Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What They Think

I was working out at the gym a while back when I grew concerned about what they think.  See, some guys lift heavy weights for a few repetitions.  I'm one of these guys who lifts light weights for a lot of repetitions.  So one day I finished my workout and I noticed some other guys were ready to use the same equipment I just finished using.  I looked at the lighter weight that I was lifting and thought to myself, "These guys are going to think I'm some sort of wimp for not lifting the heavy weights."  So what did I do?  I quickly and quietly added a few pounds to my weights before I walked away from my area.  In my mind, that would impress them and keep them from laughing at what I was doing, even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with what I was doing.

Later that day, I thought to myself, "That was ridiculous.  Why should I care about their opinion of me?  I'm not going to do that again."  Ever since then, I quit worrying what the other guys think about me in the gym.  I'm just going in there, doing my thing, getting healthy, and not worrying about what they think.  And I no longer change my weights when I leave.  I refuse to do that again. 

Do you ever struggle with being concerned about what other people think of you?  Maybe it's with your workout, financial status, clothes, car, home, or job.  Do you sit around wondering if others are looking down on you or laughing at you?  If so, take it from a friend who knows:  Stop doing that.  Seriously.  Just stop.  You're only hurting yourself when you do that.  And you're giving those other people power over you that they should not have.

Listen, we can't be a slave to the opinions others have about us.  No matter who we are and what we do in life, there will always be some people who approve of us and other people who don't approve.  It's just how things go.  So we might as well accept that reality and quit worrying about it.

Here's what I've been learning in life the past few years:  All I can do is make sure I'm at peace with God, do my very best, and leave it at that.  What other people think about me matters very little.  What God thinks about me is much more important.  Other people are not my judge.  God is.

Also, here's something else I've learned:  Other people don't think about us nearly as much as we think about ourselves.  At times we may obsess over what others are formulating in their minds about us, when the truth is we haven't even crossed their minds.  They're thinking about their own lives and what they have going on. 

May God help you and me be more secure with ourselves.  Let's learn to be at peace with Him and comfortable with who we are in Him.  And when we do that, we will be freed from the chains of approval addiction. 

Yep, life gets better when we stop worrying about what others think of us.  A whole lot better.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Grown Up Table

During my childhood years, I went to the home of Grandmama Reynolds for the holidays and ate meals at the kids' table.  That was the little card table in the corner where all of us youngsters sat, cut up, and devoured our food.  We had some good times around that table. 

As I started getting up into middle school, however, I grew tired of the seating arrangement.  So I lobbied begged to get a chair at the grown up table with the older crew.  Eventually, the adults caved and let me sit with them.  I was thrilled about having easier access to food and listening in on their conversations.

But things didn't work out so well for me.  I spilled sweet tea my first time at the grown up table, and was immediately demoted back to the kids' table.  Doggone it, I was mad about that!  I blew my opportunity.  So as my head hung with shame, I returned to that little card table and resumed my holiday meals with the kids.  What a bummer.

It was a happy day, however, when they gave me another shot.  The grown ups felt sorry for me, I reckon, and granted me another opportunity to sit with them the next year.  This time, I was extra careful and paid closer attention to what I was doing.  I sat there and ate my meal with no accidents or disasters of any sort.  And even though the conversation wasn't nearly as thrilling as my adolescent mind had imagined it would be, it felt good to finally reach the grown up table.

In a way, God does the same thing with all of us that my relatives did with me.  We all mess up and fail one way or another.  And I'm talking about things far worse than spilling glasses of sweet tea.  We blow opportunities.  But God, in all of His goodness and grace, has mercy on us.  He offers us forgiveness and helps us learn from our mistakes.  Then He gives us another opportunity to shine and experience the thrill of success.  God appreciates a good comeback story, and He allows us a chance to be a part of one.

Maybe you've failed and made a disaster of things.  Believe me, I know how you feel.  I've been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt.  If that's you, here's some good news:  God's not through with you.  He forgives.  He restores.  And He provides another chance.  Your job is to receive His grace, forgive yourself, and move on.  Do it with gratitude and joy.  And your life will be so much better.

