Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Rewind - 2015

*  It didn't start off so great, but it ended up being amazing.

*  Because of car issues, Lara, the kids, and I weren't able to be together on Thanksgiving Day.  But I was fortunately with my lovely daughter, Lizzie.  She and I had Thanksgiving lunch at Ruby Tuesday here in Sumter, while Lara and the rest of the crew were in Greenville, SC.  I did enjoy the time I spent with Lizzie.  She's a great girl.

*  The next day, the entire Richardson family (Dad, Mom, brothers, wives, and kids) was able to meet up in the mountains of North Carolina.  We all stayed in the same hotel and spent a couple days together.  It was an absolute blast!

*  My two brothers, Condy and Wyman, were there.  It's about once a year that we all get together, so we really enjoyed it.  Condy is a pastor here in South Carolina, and Wyman is a pastor in Arkansas.  I'm real proud of both of my brothers. 
*  My kids enjoyed getting together with all of their cousins.  That crew gets along really well, and they always have a blast.  I liked seeing them have such a good time with each other.
*  We ventured over to Bryson City, which is a neat little mountain town.  There we boarded the Polar Express for a train ride.  That was simply incredible!  Hot chocolate and cookies were served.  Christmas carols were sung.  The Polar Express story was told.  And Santa climbed aboard for a quick visit.  We all became kids again and had the time of our lives.  I absolutely loved it!  It should also be pointed out that Lara especially had a blast with Santa.
*  The rest of the weekend was spent laughing and sharing stories, watching the kids in the indoor pool, and exploring Bryson City.  It was the perfect getaway.

*  I love the mountains of North Carolina.  It's peaceful and beautiful up there. 

*  I took today off from New Calvary Baptist Church.  LC preached for me this morning, and Jock Hendricks preached tonight.  They're both good guys, and I appreciate them filling in.  I did miss our church family today, and I look forward to seeing them again in a few days.

*  This Thanksgiving season, I'm truly grateful for all the blessings that have come my way.  I'm thankful for my family, New Calvary Baptist Church, Elmore Hill McCreight Funeral Home, good friends, my health, and God's amazing grace.  Truly, this is a good season of life that I'm in right now.  Things are going well.

*  So now we're entering the Christmas Season.  It'll be a great time celebrating the birth of Jesus.  What a special time of the year that is!

*  I hope all of you had a Happy Thanksgiving.  May God allow us all to enjoy a special Christmas Season.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Grace Of Mrs. Reaves

Thomas Sumter Academy is where I went to school.  And in my junior year, which was 1987-88, I took chemistry with Mrs. Reaves.  She was a great lady and a excellent educator.  

The problem I had that year in chemistry was not the subject or the teacher.  The problem was me.  I didn't pay good enough attention.  I didn't try to learn the subject.  And at times I just misbehaved in class.  Because of my choices, I failed chemistry.  That was a low point for me.  And all of the blame laid at my feet.  It was 100% my fault.

But let me tell you about Mrs. Reaves.  She didn't give up on me.  That good woman showed me kindness, patience, and forgiveness.  And when I finally decided to grow up and take chemistry again in my senior year, she let me back in her class for another round.  Yes, she welcomed me back and gave me another opportunity.  When I needed tutoring, she was more than willing to help.  When I didn't understand the material, she explained it in another way that clicked in my mind.  She did everything she could to help me succeed.

Mrs. Reaves showed me grace.  In other words, she treated me better than I deserved.  And it made a big impact in my life.  I still think about it 27 years later.    

In a way, God does the same thing with all of us.  Ephesians 2:8 tells us "for by grace you have been saved" and "it is the gift of God."  Isn't that awesome?!  God treats us better than we deserve.  

We deserve condemnation, but He grants us salvation.  

We deserve Hell, but He gives us Heaven.

God, in all of His goodness, shows us kindness, patience, and forgiveness.  He offers us the gift of a new life through His Son, Jesus.  This life is abundant and eternal.  And it's nothing we earn or deserve.  Far from it.  All we do is receive this gift by saying "Yes" to Jesus and placing our faith in Him.

