Saturday, April 30, 2016

Seeking More Than Words

I have a book of "seek a word" puzzles, and I love it.  It's fun and relaxing for me to sit there and search for the words that are listed in the column.  And I've learned a few ways to find words quicker than before.  Over time, I have gotten good at it! 

But I've also realized that we all must be seeking more than words in life.  GOD should be ultimately what we are looking for with our hearts and minds.  And here is the good news:  We can be successful in doing this!

In Deuteronomy 4:29, we read "you will seek the Lord your God and you will find Him, if you search after Him with all you heart and with all your soul."  Then we see this in Jeremiah 29:13 : "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."  Aren't these two verses great?!  They remind us that God is not a mystery hidden in the shadows that refuses to be found.  Not at all!  God is present and available to those who seek Him.  As Acts 17:27 so wonderfully tells us, "He is not far from any one of us."

Are you wanting to have an encounter with God?  Just say "Yes!" to Jesus.  Dig in scripture.  Call out in prayer.  Look and reach Heavenward in worship.  Seek God in these ways, and you will find Him.

It's fun to find those words in my puzzles.  I really enjoy that.  But it's far more thrilling to find God's awesome presence and fulfilling blessings.  Life does not get any better than that.

Let's all seek Him today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Dallas Key And Pittsburgh Tattoo

I had one of my keys remade with a Dallas Cowboys design.  Since I'm a lifelong fan, it was fun to finally get one.  And I'm always proud to show it off to my friends and family.

Recently I was at a local drugstore when I laid my keys on the cashier's counter for a moment.  The moment she saw my key, the young lady said, "Oh no, not Dallas!"  Then she pulled up one of her shirt sleeves to show me her Pittsburgh Steelers tattoo.  (For those of you who don't know, the Cowboys and the Steelers are big football rivals.)  When she said that, I looked at her and said, "It's ok, we can still be friends anyway."  The young lady smiled back and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right."

Here's what I believe:  Disagreement is normal and healthy.  People are not going to share the same view on every single topic.  This is true in areas such as politics, sports, cultural issues, and religion.  But I honestly believe we all can still get along anyway.  We can disagree on certain issues and still be friends who work together in the areas where we do see eye to eye.

I have some friends who are more conservative than me, and I have other friends who are more liberal.  I've got some friends who are Carolina Gamecocks and others who are Clemson Tigers.  Some good people I know are Democrats, others are Republicans, and one is a Libertarian.   You know what?  I'm ok with my friends and me not seeing eye to eye on everything.  We still get along well and we treat each other with respect.  If you ask me, I think that's how it ought to be.

May we all keep this in mind:  Love matters!  Whether we agree or disagree on certain issues, let's look out for one another and be friends anyway.  That'll make this world a much more pleasant place to be, and the call of Jesus to love each other will be fulfilled in a wonderful way.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Preaching Verse By Verse

I just finished preaching through the book of James here at New Calvary.  For three and a half months, I walked our church family through it verse by verse.  We studied the whole book from its beginning to its end.

This has not been my normal practice of preaching in the past.  Working through an entire book is not something I've done much of during my ministry.  But after this experience with James, I've come to a greater appreiation for this type of preaching.

Here is what I like about preaching verse by verse...

(1). It helps me and others learn more about specific parts of the Bible.  When we focus on just one book at a time, we tend to dig deeper and discover more of what is happening in its original context, as well as what it means for us today.

(2). It disciplines me and others to deal with biblical matters that we most likely would not have dealt with before.  Going verse by verse through scripture forces me to study and teach things that I may would not have chosen to deal with on my own.  And that's a good thing.  I need to deal with all scripture instead of certain portions of it that are familiar or comfortable,

(3).  It helps me with planning and scheduling.  Studying a book of the Bible makes it much easier for me to know what I'm doing for the next several weeks or months.  And it allows the congregation to know what scripture we will be studying next Sunday morning.

Listen, I'm not going to be one of those guys who is dogmatic about this being the only type of preaching that pastors should do.  Every pastor is different and so is every congregation.  What works in one church may not be the best thing for the congregation down the road.

Also, I'm not going to say this will be the only type of preaching I do from now on.  I'm sure that I will do some topical types of sermons along the way.  And there's nothing wrong with that.

But I will say this:  I have come to see the value of walking through a book of the Bible (or even part of a book) as a church family.  It can be, with God's help, interesting, exciting, and relevant to life today.  And, after this recent preaching experience I've had, I'll definitely be doing much more of it in the future than I have in the past.

