Saturday, August 27, 2016

When You Hold A Grudge

Someone has done something you don't like.  So now you treat them differently than you did before.  And you have a negative mindset or attitude towards them.  What you are doing is holding a grudge.  Bitterness has crept into your heart.  And, friend, that's not a good thing.  Not at all.

When you hold a grudge.....

You are only hurting yourself.  Do you think the grudge you are holding is punishing the other person or teaching them a lesson?  Guess what?  It's not.  The person you're punishing is yourself.

You are letting the past control your present and future.  Life is about moving forward.  But your grudge will keep you looking backward.  And you can't make progress in your life when you're holding on to whatever is behind you.

You are acting nothing like Jesus.  He forgives your failures.  He hangs in there with you when you do wrong.  Your holding on to a grudge towards someone is the exact opposite of how Jesus acts towards you.

Trust me when I tell you, holding onto a grudge is not the way to go.  Nothing good will come of it.  But forgiveness is far better!  It frees you up to live your life, fixes broken relationships, and helps you treat people the way you want to be treated.  Remember that forgiveness has been shown to you, so the best thing you can do is show it to others.  That's when you're really reflecting the character of Jesus, which is a mighty good thing!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

We Must Communicate

I remember it well.  Years ago I watched the Paul Newman movie "Cool Hand Luke" for the first time.  One scene that stood out to me was when the inmate said "I can eat 50 eggs."  And then he attempted to do so.

But there was another scene that stood out even more.  One of the men who was overseeing all the inmates was noticing a problem.  So this is what he said:  "What we have here is a failure to communicate."  
What a line!

The older I get, and the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that an overwhelming majority of life's problems can be traced back to one thing:  A breakdown in communication.

We all (including me) can fail in this area at times if we aren't careful.

Here's usually how it goes:  We get something on our minds.  And it involves another person.  It can be about something like a plan, goal, expectation, concern, frustration, or proposal.  But the other person doesn't seem to be on board with what we are thinking or expecting.  Now it could be that the other person is bull-headed and stubborn.  But maybe the real reason we feel resisted or ignored is that we have failed to clearly communicate our thoughts or expectations to this other person.  

How can people know what we expect if we don't clearly tell them?  And how can people make changes if we don't let them know they need to?  Listen, only God can read minds.  People can not.  So because of that, we need to open our mouths and talk to each other.  

It requires honesty, courage, and effort.  But it's essential.  We have to open up and tell each other what we are thinking and how we are feeling.

Communication.  It's vital to relationships, businesses, and even churches.  We have to talk with each other.  When we do, there can be peace, order, and positive change.  But when we don't, there is chaos, tension, and failure.

Don't assume that people know what's on your mind or in your heart.  Don't drop hints and hope that people will catch on.  Just open up and talk to others.  Tell them what you think and feel.  That's how you get results.  And that's how life gets better for everyone involved.

Let's all communicate.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thankful

I stood by her bed and listened as she reflected on her life.  She knew that her death was not far away.  For many years she lived on this earth, and sickness was now overtaking her.  But what she said to me that day was really touching.  Having to speak slowly, she got out these words about God:  "When I'm hungry, He feeds me, and when I'm naked, He clothes me."  I smiled and held her hand a little tighter when she said that.

Thankful. That's what kind of heart she was revealing.  Even in her final days, she was grateful for all that God has done for her. 

Regardless of who you are, where you live, what you do for a living, or how your life is going, remember this:  God is good.  He feeds your soul with rich blessings from above, and He covers your heart with righteousness.  He satisfies your longings and He cleans your soul.

In life and in death, we can always be thankful.  Just like that good woman in her hospital bed, you and I can count our blessings today.  When we do this, we are giving God praise for all that He is and all that He does.  And when we do this, we are reminding ourselves just how good we have it in Him.

May gratitude fill our hearts today.  And may we express it to God and our loved ones.  That makes life better for everyone.  And I'd be willing to bet it brings a smile to the face of our good God who takes great care of you and me.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What God Can Do

I met Carla this week for the first time.  She's from Indonesia.  And her story is really something special.
 
A few years ago, Carla had a stroke.  It did a lot of damage to her.  And she was confined to a wheelchair.  Unable to walk, she was discouraged and depressed.  The doctor told her that she would stay in that chair and not walk again.  This greatly bothered her because she wanted to get back on her feet.
 
One day, she was in a church.  While there, she noticed a big cross at the front of the sanctuary.  When the worship service ended, she asked her husband to push her in her wheelchair up under the big cross.  So he did.
 
When she got under the cross, Carla prayed.  She told God she wanted to walk again.  And then she asked Him to heal her.
 
That was on a Sunday morning.  Two days later, she was at her doctor's office.  Guess what happened?  Carla got up out of that wheelchair and walked.  And she's still walking today.  She's walking so good that now she is a member of the local YMCA and is getting fit.
 
Wow!!
 
Carla's story gives us a little glimpse into what God can do.  And if case you're not sure yet, I'll let you in on the secret.  God can do anything.  Seriously.  Anything!
 
Luke 1:37 tells us "nothing will be impossible with God."  And Mark 10:27 reminds us, "For all things are possible with God."  Combined, these two verses teach you and me something very important:  God can do anything, anywhere, with anyone, at any time.  He is unlimited in His power and unstoppable in His will.
 
God is strong.  How strong?  Well, He's strong enough to handle anything you and I go through.  Actually, He can more than handle it.  With ease, He can change everything up and make everything better.
 
Is your health deteriorating?
Is your marriage failing?
Is your bank account empty?
Is your emotional state unstable?
Is your depression getting worse?
Is your life getting dark and bleak? 
 
Try God.  Cry out to Him in prayer.  Express your pain to Him and your neediness of Him.  Ask Him for help.  And when you do this, know that the God who can do anything will hear you.  And He will do whatever is best.
 
