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The Morning After

16 Sep

Okay, Ebenezer, I DO NOT like this “being home on Sunday morning.”  Not one bit.  There is so much to be thankful for, but I wish I could see you guys.  Look you in the eyes.  Know that my family is okay.

At Wednesday Night Bible Study, we talked a little about Jesus calming the storm.  As we shared those words and prayed, all of the experts were telling us that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane was going to SLAM into our coast and obliterate us.  And do record-breaking damage to South Carolina, North Carolina, and a good bit of the Eastern Seaboard.  So we braced for it.  We prepared.  We cancelled Sunday worship because the forecast showed the eye of the storm about 30 miles due south of us on Sunday at 8am.  And we waited.

Two memes I saw told the story:  One said waiting on this hurricane was like being stalked by a TURTLE.  True!!  The other struck more fear into my heart .. It said that waiting for this hurricane was like waiting for your father to get home, KNOWING that you were in trouble and you were gonna get a good spanking!!!  (It didn’t quite say that, but that is the clean version)  Honestly, I’ve been there and done that more than I care to say.

SO… We sat, glued to the TV and internet.  Hearing this storm would break all of the records.  CATASTROPHIC DEVASTATION.  And we waited.  And we waited.  And we prayed.  And there was NO WAY this storm was not going to completely gut the eastern side of both states.

But God wasn’t writing the story that way.  It is true, there were people who lost their lives in the storm.  There are cities and families whose worlds are COMPLETELY DEMOLISHED.  But God was at work.  Right before the storm came ashore, it apparently hit a pocket of dry air that no one saw coming.  The mighty Cat4/5 hurricane was deflated to a mere ONE when it came ashore.  The path of devastation was reduced to a more confined area.  Now, do not take these words lightly:  THESE PEOPLE NEED OUR HELP.  And will need it for WEEKS TO COME.  This, too, is how God works.  He calls His people to make a difference in His world.

I do not make lightly of the damage, of the water and wind, and of the storm.  But I am afraid we were all so hypnotized by the radar, the forecasts, and the science of it all that we forgot one HUGE important factor:

GOD IS GOD OF ALL.  EVEN THE STORM!!!

My friend Lyn Myrick felt compelled to read this at the end of our Bible Study.  He told us it was his favorite passage.

Psalm 46 (NIV)

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 

I am afraid we all forgot that GOD IS OUR REFUGE.  And even when the earth gives way, and the mountains fall into the sea, HE IS STILL IN CONTROL.

And, instead of being angry with our weather forecasters and our government, perhaps we should be thankful that God deflated a Cat4/5 storm.  We prayed, He moved His hand, and look what happened!!!!!!!

Genuine

29 Aug

I was walking into the mall the other day and a man walked up to me out of the blue.  He said “I have something for you” and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crisp $100 bill.  I WAS ECSTATIC!!!  That had never happened to me before, and I couldn’t wait to tell Diana about it!!!

Instead of calling her, I went straight into Belk’s and went to pair of really nice shoes that Diana has on her watch list.  Really nice shoes.  The kind she would never buy for herself, because she has spent her lifetime putting her husband and children before her, and she struggles to spend a dime on herself.

I proudly take the shoes to the register and the cashier tells me the total, and it will almost wipe-out my “gift” from the man at the door.  But that’s okay .. She deserves it.  I hand the bill over to the cashier, and she takes out a little pen.  Then she shyly steps over to a phone and calls someone in low tones.  She asks me to be patient, because there is a little issue she needs to resolve.  Two minutes later, I find myself explaining to a store manager and security guard how I obtained the COUNTERFEIT $100.00 bill that I tried to use in my purchase!!!!  They look at me like I am crazy.  And, I hear someone across the room say “Isn’t that the preacher at Ebenezer?!”   GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[Okay.  That didn’t really happen.  And most of those who know me knew that from the beginning, because my walking into the mall alone would surely be a sign of the apocalypse.  But, how embarrassing would that have been???]