Friday, April 22, 2016

True Love In D's Wings

So I was eating some delicious lemon pepper chicken wings at D's Wings in Columbia when I saw this profession of love in the booth where I was seated.  Bobby and Danielle wrote on a dollar bill "Always & 4ever", and they had it taped up for everyone to see.  That's how long they plan to be together and love each other.  

That sounds like a good thing.  And I hope they indeed do have a great relationship.  May they spend many happy years together!

The greatest love you and I can ever find, however, is the incredible love God has for us.  There's really nothing quite like it.  In Romans 8, Paul describes it this way:  "What shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Yes, it was really cool to see love professed in the wings place.  But it's even greater to see God's love for us professed in scripture.  It's reassuring to know that He loves us unconditionally, sacrificially, and eternally. That's a love that is far greater than anything we will ever find in this world.

Can I give you a little bit of friendly advice?  Let God love you.  Accept it by saying "Yes!" to Jesus and allowing His presence and love to fill your heart.  When you do, I guarantee you it'll be a blessing that is almost indescribable.  His love really is amazing!

Yes, it's true.  God loves you.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Country Kiefer Isn't Concerned

Kiefer Sutherland has been a well-known actor and star since the 80's when I was a teenager.  I remember watching him in movies such as "Stand By Me", "Lost Boys", and "Young Guns".  Of course, he later took on the role of Jack Bauer in the thrilling TV show "24", which I watched faithfully.

Now Kiefer has gone country.  I kid you not!  He has recorded a country music album and is going on tour.  Recently he was interviewed and asked about how people respond to actors who start up bands.  This is what Kiefer had to say:  "I've gotten to a point in my life where I'm not as concerned about what people think." 

It seems to me that good ole Kiefer has figured out an important truth of life!  We can not live for the approval and applause of other people.  Making ourselves slaves to what others think of us can make us miserable and hold us back from being everything we can be.

The way I see it, if we are at peace with God, and we know we are in His will, nothing else matters.  It's His approval that is most important.  He is the judge and He has the final say on our lives.  

I'm happy for Kiefer!  It's good to see him try this.  And I may even buy his album to enjoy while driving down the road in my old truck.

Today, let's adopt his mindset.  May you and I both be "not as concerned about what people think."  As long as we are at peace with God and true to ourselves, that's all that really matters.

Monday, April 18, 2016

What I've Been Thinking

I'd like to get a little personal as I write this, and I hope that's ok with you.

I serve a church as their pastor.  And it's a really good church.  New Calvary Baptist is her name, and I care about the people there greatly.

Like every church on the planet, we have normal ups and downs.

Some Sunday's, the pews are mostly full.  Some Sunday's, they're not.

Some Sunday's, I feel like the sermon I preach connects and hits home with the people.  Some Sunday's, I don't.

Do you know why that is?  It's how life goes.  Some times in life, things click perfectly.  Other times, they don't.  That's just how the cookie crumbles for all of us.

And here's what I've been thinking:  I can't base my sense of worth on how things go with my pastoral ministry.  If the way I feel about myself is dependent on how many people are in the pews or how folks respond to my preaching, I'll be on an emotional roller coaster, feeling up one moment and down the next.  That's no way to live.

I'm thinking my identity and value need to be based on The Lord.  The way I see it, He created me out of His own free will and saved me by His amazing grace.  He indwells me personally and loves me deeply.  My inner sense of wholeness and worth need to be based on Him.

Do I care about the church?  Absolutely!  I'm committed to them and happy with them.  But I also realize I can't base the way I feel about myself on what they do or how they respond.  That's not fair to them or me!  I have to base the way I feel about myself on what God says and does.

Why am I telling you this?  I guess partially I'm just thinking out loud and journaling what I'm learning.  But there's another reason, and it's probably obvious by now:  You also need to make sure your own identity and value are based on The Lord.  Don't let your self-esteem be founded on your bank account, social status, or work achievements.  You'll drive yourself nuts if you do!  Just keep in mind that God made you, saved you, and loves you.  And no matter what else happens in life, that makes you special.  That gives you value.  That's plenty of evidence that proves you really do matter.

Yep, you and I mean something.  Not because of what people say or do.  Far from it!  We mean something because of what God says and does.  May we always remember to find our sense of worth in Him.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Birthday & Wedding Weekend Rewind - 4/17/16

Wow, what a BIG weekend!

*  We celebrated Mom's birthday on Saturday.  She likes eating at Simply Southern Bistro (click HERE for their website), so we met up for lunch and a little party.