Maybe He will answer your prayer exactly how you want.  Or maybe He will answer it in another way that you haven't considered yet.  But either way, know this:  God, in all of His might, will look after you, take care of you, and help you in this midst of your hardship.  One way or another, at the right time, and in the right way, He will come through.
 
Yep, Carla's story is wonderful.  But not shocking.  It's just one of many reminders that God is simply amazing.  And it helps us remember there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that He can't handle.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Impress Or Impact

I sat in a meeting yesterday with a doctor and some nurses.  One of the nurses pulled out her phone and showed me a picture of her husband.  I told her it was a great picture and then asked her if he is "a cool guy."  She looked at me and said, "No, he's not a cool guy.  He always tells me he's not so much here to impress people as he is here to impact people.  And I like that about him." 

Wow!  That's a great way to think.  And a great way to live.

As I reflected on that, I realized that at some point we all reach a fork in the road on the journey of life.  And we have a choice to make.  Will we live either to impress people or impact people?

Think about it...

To impress people is to do what is popular, but to impact people is to do what is right.

To impress people is to focus on how things look, but to impact people is to focus on how things are.

To impress people is to gain a spotlight, but to impact people is to make a difference.

To impress people is to say "Look at me", but to impact people is to say, "I'm looking at you." 

To impress people is selfish, but to impact people is selfless.

To impress people is for a temporary pleasure, but to impact people is for a lasting legacy.

To impress people is to waste time, but to impact people is to maximize moments.

Ask yourself this question:  What did Jesus do when He walked this Earth in bodily form?  Did He impress or impact?  The answer is obvious.  He came here to impact.  He came here to serve, bless, help, and save others.  

I think that nurse's husband has the right mindset.  He's here to impact.  He wants to make a positive difference in the world and leave it a better place when God calls Him home.

Let's do something positive and productive with this life we have.  Rather than trying to impress people, let's impact them.  That is a life well lived, and that brings glory to our awesome God.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Calvin's Artwork And Five Dollars

One of my life's greatest blessings has been a friendship with the late Calvin Miller.  I always looked up to him and respected him for his preaching, writing, and artwork.  That guy could do about anything.  He's in Heaven now, and I'm happy for him.  But I sure do miss him from time to time.
 
Years ago, Calvin had a cabin in New Mexico.  And in this cabin, he kept his paintings.  He truly was talented as an artist.  Anyway, some of his friends and church members would go and stay at his cabin from time to time.  Calvin had always hoped one of these people would notice his paintings and say something about them.  But for a while, nobody said anything.  Not one of the guests acknowledged or praised his artistic creations.
 
But one day, that changed.
 
A little girl came up to Calvin one Sunday.  She tugged on his coat, so he knelt down, got eye-level with her, smiled, and listened to what she had to say.  And this was what she told him:  "Dr. Miller, I saw your artwork in your cabin, and it was really good.  I liked it!"  Filled with gratitude, Calvin reached into his pocket, pulled out a five dollar bill, gave it to the little girl, and told her, "Thank you sweetie!  Take this and go buy yourself some ice cream with it." 
 
The happy little girl went running down the hall and waving her five dollar bill in the air while shouting with joy.  A few minutes later, after learning what had happened, the child's father walked up to Calvin.  With a sheepish grin on his face, he said, "You know, Dr. Miller, I liked your paintings too!"
 
Ha!  I love that story.  It's one of my favorites.  :)
 
Calvin took pleasure in people acknowledging what he had done.  It made him feel good when he knew that his work had meant something to someone.  Aren't we all at least somewhat like that?  Sure we are!  We all like to know that our efforts matter to someone.
 
Could it be that God also delights in our praise?  I think so.  Why wouldn't He?!
 
God has done far more than painting pictures.  He has created, protected, sustained, loved, accompanied, blessed, redeemed, and saved us.  Through His son, Jesus, He has poured out blessing after blessing on us.  And it seems to me that just as that little girl gave Calvin a little praise, we ought to give God some praise.  Actually, we ought to give Him A LOT of it! 
 
May we all take the time to tell God what we like about Him.  Let's compliment Him on His amazing attributes.  Let's thank Him for His generous gifts.  Let's praise Him for His awesome accomplishments.
 
We don't do this because He somehow needs it.  And we don't do this in hopes that God will give us a five dollar bill.  No, we do this because God definitely deserves it, and He delights in the praises of His people.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Let's Just Get Along

A friend of mine was recently hanging out with his wife and daughters.  The girls (who are really good kids) were having one of those days where they just didn't get along.  They fussed and argued with each other like most kids do occasionally.  After a while of this, my friend had enough.  He looked at his girls and said, "OK, here's the deal.  You two are going to get along or you both will give me your cell phones right now!"  And of course they quickly said, "Yes sir, Daddy, we'll quit arguing!"  He got some mighty fast results with that threat didn't he?!  

My friend and I shared a good laugh over that story.  Every parent knows how that goes.  It comes with the territory.

The way my friend felt about his children is representative of how God feels about all of His children!  He just wants His sons and daughters to get along.  Our relationships with each other DO indeed matter to God.

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."  That's what Paul wrote in Romans 12:18.  And that's what we need to keep in mind when we interact with each other.

There's too much fussing, fighting, back-biting, snubbing, gossiping, and arguing in this world.  And it even can be found in some churches.  This is not what God wants. And this is not what we need.

Our world needs a healthy mixture of love and peace.  We need to care about each other, and we need to coexist harmoniously with one another.  This will make the world a better place, and this will bring a smile to God's face.  Kindness, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, and calmness will go a long way towards reaching this goal.  And God can help bring about these qualities in each of us.

My mom told my brothers and me something like this before.  She said that her main request of my brothers and me is for us to get along.  She wants us to have good relationships with each other.

