Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas? No. Mary Christmas!
Dec 19, 10:09 PM (ET)
AMERICAN FORK, Utah (AP) - Merry Christmas to you, Mary Christmas. That's what the former Mary Young is hearing this holiday season, after she married Brian Christmas earlier this year.
"It was meant to be," Mary Christmas told the Daily Herald of Provo. "God has a sense of humor. What are the chances that it would ever happen?"
She has found, however, that she is not alone. Mary Christmas has been working at Ancestry.com for three years and discovered there are as many as 100 other Mary Christmases in the United States.
The last name of Christmas has its origins in Wales, she said.
"It was given to people that were born on Christmas Day," she said. "Somewhere back there someone of my husband's ancestors was born on Christmas. It is not a super common name."
Christmas said her husband's grandmother, Joy Christmas, once was stopped at a counter at JCPenney, under suspicion for using a phony name.
The name brings compliments.
"For many people, it seems to make them happy. 'You are my favorite,' they tell me. 'I think of your name and it makes me happy,'" Christmas said.
Her husband, Brian, says the best part of her name is that he has Mary Christmas all year long, not just in December.

After Christmas

I hope everyone had a wonderful, Christ filled Christmas! I will be back next week with a new blog. To the person who sent the recent comment, thank you for the heads up. I have made the corrections.
In Him,
Stacy

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pondering These Things

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing
that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:15-19)

I suppose it was business as usual for the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth. They went about their task of watching over their sheep just as they had done many nights before. However, this night would be a very different one.

I imagine them lying about on a small hillside so they could see all of the sheep. Since it was night, they might have been tired, or they might have been complaining about having to work the night shift for the third time in a month, or they may have been talking or playing a game as they went about their work. Whatever they were doing, it was all interrupted by someone appearing right in front of them. As if that were not enough to startle them, this person was illuminated by a bright light.

They were certainly afraid, and the angel did what it could to calm them. The angel told them of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, and then just to put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, they were joined by a whole sky filled with angels singing.

Of course, the shepherds were excited, afraid, confused, and probably experienced many other emotions that night. The adrenaline was pumping, so they left the sheep and found the newborn baby Jesus in the manger. They excitedly told their tale to everyone they met along the way and at the stable. Everyone they told was just as excited as they were, except one.

Mary didn’t rejoice with the others at the re-telling of the shepherd’s story. Have you ever wondered why? I have.

The wonderful song Mary Did You Know? perhaps gets as near to the answer as I have found. Maybe she did know more than the Bible tells us. After all, she carried God Himself in her womb for nine months. She nourished Him with the food that she ate. She nursed Him and sustained His earthly life. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that she might have caught a glimpse of who He was, and would be?

She also may have “pondered these things” because up until that time, she, Joseph, and some immediate family were the only ones who knew who the baby was and to whom He truly belonged. When the shepherds came and told their story, she may have realized that her newborn, was not for her joy alone, but she would have to share Him with the entire world.

Jesus not only came to save her, but also shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, priests, kings, the unlovable, the downtrodden, drug addicts, pornographers, and you. This Christmas, allow the baby Jesus to warm your heart, but also allow Christ the Savior to wash you clean with His love. He loves you so much that He left Heaven to become one of us, so He could lead us to righteousness. There is no greater gift.

My prayer is for you and your families to have the most wonderful Christmas this year.
Merry Christmas from me and my family.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't skip Christmas

We are in the thick of the Christmas season. If you are like my family, by now you are beginning to feel the drain this time of year can put on you. As of this mid-December writing, we have almost finished our Christmas shopping, decorated our home, took the kids for Christmas portraits, attended three and missed one Christmas party, organized and hosted our daughter’s birthday party, preached three Christmas sermons, planned the rest of the advent services, and sang many Christmas songs.

I am sure your schedule looks very similar this Christmas. Perhaps we should all take the time to earnestly pray for one another, that the whole meaning and reason for all of this was because God became man. I know we get reminders of this from church and sometimes from television, but we need to remember it in our hearts.