If only I had made sure that bill was genuine before I went through all of that!!!  If only I had really thought this through and realized that in my 52 years on this Big Blue Marble, no stranger has EVER given me $100.00 for no reason!!  If only I had not let the thrill of free money cloud my logical mind!!!

Every day, we need to be aware that there are counterfeits all around us.  Temptations.  False idols.  Even people who seem to be the most genuine we could imagine, and yet they operate with subterranean agendas.  HOW CAN WE GUARD AGAINST THESE??

The only way to guard against those false things is to KNOW THE TRUTH.  To be in sync with the truth.  In John 14:6, Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”  If you walk with the TRUTH, and you listen to the Holy Spirit that He promised, you will be able to sense when things are not quite right.  To see those counterfeits before they cause you embarrassment and harm.

Be careful, my friends.  There are all kinds of hazards and wolves in this world.  KNOW THE TRUTH!!

Don’t Tell Them Jesus Loves Them

27 Aug

Back in 1988, Steve Camp released a song that haunts me 30 years later.  Here are the lyrics:

Oh, the suffering souls
Crying out for love
In a world that seldom cares
See the hungry hearts
Longing to be filled
Much more than our prayers
And a young girl sells herself
On Seventh Avenue
And you hear her crying out for help
“My God, what will we do?”

Don’t tell them Jesus loves them
Till you’re ready to love them too
Till your heart breaks from the sorrow
And the pain they’re going through
With a life full of compassion
May we do what we must do
Don’t tell them Jesus loves them
Till you’re ready to love them too

All the desperate men
Are we reaching for the souls
That are sinking down in sin?
Oh, cry for the church
We’ve lost our passion for the lost
And there are billions left to win
And another forty thousand children
Starve to death today
Would we risk all we have
To see one of them saved?

Don’t tell them Jesus loves them
Till you’re ready to love them too
Till your heart breaks from the sorrow
And the pain they’re going through
With a life full of compassion
May we do what we must do
Don’t tell them Jesus loves them
Till you’re ready to love them too

Why have we waited so long
Ah, to show them Jesus lives
To share salvation’s song
Why have our hearts become so proud
Oh, that we fail to see
To love them is to love God

And a young girl sells herself
On Seventh Avenue
Hear her crying out for help
“What will we do?”

Oh, don’t tell them Jesus loves them
Till you’re ready to love them too
Till your heart breaks from the sorrow
And the pain they’re going through
With a life full of compassion
May we do what we must do
Don’t tell them Jesus loves them
Till you’re ready to love them too

A song, released 30 years ago, tells the story of TODAY.  The story of NOW.  Church, WE are called to tell them that Jesus loves them.  But don’t you DARE tell them until you are ready to love them too!!  In fact, if you do not love them, you are walking OUTSIDE of God’s will.

And, if we are called to LOVE the lost, how much are we called to love those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ?  How can envy and strife exist in the modern church, except that we (the church) are walking and living in a way that is contrary to God???  A long time ago there was a word for living like that:  That word in SIN.  Walking against God’s will.  And those of us that knowingly walk against the will of God will be judged for doing that.

So, pray and seek His face.  He will give you exactly what you need to be able to love even those you deem unloveable!!  (Trust me … I know from experience!!!)

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”

The Next Pandemic

23 Aug

It is on the horizon … I can feel it.

Almost everyone would agree that we live in a world on the brink.  Here we are, teetering back and forth, about to fall over the edge.  As the great Andi Hill just said, “you cannot go anywhere in life without drama.”  Drama in families.  Drama at work.  Drama in communities.  Drama in our churches.  Political drama.  Social drama.  Drama, drama, drama!!!!  (Not to be confused with Marcia, Marcia, Marcia)

It seems everyone is so easily offended these days that you cannot say or write anything.  BLUE is my favorite color.  (True story).  Now I will be getting hate mail and “requests for retraction” from the League of Red, the Yellow Party, and the Pink Ponies.

I thought the Great American Eclipse had an interesting effect on social media. For about a solid day, there was very little hate and abuse.  Just marveling at God’s creation (whether they realized it or not).  For about 24 hours, we were united.  And amazed.  And it was terrific!!