That's what God, The Heavenly Father, desires from all of us.  And that's what makes life better.  Let's just get along.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Leaving!

I don't know who it was.

And I don't know what the circumstance were surrounding it.

But this is what I do know:

A deacon told me about a former church member years ago who disagreed with the church over a matter.  The disgruntled member voiced his frustration to the church leadership and wanted changes made.  When he realized he was not going to get what he wanted, the former member said this:  "Me and my money are leaving this church.  And this place will not make it without me!"  Then he walked out the church door and did not return.

As I reflect on that story, I am reminded of this important truth:  The church is not based on you or me.  None of us are the rock on which it stands. 

The church is founded, based, led, and owned by Jesus Christ.  HE is what the church is all about.  HE is The One who is vital to the well-being of the institution. 

We church people need to remember something:  None of us are irreplaceable.  I'm not.  And you're not.  Any of us could leave it today, and God's church would continue to march forward.  So let's not get too big for our britches and think we're more important than we really are.

I'm sure glad that Jesus is who holds the church together.  If it was dependent on any of us, it would sure be in trouble.  It would have flopped a long time ago.  But Jesus keeps it solid, focused, and vibrant.  Thanks to Him, the church is going nowhere but onward and upward!!

Let's always remember to give credit where credit is due:  The church is all about Jesus.  He, not us, is who makes everything work.  And He, not us, is the center of it all.

Oh, and by the way, here's the rest of the story I started at the beginning of this blog post.  The church is not just surviving.  It's thriving!  Great things are happening.  It's just further proof that the church does not depend on any one man or woman.  Far from it.  The church depends on Jesus!  And He will never let the church down.  Ever.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Divorced Deacons In The Church?

Some of you are not going to agree with me on this.  And that's perfectly ok.  There are plenty of good people on both sides of this issue.  Furthermore, we can have different opinions on this and still be good friends.  If you can, just give me a minute of your time, and hear me out before you react.  Maybe we can find some common ground here. 

I've heard it every year I've served as a pastor since 1993.  And, for the most part, I've kept quiet and not said much in response.  What am I talking about?  This:  "Pastor, we can not elect a divorced man as a deacon in the church because Paul wrote in 1Timothy 3:12 that deacons must be "husbands of one wife."

Let me just go ahead and say it:  I disagree with this idea.  Why?  Here's why...

Well, for starters, Paul did NOT even mention divorce in 1 Timothy 3:12.  If Paul wanted to forbid divorced men from being deacons, he would have written, "deacons must not be divorced."  But he didn't write that.  Nowhere in 1 Timothy 3:12 did Paul mention divorce.  Nowhere.  Go back and read it.  Divorce is not in that verse. 

Then what did Paul actually mean?  He meant what he said.  There's no need to complicate it.  He stated deacons must be "husbands of one wife."  That means a deacon should not be a polygamist or promiscuous.  In other words, he is a one woman kind of man.  He is faithful and loyal to his bride, and he doesn't have another woman or two in addition to her.  It is my firm belief that this is what Paul was writing about.

Listen, I get it.  If some ole fellow has been divorced several times because he's a scoundrel and not one bit sorry about it, then he shouldn't be a deacon.  I do see the point in a scenario like that.  He has some character issues that he needs to address with God's help before he can be a leader in God's church. 

But it must also be considered that plenty of people are divorced because of choices their spouse made.  Not everyone who is divorced actually wanted that to happen.  Also, some people who did cause their divorce by wrong actions have since been forgiven, made good changes, and live very differently now.  See my point?  Each divorce case is unique and complex.  Don't think you can size someone up just because they've been divorced.  There's usually WAY more to the story than you may see on the surface.

Furthermore, let us consider others who are not divorced, but they are lazy, dishonest, quick-tempered, secretly hooked on porn, racist, gluttonous, arrogant, dead-beat guys who make no positive contribution to the church in any way, shape, or form.  If you assign one of those "good ole boys" to the position of deacon just because he hasn't been divorced, then congratulations to you.  You've just hurt the church way more than you would have if you had picked a good man who just happened to experience a divorce earlier in his life.  Simply put, there are worse things in life than divorce.  Far worse!

There are other character qualities that we must look for in deacons.  Paul said that deacons should also be dignified, good leaders in their homes, proven over time, not greedy, and in control of their appetites.  And that's just part of the list.  Let's don't get so hung up on one part of the list ("husbands of one wife") that we overlook all the other items on the list, which can be read by clicking HERE

Nobody is perfect.  I'm not.  And neither are you.  And if we want to be too rigid, we churches will never find anyone who is qualified to lead in any capacity.  Nobody meets all of the standards to perfection.  But the good news is we do have a perfect God who uses imperfect people to do His life-changing work.  And I'm thankful for that.

Yes, character DOES matter when it comes to leadership.  It really does.  At the same time, let's also remember to be reasonable, full of grace, and understanding when it comes to dealing with people.  And let's not make the standard higher or tougher than God Himself set it in His Word.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Dilday Question

I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas from 1993-1996.  While there I did receive a great education, and I'm thankful for it.  But also, while I was there, I saw politics in it's ugliest form.  Our president, Dr. Russell Dilday, was fired and tossed out in a most terrible way.  Needless to say, most of us were bothered by it.  That was a dark day.  And as I walked back from campus to my apartment that afternoon, another student ran up to me.  He asked, "Hey, what's going on at the school?"  "Well," I told him, "Dr. Dilday just got fired a couple of hours ago.  It's a pretty crazy scene right now, man."  Then, he asked me THE question...
Throwing his arms up in the air, he asked "Where is God in all this?"  Then he took off running.  I never saw that guy again.  Kid you not!  I never once saw him again.  He just ran down the road and that was it.  Gone.