I'm glad I got another shot at the grown up table.  But I'm way more glad to have another shot at life.  God sure is good, isn't He?!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Rewind - 2015

*  Christmas of 2015 is now in the books.  I'll always remember it as a good one.  This was a simple, peaceful, and joyful time in our neck of the woods.
*  I really enjoyed the good times we all spent together here at New Calvary Baptist Church over the holidays.  That made this an even more special season.
*  Our church family enjoyed a delicious dinner together on the Sunday before Christmas.  The food was tasty and the fellowship was enjoyable.
*  Our choir did its annual Christmas cantata later that night.  I enjoyed being a part of it.  They recruited me to be a narrator and I had fun doing that.  I'm not much of a singer, but I am really proud of our choir.  They did great!
*  On Wednesday we had our Christmas worship services, which included carols and communion.  It was a special time that helped us all get into the right frame of mind for the season. 
*  I enjoyed watching the kids have fun together Christmas Eve.  They sat around in their pajamas that night and enjoyed each other.  I sure do love these kids!
 *  Of course everyone had fun opening gifts on Christmas morning.  I  believe the whole crew was happy to open some neat presents.
* My son gave me a checkers set, a table tennis set, and a cool Captain Spock lamp.  I especially like my lamp! 
  *  We had plenty of good food that day.  That morning we enjoyed a tasty quiche.  I really enjoyed that.
*  Dad and Mom also came over that morning to check out what all the kids got and enjoy some breakfast.  I'm glad we live close enough to them to enjoy holidays together as a family.
*  Later that day we went over to their house and had more fun.
*  I think it was the happiest and most peaceful Christmas we've had in a long time.  I really enjoyed every moment of it!
*  As for "Star Wars:  The Force Awakens" :  I loved it.  A fun movie that was a pleasure to watch.
*  I came across this on Twitter yesterday.  Never before have I eaten one of these, but it looks absolutely incredible.  I'm sure it's not healthy, but .... WOW!
*  We're still in holiday mode.  They have a week before everyone goes back to school.  And that's good.  I'm glad to see them enjoying this time of the year.
*  I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas!  God bless you and yours.
*  I've got plenty of new blog posts coming this week.  So feel free to check back in whenever you can.  And I hope you get a blessing out of them!
*  That's it for tonight.  Peace out.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Birth Of Our Lord

 It's Christmas, 2015.

For centuries, we Christians have celebrated the birth of our Lord.  And yet it never gets old.  There's too much richness in the story for it to become routine.

Just think about it...

The servant's heart of Mary.  She was a young woman with an upcoming wedding.  But then she was informed that there was a change in the blueprints for her life.  An angel told her she will miraculously conceive, carry, and birth Jesus.  "I am the Lord's servant.  Let everything you've said happen to me."  That was her response.  Mary was willing to humbly submit to God's will and do away with her own plans.  She was on board with what God wanted. 

May we too have a servant's heart, like Mary.  Let's live more for God, and less for ourselves. 

The obedience of Joseph.  He was going to take Mary as his wife.  But when he heard that Mary was carrying a child that did not belong to him, he was ready to quietly do away with their relationship.  Her suddenly being pregnant is not what Joseph had in mind.  But when the angel appeared to him and explained the situation, Joseph agreed to be a part of the divine plan.  He married the young woman, looked after her, made sure the child in her womb was safe, and named him "Jesus."  Joseph cooperated fully with the will of God.  He agreed to follow orders from above.

May we too live obediently, like Joseph.  Let's carry out what God wants.

The power of God.  Mary was a virgin.  She had not been intimate with a man.  But that wasn't a problem for God.  Not one bit.  He worked a miracle and she was with child anyway.  "Nothing is impossible with God", explained the angel.  Mary was reminded that God is awesome.  God can do anything, anywhere, at any time.  His power is breathtaking and life-changing. 

May we find comfort in knowing we can trust God to handle and accomplish anything.  The same God who worked a miracle in Mary can still do the miraculous today.

What an incredible story!  The servant's heart of Mary.  The obedience of Joseph.  The power of God.  These are just some of the many wonderful parts of the birth story.

May you be inspired and comforted by the birth in Bethlehem.

May you know that you are deeply loved by God.

And may you have a Merry Christmas!

God bless you and yours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Journey Of Life

"God has a plan for your life." - Rick Warren

"For I know the plans I have for you" - God (Jeremiah 29:11)

The other day, I was looking through an old scrapbook when I noticed a picture that had never caught my eye before.
It was of my youngest brother, Wyman, and me.  The year was 1978 or '79.  And the location was here in Sumter, SC.