Receive God's grace today.  It'll bless your soul and transform your life.  And show people grace today.  Grant them forgiveness and mercy.  It'll be a gift to them that might just turn them around.  And that's a good thing!

I'm thankful for the grace of Mrs. Reaves.  And by the way, my second year of chemistry went much better.  I passed with a higher grade and learned some things I still remember today.  And when I was later hired to work at First Baptist Church of Sumter, one of the first people to welcome me there was Mrs. Reaves!  Her grace towards me continued long after high school.  

And I'm especially thankful for the grace of God.  It has saved my soul and made all the difference in my life.  Truly, it is the single greatest gift I have ever received.

Grace.  It really is amazing.  Thanks be to God for it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

You Might Be Surprised!

Ashleigh is a part of our church family here at New Calvary Baptist.   She has been posting Bible verses on Facebook and texting them to people she knows.   At times she has wondered if this was making a difference.  But one night at a church service, another lady stood up and testified about a family crisis she has experienced.  She then looked at Ashleigh, in front of everyone, and said "You may not realize this, but those Bible verses you posted online helped me through some tough times."

Ashleigh was surprised.  God had used her.  And she had no idea what a difference her actions made.

I've been blogging for a while, and at times I've wondered if this does any good for people.  But one day my friend, Tim Baker, posted a message on my Facebook page.  He explained that he prints off copies of my blog posts and mails them to a friend, who is in prison.  So far, Tim has mailed him over 300 printed copies of these blog posts.  And the man in prison is sharing them with other inmates.

Like Ashleigh, I too was surprised.  God has used me.  And I had no idea what a difference my actions made.

These two stories combine to make one point:  God often accomplishes things through you and me when we do not even realize it.  At times, He flows through our words and deeds to touch hearts, stretch minds, open eyes, change lives, and bless others.  He is impacting people around us without even notifying us.  

Be faithful in reaching out and loving on people.  Care for the suffering.  Feed the hungry.  Shelter the homeless.  Befriend the lonely.  Defend the weak.  Share the gospel.  And do not think you're failing to make an impact.  You are a special tool in the hands of the Almighty, and by using you, He is accomplishing great things you may not be aware of.

Yep, you might be surprised at the difference God is making in the world through you.  So keep your chin up, refuse to quit, and stay faithful.  God is at work, even when you don't know it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Heaven Is Like

I was talking recently with a family here in Sumter.  One of the ladies told me about her uncle who had an unusual request.  He asked her to put his cell phone in his casket when he died.  She asked him why he wanted that done.  "So when I get to Heaven, I can call you and tell you what it's like", was his reply.  Sure enough, when he died, she remembered his request.  And shortly before his funeral, she placed his cell phone in the casket.

She and I both got a laugh out of that story.  Obviously the uncle and the lady knew it doesn't quite work like that.  But it was a neat moment that meant a lot to her.

I kind of doubt she will get a phone call from Heaven.  But I do know she and the rest of us can learn a little bit about what it's like.  How?  By looking in scripture.

Here's what won't be in Heaven: Revelation 21:4 tells us there will be no crying, no hurting, and no dying.  Nobody will suffer up there at all.  This world we live in now has plenty of tears, pain, and death.  But Heaven will have smiles, comfort, and life.  So if you're hurting now, just remember this:  better days are coming, and your difficulties will be no more. 

Here's what will be in Heaven:  John 14:2 tells us God's house is there, and it has plenty of rooms for His people.  Seeing that everything our Lord has and does is perfect, I feel confident in saying this mansion will be spectacular.  Then, in the next verse, we see that Jesus will there with us too.  We will get to see, hear, and experience His presence in an up close and personal way.  What a thrill that will be!  Interacting with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in that proximity will be an incredible blessing we delight in forever.  It will be wonderful to see our loved ones, friends, and heroes up there too.  But being in God's house with Jesus will clearly be the best part of all.

Do you know how to get to Heaven?  Ask Jesus to forgive you sins, save your soul, and reserve your spot.  That's what He meant in John 14:6 when He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  There you have it.  It is through Jesus that you have a meaningful life on Earth and an eternal life in Heaven.