I still think about that question.  "Where is God in all this?"  Maybe you've asked that same question before...

When your bank account is empty.
When your doctor says you have cancer.
When your spouse walks out on you.
When your kid rebels and goes off the deep end.
When you lose your job.
When your car breaks down.
When you lose your house.

"Where is God in all this?"

What I wanted to say to that guy in Fort Worth that day, but couldn't, is what I'll say to you: 

When life hurts the most,
and you feel that all hope is lost,
God is still right there with you and me. 
And He always will be.

Things happen in life.  People make wrong decisions.  Circumstances get painful.  It's at times like this that we must remember that God never promised He would give us a detour around painful experiences.  But He did assure us that He will walk by our side through those tough times.

David said it this way in Psalm 23:4 - "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."  David was saying to God, "Just as a shepherd accompanies and helps frightened, little sheep through scary moments, You accompany and help me." 

Where was God in the darkest valley?  Right there with David.
Where was God when Dilday got fired?  Right there with His children.
Where is God when you hurt and suffer?  Right there with you.

Remember what Jesus said at the end of the gospel of Matthew?  He uttered these words:  "I am with you always."  I really like that word: ALWAYS.  There is absolutely no end to the divine presence in the life of believers.  God sticks around when the sun is shining and when the sky turns gray.  Every night and every day, God is right there providing comfort, peace, strength, guidance, and hope for you and me.

So if you're feeling like that guy in Fort Worth, and wondering "Where is God in all this?", take comfort in knowing that He is right there with you.  And He's not going anywhere.  He's there to stay.  And you can always, ALWAYS, count on that.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Perry Noble Situation

I attended Anderson University from 1989-1991 before heading off to Furman.  While at Anderson, I met a guy named Perry Noble.  We weren't best friends, but I was around him several times.  After I left Anderson, I never saw Perry again.  But I followed him online while he started and served as the pastor of Newspring Church.  

Earlier today, it was announced that Perry's ministry has come to an end at Newspring.  Apparently he has abused alcohol, and that created further problems.  I don't know any more details, and that's ok with me.  It's none of my business, and I would rather not know.

But there are some things I do know....

Perry needs our prayers.  We should lift him up to the Lord and ask for His healing during this hurtful time.  Only God can fix this, and God is who we mostly need to talk with about it.

Perry is no worse than you and me.  We all are sinners.  We all do wrong.  Some people drink too much.  Some people gossip.  Some people have an affair.  Some people are full of pride.  While different people do different things, all people sin one way or another.  So none of us should look down on Perry.  I know I won't.  The way I see it, we all are sinners in need of God's forgiveness.

Perry needs friends who care about him.  While everyone faces consequences for doing wrong, everyone also needs someone to love them and stick with them.  A true friend will stay with those who fail and do wrong.  A true friend will say, "I still love you anyway."  Perry needs that, and so do we.

Perry needs help rather than condemnation.  I'm glad to see that he is already getting professional help with his struggles.  That's a smart move!  Whenever we see someone struggling, let's not kick them while they're down.  Let's not shoot our wounded.  Instead, let's make sure they get whatever help they need to get back onto their feet.  Let's help them get well and live again.

Finally, let me address Perry:  Perry, I know there is a chance you may never see this.  But I do wish you well.  And I love you as a brother in Christ.  Right now, you're hurting.  But my prayer is that God will comfort you, your wife, and your child.  And I'm sure you're probably beating yourself up a little bit too.  Believe me, I've been there.  I know what shame and regret feel like after failing morally.  But let me remind you of this:  God, who still loves you, is always willing to forgive you.  He can wipe away your sin and help you move forward.  I don't condemn you.  I don't look down on you.  And I don't judge you.  Not at all.  But I do wish God's very, very best for you.  I love a good comeback story!  And my desire is to see a good one in your life.  Hang in there man.  Look to Jesus. Love your wife and kid.  Remember that better days are ahead for you in Jesus!  P.S.  This experience does not define your whole life.  It's only one season.  So move on and do something great, with God's help, in the next chapter of your life's story.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sunday Night Rewind - 6/3/16

Life is good here in The Gamecock City!  I hope all is well for you and yours.  Here's a rewind of what's been happening around here lately...
 
*  This morning, I finished preaching a four week series on the book of Ruth in the Old Testament. 
*  We walked through most of the story (only leaving out a couple of small details here and there) the past month.  It's an interesting story in and of itself.  But we also looked at what it means to us today. 
 
*  It seems to me Ruth's story is one of losing about everything and seeing God's work of restoration take place.
 
*  I enjoyed preaching through it, and I hope it was a blessing to our church family.
 
*  This afternoon, we had a cookout here at the church.  Burgers and hotdogs were fixed on the grill, and everyone had plenty to eat.  It was a delicious meal!
 
*  I sure do love pastoring this church.  They mean the world to me, and I'm happy to be a part of them. 
 
*  Good ole Dad even got into the spirit of things today by fixing a banana pudding for the cookout. 
 *  Way to go, Dad.  I didn't know you had it in you to do that!
 
*  Vacation Bible School is coming up here at the church July 24-28.  Our theme this year is "Submerged".
 *  One thing I can tell you is this:  These people here at New Calvary Baptist go absolutely NUTS and decorate more for VBS than any church I've even been a part of or seen.  It's amazing.  (Take a look for yourself at what they did last year by clicking HERE.)  And they really do a good job of ministering to kids.  So I'm already getting excited about it for this year, because I know our folks will be praying hard, working hard, and swinging for the fence.
 
*  That's it for tonight.  Life is going well, and I'm a thankful man.  Very, very thankful!! 
 
*  New blog posts will be put up on the blog this week.  I hope you get something good out of them.
 
*  God bless you and yours!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

BIG!!

