Slowing Down

28 Mar

There is something to be said for SLOWING DOWN.  Believe me.  It seems that lately I have been meeting myself coming and going.  A funeral here.  A meeting there (and here and everywhere).  A handful of fires.  A computer goes down.  Projectors blink.  It.  Never.  Stops.

I had an opportunity to come to Columbia for two days of uninterrupted study.  A chance to get away.  To pray.  To work on upcoming sermons.  To plan for the remainder of the year.  To take a breath.  Honestly, once I slowed down and took a deep breath, I was shocked at the things that flowed out.  Almost like taking a sip from a fire hydrant.  A TON of ideas worth praying over and pursuing.  But it makes me wonder …

What if I took the time to just slow down once or twice a week, just to close my eyes and listen to God and to what is going on around me??  I wonder how much more of an asset to the Kingdom of God I would be if only I could do that???

I am not sure, but I think we are going to find out.  I think I’m gonna give this a try.  We shall see!!!

Here is where we are

25 Mar

Almost 23 years.  That has been my tenure at Ebenezer Baptist Church.  First as Minister of Youth and Recreation.  Then, as Interim Pastor.  And now Senior Pastor since 2001.  In all of these roles, I have watched.  I have spoken out.  I’ve been chastised.  I’ve been encouraged.  I’ve seen a lot.  But every day I realize I haven’t seen it all.

There is a trend that I am seeing.  An alarming trend.  Some of you will read these words and be angry with me.  That’s okay …  Although I might know you well and even love you like family, I do not answer to you.  I answer to the One who called me to this post in the first place.

Almost 20 years ago I was talking to a friend about Sunday evening worship at Ebenezer.  It is quite discouraging to see 500 people on a Sunday morning and then less than 20 on a Sunday evening.  He told me to “get over it.”  That Sunday evening was his family time, his time to unwind.  The only time he had to spend with his family because life has them all so busy during the week.

I got that.  I understood what he was saying.  I didn’t like it, but I understood his point of view.  But that trend has grown.  That answer expanded.  Now there are some that use that answer for Sunday mornings.  I am once again alarmed.

We sell short the value of the Kingdom of God and the Family of God in our lives.  One of the forces that always has helped me strengthen my relationship with Christ is the Family of God.  The fellowship of my church.  When I am gone, I miss Ebenezer.  In Ebenezer I have encouragement, accountability, help, care, and from those things and those people I draw strength.  When I see the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of my family, it wells up inside of me.  Sometimes I get around my brothers and sisters at Ebenezer and I am ready to charge the gates of Hell with a water pistol.  The family of God is a source of strength and encouragement for me.  I would hate to do life without them!!

So … Those who choose not to engage with the Family of God are, in my humble opinion, selling themselves short.  Denying themselves of a tremendous blessing.  Possibly trying to dodge the accountability.  Or, maybe just too busy during the week.  I also believe Satan works to keep us so busy that we cannot breathe until Sunday.  It makes dodging weekly worship easier when we feel we have an excuse.  If you are okay with that, you really don’t know what you are missing.

And another thing:  Don’t sell your family short on your time.  Sunday shouldn’t be the only time in the week you have to spend with your family.  We make time for the things that are most important to us.  WHY AREN’T YOU MAKING TIME FOR YOUR FAMILY EVERY DAY???

But, then again, what do I know??

Pseudo-Code

2 Feb

A lifetime and a half ago, I was working as a systems/software developer for an up-and-coming company in Duncan, SC.  Our mainstay?  Analyzing manual work systems and enabling our clients to collect data and use it to make things better.  This was in the day and age when there was no iPhone app for that.  There was NO IPHONE!!  We barely had electricity and did our math homework on the back of a flat shovel with a piece of coal because we had no pencils ….

ANYWHO …. One of the industry buzzwords that one of my bosses latched onto was “pseudo-code.”  He would come in and want me to develop this elaborate software FIRST in pseudo-code, basically in English as a sort of logical walkthrough.  I always resisted and didn’t see the point in doing the work TWICE.  Why not just code it??  We all understood the actual code, so why would we create a false code, other than to fulfill the popular buzzword???  Never saw the point in that …

This week I was talking to some friends who asked an interesting question:  “Why don’t you preach a sermon about how judgemental people become when they start following Christ?”  Why do people find Christ and then, all of the sudden, become super-judgemental?

I attribute that to the pseudo-code of the day.  Pseudo means “false… Pretend…  Unreal.”  We, as the church, are sometimes guilty of developing a false culture.  A culture in which everyone must DO the same things, like the same movies and books, listen to the same music, dress the same way.  And when someone doesn’t do these things, we judge them.  Sometimes we even cast them out.

HOW TERRIBLY FRIGHTENING AND DANGEROUS!!!!!!!  It is one thing to hold each other, as the church, to a biblical standard.  We are DEFINITELY called to do that.  IN LOVE.  But it is an entirely different thing to hold each other to a standard we have developed.  Because RIGHT and WRONG all becomes subjective.  At the whim of the PERSON who dictates the culture.  The IMPERFECT PERSON who will also make mistakes.  It becomes a Pseudo-Culture.

We talked about this on Wednesday evening at EBC.  It does seem far easier to attempt to TELL everyone how to live, what to wear, and what to do in life.  When we do this, we are bordering on telling the world “YOU MUST BE LIKE US BEFORE YOU CAN BE SAVED!” We are selling short the process of Sanctification, which is not our job but the job of the HOLY SPIRIT.

