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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Don't Be Like the One Who Missed the Last Boat from Galveston

I remember growing up and hearing my parents talk about Hurricane Hazel that hit in the 50's. That seemed to have been their high water mark for bad hurricanes to live through. For many people in Edgecombe County where I work and now live, theirs is Hurricane Floyd that hit in 1999. Just in the County, 8 people died, hundreds of homes were destroyed, and the whole Town of Princeville was flooded for days. Maybe yet for others it's Hurricane Katrina. Not only were New Orleans and surrounding areas decimated, and over 1800 people killed, but we had the awful opportunity to watch it all play out on national tv.
Though these and others may be the first we think of when we think of horrible hurricanes, none of these were the worst. That deadly distinction goes to the hurricane that hit Galveston Texas in 1900.
At that time, Galveston was the busiest port city in all of Texas. Located on the eastern Texas shore on the Gulf of Mexico, it was and still is the gateway of sea-faring trade from the gulf into Galveston Bay and connecting to major cities in Texas and westward. As important as it was, it was actually built on little more than a sandbar. And as the city experienced major growth in the mid to late 1800's, sand dunes, which provide a natural, protective barrier, were cut down to fill low areas for more development.
The city had been hit by hurricanes before, but nothing major and they always bounced back. I suppose need and greed were great motivators in pushing their citizens to keep rebuilding in such a precarious place. Of course there was constant talk about developing better hurricane protection. Some were even exploring plans for building a sea wall. But officials from the Galveston Weather Bureau said that it was not necessary because it was "impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to hit Galveston". Boy were they wrong.
On September 4, 1900 a tropical storm formed off the northern coast of Cuba. Weather officials in Galveston got word about it, and even talked about it in their weather reports. But they didn't like to use words like hurricane or tornado because they didn't want to panic the people. Most of them were expecting the storm to turn northeast and run along the east coast. But it didn't. By September 5th, the storm was crossing the Gulf and warnings were issued all along the coast. People in Galveston mostly ignored them because when they looked up they only saw partly cloudy skies.So, very few people left.
By early morning on September 8th the last boat had left Galveston. By that afternoon, a nameless hurricane (they didn't name them then) made landfall at what would now be classified as a Category 4. It brought 145 MPH winds and storm surge of over 15 feet (the highest point in Galveston was 8.7 ft above sea level). Over 3,600 structures were destroyed and between 6,000 and 12,000 people were killed making it not only the deadliest hurricane, but also the deadliest natural disaster in US history. So many people died they didn't have enough land area to bury them all. They tried burying them out at sea, but some started washing up on shore. So they piled them and burned them.
Horrible isn't it? I know! And on this side of that disaster, many of us are wondering "Why didn't they just leave when warned?!". It's just so painfully obvious that most if not all of those people could have been saved if they had just erred on the side of caution and left. I mean, unlike a tornado, hurricanes give you that time to pack some stuff and get out of Dodge (or Galveston). Now we have even more advance weather predicting technology, and people can know much further in advance of storms, and yet some still choose not to leave. Why? Do some feel like there is always more time to get out? Do some not believe the warnings or their source? Or do some hear, and think there may be some truth to it, but their rebellious, "I can ride this one out" spirit takes over?
Well I don't come to this post with the right answers, but I do come with a much more important question. Why do people die everyday without heeding the warning of what an eternity without Christ will be like? Ever since the gathering of believers and the founding of the Church, Christians from Peter and Paul all the way to me and some of you have been warning others of the devastation to come. That it will be a disaster that won't just destroy a city, it will destroy the world. But there is a boat that's big enough to carry as many as who will believe, and His name is Jesus. Romans 10:13 says "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Yet without a doubt, many, though warned, will remain to drown in the destruction to come. Why? Do some feel like there is always time to get out? I suppose so. Do some not believe the warnings or their source? I suppose so. Do some hear, and think there may be some truth to it, but their rebellious, "I can ride this one out" spirit takes over?...I suppose so.
Look, I know I can't warn the whole world. But I can at least warn the people I meet and the people who read my posts. And with the love of Christ I say to you, a storm is brewing! It's one that we can't weather. It won't just destroy your house and your possessions. It can destroy your very soul. I know when you look around in your life, it looks like there is only partly cloudy skies if not complete sunshine. It might seem like the world as it is will last forever, and you're wondering what's up with all the fuss. Let me tell you...It WILL all end. But you don't have to go out like that. You can be saved. Just read the bible. See what it says about Jesus. If you are moved in your heart to believe what is says about Him, then tell someone that you do. I mean come on, what have you got to lose if you do and I'm wrong? It's certainly a lot less than if you don't and I'm right. I beg of you, don't be like the ones who missed the last boat from Galveston.