If that lady ever gets a phone call from up there, I'll be sure to let you know.  But in the mean time, just keep your eyes on Jesus.  That will make life better down here, and it will give you something awesome to look forward to up there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Courage On Broad Street

I came to a stop at one of the lights on Broad Street the other day.  In front of me was a truck with a sticker on his back window.  For a moment, I strained my eyes to read its message.  Then I was able to make it out.  The sticker read, "Nothing to Fear".
Now I don't know which organization put out this particular decal.  But I do know the message is totally true.  We Christians really do have nothing to fear.  Absolutely nothing.
What is it that scares you?  Be honest with yourself.  Is it disease, debt, divorce, or death?  Or maybe it's something else.  Whatever it is, know that you do not have to live in fear any longer.
Let's consider this call to courage for a moment...
It is Isaiah 41:10 which states, "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."  This Old Testament passage also applies to us today.  And what a great promise it is!
This verses reminds us to find courage in the following:
[1]  God's presence.  He says "I am with thee".  This means we are never alone.  Regardless of whether we are dancing on the mountain-top or grieving in the valley, God is over us, under us, beside us, and inside us.  This all-encompassing presence is a tremendous comforter.  God's going to be with us as long as we are on this Earth, and then one day He will take us home to Heaven where we will enjoy His company forevermore. 
[2]  God's assistance.  He says "I will strengthen thee""I will help thee", and "I will uphold thee".  That's a big deal!  Some times we feel weak and unable to continue along the journey of life.  But thanks be to God, He offers a power, lends a hand, and provides a boost.  We have way more than our own power to utilize.  Thankfully, we have God's assistance available twenty four hours a day and seven days a week.
When I saw that bumper sticker, I was encouraged.  It felt like God was reminding me not to be afraid.  So when the light turned green and the traffic moved forward, I sensed a new boldness within my heart.  I was once again ready to face whatever came my way.
Courage.  It's available at more places than that Broad Street intersection.  It's yours and mine wherever we go.
Be strong in the Lord.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Our Avon Park Middle Dance Parties

A couple of years ago, I had the joy of working with some special needs students at Avon Park Middle School in Florida.  I loved that job.  Those kids were great, and I will always look back on my time with them fondly.

I started this fun thing with them one day when I could tell they were in need of getting away from their desks and stretching some.  We had a dance party.  Yeah, you read that right.  A dance party!

In between classes I turned on some music, sat back, and cut them loose.  Man, those kids went absolutely nuts.  They danced like I've never seen people move before.  They had smiles the size of Texas on their faces.  And a few of them could really bust a move!

Well, I did this once a day for a while.  And it kind of spread throughout our little corner of the school.  Other kids, who I did not teach, also stopped by between their classes to join in on the fun.  I had the music cranked, and the kids were laughing, showing off their dance skills, and having a ball.  As for me, I sat at my desk smiling and laughing while these kids cut the rug.

It was a great time.  Most likely the "powers that be" would not have smiled too much at this, but I was at peace with it.  No harm was done.

After a while, however, I began to notice something.  Some of the kids expressed a lot more interest in the dance parties than in hitting the books.  A few of them were way more thrilled with busting a move than exercising their brains.  That opened the door for me to talk with them about the need for a little balance in life.  They were fine after that.

In Ecclesiastes 3, we read "There is a time for everything."  Then we see there is "a time to plant" and "a time to build".  This has to do with work.  But later we read there is "a time to dance".  Obviously this has to do with play.

A well-lived life has a healthy rhythm of work and play.  There is a time to get things done, and there is a time to kick up our heels and have some fun.  It seems to me that joyful people know how to do both at the appropriate moment.

I'm glad I got to talk with those kids about balance.  And I really hope we all keep it in mind.  When it's time to work, let's take care of business with focus, excellence, and passion.  And when it's time to relax, let's have some fun and maybe even dance like we don't care if someone is watching.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Donna's Courage With The Snake

Donna is the wife of my good friend, Tim Sieberhagen.  She's a neat Christian lady who loves God and loves people.  Our whole family likes her.

One day, my crew was over at their home.  All of a sudden, the kids started yelling, "A snake is in the house!"  People were freaking out.  Tim and I decided to check out what was happening.  And when we (the two men in the house) saw the snake in their dining room, we became cowards.  Seriously, we did.  We looked at each other and said, "I'm not going to get that!" 

