Not Alone in the Dark…

We never “really” get over it. That feeling that what we cannot see just might “get us!” When we were small children, our parents may have installed nightlights to show us that nothing was really in the room with us at bedtime. They may have inspected the closet and looked under the bed to demonstrate that nothing bad was there. They may have even explained to us all the reasons our fears were irrational and reminded us that they were on the far side of the house (away from us) and that if we needed them…we only needed to cry out.

The feeling never went away. We wondered if the object of our fears might be lurking in a shadow or may have been overlooked when inspecting the closet. Our real issue was not the darkness but the sense that we were alone.

How does one find peace from the fear and anxiety that bad things happen when we are alone?

I think this is the heartbeat of Jesus’ statement to His followers just prior to His ascension back to the Father in heaven… “and I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus never promised that bad people or bad things would not come against us. He never declared our lives to be filled with unicorns and cotton candy. He, in fact, declared the opposite, “In this world you will have tribulation!” (John 16:33). And at the same time, Christ indicated that we could experience a profound peace, even amid our difficult circumstance.

God’s PEACE is not experienced based on the absence of trouble but on the presence of God.

In Psalm 23, David declared, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” God’s presence put our “trouble” in perspective.

A boy was having difficulties with a bully on the walk to school. After several confrontations, he was so afraid of what would happen that he dreaded even walking that way again. His father, recognizing the real issue, did not promise to remove the bully but chose instead to walk with his son on the journey the next day. When they faced the bully kid along the walk, there was no issue. The bully was the same, but the son had confidence because his dad was bigger than the bully and HE WAS WITH HIM.

Today, as you face the challenges that are guaranteed to come, don’t fear the dark or dread being alone. If you are His child, you are never alone…not even in the dark. “Fear not for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10).

Are we there yet?

KIds in car 2Are we there yet? The very question from the back seat brings a smile to a dad’s face. Some things are so difficult to wait for. If you’re in the car on your way to grandma’s house, you should be there like…yesterday.

Any child knows that!

 

We all hate to wait.

Because of that, there is an entire industry of “fast food.” Why else would you eat something that can be prepared in 4 minutes and has enough preservatives to keep it safe for hours without refrigeration! We have 10-minute oil changes, call-ahead orders at restaurants, and (my latest find) apps for my favorite gospel bird restaurant where I can send my order in and walk to the counter to pick it up when I arrive!

Waiting is part of life, but we hate to do it.

Yesterday, in the opening message to our new Christmas Series, “Miracles of Christmas,” I shared from Galatians 4 about the Miracle of the Moment. One of the references I made was that the people had come through 400 years of prophetic silence…waiting on the Lord’s deliverance through His Messiah. I am still “chewing on” prayer going unanswered for centuries. We struggle to hold it together if our doctor’s appointment is delayed 15 minutes!

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son… Galatians 4:4.

Waiting is not always bad. (Ok, don’t stop reading because you saw that. Keep going…you’re almost there.)

Could you imagine asking for a piece of pie and then refusing to wait for it to fully cook? Tell the chef to bring it to me now in whatever condition it is in! Or, perhaps, a pregnant mom saying at the end of the first trimester, “I cannot wait six more months, give me my baby right now!” Or, opening a cocoon so you can see the butterfly today! These ridiculous examples are only ridiculous because we know that if you interfere with the process you don’t get what was designed.

If we trust the wisdom of design for a dessert recipe, or a pregnancy, or the metamorphosis of a butterfly, should we trust a Sovereign God less?

Don’t stop praying.

He hears, knows, and cares. (Exodus 3).

Don’t stop pressing forward.

That longing in your heart is by His design to keep you moving.

Don’t shortcut the process.

You ruin a pie when you don’t let it cook.

Don’t despise the process.

The Lord is working on a glorious plan if you’ll trust Him.

400 years was a long time to pray for deliverance to a seemingly silent God…but man…was Jesus worth the wait!

My Top 9 and a bonus Takeaway from the FBC Annual Meeting

At the risk of missing someone else’s favorite quote, let me say that I did not write down everything. In fact, I was in such awe at Dr. Robert Smith (for instance) that I don’t remember one single note I wrote down.