We went to EdVenture a few days ago in Columbia.  It's a neat, interactive place of learning for kids.  Everyone in our group had a fun time.

While there, two of my daughters got their picture taken in front of Eddie.  He's really quite impressive at 40 feet in height and 35,000 pounds in weight.  His heart alone weighs over 500 pounds.  Each of his shoes are 12.5 feet in length.  His shoulders are 22 feet in width.  And his smile measures in at 3.5 feet across.

That's pretty big!  And it's a definite attention grabber.  Everyone marvels at Eddie when visiting EdVenture.

Here's something even more impressive:  God is big.  REALLY BIG!  Check this out....

In Isaiah 66:1, He tells us "Heaven is my throne, the earth is my footstool."  God is so big, He could prop His heels up on our planet if He so desired.  Incredible!

In Isaiah 40:12, we learn that He can hold all the waters of our planet "in the measures of His hand", and He can hold "the dust of the earth in a basket."  Amazing!

In Isaiah 40:22, we are taught that when God looks at Earth, "it's people are like grasshoppers."  Compared to Him, we humans are like tiny bugs.  Remarkable!

Friends, God is gigantic.  As a matter of fact, it's impossible for us to measure Him.  That's why He asked Job this rhetorical question:  "Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?"  The obvious answer is "No way!"  No man can fathom how HUGE God is.

This is just one of many reasons why God is worthy of praise and worship.  He stands above everyone and everything else in multiple ways.  He is not threatened by anyone or anything.  Simply put, He is mighty!

Find comfort today in this truth:  God is BIG!  Big enough to handle whatever happens.  And big enough to take care of you and me. 

What a great God we have!!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day 2016

It's been a great Father's Day!  I've enjoyed every bit of it.  The kids showed me a lot of love today.  And they really made it a special time together.  We went to church, ate a delicious Mexican meal, and hung out around the house.  I love Sunday's like that.

As I sit here tonight, I realize it's a privilege to be a dad.  In addition to that, it's a sacred responsibility.  It's my job to protect them, provide for them, and to guide them.  Of course the most important thing I am to do is point them to God, who has all the answers and a life changing dose of amazing grace for all four of them.

I've also reflected today on this reality:  The greatest Father of all is God.  He is the ultimate Protector and Provider.  He is the wisest Father that ever has or ever will exist.  And He has a LOT of love for all of His children.  When it comes to fatherhood, He reigns supreme as the best.

So that's what I'm thinking tonight.  God is good, and I'm glad to be one of His children.

Katie, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Emerson, I love all four of you.  It's a joy to be the one you call "Dad".  May God bless each of you, and may God give us many more happy years together.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Confederate Flag

I've been thinking the last couple of days about the Confederate flag.

Because I was raised here in South Carolina, I'm used to seeing it.  And that should not be surprising.  It's part of our history.  My parents never displayed one at our home when I was a kid.  And I don't display one now at my home.  But when I see it, I am reminded of the fight that broke out between the states in the 1860's.  On an emotional level, it does not affect me too much either way.  It does not offend me or excite me.  While I do understand it's history and significance, I don't get too worked up about it.

Other people, however, see that flag and are offended by it.  They have a strong reaction against it.  For them, it represents a time in our country when slavery was legal.  And the other problem for them is that some groups, who are known for being hateful and bigoted, proudly wave it as their symbol.

So that's the deal.  Some people are offended by the Confederate flag.  Others are not.  What should we do about it?

Well, I think about the Apostle Paul.  In the New Testament times, there was a controversy.  Some people thought eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols was acceptable and no big deal.  Others were greatly offended by that idea and would not participate in such a thing.  Paul, who greatly cared about reaching people for Jesus, decided to take this stand:  If eating this meat caused problems for other people and offended them, he just would not eat meat.  To him, connecting with other people mattered more than a plate of meat.  (You can read this for yourself in 1 Corinthians 8 by clicking HERE.)

That's how I feel about the Confederate flag.  It does not offend or hurt me personally.  To me, it's just one of the many flags from our nation's history.  But, it really does cause problems for other people and offend them.  It hurts them.  That's just the way it is.  So because of the pain it causes others, I do not wave a Confederate flag at my home, on my car, or anywhere else.

I care more about my relationships with people than I care about that flag.
I care more about seeing people get saved by Jesus than I care about that flag.

I do think the flag should be preserved in a museum.  It is important.  It does matter.  History should not be erased and removed.  Our heritage should not be forgotten.  But we also need to remember the importance of caring about people and connecting with them on a spiritual level.  That matters greatly.

So if you have a Confederate flag or choose to wave it, that's your business.  That's between you and God.  I'm not your judge, and I'll still be your friend. 

But I'll just stick with my conviction to not wave it.  I don't want to offend people unnecessarily.  And I just don't want anything (a flag included) to destroy an opportunity I may have to share Jesus with a lost soul.

At the end of the day, the cross of Christ matters way more than a flag of the Confederacy.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

High For All To See


I walked out of our church's sanctuary and into our parking lot the other day when I glanced up at our steeple.  For some reason, I noticed it more than I have before.  There was the cross of Christ lifted high for all to see.  As I stood there, I thought "That's exactly what this church should be lifting up."
 
We live in a dark, hurting, lost world.  People are struggling everywhere we look.  And they need hope.
 
Christian churches have the answer that the world needs.  Here it is in one wordJESUS.  He is the Son of God, the Friend to sinners, and the Hope for the hurting.  And His cross is a really big deal:  It's at the cross where we find forgiveness, love, and salvation.
 
The Apostle Paul wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 2:2 - "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."  Paul wanted to know Jesus and make Him known to others.  What a perfect way to minister!
 