But, now, BACK TO WORK!!  Let’s point out all of the mistakes our leaders made, let’s highlight the hate, let’s do our part to tear this world into multiple pieces.

WHY?

Honestly, here is the pandemic:  WE have become a people who do not live for GOD in any way, shape, or form.  Over the past few months, I see the hate building.  And sadly I have seen people who profess Christ as Savior fueling this fire just as much as anyone else.

BECAUSE GOD IS NOT AT THE CENTER OF OUR LIVES.

I see it in how our children are being raised.  I see it in our worship, in our outward faithfulness to God through BEING THERE, through SERVING, and through GIVING.  I see it in the fruit that is NOT present in the lives of those who claim Jesus.  In how we fail to LOVE.

I see it in the hate.  God has become a little more than a figurehead.  A good luck charm.

How will all of that turn out for us?  Why don’t you ask the Children of Israel how it always turned out for them when they relegated God to a symbol.

(You REALLY don’t want to know ….)

Stop the PANDEMIC!!  Stop the HATE!!  Learn to LOVE with Christ’s kind of love.  Before it is too late!

That Steeple Though…

12 Jul

The word for this is BEAUTIFUL…

For only a couple of days, I have returned.  And it still feels like home.  Many of the names and faces here have changed. But this city remains the same!  Great food.  Awesome music!  And plenty of work to be done.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was planted in this city decades ago because of the mission-rich environment in the Big Easy.  And to make a long story short, God moved me and my little family here from Upstate SC 25 years ago.  

In SC, we take steeples for granted.  There seems to be one on almost every church in every corner.  This is not the case in New Orleans.  There aren’t many churches and even fewer steeples.  And when this country boy moved over 600 miles from family and friends into the huge, unforgiving city, the sight of this steeple would make my heart skip a beat.  When I saw this steeple, I was reminded that God is active in this city.  And safety…. and home… was just under the shadow of that steeple.

Yesterday when I drove back onto this campus for the first time in 11 years, my heart skipped a beat. Because in the heart of this great city, home is still there.  That steeple still proudly rises above Gentilly Boulevard.  

And God is still working a beautiful work right here in the heart of New Orleans.  (Is it any wonder why my eyes leak a little every time I look at it???)

Parents: It’s time to LEAD

17 Apr

There is a dangerous trend in parenting.  Working in my field, I’ve actually seen it for years.  Each year it gets a little stronger … A little worse.  We have molded parenting theory and reshaped our society to accommodate it.  And we are starting to pay a price.

And, simply, here it is:  PARENTS, you need to BE PARENTS.  YOU need to take charge.  YOU need to call the shots.  YOU need to open your eyes and see the reality of your child’s life.

How did we become a society of the entitled?  By trends just like this.  And I know some will read this and be angry with me.  That’s okay.  As a pastor, I have a job to do as well.  And it is not always popular.

As a parent, you have experienced far more life than your child.  Probably by now you have experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  You have experienced good fortune and times when life just wasn’t fair.  You have seen the ups and you have seen the downs.  Do you want to prepare your child to face REAL LIFE?  Teach them about all of this.  (Especially the part about life not always being fair…)

Make them go to school!!  Make the live up to their commitments!!  (One of the worst trends I see in North American culture RIGHT NOW is the trend of being committed until something better comes along.  Teach them to be a person of THEIR WORD by being a person of YOUR WORD.)

Teach them to face up to problems and work them out instead of running from them.  I am the CHIEF of hating confrontation, and yet now I see that it is necessary at times.   But I know with all of my heart that the best thing I can teach my family is to face up to problems instead of running from them.

And, for goodness sake, BRING THEM TO CHURCH.  If I could’ve talked my mom and dad out of making me go to church, I would’ve done it every time.  Now I look back and I am thankful they could see through that!!!!

This is hard.  And there will be times when you won’t be able to be their best friend.  And that’s okay … That is part of being a parent.  If you trust the Lord, use His Word as your guide, do your very best, and band together with other believers who are parents and facing the same work, YOU WILL MAKE IT.  And you will NEVER regret it.

I am praying you will start TODAY!!!!