*  After a delicious meal, we all enjoyed a delicious chocolate cake (from HERE) and gave her presents.  Mom looked very happy and seemed to enjoy herself. 

*  Grandmamma Reynolds was there too.  After the meal, I got a picture with her, Condy, and the kids.
*  I love my mom.  She's one amazing lady.  And she has always been there for me.  Honestly, I could not ask for a better one than her.
*  Also on Saturday, we had a wedding here at New Calvary Baptist Church.  Reed and Heather were married.  I was honored to officiate the ceremony, along with a fine pastor from North Carolina who has known Reed for years.
*  The sanctuary looked great.  They did a nice job decorating everything.  I was impressed with how good they made it look.
*  The reception was at the O'Donnel House afterwards.  That's a beautiful old home, and a perfect place for these types of events. 
*  The food was delicious.  The DJ was fun.  And everyone had a really great time!  I thoroughly enjoyed this reception.  Lara and the girls also had a blast. 
*  My kids cut loose out on the dance floor during the reception!  They impressed me by busting some moves.  I danced once with Lara.  It was a slow song, and I think we did just fine.

*  There was a photo booth set up, and we all had some fun with that.  Outside of the booth, Lara and I got a quick pic taken with some cool gear on:
*  At New Calvary today, I preached a sermon entitled "The Lifting Of Prayers" out of James 5:13-18.  It was all about prayer within the context of a church community. 

*  Tonight, at the 6:00 service, I preached on being an encourager.  Specifically, I led us through a study of Deborah in the book of Judges.  Her example of encouragement should inspire us all to do the same for people we know.

*  I'm real thankful for my family and church.  God has sure blessed me, and I'm enjoying life these days.  :)

*  That's it for tonight.  Plenty of new blog posts will be posted here this week, and I hope you get something good out of them.

God bless you and yours!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Looking Back

Have you ever noticed how at times we tend to long for the past?  It's easy to look back on days gone by and think "If only I could go back to that season of life."  This is that desire to return to "the good old days".  My guess is we all have done that at one point or another.  At times I've looked back on situations from earlier in my life and thought, "Man, I'd sure love to go back to those days!"

When we find ourselves spending a little too much time looking back, it can be helpful if we remind ourselves of the following truths...

[1]  After time passes, we tend to romanticize the past and make it out to be better than it really was.  Remember the children of Israel?  In Exodus 16:3 they were saying, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted."  Then they griped again in Numbers 14:3 by asking, "Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?"  But there was a problem with all this:  Their past was one of being slaves in Egypt.  They were being held against their will and being forced to work.  And here they were finally free from all that, but still thinking back on those times and fondly wanting to return. 

They, like we, forgot something:  The past was not nearly as glorious and wonderful as we may think it was.  There were problems and challenges back then too.  Every season of life, including the past, has its ups and downs.  In looking at the rear view mirror, we tend to only see the good things we liked.  But it's vital to keep in mind the past was not perfect like we tell ourselves at times.

[2]  Focusing too much on the past can cause us to miss out on the blessings of the present.  Sure, there might have been some wonderful thrills yesterday.  But God has also blessed us today.  We have His gifts of life, joy, peace, strength, hope, grace, and love this very moment.  So let's not daydream so much about the past that we overlook the blessings of this new day God has given us.  There is plenty to celebrate right here and right now.

[3]  Life is about moving forward.  Paul wrote these words in Philippians 3:13-14 :  "one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.  I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus."   What an awesome verse!!  I like those words "forward", "towards", and "upward".  He is all about letting go of the past and launching out into the future.  We all should do the same.  Regardless of what has happened in days gone by, there are still people to love, goals to reach, and opportunities to succeed.  What matters more than where we've been, is where we're headed.  I think that's what God cares about, and it needs to be what matters to us as well.  The actress Angelina Jolie was right when she said the following:  "It's hard to be clear about who you are when you are carrying around a bunch of baggage from the past.  I've learned to let go and move more quickly into the next place."

In my mind, it's fine to be thankful for the past and to learn from it.  But we don't need to hold on to it too tightly.  We've got to know when to stop looking back and begin letting go.  What matters more than the past is where we are now, and where we are headed tomorrow.  May God give us the wisdom to know how to handle the past.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chasing Cocky

We were at a Carolina football game when Emerson spotted Cocky, who is the Gamecock mascot.  Immediately he said, "Dad, let's run down to Cocky.  I want a picture taken with him!"  So he and I quickly made our way to the front row where kids were lined up to see him.
There he was!  Cocky was signing autographs and getting pictures taken with people.  We waited in line for our turn.  And when we were almost to him, he left and moved on down to the next section.

