IF

10 Apr

If I asked God for His wisdom, would I accept it?  If I asked God to show me the things in my life that have become stumbling blocks (both to me and to others), would I have the strength to remove them?  If I asked God to show me the baggage from my past that prevents me from being everything He has called me to be, would I trust Him enough to put that baggage out of my life?

As we enter this Holy Week, we pause and think about all that the Crucifixion and the Resurrection means to US as followers of Christ.  As we come face to face with all of this, we must grapple with the above questions.  When we see more clearly Who He is, we realize more clearly who we are.

IF ….

The Devil Plays Chess

3 Apr

I’m certain of it … I see it every day.  The devil does play chess.  He uses strategy, influence, popular opinion, and everything else he can use to derail us.  To stop us from properly functioning in the Kingdom of God.  He will do it to you  He will do it to me.  He is crafty.

And, it is working.

As a pastor, I see it now more than ever.  I see how he tries to convince us to use God’s word to justify our sin.  He turns us against each other over the most minimal things.  He works hard to keep us at odds, because he knows that a church which is not unified will not experience the blessings God intended for us.  He tries to keep us in this state so we will not impact the world around us.

He wants us to be afraid to tell others about Christ.  He wants us to disengage and fail to serve God, because the difference we make will hurt his agenda.  He wants us to lack a trust in God with our future, with our resources, and specifically with our money.

Money is a funny topic.  When I talk about it, as a pastor, some immediately choose to see me as a televangelist, thinking they need to hold on to their wallets when I am around.  And I have never picked a man’s pocket!  But the stereotype is powerful, and the devil knows he can weaken the church if he can sustain that lack of trust.  And he doesn’t want any of us to know the freedom of TRUSTING God with it all!!

And he certainly doesn’t want any of us to teach our children what God expects, not only with our words, but also teaching them because WE TRUST GOD and THEY SEE IT IS REAL!!  Because, have mercy, if we all served, if we all told others about Christ, if we all tithed, the Kingdom of God would advance like nothing we had ever seen before!!

So … The ol’ devil wants us to stay right where we are.  And he give us every excuse NOT to tell others, NOT to serve, and NOT to give.  Because if he can weaken our generation, WE weaken the next generation.

And he wins.

The only question left to ask is this:  Do you want him to win?  You will decide by what you do with these very words.

What does it take?

27 Mar

The time spent in our Oneness Embraced project with Savannah Grove Baptist Church (and several other churches) was and is time well spent.  YES, Dr. Tony Evans is an awesome teacher and we start every session with a video segment from him.  YES, it gives us all a forum to talk about racism as it exists today and has existed in the past in our nation and world.  YES, it proves God’s word to be true … (Imagine that!!!)

BUT … the greatest thing about this time (I believe) is not in our discussions, but in the time spent together.  The discussions are very important, but the root of healing is in love.  In friendships that are being borne.  In the face-to-face time spent, getting to know everyone.  These times are the true ingredients for breaking down walls.  And God’s fingerprints are all over these things!!!!!

But there is one more step.  One more thing about which we need to be vigilant.  An important step we all must take to pave the way for the next generation:  We need to teach our children, grand-children, nieces and nephews, etc., that God’s word has no room for racism.  We need to teach them right and wrong based on HIS word, and not ours.  I am thankful for a mother who taught me right from wrong, taught me that we are all God’s children, taught me that the differences between me and others were more cultural and contrived than they were factual.  We need to teach the next generation, and teach them to teach the NEXT generation, and so on and so on.

We didn’t get here overnight.  We will not solve this problem overnight, either.  But I am thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who ARE working to solve it.  And I will work as hard as I can to help!!!

A Family Calling

24 Mar

Twenty six years ago, I was an IT professional struggling with a gnawing in my heart.  Gnawing seems to be a crass word in this sense, but that is the only way I know to describe it.  My relationship with Christ was stronger than it had ever been and He was calling.  And I was running.  I tried to excuse it away as a bleedover of my love for the youth ministry at Washington Avenue Baptist Church.  In fact, I passed up an opportunity for serious career advancement because I didn’t want to move to Charlotte BECAUSE of my youth Sunday School class!!  (This is the evidence for those who think I am a fool … Think what you will.)

The more I struggled with this uneasy feeling, the more I knew exactly what it was:  God was calling me to ministry of some sort.  And I was terrified!!  I was nervous about telling Diana.  I was uneasy about the fact that we had a six-month old and this would be a radical change of life and income.  I had a great career ahead of me in computer technology and the financial potential was endless!

My parents had always taught me the most important thing I could do was to provide for my family.  I was scared to death to tell my mother and father, just knowing they would tell me I had lost my mind.  So I prayed.  And I ran.  I knew it would require me to continue my education and had no idea how far that would lead.  I even had no idea how my friends and peers would react:  They KNOW how imperfect I am.  What would they say?  What would they think?

As I prayed and wrestled, I gave God every good and logical excuse I could think of.  And He took them down one by one.  He confirmed and He called.  And the greatest confirmations came from my family.  My mother and father, whom I told AFTER Diana, basically told me “if God is calling, you have to answer!!”  I was floored!!  But I had already received the greatest confirmation I could possibly receive from my bride …

When I told her, she wasn’t surprised at all.  She agreed to pray with me and we would figure this out together.  Then she told me a story that I will never forget.  Several years before she even met me, she was at a retreat or a youth camp and had a strong calling from God.  You might say an unusual calling.  The Holy Spirit told her that some day she would be the wife of a pastor.  Then, in her words, she met me.  Some time later she knew that I was the one, and just guessed she had misunderstood.  But now it all made perfect sense to her.