But this was the interesting part of it:  We were standing in the backyard of our grandfather, Leon Richardson.  There behind us was a bus with the words "New Calvary Baptist" on the side.  Grandaddy was the pastor of New Calvary Baptist at that time.  And unbeknownst to me in that moment, I too would become the pastor of the same church about 35 years later!

That's how the journey of life goes.  It has plenty of surprises, twists, and turns.  The future is a mystery to you and me, and we have no idea what awaits us.

Maybe you wonder at times about your life.  What will happen in the days, months, and years to come?  Perhaps the mystery of tomorrow causes you to scratch your head today.

Here's how I heard someone put it:  "I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future."  Of course this "Who" is God.  He is in control, and He knows what is to come.  Furthermore, He will accompany us every step of the way as each new day unfolds before us.  His presence, peace, power, and purpose will help us regardless of what awaits us.

I had no idea that I would grow up and get to pastor the church who's bus was sitting there by Grandaddy's home.  But God knew.  And He prepared me for that moment before it arrived 35 years later.

You have no idea what your future holds either; however, you can rest easy in trusting The One who holds your future.  God has the right plan in mind for you, friend.  And He will stick with you every step of the way.

So don't worry or try too hard to figure out your future.  Just calmly live one day at a time and remember God knows what is around the corner.  He will equip and prepare your for whatever is ahead, and you'll be just fine in your journey of life.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Prayer Matters

I was in a local business here in Sumter the other day when I saw it.  There was a sign on a counter along with slips of paper and a pen.  Alice Drive Baptist Church, which is a fine church here in Sumter, had placed it there.  The sign read, "Have a prayer request?  We believe people matter to God, so we would love to pray for you.  Requests are confidential and can be anonymous.  It's that simple."  Anyone could write out a prayer request and leave it there in a little box.  Then someone from the church would come by, pick it up, and the church would begin praying for that person.

That's a neat idea.  And what a great ministry.  Good job, Alice Drive Baptist Church!  I tip my hat to you.

Prayer matters, you know?!  It's a huge deal.  And it really does make a difference.

Think about it...

When we pray for others, we join God in caring about them.

When we pray for others, we take our focus off of ourselves.

When we pray for others, we are asking God, who can do anything, to intervene and bring about a helpful resolution.

When we pray for others, we are exercising our faith and trusting in He who is far greater than ourselves.

When we pray for others, amazing things can happen.

So, yes, prayer matters.  It's mighty important.  And it can lead to tremendous blessings for everyone involved.

May all of us churches and individuals humble our hearts and pray!  Let's pray for others and ourselves.  And when we do, let's expect that God will open up the windows of Heaven and pour down more of His goodness on us all.

"Pray one for another" - James 5:16

Saturday, December 19, 2015

When A Train Hit My Car

I had this Honda Accord years ago.  Man, I liked that car.  It was really nice, used very little gas, and ran smoothly down the road.  And it looked great.  Simply put, it was one sweet ride!

One night my brother, Condy, borrowed it.  He was driving by himself down a dark, country road when the unthinkable happened.  Train tracks were ahead of him and there were no bars or lights to let him know.  As he crossed the tracks, a train came seemingly out of nowhere and collided with my car.  Condy didn't mean for this to happen.  It was just an unfortunate accident.

I heard about it an hour or so after it happened.  We got a phone call, so my parents and I hurried to the ER at Toumey Hospital.  There we found Condy unhurt for the most part.  No major injuries, amazingly.  And he went home with us about an hour later.

As I reflect on that experience, this goes through my mind:  People are way more important than stuff.  

Material possessions are temporary.  They can be here today and gone tomorrow.  The Bible talks about this when it describes "treasures on Earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19).  Our stuff will not last forever.  It will eventually become useless, fall apart, or be taken by someone else.  And if it somehow does manage to last until our death, it will then be inherited by someone else.  So either way, we do not enjoy our material possessions for eternity.

Human beings, however, are priceless.  They are created and loved by God.  And they have a soul that will live long after their bodies cease to function.  That makes them highly valuable.  And of course our relationships with them can last for many years.  What a long-term blessing that is!  Stuff can be replaced, but people can not.  Each and every person you see is precious and worth a whole lot.