Still, these quotes resonated with me…in no particular order of importance:

  1. “Don’t try to run someone else’s race.” Rocky Purvis
  2. When things are tough for a prolonged time…”Sometimes you want to quit or coast…but it’s not how you begin the race or even where you are at the halfway point. It’s how you finish.” Rocky Purvis
  3. “Prayer moves the hand of God.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  4. The heavens aren’t opened until someone prays.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  5. “Faithfulness will always lead to fruitfulness.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  6. “A servant who never serves is by definition, not a servant.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  7. The gospel must first change us before it can change the world- H.B. Charles Jr.
  8. “The gospel is for those who believe, not those who behave.” -H.B. Charles Jr.
  9. “If your hope is tied to things you can lose, you will eventually lose hope.” Dr. Rick Blackwood
  10. Georgia will probably still be #1, since they beat Notre Dame.” (What time does Georgia play?) Tim Coleman.

A Veteran’s Day Reflection

013923fce5d7501d412e51b996f17f8f050b0b80b6The Armistice, or cease-fire, of World War I was initiated on November 11, 1918. The “war to end all wars” had taken a heavy toll on America. “In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: ‘To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…’ .” (va.gov).

So, Veteran’s day exists to recognize the bravery and selfless service of servicemembers that risked life and sacrificed freedom, comfort, and security in pursuit of a higher ideal.

I see the day as a remembrance of something else as well…the beauty of peace and the high cost paid to secure it. The early celebrations of this day evoked pride from a nation. It was a pride in our strength but also pride in our ideals. In a real and tangible way, whether through observing a parade (which was the common observance in the early years) or listening to the stories of those who grew to love peace more while risking their lives to secure it, our nation came to believe the best of itself.

DSCN0155Today, parades are sparsely attended, even in military communities like mine. The celebration of freedom and honoring of sacrifice are often subordinated behind politicized agendas. Some even use the day to lecture those who’ve served on the dangers of military might to a peaceful world. Still others offer respectful greetings and kind words to those who have worn the uniform of our nation.

I hope that the day perpetually reminds us of a couple of valuable lessons, that if forgotten, may do great damage to the heart and soul of a nation. Remember that those we honor are worthy of honor…not because they gave their lives in battle, but because they committed their lives to the protection of liberty. Veteran’s day provides a necessary pause for a nation to simply say thank you as it enjoys the freedom that endures, not secured by the politician’s promise, or the press’s pen, but from the soldier’s service. I hope the day reminds us to prioritize gratitude and to weigh the worth of a free society. Finally, I hope the day serves as an example…as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen demonstrate a unity of purpose that transcends, branch of service, race, creed, religion, and socio-economic realities. Our nation is not perfect, but on this day we encounter a glimmer of hope of what is possible.

01b39a7bb66084d168221b57ccf0cc70823daa9cf2I am honored to be part of a line of men (my father and grandfather before me, a younger brother with me, as well as a son after me) who have strapped up through more than four generations of national service. Furthermore, I consider it a high privilege to call my fellow servicemembers across the branches my brothers and sisters. May we continue to live the example of the ideal that challenges the status quo and promotes pursuit of a higher calling. Freedom depends upon it. To all my brothers and sisters, Happy Veteran’s Day 2018.

Are you a… (part 1)

Church.Image1.jpgI have observed for some time now that many believers, even many of those close to me as part of the church I serve, have misunderstood or are ignoring the fundamental nature of the church. Sure…the discussion of “going to church,” “being” the church, or “joining” the church has caused many tempers to flare…but what is the church?

Theologically (and therefore practically) the church is AT LEAST the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the image of Christ. This means that the church was sought and purchased by our gracious Lord (Acts 20:28) and that it functions as the physical instrument for fulfilling the mission/mandate of Christ. As we do that, we manifest in a measurable way how the Kingdom of Christ works.

Stated a little differently, the church is the place where people become like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as the Word and the Body/community work together to fulfill a specific mission. Therefore, there should be observable change, growth, and glory among the saints.

What I have observed is that many don’t “get” the fundamental nature of the church, so they fail to find and fulfill their role in it. Many of these people have bought into the line that the church is an organization or a service provider…a commodity for consideration and consumption. This view has led to an individualistic perspective on church and sometimes…individualism within the scope of the larger Body itself.