Monday, July 11, 2016

When the Sands are Shifting, I Stand on THE Rock (A Morning Prayer)

Good morning Lord. Thank You for another day. Like every other day, this day is in Your hands, and if I get out of Your way, I know You can do great things with it.
Father, my girls are getting antsy as they can't wait to go on vacation. They love going to the beach, and even though I am not that big of a beach person, I guess I am excited too. The water is nice, but I probably have heard of one too many shark and jelly fish attacks to venture out too far in it.
One weird yet great feeling I do enjoy at the beach is simply standing at the edge of the water as the waves are coming in and going out, and feeling the sand being pulled out from under my feet. It is really a different kind of feeling to stand on that sand that feels so compacted, then to suddenly feel it moving out from under my feet. But, if the current is really strong, and it pulls out the sand faster than my legs can adjust, it can get a little scary.
Lord, life can be like that. I have seemingly had my feet firmly planted on different areas of my life, and felt confident with where I was. Throughout my years I have planted my feet on my job, family members, relationships, or even my own abilities. I was able to stand firmly on some of those things for years, to the point that I took for granted that they would always be there and never change. But just as the currents of life tend to do, they shift and things do change. A family member died, a relationship ended, a job changed, or my abilities fell short. It was at those times that I struggled to figure out what to do as my legs quickly gave way beneath me. My knees buckled under the weight of the questions ‘What happened?, why me?, and what now?’ Lord, I had to figure out what to do when the ground I’d been standing on started to move under my feet.
After many years and a few tears, You showed me Lord that I had to do the same thing I would do at the beach…I had to calm myself down and step on solid ground. Like on the beach, panicking makes it worse. So now Lord I try to remind myself that I am able to stand as long as You are able to hold me, and that is as long as You want to. So I try to focus less on the weakness in my legs and more on the strength in Your hands. Then I have to find my way to solid ground, which is Your Word. So I try to read Your word daily so I can get past what I see and stand on what You said. So now I can better enjoy life and the beach.
Lord, just like the unceasing waves at the beach, life still goes on. Sometimes it's gentle, sometimes it's rough, but it's ok because on Christ the solid rock I now stand. Thank You for strengthening my legs and for holding my hand. I love You. In Jesus name. Amen.

Friday, July 8, 2016

When Your Room to Run Has Run Out

You ever been running from something, and your room to run...ran out? And I don't mean it figuratively, I'll get to that in a minute. I mean you were literally running from something, and your room to run ran out. Well I have.

Once when I was about 12, I was helping my dad round up our cows because we were taking some of them to the market. The pasture was big and included both open land and wooded areas. Once we located where the cows were, we realized we had a good ways to lead them to get them to the corral. I wasn't scared to be out there in the open field with them, but I knew you had to be cautious, especially with the bulls.

Daddy told me to get behind and to one side of them, and he got on the other side. He instructed me to walk behind them slowly and make sure none turned out or turned back. Everything was going fine until this one young bull decided he wanted to turn out on my side. So I turned and trotted out to stay ahead of him to make sure he didn't get away from the group. He started to trot a little faster and so did I. We were basically running parallel with one another, looking like were in a race. Until...he obviously got fed up with me and turned to run straight at me. Well, I'm not sure if I can hang with running with the bulls like the Spaniards, but I am certain I can't hang with one running right towards me.

So I did a 180, dropped it in low, and put the pedal to the medal. I've never been fast anyway, but when you feel like life and limb are on the line, you'll surprise yourself, even while wearing coveralls and rubber boots. Even though I'm sure I set my own personal record that day, I could still hear his steps and snorts getting closer. I was looking for something to run behind, but between me and a few trees was a large thicket of briers. I was already bracing myself for how bad I would get torn up when I jumped in. Then I realized that he would probably jump in right behind me. So either bravery, logic or stupidity kicked in, and I turned around ready to face my pursuer (or meet my maker). I didn't know what else to do because my room to run had run out.