I was a typical older brother.  At times I was alright, but there were other moments when I really was a jerk.  The truth is, my attitude wasn't always great towards my brothers when I was a teenager.  But that night, when I saw Condy in the ER, I wasn't mad at him one bit.  It was just good to see the boy alive and well.  He could have died in that wreck.  But God spared him.  And I was very glad to have him around for years to come.

Sure, I missed that car.  I didn't want to lose it.  But I was glad my brother survived, and that was good enough for me.

There's nothing wrong with money and material possessions.  Nothing at all!  Just don't get too attached to that stuff or make an idol out of it.  Instead, love God and love people.  Those relationships are what life is really about.  That's where real joy is found.  And that's what matters more than anything.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Randy's One Gift For All

Randy Twitty is the baseball coach at Sumter High School.  And he's also a friend I've known for about 30 years.  I've always looked up to him, and I enjoy his company whenever we get to visit.

One year at Christmas in the late 80's, some of us guys were over at Randy's home.  It was my brothers, Condy and Wyman, my future brother-in-law, Hayne Painter, and me.  As usual, we were having a great time.  Randy said, "Hold on a second, guys.  I'll be right back."  He went into his room and came back into the den with a big paper bag from Simpson's Hardware.  Then, while shouting out, "Merry Christmas!", Randy emptied the bag in the middle of the floor.  There, before us, was a huge pile of gray sweatshirts.  We all dove in and grabbed one.  And of course, we were thrilled with it.  I wore that cool sweatshirt for years and always remembered Randy's one gift for all.

God has also given one gift for all.  Years ago, instead of opening a Simpson's bag, God opened up the Heavens and extended all of us a gift.  John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son..."  Jesus is God's gift to everyone.  Each and every one of us are offered the opportunity to receive Jesus into our lives.  When we welcome Him into our lives, He forgives our sins and saves our souls.

Randy provided sweatshirts for each of us, and God provides Jesus for each of us.  And through Jesus, God grants us salvation.  He doesn't want any of us to miss out on this amazing gift.  2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."  Isn't that great?!  God doesn't want anyone to miss out on the salvation of Jesus.  He provides enough for all of us, if we will just receive it.

This Christmas, I hope you receive some nice gifts.  That's always a fun experience.  But most of all, I hope you receive the single, greatest gift of all:  Jesus and the salvation He brings with Him.

Thanks, Randy, for the sweatshirt.  You're a great pal!  I'll never forget it.

And most of all, thank you, God, for giving us Jesus.  You're a wonderful Lord!  And we'll always remember it.

P.S.  Just for old time's sake, here is a picture of Randy and me goofing off at someone's house here in Sumter in the late 80's.  Yep, I was still a high school student at Thomas Sumter.  Those were good times!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Beneath The Surface

To protect his privacy, I'll call him "Bart".

Years ago, I was asked to mentor and work with a young man.  Very quickly, I realized this was going to be a challenge.  "Bart" was mostly disengaged and wanted nothing to do with the planned activities.  Then, at other times, he was difficult, hostile, and rude.  I found myself growing frustrated with him.

One day, I was discussing the situation with a lady I knew.  After telling her about my challenges with "Bart", she looked at me, assured me that she understood my aggravation, and said this:  "He's had a hard home life.  For a while he was sexually abused by his dad, who is now in prison.  And his mother has her own problems which means he has somewhat had to raise himself.  Simply put, he has grown up in the midst of real adversity."

That changed how I felt about the situation.  Learning this information helped me be more patient, understanding, and compassionate.  From that point on, my attitude about the situation was different. I began to show him more grace, and we started getting along much better.

In dealing with people, I've learned there's a lot beneath the surface.  Folks that you and I interact with are like icebergs floating at sea.  We see only the tip of who they are and what they do.  But underneath, there is a lot more to them.  Experiences, influences, and circumstances do affect how they think, what they do, and where they go in life.

When it comes to people who are difficult or bothersome, let's keep in mind they may be acting out of pain.  It's possible they've been through some tough stuff that we know nothing about.  There could be problems in their private world that affect their public life.  Do their unseen issues excuse their misbehavior or failure?  No.  But they can influence and explain it.