But Donna sprung into action.  Armed with a broom and a little trash can, she marched right into that dining room.  Carefully, she used her broom to get the snake into the trash can.  Then she calmly walked outside to their back fence, and let it slither away into the woods.

Wow.  She was sure brave!  Calm, cool, and collected.  Totally in control.

Tim and I, on the other hand, had chickened out.  We totally dropped the ball.  Our fear held us back from doing what was necessary.

We all still laugh about that moment.  It's been a favorite story of our two families for a while.  And I suppose it always will be. 

Courage.  It's desperately needed in our world today.  Why?  Because we're dealing with matters far more serious than a little snake.

Addiction.  Divorce.  Unemployment.  Financial hardship.  Moral decay.  Terrorism.  Godlessness.  We have some tough issues in today's world.  Lots of people are hurting.  And the time has arrived for men and women to step up with courage and strength.  We must address these difficult issues with the heart of Jesus and minister to those who are in pain.

It's easy to shy away and not get involved with scary things.  But it's also cowardly.  It leaves people alone in their suffering.

We Christians know the answer to life's biggest problems.  And we are equipped with love, hope, peace, and strength from above.  God has poured all of this into us, along with His own personal presence.  Our job is to get involved with this world and offer them what God has already given us.

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  That's Joshua 1:9.  And it's what we must always remember.  Strength and courage are found in knowing that God is with us. 

So, men and women of God, be courageous.  You're armed with something better than a broom and a trash can.  You have love to share, truth to speak, and hope to offer.  Let people know that God is there and He does care.

Thanks, Donna, for being courageous with the snake.  You've inspired us all.  May your example motivate the rest of us to step up and do ministry in difficult situations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Peanut Butter Shot

A few years ago, our family discovered this shop in Florida that made incredible cupcakes.  They were "out of this world" delicious.  And there was one item in particular that really became a favorite of ours:  a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing.  I remember thinking "I hope they have these in Heaven."
Every now and then, I would do something else.  When I went into that shop to pick up something, I'd get a "peanut butter shot".  It was the peanut butter icing in a small cup without the cupcake.  Basically, I was enjoying one part of the experience and leaving out the other.
If we're not careful, we can do the same thing with the Bible.  I'm talking about enjoying some parts of scripture and ignoring other parts.  Think about it...
It's possible to focus on God's forgiveness and leave out God's call to righteousness.
It's possible to focus on God's love and leave out God's wrath.
It's possible to focus on God's grace and leave out God's discipline.
It's possible to focus on God's Heaven and leave out Satan's hell.
Just like I would occasionally enjoy the icing and leave out the cupcake, people some times feast on the portions of scripture that delight, and leave out the selections that convict.  This picking and choosing with God's Holy Word is not good for us on a spiritual level.  We need all of the Bible.  Every bit of it.  The parts that soothe us, and the parts that sting us.  Scripture is to be read, absorbed, and followed in its entirety. 
I could occasionally get away with enjoying the icing and ignoring the cupcake.  But we don't get to do that with scripture.  God never gave us that option.
Be "whole Bible" in your Christian walk.  Take it all in.  And then live it out.  Besides, the Word of God is a healthy feast of life-changing wisdom and divine power that will make your life so much better.  You'll never regret feasting on the whole book.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Coffee, C.C., And Me

C.C. is a guy I work with at the funeral home.  He's a fine fellow.  And I always enjoy his company.

The other night, we were at a visitation when he asked me to make him a cup of coffee.

Now here's the deal:  I don't drink coffee.  And I've never made a cup of it either.  Coffee is just not my thing.

Because of that, I was not too thrilled when he made his request.  "C.C., I don't know how to make you a cup of that," was my reply.  "Oh come on, you've watched others do it tonight.  Just try it and make me a cup."  After a while, I gave in.  "Fine, I'll give it a shot."  Then and there I produced my first ever cup of coffee.

When I handed it to C.C., he took a sip and looked surprised.  "This is really good!", said my friend.  He actually enjoyed it.  He liked it so much, that the next morning when he arrived back at work, he said to me, "Hey, how about make me another cup of that coffee."