Churches, we can say and do a lot of things in our communities.  At any time, we can play softball, host covered dish suppers, start up book clubs, and take trips to amusement parks.  And there's nothing wrong with those things.  But the most important thing we can do is lift up high the name of Jesus for all to see.  Let's proclaim Him, worship Him, lock our hearts on Him, and fulfill the commission given to us by Him.  Nothing matters more than Jesus.  Nothing.
 
This world needs Jesus.  Desperately.  Let's make sure we help them find Him.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lizzie's Big Adventure

I'd like to tell you about my Lizzie and her big adventure.  One reason for this is that I think it'll interest those of you who know her.  Another reason is I think it may inspire you even if you've never met her.
 
Here goes...
 
Lizzie was blessed with the opportunity to attend Girls State here in South Carolina this past week at Presbyterian College.  That's a pretty big deal.  It was an honor for her to be a part of it. 
 
On Sunday of last week, Lara and the girls drove her to the college and checked her in.  Lizzie found her dorm room and quickly came back down stairs to hug them and tell them "Goodbye' before they left.
 
She got a picture with her sisters...
And she got a picture with her mom...
Then Lara and the other two girls made the trip back home, while leaving Lizzie behind for her big week.
 
The next day, which was Monday, I got a text from Lizzie.  She was homesick.  It was tough on her to be away from here.  While it was an honor for her to attend Girls State, my girl was struggling a little bit.  And she was saying that she'd like to leave and come on back to Sumter. 
 
Now, I'm a normal parent.  I don't like to see my kids sad or hurting.  But something Someone would not let me allow her to quit.  I just couldn't do it.  So here is part of what I texted her in response.
My point was pretty simple:  People made sacrifices to get her there.  And she needed to strongly fight through it.  I reminded her that life can be difficult at times, so she needed to learn how to work through adversity rather than run from it.  Of course I assured her that I loved her, and I knew she could do it. 
 
A few minutes later, she texted me back and said, "Yes sir.  Love you."  That was all she had to say.  But I knew from that moment on, she would give her best effort to work through it.
 
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were busy days for her.  Lizzie hung in there, made friends, and grew more comfortable with her new surroundings and schedule.  She didn't sleep much, but she did have a lot of fun.  As time went on, she adapted.
 
Then, on Friday, all of the students from Girls State and Boys State converged on Columbia, SC, our capital city.  Totaling over 1,200 people, these young ladies and gentlemen marched in a big parade, led by a band.  They made their way to the capital grounds and filled up the steps, which was quite an impressive sight.  We knew that we would not get to speak with Lizzie, but we went just to see her in action. 
 
Lara, Rachel, Emerson, and I were all excited to get a quick glimpse of Lizzie.  Here is a picture of us waiting on all the fun to begin, while Emerson was striking a cool pose...
Then, as the parade made it's way towards us at the capital, we saw our girl.  She was smiling, waving, and having fun with her friends.  And while we didn't get to speak with her, I did hold out my hand and get a "high five" with my daughter.  Here is Lizzie marching in the parade...
The girls and guys filled up the steps of the capital and began singing and chanting.  It was really quite a sight.  We enjoyed watching this.  Here are all of the students from Girls State and Boys State on the capital steps in Columbia...
There were speeches and recognitions.  Proud parents were everywhere snapping pictures of their kids.  It was really a cool moment.   
 
Lizzie got us all laughing when she scored somewhat of a "selfie" with Governor Nikki Hayley, who made an appearance, and texted it to us...

Then, when it was over, tons of busses got the girls back to their campus, and the guys back to their campus.  Lizzie was gone.  But we were glad that we at least got to catch a glimpse of her.
 
Yesterday, which was Saturday, my Katie and I picked her up.  Girls State came to an end.  It was time for her to go.  And we were glad to get her back.  We got Lizzie and all her stuff in the car, and made the two hour drive back home.  Katie took a picture of all three of us while I was driving us home yesterday...
It felt good to get Lizzie back to our town and here under our roof.  I could tell she was tired.  But I could also tell she felt good about what she had done.  I think my girl was pretty proud!  She smiled as she told us lots of stories about her exciting week.  It ended up being a very positive experience that broadened her horizons and blessed her life.  Girls State was definitely a good thing for my daughter. 
 
As I reflect on all this, I realize that sometimes we parents need to push our kids out of the nest, and encourage them to spread their wings.  I knew that to go up there, pack her up, and bring her home early would have been a mistake.  She needed to rise up to the challenge without me rescuing her.
 
When it comes to raising kids, may God give us dads and moms the wisdom to know when to step in and when to back off.  There are some challenges they need to face and some lessons they need to learn on their own, without us interfering.  So let's seek wisdom from above to know how to handle the struggles our daughters and sons face in life.
 
And here's another lesson I've been reminded of this past week with Lizzie's big adventure:  Let's work through challenges rather than run from them.  When times get tough, we grow and develop mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Adversity can enable us to mature in good ways.  With a little encouragement, Lizzie hung in there and got through it.  And with a little help from above, we all can do the same with whatever may come our way.  It was worth it for Lizzie to hang in there.  And it'll always be worth it for us.
 
Way to go, Lizzie!  I'm proud of my girl.  And thanks for inspiring all of us to hang in there and work through the little (and big) challenges that may come our way.
 
P.S.  If you are not familiar with what Girls State is, you can visit their website, read their information, and view their pictures by clicking HERE.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Southern Baptist Reality

I read today some news about the South Baptist Convention.

For the 9th year in a row, our membership is in decline.

We lost more than 200,000 members in 2015.  [Now down to 15.3 million.]

We saw our weekly attendance decrease by 97,000 people from 2014 to 2015.  [Now have 5.6 million people involved with Southern Baptist churches on a weekly basis.]

We saw our baptisms fall by more than 10,000 people from 2014 to 2015.

Frank Page, one of our Southern Baptist leaders, had this to say about it:  "God help us!  In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News."