Just remember that everyone you see has a private life.  They deal with things beneath the surface that are unseen and unknown to you and others.  Knowing this, be patient, show them grace, and lift them up in prayer when they act in a way that doesn't agree with you.  And when you do this, they just might respond favorably to your compassion.  Who knows?  You might make a friend and a difference in the process.

Yep, when it comes to people, there really is a lot beneath the surface.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tears Or Smiles?

Some friends of ours were visiting the house a while back.  When the mom informed her child it was time to go, he put his head down on a little table in our living room and let it be known he was not too happy about leaving.  We all tried not to laugh.  It was funny to watch.  He just kept his head down.

Then, an idea hit me.  I got down on my knees right beside him and put my head down on the same table.  Without saying a word, I did the same thing he was doing.  After a minute, he picked his head up, looked at me, and started laughing.  It was good to see a smile return to his face.
From time to time, everyone feels like that little boy.  People get down.  Sadness creeps in.  And they just feel low.  It's part of life for every man, woman, boy, and girl.

When this happens, let's treat them right.  We can show them kindness, lend them a listening ear, and grant therm encouragement.  When we do this, we just may see a smile return to their faces as well.

Paul was on the receiving end of this.  Some people were not exactly supportive of his ministry.  But we see how one person made a positive impact on his life when Paul wrote "May The Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains" (2 Timothy 1:16).  Though Paul was arrested and locked up, Onesiphorus blessed and "refreshed" him with encouragement and loyal friendship.  And because of that, Paul had a reason to smile.

Here's a question for each of us to ask ourselves:  Do I lead others to pain and tears, OR joy and smiles?  

We all affect others with our deeds and words.  Let's make sure we are a blessing to everyone we know.  Let's make their lives just a little bit better and brighter.  And when we do that, we just may end up smiling more ourselves!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Morning Rewind - 12/14/15

*  I preached "Any Room?" on Sunday here at New Calvary Baptist Church.  The scripture was Luke 2:1-7 and you can read it here if you'd like.

*  Key point of the sermon was this:  There was no room in the inn for Joseph and Mary.  Is there room in our hearts for Jesus?  May God help us rid our hearts of anything that fills up the space where Jesus belongs.

*  New Calvary is growing.  New faces are showing up every week.  This thrills me!

*  We will be making several changes in the upcoming weeks and months to help us better accommodate new families and move up to the next level.

*  I love this church!

*  Congrats to my Elizabeth.  She recently received her high school class ring in a neat ceremony.  I liked how they let the parents present the rings to their children.

*  Here are a couple of pictures from the ceremony.  One is when I'm presenting the ring to her.  And the other is us right after it ended.
*  My Katie has finished finals and come home for Christmas break.  Real proud of her work during her first semester of college.

*  We're staying home for the Christmas holidays.  Looking forward to a peaceful time with family and friends right here in good ole Sumter.

*  I think South Carolina's hire of Will Mushcamp a few days ago was a good one.  Best wishes to him for great success here in Gamecock country.

*  Yes, I confess, I too am excited about the new Star Wars movie coming out in theaters this week.  It's hard not to be.

Plenty of new blog posts are coming out this week.  So feel free to stop by anytime.  I hope at least some of them are a blessing for you and yours.

Have a great day!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

False Assumptions

So there's this story in the Bible about Paul, who was a great missionary.  One day, while meeting some new people on an island, a snake bit him on the hand.  "He's a murderer," the islanders said.  They just assumed Paul did something wrong and that God was punishing him.  Then, when he shook the snake off his hand and suffered no harm whatsoever, they same people concluded, "He's a god."  Of course, they were wrong in both cases.  Paul was not a murderer.  And he was not a god.  He was neither.  They just made false assumptions about him because of what they saw on the surface.  (You can read that scripture by clicking HERE.)

False assumptions.  Wrongly forming opinions of people when we don't know the whole story.  It happens, but it shouldn't.  We see it in the Bible, and we see it in modern culture.

Before we size up people, let's keep this in mind:  There's always more to someone than what meets the eye.  There's always a background story filled with circumstances and details that we know nothing about.  And there's always things swirling around in their minds and hearts that are not seen or heard by us.  So it's best to be slow in forming opinions of others; otherwise, we make false assumptions, which is terribly unfair.

Don't assume someone is a terrible parent just because their child rebels.

Don't assume someone lacks faith just because they cry at a loved one's funeral.

Don't assume someone isn't paying attention to the sermon just because their Bible isn't open.