And it takes a family calling …  My profession is both extremely rewarding and heartbreaking.  Some go out of their way to encourage me.  Some go out of their way to tell me how sorry I really am.  And then I come home everyday to a woman who is called, and her calling is to walk the mountain tops and valleys with me.  To very little fanfare or recognition.  And she will not like the fact that I wrote this, but it is true.

Another great confirmation for me is the fact that I know I couldn’t make it without a partner who is just as called to ministry as I.  Who loves our church just as much.  Who celebrates the victories and struggles through the hardships.

Because, she is called too.  It really is a family calling.

Breaking Down the Walls

20 Mar

There is a revival afoot in Florence.   If you live here, you definitely want to take part!!  It began in the shadow of an ominous event almost two years ago, when a young man entered Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston with the intent of doing evil.  Nine of my brothers and sisters in Christ lost their lives that day, because of their race and their love for Christ.  Period.  And it still breaks our hearts in the Great State of South Carolina.

But God can bring great things out of the ashes of bad …

You see, in the buckle of the Bible belt, our reaction was a little bit different from that of other parts of our nation.  Instead of drawing lines and throwing stones, we bonded together and prayed.  And trusted God.  As heartbroken as I was, I was proud of Charleston and how that city came together in the face of it all.  Evil did not ultimately win that war.  The Armor of God was deployed and it did its job!

Here in Florence, churches of all denominations and creeds began to gather and pray. Together.  Through a series of events and the leadership of the Holy Spirit, this group brought Tony Evans to Florence just last month.  And history is still writing itself!!

If you skip back 150 years or so in the history of our area, you will find the story of Samson Ham.  Samson Ham was a slave who attended Ebenezer Baptist Church.  And the hand of God was upon this young man.  So much so that God led some of the men of Ebenezer to pool their money and buy his freedom.  And Samson Ham worked hard to found Savannah Grove Baptist Church.

When you jump forward to 2017, how fitting is it that God has once again put Savannah Grove and Ebenezer together in our ONEness EmbRACEd project.  And we have realized several key factors that would disarm racism and bring harmony to our little part of the world if we can spread the word:

  • We MUST be intentional in our relationships with each other
  • Those of us who call Christ Savior are all playing for the same team!!  And we have the same goal in mind:  The Kingdom of God!!
  • It all starts with us GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER FACE TO FACE!!!  It is hard NOT to love someone you know!!  ESPECIALLY OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST!!

As for Ebenezer, Pastor Canty said something last night that is 110% true:  There are no two greater groups equipped for this!!  There might not be two churches in Florence County with the history of Savannah Grove and Ebenezer.  WE SHARE THE SAME DNA!!!  They are LITERALLY our brothers and sisters!!  Time to LIVE LIKE IT!!

Will any of it make a difference??  I KNOW IT WILL!!  And, as for me and my house, we will choose the Golden Rule and LOVE!

How will YOU make a difference?

Well …. Isn’t THAT Special!!

19 Mar

churchlady

Jesus never actually met the Church Lady when He walked the earth almost 2000 years ago.  But He did meet her ancestors …

Dana Carvey brought the Church Lady alive decades ago on Saturday Night Live.  You did not have to watch her long to realize she thought much of her own piety and very little of everyone else.  She often did her superior dance to celebrate her own closeness to God as she compared it to guest after guest who just didn’t measure up.  We watched her and we laughed.  We thought “How ridiculous for anyone to live that way.”  Little did we realize this is a way of life for many.  And perhaps us at times.

Jesus Himself was attacked by the Pharisees and Sadducees because He wasn’t as superior as they …  He frequently taught against the legalism of religion and called His disciples to God’s true intent for the law:  The state of our hearts.  God looks past the surface of who we pose to be and sees what is really in our hearts and minds.  He sees past the facade into what is real.  Too often, we like to stop at the surface and camp out … We see the blemishes of others and like to point them out.  Maybe we just do that in our minds, but we do it.  And it makes us feel …. SPECIAL.  And inside we do our little superior dance and think about how much more we please God than another.  And God grieves.

Why do churches struggle?  Because we live that way.  Why is there racial tension in our communities?  Because we haven’t been willing to step forward and break down barriers.  Why are families drowning?  Because we find it messy to get involved.  The list could go on, but the theme is easy to see:

HEY CHURCH!  GET INVOLVED!  LOOK PAST THE MASKS!  BE REAL!!  LOVE GOD AND LOVE EACH OTHER!!

It is much easier than the devil wants you to believe …..

 

Church, We have a Problem

12 Mar

We talked about this at Ebenezer today.  At least, a little bit.  I believe this problem exists in many North American churches today.  It is a great problem to have, and a terrible one.  And we find ourselves caught in the middle….

As more and more people turn to the Church, more and more seek to be part.  And this is a great thing.  We Southern Baptists have mastered the idea of programming as a way of engaging those who seek Christ.  And this method presents the difficulty of the problem:  As more and more seek to engage, there is a greater need for workers.  For those seasoned Christians to engage people who want to know more.

The crux of the problem is the fact that we live in a society that places far more value on enjoyment that service.  “What is in it for me??”  That seems to be far more the question asked in the modern church than:  “How can I make a difference for Him?”

This problem is simple, sad, and might end the life of the North American church if left unchecked:  WE have a heart problem.  A servant problem.  Jesus said “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  Then Jesus told us to PRAY God would send out more workers.  I am praying that God WILL send more workers forth at Ebenezer and churches everywhere.  Because there are tons of people all around us who want to know more about Christ.  They watch us, they listen to us, they rely on US.  And I hope we are teaching them the right things, and not multiplying the problem.

Join me in that prayer.