"Can we go to the next section and try again, Dad?", my boy asked.  "Sure, man, we can do that."  So we followed him and tried again.  After waiting a few more minutes, we got real close.  But once again, Cocky had to move on down to the next section and Emerson didn't get to meet him.  Fortunately, I did at least manage to snap a quick picture of my boy with Cocky in the background, just a few feet away.
Emerson was kind of let down about not getting any closer.  I explained to him that good ole Cocky wanted to be fair and visit as many sections as possible.  Also I told him that thousands of kids wanted to meet him and sometimes it just doesn't work out for everyone to have a moment with him.  He seemed to understand what I was saying, and once he started eating more popcorn he seemed to be just fine.

Cocky is a fun mascot.  He does the best he can.  And we still think he's great!

I'm glad to know this:  When we want to get close with God, we don't have to wait in line and He won't walk away.  When we make the effort to connect with Him, He responds favorably and connects with us.  What Cocky could not do, God does perfectly!  We know this to be true because of James 4:8, which reads "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."

We were unsuccessful that day in chasing Cocky.  But that's ok.  Life goes on.  The good news is this:  Whenever you and I run towards God through prayer, Bible reading, or worship, He will run towards us and happily connect with us.  And we will never be disappointed.  Never.

May you and I both reach out for God today and experience that satisfying thrill of connecting with Him.  A connection with Him is always available.  What a blessing that is!

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Dentist Story

I have a good friend who is a talented dentist.  He's a great guy.  And I would recommend him to anyone who needs dental care.

One day I went to his office for a checkup.  When he was finishing up, he noticed I needed a little extra work done on one tooth.  I quickly agreed to go ahead and get it done right then and there.  When he explained to me what needed to be done, I decided to have it done WITHOUT getting my tooth numbed.  He offered to numb it so I wouldn't feel any discomfort, but I said, "No, I'll be fine without it."

For the first couple of minutes I was feeling alright while he was working on me.  But then I felt some pain.  He quickly offered again to numb my tooth.  But I again told him, "No thanks, I'll get through without it."  So he went back to work, and I felt the pain return.  Fortunately, he finished up his work quickly and successfully.  As usual, he did a really good job and handled my dental needs like a pro.  And I did make it through the procedure.  But man oh man, I sure could have made it easier on myself!

See, the good dentist did his job.  He offered a form of medical comfort for me several times.  The problem was me.  All I had to do was accept his repeated offer of relief, and I would have been ok.  But I chose to get through it on my own.  

You know, as I think about that experience, I realize a lot of us do the same thing with God.  He offers us comfort for the hurts of life.   Paul states the following in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 :  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles."  Through His Holy Spirit, the Bible, and other believers, God is ready and willing to soothe our aches and comfort our hearts.  This doesn't mean we won't go through difficulties.  But this does mean He will calm and help us with what we need in the midst of difficulties. 

The choice we have to make is this:  Will we let God comfort us, or will we hurt more than necessary because we try to get through on our own?  Each of us has to make this choice for ourselves.

Life can be tough at times.  Difficulties creep into everyone's corner of the world occasionally.  When this happens, let's cry out to God in prayer, admit our need for Him, and welcome His comfort into our hearts and minds.  This soothing work will be exactly what we need in the midst of our hardship, and it will see us through to the other side.

I've learned from experience to say "Yes, please!" when the dentist offers medical comfort.  On a far greater note, may we all say "Yes, please!" when God offers spiritual comfort.  It's exactly what we need when we go through painful seasons in the journey of life.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Looking Good But Going Nowhere

I see this jet displayed proudly between Sumter and Columbia.  Everyone riding down the highway can grab a good look at it.  There it is, looking good but going nowhere.  It is retired, grounded, and immobile.

Isn't that just like a lot of people?  Looking good but going nowhere.  They may have a happy looking Facebook profile picture, jam up wardrobe, sleek set of wheels in the driveway, or home that could be on the cover of a magazine.  But on the inside, they are empty of passion, void of joy, and drained of purpose.  To bring things closer to home, maybe that describes you and me on some days.

I'm glad that God can bring us to life on the inside, put us in motion, and propel us forward in life!  Unlike the jet, we can spend our lives going somewhere and accomplishing something.  God's divine spark sets us ablaze with passion, joy, and purpose.

Just think about it...

Lazarus was a cold, dead corpse, but God brought him to life.

David was a young shepherd boy, but God enabled him to kill Goliath, an antagonistic giant.