It seems to me (while others may use different designations for the classes I am identifying here) that there are four groups/classes of people participating in a local church setting on any given Sunday:

  • Examiners. These people are not part of the church and are “examining” the claims of Christ as they measure them against what they observe as the outworking of those claims through the local expression of Christianity through the church. Some call these seekers.
  • Consumers. These folks evaluate church based on a narrow definition of individualistic intent and primarily choose participation if there is a real or anticipated benefit to themselves. They may or may not be believers. For these folks, the first and primary concern is “what does this experience do for me?”
  • Participants. These are people who are part of the church (so they must be believers) and choose to serve in elements of church but have not embraced the church’s mission as their own. They are not evil or against the mission; but, they are also not owners. They are at different stages of Christian development and are growing as they serve (which is the distinction between participants and consumers).
  • Partners. These people get it. They are believers who are growing in grace and sanctification in Christ and understand the mission of the church. Further, they embrace it. It is their mission.

In part 2, I will unpack some of the implications of these classifications and examine them for biblical warrant…but based on what you see:

Where would you fit?

Do you know your church’s mission?

Do you see yourself as somewhat responsible for that mission?

If the church failed to fulfill that mission, would you feel as if you personally failed as well?

Don’t Miss the Dolphins

Paddleboarding-in-Sarasota-County_MilesArticleOptRecently, Jodi and I rented a paddleboard while spending a week together at the beach.

I must say that as someone who has never surfed or even successfully waterskied, my first try on the board was not very impressive. I had no idea what I was doing so those first rides lasted between 10-60 seconds. (Jodi, of course, owned it like a boss from the beginning). Honestly, it took me a couple of YouTube videos to get the basics down and day two was pretty good. Jodi and I both paddled a bit and had a good time. We also met some folks who seemed to have interest in our paddleboard “sea stories.” We thought they might want to give it a shot themselves so we offered up the use of the paddleboard for them to try.

Their responses:

Husband, “No I’d probably break something.”

Wife, “I can’t since I have a terrible fear of sharks.”

They were very interested in what it was like for us, but their fear of injury or “Jaws” kept them from even trying the board for themselves. This encounter made me think: I wonder how often we forsake “what could be” because of fear?

  • Afraid of what they might say, we refuse to ask that special someone on a date.
  • Afraid of getting lost we never leave the guided tour to experience the heart of a City.
  • Afraid of what “might happen,” we never travel beyond our own country or even our state.
  • Afraid of being “turned down” we simply don’t apply for a new job.
  • Afraid of failure, we choose never to return to school and complete a degree.
  • Afraid of rejection, we never share the gospel with others.

When we choose to allow fear to drive our actions, we acknowledge a (little g) god in our lives. It may be safety, security, control, or some other form of that false god, but, in our fear, we choose to serve it ahead of our goals, dreams, or even calling.

Fear is a non-negotiable in life. Everyone is afraid of something, sometimes. If you have no fear, you have a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease; or, you could be a run-of-the-mill psychopath who experiences fear but doesn’t recognize it. Otherwise…everyone experiences fear. Fear, though, is not the problem. What we do with fear determines our destiny and indicates Who or what we serve as our god/God.

Peter tells us to take our anxiousness/fear to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Paul says to seek God rather than serve anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). Jesus tells us to believe (have faith)…because faith conquers fear.

Now, certainly Jesus did not direct me to go paddle boarding; however, the board serves as a good analogy to understand how to find victory over our fears. We pursue our objective with passion and refuse to quit.

Dolphins JumpingHonestly, paddling was cool but what I really wanted was to get up close to some dolphins. On day 3… I did. The water was choppy but I had mastered how to use it like a kayak so when we saw them beginning to play about a half-mile out, I looked to Jodi for approval, grabbed the board and took off for the open water. It took a bit to get out there (since they did not exactly wait on me). I had to plot an intercept course on the open water, but it paid off. I came to within about 15 feet of three dolphins playing as they surfaced near me. It was amazing! (In fact, it is what I had prayed for earlier that morning when I sat a few hundred yards offshore scanning the horizon. I told the Lord that He was all I needed but that I would love to see some dolphins up close if He’d let me.

When the dolphins submerged again (not to return), I looked down and was well beyond the emerald green water we are known for on the Gulf coast. In fact, I could barely make out the spot of beach I had departed from…but I did it! I saw the dolphins up close, simply by getting on the board, paddling hard and not stopping until I go there.

Our new friends…they never broke anything and they were certainly not eaten by sharks…but they also didn’t see the dolphins.

Here is the question…do you want to see the dolphins the Lord has in store for you?

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