Oh brother.  I've created a monster.  Ha!

Sometimes we are surprised at what we can do.  Our accomplishments, big or small, may shock us.  We just never know what we are capable of.

But we should never be surprised at what God can do.  His power is unlimited.  Simply put, God can do anything.  Seriously.  ANYTHING.

Jeremiah 32:17 is where we read, "Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you."  Then, in Luke 1:38, an angel tells Mary, "...nothing is impossible for God."  Finally, in Matthew 19:26, we read these words:  "With God, all things are possible." 

All throughout the scriptures we see the unlimited abilities of God.  His strength is flat out amazing.  God boggles our minds with His divine power.

Find comfort in knowing this.  The God of heaven and earth can more than handle anything you're facing.  Nothing is a challenge for Him.  So, talk with Him about whatever struggles you're having.  With a heart full of faith, hand your problems to Him.  And know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that He's extra qualified to deal with it. 

I was surprised at what I could do with C.C.'s coffee.  But we should never be surprised at what God can do.  His abilities are quite simply incredible. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Night Rewind - 11/15/15

*  Revival services are going on this week here at New Calvary Baptist Church.  Dr. Tim Sieberhagen is preaching the messages, and things are going really well.

*  This morning he preached on the church needing the presence of God more than it needs anything else.  It is God's presence that draws people in and builds them up.  May we allow God's presence to take over His church.
*  Tonight he preached on the New Testament church.  The scripture we focused on was Acts 2.  Specifically, Tim addressed matters such as scripture, prayer, and showing grace to others.

*  We will have revival services here at New Calvary from 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week.  Everyone is welcome to come join us for this special time of worship. 

*  Our church family is participating in Operating Christmas Child again this year.  People brought in their shoeboxes today and we prayed over them.  Our desire is for the gifts to bless whoever receives them.  
*  I'm proud of how this congregation steps up to the plate time after time and helps out those who are hurting.  They really are a caring church family. 

*  Yesterday, I officiated a wedding for my friends, Daniel and Amy.  They looked great and were obviously happy to begin their married life together.  It was a pleasure for me to be a part of their big day.
*  They are a neat couple, and I wish them all the best!

*  Kipper Edens Ackerman played the harp and piano yesterday for the wedding.  She did really well.  Once again she proved to be a talented musician.

*  Best football game I watched this weekend:  Oregon vs. Stanford.  The Ducks looked impressive and won a thriller.  Emerson and I enjoyed this game the most on Saturday.

That's it for tonight.  Thanks for checking out the blog.  I'll have more new posts up this week, so feel free to check in any time. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Little Things

I turned 45 years old recently.  That night, my family threw a party with cake, ice cream, and presents.  We all had a great time.

After the party, my young son, Emerson, handed me a bag.  Inside was some wadded up notebook paper.  I carefully opened up the paper and found a little Lego man inside.  My boy then said, with a smile on his face, "Happy Birthday, Dad.  I hope you like it."  I hugged him and replied, "Thanks buddy!  I love it."  And I meant that.  It's on my dresser and will remain there.
He's a kid who is too young to work or earn money.  So he did the best he could with what he had.  In his room he picked out something that meant a lot to him, and he chose to bless me with it.  Though small in size, the gift truly was meaningful.  And it still is.

Little things can mean a lot.  When we have love and goodwill in our hearts, even the smallest gesture from us has the potential to bring sunshine into the life of someone else.  At that moment, God can take a little thing and make it a big thing.

Smile at someone today.  Open a door for a lady.  Take the kids or grandkids outside and play with them.  Thank a waitress for serving you that meal.  Tell your wife she is beautiful and you love her.  Slow down and listen when an elderly person shares with you a story about the good old days.  Express gratitude to your husband for working and providing for the family.  Visit someone who is not doing well physically.  

When you do things like these, you'll be reminded of the power in little things.  It's the tiny deeds and gifts that can sometimes mean the most.  And we may bring more of a blessing into someome else's life than we realize.  Just like Emerson's Lego gift did for me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When Brother Jay Was There

A few years ago, I served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Sebring, Florida.  They were (and still are) a fine church.  One Sunday morning, I had a lot on my mind as I walked into the sanctuary.  And I guess it showed.