Saul was blind and at a crossroad in his life, but God gave him a new beginning and a new purpose for living, which was missions.

Time after time, we see it in the Bible:  God can take a life, set it on fire, and put in motion.  Unlike the frozen, lifeless jet, people are filled with vitality, enthusiasm, a reason to live, and assurance of a bright future.  

If you haven't already done so, let God pour the fuel of His spirit into your heart.  When this happens, your life will soar like it never has before.  And you will never be the same.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

I Wish I Didn't Know

It's happened several times.  I've talked with good friends who became leaders in various churches and found themselves disappointed as a result of it.  They've all told me basically the same thing:  "Man, I wish I didn't know the things I've learned about people behind the scenes in church.  It's just disappointing.  I'd rather be in the dark and clueless." 

I can totally understand where my friends are coming from.  There would be something wrong if they delighted in seeing the dark side of people.  Frankly, I'm a little encouraged that they would prefer not to know about the faults and flaws of others.  That says something good about my friends.

But the fact remains, this will happen to all of us.  Inevitably, we will see, hear, and learn unflattering things about people.  And we will wish we didn't know these things.

What should we do when this happens?

[1]  Let it serve as a reminder that nobody is perfect.  Everyone has flaws, quirks, and failures in their lives.  Regardless of who it is, there will be something wrong with everyone you and I meet.  Because of this, we should never put anyone high up on a pedestal.  We must keep in mind that even the greatest Christian on Earth (whoever that is) is still just a broken sinner saved by grace.  The sooner we accept this truth about people, the less we will be shocked by what we see and hear.

[2]  Let it serve as a reminder that we too are imperfect.  The past few years, I've started dealing more with my own failures and focusing less on others' flaws.  Regardless of what I see other people do, I realize I too am an imperfect man who is needy of God's forgiveness and mercy.  Whoever said it was right:  Whenever we point our index finger at someone in judgment, we have three fingers pointing right back at us.  Because of this, let's stay humble and never get cocky when others fail. 

[3]  Let it serve as an opportunity to minister to hurting people.  When we see someone's life falling apart, we can either gossip about them with pride in our hearts, or we can privately pray for them with loving concern for their well-being.  We can look down our nose at them, or we can carefully and humbly offer to help them.  We can kick them to the curb, or we can gently seek to restore them. 

[4]  Let it serve as a reminder that God is good . We're all at least a little messed up.  Every single one of us.  I am.  And so are you.  But the good news is this:  God loves us, pursues us, hangs in there with us, and continues to work with us anyway.  He gets to work on us and He continues this work as long as there is breath in our bodies.  I'm sure glad God does this!!

It's just a part of life.  We will see, hear, and learn negative things about people.  But rather than let it get us down and tempt us to withdraw from folks, we can embrace it for what it is:  A valuable reminder of how needy we all are, and how awesome God is!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Politics And The Church

It's an election year here in the U.S.  Republicans and Democrats are going at it with all their might, in hopes of winning and gaining ground.  And everybody has an opinion on what needs to happen.

As an American citizen, I have my own ideas.  I tend to lean more in one direction, politically speaking.  And I will say that my Christian faith does surely influence the stance I take on issues.

Now as a pastor, I try to keep this in mind:  Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat.  He is here for everyone, regardless of whether they are conservative, moderate, or liberal.  So I make an effort to avoid endorsing candidates or parties in the church or on social media.  The way I see it, all people need the Lord.  And the mission of the church is not to advance one political party or another.  Far from it!  The mission of the church is to advance the kingdom of God.

I think we churches need to be very careful when it comes to politics.  Let's address issues such as the sanctity of human life, the institution of marriage, and how to handle the poor or suffering.  From a biblical perspective, we can most certainly deal with these (and other) relevant matters.  But we sure don't need to be elevating one party over another.

Some pastors may disagree with me on this, but I don't care.  I want the church to be a place where Republicans, Democrats, or anyone else can feel welcome to come and worship God.  And I sure don't want to alienate any group from hearing the message of the gospel. 

The way I see it, if someone has unbiblical views, God can deal with them and change their minds.  I have that much faith in what He can do through His spirit and word.  Me advancing either party or any candidate will just get in the way of that and turn people off from God's church.  I have no desire whatsoever to be the "politician in residence" here at New Calvary Baptist Church.  I just want to be a pastor who offers God's word and grace to everyone. 

Let's welcome everyone into the church.  And let's share with everyone the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Then let's trust God to work in their hearts and minds.  Ultimately, He can influence what they do in the voting booth or anywhere else they may go in life.