I've been a Southern Baptist since 1987.  And I'm glad to be a part of it.  Here are a few thoughts I have on this situation...

[1]  I'm noticing that loyalty to a denominations mean very little to people these days.  Just because they were raised a Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian, don't assume they will always remain a Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian.  It seems to me that people today want to go to that church where things are clicking and running smoothly.  Gone are the days of denominational loyalty.  Of course, I'm not saying that's a bad thing.  Not at all.  That's just what it is.

[2]  We've got a lot of work to do!  I hope all of us churches will get more passionate about reaching lost people with the Gospel and helping them mature spiritually.  That matters so much more than preserving outdated programs, remaining fixated on the past, and majoring on the minors.

[3]  We spend a lot of time telling the world what we're AGAINST.  Perhaps we should put more emphasis on what we're FOR. 

[4]  Let's make each church a "place of grace" where sinners, rebels, and hurting souls can come and be ministered to in a loving environment.  Let's be about the business of restoration rather than condemnation. 

[5]  Go back and read number [2] again. 

I'll let the experts give extensive commentary on what all this means for us Southern Baptists.  But I can say this:  We have a message of God's grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.  And this world really needs to hear it.  Let's do whatever we have to do in getting that message out there for men, women, boys, and girls.  That's what Jesus wants us to do.  And that's what this world really needs from us. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

True Religion

I was listening to my friend Greg lead a Bible study here at New Calvary Baptist Church.  One of the scriptures he had us look at was James 1:27.  This is what we saw there:  

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  
to look after orphans and widows in their distress 
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Then Greg went on to another passage of scripture.  But I stayed there and focused on the James passage.  I looked closely at it, and this popped up in my mind while reflecting on it:  God wants us to be people who are compassionate and clean.

Let's consider this for a moment...

[1]  God wants us to be compassionate:
We are to "look after orphans and widows in their distress."  That's two groups of people who need attention, care, and help.  And the truth is, there are additional people out there who desperately need us to get involved with their lives and minister to them.  

Let's help people who can not help themselves.  We can feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, befriend the lonely, encourage the defeated, comfort the dying, and evangelize the lost.  As opportunities present themselves to us, let's care about hurting people and be a blessing to them.

[2]  God wants us to be clean:
We are to keep ourselves "from being polluted by the world."  There is more than enough immorality in this world.  You and I do not have to look far to see the filth that is all around us.

God calls us to keep ourselves morally clean in a world that is polluted by evil and darkness.  Yes, we are to live in this world and make a difference in it.  But we as Christians are not to become like the world and join in it's immorality.  If we are followers of Jesus, we are to be more like Him and less like the world.

What kind of religion does God consider "pure and faultless"?  Religion that is compassionate towards the hurting and clean in the midst of immorality.  That, in a nutshell, is what God wants.  And with His help from above, we all can grow in both of these areas.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Why That Home Mattered

We moved out of our home a few days ago.  It was part of a duplex, so that meant it was sort of like a little apartment.  And while it was a small place, I'm thankful for our time there.  I'll always have good memories of that place.
 
See, when our family left Florida and came to Sumter in 2014, we were not sure yet where we would live.  Because we needed a place to stay temporarily, part of our family lived with my parents, and the other part lived with Lara's dad and his wife.  We were not all under the same roof for about four months.  Sure, we saw each other every day.  But it felt strange to not have the six of us in one place at night.
 
Then, this duplex became available.  A friend of mine rented it to me.  This is why that home mattered:  It brought us all together under one roof.  This home meant we could all share a common place.  That was important, and we were glad to have it.
 
For almost two years we lived there.  Then, another place with more space became available.  That's why we moved a few days ago.  And while it was time to move, I will admit to you part of me was a little sentimental about leaving that place.
 
We worked hard on emptying that home and moving out last week.  Then we cleaned it up and made sure we left it looking good.  Two days ago, I did the final walk-through in that empty duplex by myself.  It felt strange to see it without all of our furniture and possessions.  And it looked larger.  I quietly thanked God for our two years in that home and shared with Him how much it meant to me.
 
As I reflect on why that home mattered, I can't help but think about Heaven.  See, the Lord is preparing a place now for His people.  And one day, He will gather all of His children together in that one place.  We all will be brought together under His roof, and we will be a family like never before.  In His home, all of us will be unified.  Jesus is who makes it possible for you and me to get there.  And what a wonderful place it will be.  (To read some scripture about this, just click HERE.)
 
Home.  It's a special place because it brings loved ones together.  It matters here on Earth.  And it'll matter even more up there in Heaven.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Graduate

It's after midnight now, but a few hours ago our family was having a great time together at Patriot Hall here in Sumter.  Dad and Mom also come out to join us for all the fun.  Our Emerson graduated from elementary school.  And what a night it was!
 
He was recognized for the following:
 
The Wells Fargo Academics, Citizenship, and Attendance Award
 
The Academic Excellence Award for "A-B Honor Roll All Year"
 
The Outstanding Music Student Award 
 
The President's Award For Educational Excellence
 
The Certificate of Achievement for Completion of Elementary School
I'm proud of all four of the kids.  They're all smart and talented young people.  Tonight was just Emerson's night to shine.  And I'm really happy for him.
 
Way to go, little buddy!
 
P.S.  His reward was a trip to Baskin-Robbins for two scoops of cookies and cream ice cream.  He seemed pretty happy about that!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Home

Sumter, South Carolina is home to me.  I was raised here.  And I loved it during my early years. 

Then, in August, 1993, I moved away.  For twenty one years, I was living in other areas.  Along the way, I thought to myself, "Man, I just want to get back to Sumter.  That's really where I want to be." 

Finally, I the summer of 2014, I got what I wanted.  After 23 years, I got a chance to move back home to Sumter.  And what a thrill that was. 