Don't assume someone is a bloodthirsty terrorist just because they want to move to America from another country.

Don't assume someone is a thug just because he's black, or a bigot just because he's white.

Don't assume someone is going to fail in the future just because they failed in the past.

Don't assume someone is wanting to buy drugs or liquor just because they are homeless and asking for a couple of dollars.

Don't assume someone is lazy just because they're poor, or arrogant just because they're wealthy.

Only God can see inside the heart of a person.  Only God can accurately judge someone.  He alone knows the whole story and the complete truth about about you, me, and everyone else on this planet.

It's too bad those folks made false assumptions about Paul.  He wasn't a murderer or a god.  But he was a special guy that loved God and loved people.  And it's too bad when we make false assumptions about people we meet.  It causes us to miss out on who they really are.

Let's take our time and get to know people.  Let's hear their stories and allow them to share with us who they really are.  That seems to be the right and fair way to treat folks.  And that is definitely how we would want others to treat us.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Zaxby's Sauce At Chick-fil-A And Prayer

I pulled up to a Chick-fil-A the other night and ordered some chicken strips.  Man, I love those things!  Then, without thinking, I asked the young lady for an extra Zaxby's sauce.  I guess my brain was on automatic pilot or just taking a nap.  Asking for a Zaxby's sauce at Chick-fil-A was not one of my brighter moments, and I immediately realized what I did when she started laughing and told me over the speaker that she didn't have that kind of sauce. 
I asked for the wrong thing.
At times, we do this in prayer.  We ask God for the wrong thing occasionally.  And He doesn't grant our request.  But His reason is simple:  He knows what is best for us.
We may ask God for more money, but perhaps He thinks too much money would ruin us.
We may ask God for a promotion at work, but perhaps He thinks the added pressure would make us miserable and bring us added stress.
We may ask God for a relationship with a certain someone, but perhaps He thinks that person would not be a good influence on us.
See my point?  At times we go to God in prayer and request things that we're just not going to receive.  But that's ok.
Now, let's go back to my story:  The young lady said, "I can give you Chick-fil-A sauce instead."  I responded with a laugh, "Ok, that sounds just fine with me."  And you know what?  I enjoyed that sauce.  It wasn't what I originally requested, but it ended up being great!
Maybe God doesn't give you more money, but instead He grants you a new wisdom to better use the money you already have.
Maybe God doesn't give you that promotion at work, but instead He grants you a renewed passion and gratitude for the position you already have.
Maybe God doesn't give you that relationship with a certain someone, but instead He brings a different person into your life that blesses you in new ways.
God may not grant all of your requests when you pray.  But that's just because He knows what is best for you.  And He might just have something way better in mind that will enrich you greatly.
So keep on praying.  Ask God to bless you in the best way that He sees fit.  And I can guarantee you it will never leave you disappointed.
And I'll try harder to remember next time what restaurant I'm at when I place my order.  :)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Patricia And The Prostitutes

I met Patricia for the first time the other day while I was in one of the larger cities here in South Carolina.  After a few moments of small talk, we told each other that we both are Christians.  Then she proceeded to tell me about one of the ministry projects she has taken on in her life.
One night a week she drives down to a busy intersection in her city, parks her car, and starts walking.  She goes to talk with the prostitutes that are on the sidewalk.  And her mission is to offer them help.  Patricia asks them how their chosen profession is working out for them.  Needless to say, that gets the discussion going.  Then she invites them to meet her at her church the next morning.  Finally, she tells them that the Lord loves them, and He can turn their lives around if they will let Him.
When I asked her if any of them ever show up the next morning, her face lit up.  "Oh yes, some of them actually do!" responded Patricia.  They show up, sit by her, enjoy a good worship service, hear the gospel, and meet several other ladies in the church, including the pastor's wife.  And the best part is this:  Some of these women have asked Jesus to be their Lord and have experienced wonderful changes in their lives, which includes getting off the streets.
Isn't that awesome?!
The ministry of Patricia reminds me of the ministry of Jesus.  See, He's all about saving sinners and fixing people who have made a real mess of their lives.  In Mark 2:17, Jesus told some self-righteous, "holier than thou", religious leaders, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  The mission of our Lord is to forgive faults and save souls. 
Jesus doesn't write off people who mess up.  No way!  He reaches out, loves them up, and transforms their lives.  And if we're anything like Jesus, we need to join Him in this work.  When we see someone who has made a real mess of things, let's not look down on them them with a heart of condemnation.  Instead, let's show some grace and offer them hope in Jesus.
God bless Patricia!  She's a special lady doing an important work.  I rejoice over her ministry.  And may God provide each of us opportunities to do His work in our own little corners of this world.  What a thrill it is to know that God can use us to turn lives around. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Spirit - Part TWO

Once I discovered it as a child, I loved doing it.  Pouring a glass of Coke and watching it bubble over the sides amused me for some reason.  I knew the glass was full when that happened.