As the church, we are called to deal with the HEART CONDITION.  To Go Make Disciples.  To Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And to Teach them THE WORD OF GOD.  And to love them as much as we love ourselves.

Why do we judge so harshly??  Jesus reminded us in the Sermon on the Mount to be careful of how we judge, because the same measure we use might just be used to judge US someday………

First Love Lost

25 Jan

Last night we began our study of Revelations in Wednesday Bible Study.  I learned at least TWO things:  1) people are VERY INTERESTED in this apochalyptic work.  2) It is EASY to bog down in minutia and miss the main point of John’s work.

After talking about theories and views of this mystical book, we started moving through the scripture.  We came to the first message, to the church at Ephesus. I hope and pray this would not be Ebenezer, but I see so many similarities.

Jesus told this church “I see all of the things you are doing well, and you do many of them.  But THIS I have against you:  You have lost your FIRST LOVE.”

Passion.  God led me to preach about it last Sunday, and it comes up again this Sunday. Do you remember what it was like when you first came to know Christ??  How you couldn’t wait to tell others, and did not want those you love to miss what Jesus Christ can do for their lives??

How is that going now???

Jesus told that church “If you do not find your first love, I will remove your lamp from its stand.”  I KNOW if we fail to reach those around us, God will raise up another that will.  And we will miss out on the tremendous blessing of helping others know Him.  And a sad day that would be.

Can I get a Witness?

21 Nov

Those of us who follow Christ have heard talk all of our lives about protecting our “witness”…  Having a good “witness” …  What in the church-speaking world is that??

I could go on and on about this and beat around the bush a little, but I haven’t had enough coffee at this point in the day to do that.  So, simply stated, your Christian “witness” is actually the reflection of God, of Christ and His love that radiates out of your life.  It is how much of God that others see in you.  Like it or not, many people will judge the reality of God by how well YOU reflect Him (if you claim to be a disciple).  They look at you and me and want to see if God’s love is genuine.  If He is real.  What they are REALLY seeing is how real He is to us!

Some will immediately claim this as unfair.  We will speak of our own imperfections and try to dismiss our behavior with a myriad of excuses.  And that is pointless.

People who do not know Christ want to know more.  They want to see that He is real.  They want to experience the difference that He makes in lives.  So they draw near YOU and ME.  And wait.

What will they see this week??

People of The Light

20 Nov

The third chapter of the Gospel of John tells the story of a man named Nicodemus.  Nick was a Pharisee, and yet he KNEW Jesus was sent from God.  He was one of the few.  He sought Jesus out at night to ask Him the most important question anyone can ask … And he never even got to ask it!!

Jesus beat Nick to the punch:  “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Jesus went on to explain:  Just as we all have a physical birth, we must also have a spiritual birth.  A re-birth, if you will.  When we turn our lives over to Christ, we are borne anew!!  And we must be people of the Light!

These words are still true for us today:  Light has come into the world, but men (and women) love darkness instead of light.  Because their deeds are evil.  (And by evil, I believe Jesus is referring to the fact that HUMAN NATURE is opposed to God’s nature.  We naturally want our own way and naturally rebel against God’s way.)  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light.  Because they do not want their deeds to be seen.  And, whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.  Because they are living in a way that they don’t mind if their deeds are seen.

Ironically, God sees ALL.  Things done in the light and things done in the darkness.  What is He seeing in you?  What are you saying?  Doing?  Posting on social media?  Teaching your children?  Modeling for others to see?

One of those things that should make you go “Hmmmmmmmm”

Sometimes, we forget

7 Nov

Strength.  A must-have to make it through life today.  All of the stress of life bears down, tightens, wrings you out.  You must have strength to make it through.  From where do YOU draw your strength?

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about basketball drills.  Those difficult physical challenges our coaches placed before us at countless practices.  The best drills have purpose:  Build stamina … Target specific muscle groups … Wear out a bunch of smart-alec teenagers who think they have the answer to everything but really know nothing …  I had a coach in high school that would make us run cross country for our late summer/fall conditioning.  Then, the first two weeks of practice we wouldn’t even SEE a basketball.  Nothing but sprints, drills, jumping, and other physical challenges.  And, honestly, we were in awesome shape when the season started!!  (Didn’t win too many games … but we could run with ANYONE.)

HOWEVER … Basketball is not life.  Basketball is a sprint.  Life is more of a long race.  A feat of endurance.  A matter of pace.  And you will need a DEEP WELL of strength to make it.

I believe this is why God gave us Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight!  If you are going to MAKE IT in this race, you need HIM!!  You need HIS STRENGTH!!  You need to TRUST HIM!!

Candidly, I will admit that I sometimes forget the previous fact.  Yes, me … A “pastor.”  Not listening to my own sermons again.  I try to put my head down and muddle through life.  And I grow weak.  And life keeps coming like a fire hydrant spraying water into your face.  And the stress presses in.  Then frustration.  Anger.  Helplessness.

And then I realize that I cannot FIX others.  I cannot even FIX myself.  But those words Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3 shine like a beacon.  And I needed to remember.  I can trust Him … He is ALREADY AT WORK on all of it!!  I just need to open my eyes and see Him!!