Ok now, here comes the figurative use of this story. You ever faced something you felt like you just couldn't face? You didn't know what else to do, so you decided not to face it, and you ran? You know we run in a lot of ways other than with our legs. Sometimes we run by ignoring things, avoiding things, even lying to ourselves about things. Sometimes these are problems that are no fault of our own. Sometimes they are matters of our own making.

Jacob in the bible was a runner too, both literally and figuratively. He had stolen the birthright from his brother Esau by tricking their dad Isaac. Esau was mad enough to kill him over it. So Jacob ran away. But there came a time that his room to run ran out. Not because Esau had caught up with him, though he was close. His room to run ran out because God caught up with him. While fleeing from his brother, Jacob found himself away from his family and alone one night after he crossed the Jabbok River. It was there that the Bible says "This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break." Genesis 32:24 (NLT). The man wrestling with Jacob was not his brother, it was God. That experience changed him for the rest of life, both physically and spiritually. Not only did he have to live with a limp from the wrestling, but his whole nature changed.

Sometimes, God works it out that our room to run runs out, not because He wants to back us into a corner to destroy us. He wants us to face our problems and give Him the chance to change us in the process. So ask yourself "Who or what am I running from?"; "What am I ignoring or avoiding?". What ever came to your mind, I hope that you see that running from a problem is not the same as fixing a problem. In fact, it could make it worse. So stop running; turn around and face it. And do so with the confidence of knowing that if you are a follower of Christ, you will never have to face it alone. Amen!

Oh, what happened with the bull chasing me? Oh yeah, when I finally got the nerve to stop running and turn around to face him, I realized he had gotten tired of fooling with me a long ways back. He had already turned around and went back to the herd. I think what I thought was him running behind me was the sound of my own heart beating and my panicky breathing. :)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Trying and Failing is Better Than Failing to Try (A Morning Prayer)

Good morning Lord. I thank You for another day. I am so glad that Your mercies are made new everyday, because I need them.
Lord, I was watching a documentary on the sport of basketball that was very interesting to me. I wouldn't say that I am the biggest fan, but I am a fan, and I enjoy watching it. One thing in the documentary that jumped out at me was a surprising statistic on some of the greatest players; the field goal percentage. I was already aware that they track the ratio of the number of shots made to the number of shots attempted. What I didn't know was what seemed to me to be a surprisingly low field goal percentage for even the greatest players. I found out that most NBA players hover around 50%. Even the guy with the all time record, who I had never heard of, Artis Gilmore, had a career shooting percentage of just under 60%.
I guess that is so surprising to me Lord because I am so used to seeing the game highlights and watching those guys make impossible shots look so easy; shooting their way through a maze of defenders; popping jump shots with giant hands in their faces; making free throws with the crowds screaming at them. Then again, I guess only the makes and not the misses will find their way onto the highlight reels.
What that says to me Lord is that for these athletes to play at that level, for them to score a lot of points, for them to be great, they have get past their fear of missing a shot. I mean from these stats, just about any time they decide to take a shot, they have to know that there is about as much chance of them missing it as it is of them making it. Yet, they will take the shot anyway. If they miss it, they keep on playing, and if given the chance to shoot again, they give it another shot (pun intended). I suppose ultimately their hope is that by the end of the game, and then at the end of their careers, their makes will mean more than their misses.
Father, You obviously knew I needed to see that show because You had something You wanted to teach me. You know that sometimes when it comes to the things You call me to do, I can be slow to take the shot because I am afraid of missing. You know that even though I have faith in my heart, sometimes fear accumulates in my mind; and the thought of missing will keep me from shooting. I also know that spirit of fear is not of You. So Father, I will get back into the game today, and if You pass it to me, I'm gonna shoot it. I might make it or I might miss it, but I will shoot it. I just get this feeling that trying and failing, You can deal with. It's the failing to try that You can't much tolerate. So Lord, I'm gonna try.
I don't know what my stats are like Lord; only You are keeping those. I just pray that at the ultimate end of my game, my trying will outweigh my failing, and my makes will mean more than my misses. Lord, You are the best coach, because You love me even when I miss. I love You. In Jesus name. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