Brother Jay saw it.  He was a former pastor of First Baptist, and he still attended there with his wife and family.  Furthermore, he was one of the finest men I've ever met. 

Anyway, he saw me walk up to the platform a few minutes before the service started.  I sat down and waited for things to begin.  Then, Brother Jay got out of his seat and walked up to the platform where I was seated.  He sat down beside me and patted my knee.  He said nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  But he sat there with me.  It was as if his actions said, "I'm here, and I care."  Then after a moment, he looked at me, smiled, and returned to his seat without opening his mouth.  I felt so much more at ease after that experience.  It really meant a lot to me.  And I'll always remember that moment.

Sometimes in life, we see people hurting.  And one of the best things we can do for them, is just be there.  They don't need a sermon, pep-talk, or old, wore out clich├ęs from us.  Really, more than anything else, they just need to know we care and we are with them.

It's the ministry of presence.  Simply being beside someone is what this is all about.  And I can tell you from personal experience, it means a lot to people.

Is someone you know hurting today?  Go see them.  Be there.  And it's ok if you don't know what to say.  Your presence alone will mean more to them than you can imagine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Worship In The Sunshine And The Rain

Our town's newspaper, The Sumter Item, ran a story on November 7, 2015 about how the recent flood has affected this area.  Jackie is one of the women featured in the article.  On October 4, 2015, she noticed water coming into her home because of the heavy rains outside.  That afternoon her residence was knee deep in water, and she had to leave.  She lost everything, except for a few article of clothing.  Since then, people have stepped up to help her in various ways.  My favorite part of the story is when Jackie told writer Rick Carpenter, "In everything I've been through, I know God has blessed me."

Wow!  That's inspiring.  What a perfect response to tough times.

Her experience reminds me of a Bible story.  In the Old Testament we read about a man named Job.  One day, he lost everything.  His material possessions, his family, and his livestock were all taken away from him.  It was a devastating blow!  Then we see Job doing this in chapter 1, verses 20-21:  "At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground in worship, and said:  'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.  May the name of the Lord be praised.'" 

Job did two things.  First, he grieved.  He allowed himself to experience the emotional journey of sadness and anger after his tragedy.  Second, he worshipped.  He recognized the authority of God and praised Him for it. 

Jackie and Job both realized something:  Just as God is worthy of worship in the good times, He is also worthy of worship in the hard times.  Whether the sun is shining or the rains are falling, God is still good and deserving of our praise.  Yes, it's good and healthy to express our pain and walk through the journey of grief.  We need to do that as part of our healing process.  And at the same time, it's also beneficial to adore our God.  Tears may run down our face as we lift up our hands, but that's ok.  In worshipping God, we are giving Him the praise He is due, and we are reminding ourselves how good He is to us even in the midst of adversity.

God is good.  He blesses us with His presence, peace, and power regardless of how life is going.  So let's remember the examples set by Jackie and Job.  Let's praise our God whether the sky is sunny or the clouds are dark.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Night Rewind - 11/8/15

*  A big crowd with many visitors showed up today here at New Calvary Baptist Church.

*  I love seeing new faces on Sundays!

*  This morning I preached on "What God Wants From Us" out of Micah 6:6-8.  You can read that scripture by clicking HERE.  My points were that God wants us to [1] Treat people right, [2] Help the hurting, [3]  Remember our place.

*  Our choir started working on this year's Christmas Cantata and I have been recruited to sing and narrate it.  This afternoon we checked it out for the first time.  I really like what we're doing.  Here is what we're singing:
*  Tonight I led our church in the first session of a new study called "The God You're Looking For".  It's based on a book by Bill Hybels.  In our 6:00 pm service I taught about God knowing everything.  Obviously, He does know it all, and this includes our [1] secrets, [2] scars, and [3] service.  And it's a good thing He knows everything!