While I desired Coke-filled glasses, God longs for Spirit-filled people.

Paul put it this way in Ephesians 5:18 - "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the spirit."  This verse means that our lives can be filled up with the things of this world and under their influence, or we can be filled up with the Holy Spirit of God and under His influence.  Being "filled with the spirit" is to allow God's presence to pour into every area of our lives and take over everything.

Let me illustrate it this way: I read about these guys discussing Dwight L. Moody, who was a well-respected minister years ago.  One of the guys wasn't all that thrilled with Moody coming to his area, and asked "Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?"  One of the other guys wisely responded, "No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody."  Bingo!  That's what being filled with the Spirit is like.  It's allowing God to take ownership and exercise control of our lives.  It is to be full of Him and yielded to Him.  That's what Moody sought, and so should we.

Let's allow the Holy Spirit to fill every corner of our lives.  When we do this, He is at the center of all that we are and all that we have.  The neat thing about this is that God won't show up empty-handed!  He will bring along His rich blessings such as compassion, peace, power, hope, purpose, wisdom, and grace.  Why wouldn't we want these wonderful gifts in every area of our lives?  I think that's what Andrew Murray had in mind when he wrote, "May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love, and joy of God's presence, and not a moment without the entire surrender of myself as a vessel for Him to fill full of His Spirit and His love."

Yep, that glass filled with Coke was a beautiful sight to my eyes years ago.  It thrilled me!  But it's way more beautiful to see a person filled with God's Holy Spirit.  That's far better and more satisfying than a drink of soda.

Fill us today, God.  Make Yourself at home in every corner of our lives.  Nothing will make our days better than that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Spirit - Part ONE

In January of this year, I went camping with some of the other guys in the Richardson family.  We ventured to Oconee State Park, South Carolina, which is up in the mountains.  When we arrived there, we scouted out the park and found the campsite that looked right for us.  Then we unloaded our gear from the vehicles.  Finally, we set up our tent, which was the most important part of all.  That was our home.  Our dwelling place.  And when it got late, we went in there for the night.
I love camping in a tent.
God loves dwelling permanently in a human heart.
Here's one of the awesome things about God that thrills me:  He does more than linger beside us, slide under us, or hover over us.  God actually takes up residence inside us.  You can't get any closer than that!
Just as a camper goes inside a tent, God goes inside a heart when someone says "Yes" to Jesus.  And now it gets even better:  A camper will eventually leave a tent when it's morning or time to go hiking.  But God will never leave a heart.  He becomes a permanent resident who never vacates the premises.
The Holy Spirit is God's Spirit that comes to live in you and me when Jesus forgives our sins and saves our souls.  It is the up close and personal presence of God that dwells daily and nightly within us.  What a privilege it is to have God get that close to us!
Jesus described this divine presence in John 14:17:  "He abides with you and will be in you."  Paul reminded Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:19, "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you."  In both of these passages, we see this amazing truth:  The Holy Spirit is God, who makes our heart His home.
Years ago, I was in Alaska on a mission trip.  Late one afternoon, I was sitting on a back deck of a church that was tucked way back into the woods.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  I had just told this guy about Jesus forgiving sins and saving souls.  Right there in front of me, he asked Jesus to become His Lord.  Then, when he finished praying, he looked at me and asked, "So now God's Spirit is living inside my heart?"  "Yeah man, he sure is," I replied.  A smile grew on his face as he said, "That is so cool."  "Yeah, it really is," was my response.
Isn't it cool?!  This great God of the universe wants to be intimately connected with us on a spiritual level.  So close, that He actually comes to live in us.  And in doing so, He helps us in more ways that we can count.
Thank God today for His Holy Spirit.