted to go. But all those...rules; seemed like so many and so contrary to what felt right to me. I kept hearing it preached that through Jesus I could have joy, but it appeared to me God just wanted to steal my fun.
Well, that was then and this is now. I thank God that my eyes are wider and my brain is wiser. The Lord has helped me to see that this Christian walk is not about rules, it's about relationship. God's Word is first and foremost about me getting to know Him and how He loves me; and because He loves me, He want what's best for me; and He helps me find what's best for me by giving me rules to live by. Some may think "rule" is a 4-letter dirty word; I know I used to. But it's not. God and I both know I need rules. I need lines painted on my road to help me stay out of the ditches. Just like the rules at the vacation house was for a better vacation experience, God's rules help me to have a better life experience. Now I understand what the psalmist was feeling when he wrote in Psalm 119:1 "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord". So, with God's help, I will follow the rules.

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Don't Like that Game

It amazes me how God brings certain things to my attention to teach me a truth. Like, the other day I was thinking back to when I was a kid and how much I hated it when someone would sneak up behind me and put their hands over my eyes. It was a common game for kids to play; to walk up, cover your eyes and say "guess who". It was fun to many and no one meant any harm by it, but I just hated that.
I guess I didn't like it for several reasons. For one thing, we were kids who played outside a lot, so those hands covering my eyes usually weren't the cleanest. But more than that I guess there was some fear of the dark, frustration over not being in control, and anxiety over what people were doing around me all mixed in there together. I suppose I liked it a little bit better when it was a little girl doing it, but even then it wasn't my favorite game to play.
I can't say that in my adult life that I would like that game any more now than I did then. I'm thankful that's not something we adults typically do. Yet there have been times when I felt like I couldn't see; like someone was covering my eyes. I have felt the anxiety and frustration of not knowing what's going on around me. But I am a little shocked and somewhat saddened to admit that now when it happens, it's my own hands that are doing it.
There are some things in life I really don't want to face. There are some issues and problems that feel like a little too much for me to bear. But they won't go away, so I cover my eyes, so to speak, so I can't see them. There has been hurt and pain I just didn't want to face; hard choices I simply didn't want to make; and my own shortcomings that I rather ignore. I feel real silly even typing these words, but I have no choice but to admit this to God. It's like I somehow think that if I can't see my problems, then my problems can't see me. Like somehow if I could just cover my eyes to some of these things for a while, that by the time I open them, they'll be gone... But they never are.
I need the Lord's help. I realize that I am at a place in my walk with Him that if I want to keep growing and going, then denial and avoidance just won't do. I now know that covering my eyes to my present problems also blinds me to His future blessings. Not to mention, when I close my eyes to the bad I also miss out on seeing the good. So I ask God to remove those hands that won't allow me to see, even when those hands belong to me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Put the Accent in the Right Place

I was thinking about how in speech as well as in life emphasis and accent can make a lot of difference. For example, several years ago even before I started working for Edgecombe County, I came across this little town there named Conetoe. Now, my pronunciation based on my first glance of the name was wrong as it is for most people. For a while I went around calling it CONE-toe; like it's spelled. As weird as I thought that name was, I figured I was at least pronouncing it correctly; that is until I met someone from CONE-toe. They told me that it's not's pronounced Ca-NEE-ta. I was like..."What? Ca-NEE-ta? That's not how it's spelled!". Their reply was, "Yeah, but that's how it's pronounced..Ca-NEE-ta!". So ever since then, when I hear someone say CONE-toe, I jump in like I am some expert and say "Oh, no no it's Ca-NEE-ta". And they look at me like I'm crazy as I'm sure I did with the person who corrected me.
Not only have I mispronounced words by putting the accent in the wrong place, I have also misinterpreted scripture by making the same mistake. For example, when I first read 1 John 5:14-15, I think I got a few goosebumps that were probably unnecessary. What I read was, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that IF WE ASK ANYTHING according to his will, HE HEARS US. And if we know that he hears us—WHATEVER WE ASK—we know that WE HAVE what we asked of him".
For years I went around thinking the wrong thing, because I had put the accent on the wrong words. I went around thinking that if I am Your child, all I had to do is ask for whatever I wanted, and I was sure to get it. But after many years of not getting everything that I wanted, and now being mature enough to see that is a good thing, I realize that I should have placed the accent on different words. Now when I read that passage I see "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him."
Now it makes better sense to me. With God being the good Father that He is, He would never give me something bad, no matter how badly I wanted it. He would never answer a prayer that's not in my best interest no matter how many times I prayed for it. And no amount of wishing or hoping or praying could ever change His will for my life. I see now that my prayers are meant to elevate my will up to God's, not drag His down to mine. I can see that now since He has shown me where the accents go in that verse. 
So, when I hear someone else read or repeat that verse, and I see they have the accents in the wrong place, I pray I can show them how God really meant it. But I will try to show them in love, and much more politely than perhaps how I corrected some on how to say Ca-NEE-ta.