*  Can I brag on my Emerson for just a minute?!  He received an award today for "Most Improved Player" on his football team.  The Chargers gave him some love, and we all are extremely proud of him.  At the start of this season, he was unsure of himself.  But he hung in there and got better as the season progressed.  What a thrill it is for us to see him rewarded for his efforts.  Here is a picture from today of Emerson and his head coach:
*  "Spectre" is pretty good.  I saw it Friday night.  But I still think "Skyfall" is the best James Bond movie I've ever seen.

*  Those Clemson Tigers are looking like a National Championship team.  They just keep winning.

*  Our Carolina Gamecocks sure have had a tough season this year.  Hopefully the winning ways will return soon.  I'm sure it's tough on those players dealing with these losses. 

*  I've seen more rain this year in South Carolina than I've ever seen before.  This is amazing. 

*  Revival services begin next Sunday here at New Calvary Baptist Church.  My good buddy, Dr. Tim Sieberhagen, will be preaching the sermons.  I'm really excited about this. 

That's it for tonight.

God's been mighty good to me and I'm really thankful.

I'll have plenty of new blog posts this week, so feel free to check back in anytime!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Beautiful Wedding. Wrong Name.

It was a beautiful wedding.  But I used the wrong name.  Yeah, I did that.

A few years back I officiated a wedding in Sebring, Florida.  The service was just beginning.  We all stood as the lovely bride walked down the church aisle with her father.  I asked everyone to be seated, did a brief welcome, and began the service.  

Then, it happened.

While I was talking, the bride gave me a look.  I stopped, leaned her way, and listened to her whisper these words:  "You're calling me by the wrong name."  My heart froze.  I could not believe I did that during a wedding in front of all those people.

Fortunately, we all got a good laugh out of it.  She was a good sport.  And we continued the service as I made sure to get her name right the rest of the way.

Sometimes we humans mess up names.  It happens with us.  But not with God.

God is spectacular with names!

He knows the stars by name.  All of them!  That's pretty amazing considering there are more stars in the sky than we can count.  Psalm 147:4 tells us "He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name."  Simply incredible, isn't it?!

He also knows His people by name.  Every single one of them.  In John 10:3, we read this about a shepherd:  "he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."  Then, in verse 14 of that same chapter, we hear Jesus say "I am the Good Shepherd, and I know my own."  Jesus is drawing a comparison here.  Just as a shepherd knows His sheep, Jesus knows His people.

See, God knows more than just our names.  Way more!  He knows our thoughts, personalities, hopes, fears, dreams, and concerns.  This is because we matter to Him.  He watches us closely and cares about us deeply.

It's comforting to know.  People can mess up our names and misunderstand our hearts.  But Almighty God knows our names perfectly and understands our hearts precisely.  And that's just one more reason why a relationship with Him, through His Son Jesus Christ, is such a special blessing.

Let God be at the center of your life.  You'll never regret it.  He already knows your name and everything else about you.  And He will more than treat you right.   That sounds like a mighty good deal, doesn't it?!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New Calvary Cookie Ladies

A group of ladies here at New Calvary Baptist Church have decided to do something kind for local schools.  They are making cookies and delivering them to different places each month to bless a faculty and staff.  In addition to giving them a delicious treat, our ladies leave a note of encouragement and appreciation for all the hard work these ladies and gentlemen do in Sumter's schools.  Today they took cookies to Alice Drive Elementary School and Cherryvale Elementary School.
Pictured below are just a few of the ladies who are participating in this project.  There are plenty of others who gladly lend in a hand in this awesome work.  Check out their smiling faces and some of the cookies they are delivering.
Seeing this good ministry project reminds me of a scripture passage.  I John 3:18 tells us "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth."  The writer is explaining that love is more than lip service.  It is a helpful deed that blesses someone.
I can tell you all day long that I love you.  And that's ok.  But REAL love is when I spring into action and do something that makes a positive impact on your life. 
Think about it.  There are hungry people to feed, homeless people to shelter, hurting people to comfort, lonely people to befriend, and lost people to evangelize.  If we truly care about people like we say we do, we will act on their behalf.
Let's show love in our homes.  And then we can demonstrate it in our businesses, churches, and communities.  If there's one thing this world needs, it is a lot more love.  And we are the ones who can share it!
Many thanks to the New Calvary Cookie Ladies!  Y'all are great.  I appreciate you reminding us that real love is more than words.  It's action.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Oh @&$# !!! Thoughts On Profanity.