God is the Silver Lining in My Cloud

On one particular Saturday I was on a mission to get my grass cut. See, it had been two weeks since I'd cut it. It wasn't because I wanted to wait that long, or I was too lazy to cut it. I had been so busy, plus a string of storm filled afternoons just made it that way. So even though I had somewhere to be the first part of the day this past Saturday, I was determined to cut my grass when I got back home.
One of the challenges I had not thought about much in advance was that by the time I got back home it was the hottest part of a very humid day. I cut my grass with a push mower, and I knew that doing so that time of the day would be tough, if not dangerous. But I worried that if I waited til later in the evening when it cooled off some, I ran the risk of another storm rolling up on me. So, I filled my belly with water, donned my straw hat and ventured out into the heat.
Not even 20 minutes into it, I realized just how oppressive this task was going to be. The sun was beaming, and I was steaming. As the sweat poured down my whole body, I felt like I was shribbling up like when Sponge Bob ventures out of the water (come on, you know you've watched Sponge Bob).
But just then, I could see a heavenly shadow crawl across the grass I was cutting. I looked up to see a blanket of clouds move in across the sky. My first thought was...."Oh no, more rain! I'll never get this grass cut". So I picked up my pace trying beat the storm that I was sure to come. After a few minutes, I noticed how much more bearable it was with the clouds shielding me from the sun. That's when it dawned on me....Those clouds weren't there to hinder me. They were there to help me. Do you know I was able to finish cutting, weed-eating, and driveway blowing under that cool cover of clouds. And as God as my witness, as soon as I put my last piece of equipment back into my garage, that's when the rain started to fall.
Come on now, many of you know me, and most of you at least know my writing, so you know this post is not about the perils of cutting grass in the summer. It's about life. In particular my life with God. See, even though that was a true blessing from the Lord at a time when He knew that I needed it; and standing in my yard, I audibly thanked Him for that. But more importantly, it was a reminder to me that not every cloud that comes my way is meant for my bad. In fact, God can take every single one of them and make it for my good. I can look back over my life and think of countless times where disappointments, rejections, and bad news turned out to be divine appointments, protection and blessings.
So now, I try to remember that in whatever situation I find myself, before I complain about the cloud, to instead stop and try to see how God has sent it as my help for that day or a blessing for tomorrow. Sometimes that's not immediately recognizable. So, I just try to trust the Lord and believe Him when He told me that "All things will work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28.
I know that means me, because I sure do love Him. And I hope that means you too.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Clean Out the Old Stuff to Make Room for the New Stuff

One morning, a couple of years ago, I opened my closet door in the house where we used to live to find utter chaos...ok more so than the usual utter chaos that hides behind there. See what had happened was the weight of clothes hanging on the rack and things stacked up on the shelf above it had caused some of the screws holding it to the wall to pull out. It had not completely fallen, but was hanging down and leaning over. So everything on the shelf up top started sliding off and onto the floor when I opened the door. I had lots of other things to do that day, and was hoping I could just close the door and forget about it for a while. But with all the stuff falling on the floor, I couldn't close the door. So no out of sight out of mind for that task.
To fix it, I had to first take all the stuff off the shelf that had not already fallen down and all the clothes off the racks. It was a closet I shared with my wife, and we had a lot of stuff hanging on there. But as much as we dreaded the job, we got to it. We got all the stuff off and out, I fixed the shelf, and hopefully sturdied it up a bit. Then we had to put all the stuff back in it.
As I was hanging my stuff back up, I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to fit it all back in. Not sure how that works. Plus I had a couple new shirts I had recently bought and saw there was no way I could get them in there. So I realized it was the perfect time to purge some stuff. I needed to get rid of some old stuff and some not so old stuff that I just didn't wear,so that I could get my new stuff in there.(I tell ya, the struggles we have with stuff), But that's what I did. after that, it looked much neater.
In thinking about that, I see that life with God is like that sometimes. He is constantly trying to give me, show me, and teach me new things, but I have no room because I am too busy holding on to the old stuff. The Lord tells us in Isaiah 43:19 "Behold, I will do a new thing.."; In Lamantations 3:22-23 He says that His "Mercies are made new every morning.." In fact in 2 Corinthians 5:17 we are taught that if we are in Christ "We are a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come".
But how many of us don't have room for the new stuff God has for us because we won't let go of the old stuff. Old ways of thinking, old habits, old attitudes, old beliefs, old ideas, old places, old people (well..not like old, elderly...you know what I mean). But, why do we hold on to them? Often it's because we wrestle with questions like... What if they are still useful? Maybe they are to somebody, but not to you... How can I let go of the old when I haven't yet seen the new? That's why we live by faith. Trust God... But what if it's not enough? Hey...as long as you've got Jesus, you need nothing or no body else.
So I ask, when are you going to start cleaning out your closet?