If God lets me, I plan on staying here in my town for the rest of my life.  There is no place I would rather be.  And I hope that when I take my last breath on this Earth, it's right here in the Gamecock City.

The people here are wonderful.  And the location makes it easy to get to the beach or the mountains in no time at all.  This place has a grip on my heart, and I want to remain here for the long haul.

But recently, this was what ran through my head:  As much as I love Sumter, it's not really my home.  Paul explained this perfectly when he wrote in Philippians 3:20, "our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."  This may sounds a little weird to some people, but Christians have a home that is not of this world.  It is actually in Heaven with the Lord.  And what a special place it is.

Yes indeed, our time here on Earth does matter.  Very much!  There are blessings to enjoy, people to love, and missions to accomplish.  God has us here to do His work by being His hands and feet.  And we should make the most of the years He has given us in this world.

But it is vital for us to remember that God has created us for eternity, and we can spend this eternity with Him.  Let's not get too attached to this world and start thinking this is all there is.  We may reside here temporarily, "but our citizenship is in heaven."  That is where we ultimately belong.  And, thanks be to Jesus, that is where we will be one day.

As long as we are walking on this Earth, let's make our time count, but let's also keep this in mind:  We're not home yet.  One day we will be, though.  And what a great day that's going to be.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mr. Socks

When my son, Emerson, was a little boy, he used to pull socks up his arms.  Then he would run around the house saying to all of us, "Hey everyone, my name is Mr. Socks!"  The little guy would always crack up laughing when he did it, and so did the rest of us.  It was a funny sight to behold!

Pretending or wishing to be someone else is not just something kids do.  Sometimes teenagers and adults want to do the same thing.   Maybe a few of these ideas have run through your mind at one time or another:

"I wish I was taller."
"I wish I was shorter."
"I wish I looked different."
"I wish I had a different kind of personality."
"I wish I had a different set of skills."

To be honest, I've thought things like this before.  Perhaps you have too.  It happens.

Let's all consider this today:  God made you and me exactly what we are for all the right reasons.  Rather than spending our time trying to turn into Mr. Socks or someone else, we should simply accept who we are and get comfortable in our own skin.  

In Psalm 139:14, the writer proclaims, "I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."  Isn't that a fantastic verse?  He is saying, "God, You made me for a specific reason and with a perfect plan in mind; therefore, I worship you."

The little boy who said it years ago was exactly right:  "God don't make no junk."

There's nothing wrong with kids pretending to be someone else.  But when we grow up, we need to understand who we are and learn to be ok with it.  God didn't make a mistake when He made you or me.  So let's accept how He made us and live to the fullest.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sermons And Baseball

I've noticed something over the years:  sermons and baseball are a lot alike.  Of course, baseball is entertainment and church is not.  I do get that.  But think about this for a moment...

In baseball, sometimes a batter will hit a single and only make it to first base.  Fans in the stands notice that and appreciate it, but they don't get too worked up over it.  Other times, he may hit a double.  That's a little more exciting.  Occasionally, a batter will hit a triple.  When he does this, people cheer a little louder.  And on some occasions, he really connects well and hits a home run over the fence.  This really generates a buzz and gets everyone up on their feet. 

Nobody hits a homerun every time they step up to the plate.  Nobody.  Sure, that would be a lot of fun, but it just doesn't happen.  That's not realistic.

The same thing can be said about preaching.  It's hard to hit a homerun every single time we step in the pulpit.  What I mean is this:  some sermons may result in a visible, powerful reaction from the people in the pews, while other sermons may not.  Some sermons may be a like a homerun, and other sermons may be more like a single. 

Consider this from the perspective of those who are sitting in the pews and listening to our sermons.  They may be tired.  They may be distracted.  They may have had a stressful morning before they got to church.  Any number of factors can influence how they are feeling and what they are thinking while we are preaching.  And this can affect how they respond to the messages we deliver on Sunday morning. 

Also, it's important to keep in mind that different topics affect different people in different ways.  A sermon on marriage might connect a lot more with a married couple in their 40's than it does with a widow in her 90's.  A sermon on money may hit home more with a business man in his 50's than with a young lady who is 15.  It's possible that the topic we are preaching on that day does not directly affect everyone the same way.  This can influence how people react to what we are preaching.

Here's what I'm trying to say:  Not every sermon is going to get the whole crowd on their feet cheering at the top of their lungs with tears streaming down their face like crazed fans at the World Series. 

If you're sitting in the pews, some sermons you hear may just be a reminder of something you learned years ago.  Other messages may be heavily convicting.  And then there are those that will set your heart on fire and stir you up in a big way.  It'll probably be different each week.  If the sermon you heard one Sunday morning doesn't stir your soul, just keep in mind that you still did the right thing by being in God's house and you still were encouraged in your faith.  Furthermore, next Sunday's sermon may be EXACTLY what you've needed to hear for years.  It's not going to be the same thing every Sunday, and that's perfectly normal. 

If you're in the pulpit, some sermons you preach may lead to a visible, loud response, while others may lead to stillness and silence.  Also, it's important to know that some people are very private and introverted with their response.  They may not be reacting on the outside, but their mind and their heart may be in overdrive privately as they take in what is being said.  Depending on a lot of different factors, the way people react will most likely be different every week.  So don't get too worked up either way about how people respond.  Just do your job and faithfully preach God's word week in and week out.  How people react to our sermons is between them and God.  It's not about us anyway.

Regardless of whether the sermon is a single or a homerun, it's always worth while to be in God's house with God's people.  That's time well spent every Sunday.  And it's never a waste.  As long as He is being worshipped, His Spirit is moving freely, His word is being preached, and people are bonding closely with Him, it's a win-win for everyone involved.

It's true.  Sermons are a lot like baseball.  And that's perfectly fine with me.