Let's talk about profanity.  Cussing.  Using foul language.
Yes, I have cussed before.  I'd be lying if I acted like I haven't.  So I do need to own up to that. 
And I bet a lot of you have at least some experience in this as well.
During high school in the mid 80's, I worked at Simpson's Hardware here in Sumter.  Specifically, I spent my time in the garden center.  One day I watched this young kid, who was standing by his dad, drop something on the ground.  Then he cussed out loud.  "What did you say?", asked his dad.  I thought to myself that this kid might get the spanking of a lifetime right there in front of me.  The kid looked at his dad and repeated what he said.  Then the dad beamed with pride at his son, rubbed his head with a smile, and said, "That's my boy!"  Wow!  I was stunned.  That's not what I was expecting.
It seems to be everywhere these days.  Even some of the "cool" preachers do it.  Men, women, boys, and girls curse and swear openly without any sense of remorse.  Some do it out of habit.  Others do it to be shocking or funny.  And there are those who do it when they are hurting or frustrated.
So, what does God think about this?  Does He care how we talk? That's definitely worth considering.
Here are a few passages of scripture:
"But now you must put them all away:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth."  Colossians 3:8
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."  Ephesians 4:29
"Let there be no filthiness, nor foolish talk, nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." Ephesians 5:4
The above scripture passages weave together a clear message about our daily vocabulary.  What needs to be set aside is "obscene talk", "corrupting talk", "filthiness", "crude joking", and speech that is "out of place."  Instead, the words we use should be "building up" others and granting "grace to those who hear."  Also in our language "let there be thanksgiving" for what God has done for us.   
Look, I don't think we need to be legalistic here and come up with some sort of list about what's appropriate to say and what's not.  And I sure don't think any of us needs to become "language police" who blow a whistle and dish out a rebuke every time someone drops a verbal bomb of some sort.  But I do think we all (including me) would do well to think before we speak.  Also, it should be noted by every one of us that God does indeed care about the language we use.
Let's use words that honor our Lord.
Let's use words that stir noble thoughts in the minds of others.
Let's use words that are becoming of a Christian.
May God help us with our daily speech.  His forgiveness can cleanse us from our inappropriate words.  And His Spirit can help our language be much more positive and Christ-like.  After all, we have a witness to maintain and an example to set.  Yes, our words do indeed matter to God.  And they need to matter to us.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sunday Night Rewind - 11/1/15

*  We had Homecoming today here at New Calvary Baptist Church!  It was exciting to have packed pews in the sanctuary. 
*  Rev. Gene Stokes, one of our former pastors, preached the morning sermon.  He talked about the church being what God has intended it to be. 
 *  After the worship service, we had lunch for everyone in our fellowship hall.  The food was delicious and the fellowship was enjoyable.
*  I stood back and enjoyed watching everyone visit and have fun together.  It made me feel good to see this church family experiencing such a great time. 
*  Things are going well with this church, and I'm honored to be a part of it!
*  These are special days for our family.  My Elizabeth had a birthday on Friday, and Rachel has a birthday tomorrow.  Wow, my kids are growing up quickly!  I have three teenage daughters and a ten year old boy.  Time sure does fly by.
*  I've got to brag on my three youngest kids, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Emerson.  They got report cards this week, and they all got A's and B's!  Super excited about that. 
*  Here's a picture someone snapped at our home over the weekend.  It's of Elizabeth, Lara, and Katie on the front porch.  They look like some happy girls don't they?!
*  Congrats to my son, Emerson.  His football team, the Chargers, went undefeated this season and won the championship this past week.  We're all happy and proud of him, especially since this is his first season playing organized football.  And I appreciate his coaches for teaching him about the game and making this a fun season.  Below is a picture of him and his coaches celebrating after their final game and holding their trophies.  Way to go, Emerson!!
That's it for tonight.  God is good, and I'm sure thankful.
Plenty of new blog posts are coming your way this week.  Hope you enjoy them!  In the mean time, take care.