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

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.