Back in 2004, the Crossroads Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky decided to skip Christmas. They weren’t suggesting bailing out on the celebration altogether, just the bad parts: The stress. Spending money you can't afford to spend. The huge crowds.

"We want to encourage people not to get so caught up in the trappings of the season that they miss the heart of what Christmas is about," said Fred Turner, a minister at the church. "We are not calling for people not to buy presents or put up trees, but we are trying to turn the focus on the things that matter."

He said the church got the idea from John Grisham's newest book, "Skipping Christmas.” The story is about Luther Krank, who is sick of the high costs of Christmas, and persuades his wife to skip the holiday and spend the money on a cruise. But when his Peace Corps-bound daughter decides to come home for Christmas, he goes into a frenzy of preparations.

So how did it turn out for that Kentucky church? I’m not sure, but if you look at their church website, you see the normal church Christmas information, and no evidence that Christmas has been scaled back in 2007. The website they set up in 2004 called skipchristmas is not functioning anymore, and Fred Turner who came up with the idea is no longer listed as a minister at the church.

Maybe we’re not ready to skip Christmas. Maybe instead of skipping it, we should embrace it. Maybe we should really go all out. Go ahead and put more icicle lights on your house, go ahead and wear red and green together all month, go ahead and make pictures with Santa. However, instead of doing it out of obligation, do it out of celebration.

Perhaps it will take some patience. Perhaps it might take some Tylenol. Perhaps it might take some extra effort on your part, but in doing all of the things that make Christmas both wonderful and harried, if we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are a witness to the world.
When else during the year do you get to boldly proclaim your faith without worrying about what others think of you. If you go around in July singing, “Jesus loves me” your co-workers and schoolmates may think you are a little nuts, but go around anytime of year and sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and they think you are just in the Christmas Spirit.

So this year, it may take some work to celebrate the birth of our Lord, but it’s worth the effort.

Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol



Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Colossians 3:23

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tangled up

As many people do, we begin decorating for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving. In my family, the tree was always up and decorated on Thanksgiving day. It was tradition to eat Thanksgiving dinner and then break out the decorations.

When I was a kid, all of our decorations were kept in a huge cardboard box. I think the box was at least twenty years old back then. The old box was composed more of duct tape instead of cardboard, but it served its purpose.

As I began to put up the tree in our house the other day, I was really looking forward to plugging it in to see the beautiful lights. You see, about five years ago, we bought a pre-lit tree. I think my wife was tired of hearing me complain about getting the Christmas tree up and lit each year. Sure enough, the pre-lit tree worked just fine. I was much more pleasant when putting the tree up, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas tree each year since then.

On Friday, I dug our Christmas tree out of the attic, found the stand, and brought it downstairs where I ceremoniously placed it by the fireplace. I then plugged the green cord into the outlet and pushed the floor switch. Nothing happened. I began to check connections, fuses and bulbs. Nothing worked. It seems the problem with the pre-lit tree, is that the lights eventually stop working.

I decided to take off the old lights that were not working and replace them with new strands. That idea seemed simple enough. I thought I’d be finished in no time. I started with the bottom branches, but found out very quickly how difficult this job would be. These commercially wrapped lights were impossible to unwind. I finally had to get wire cutters to free our tree from this electric version of kudzu.

I spent most of the day Friday afternoon, and all of Saturday morning cutting wires from fake tree limbs. Finally, Sunday I began stringing lights on the tree, only to discover that I didn’t have enough lights, so once again the project was put on hold. The Christmas tree that I thought would take one afternoon to decorate has taken four days. I am happy to report, however, that at the time of this writing, the tree is up and beautiful.

All of this made me think about how we must seem to God sometimes. We are like tangled up Christmas lights that have stopped working. God patiently, light-by-light, checks to see which parts of our lives are blown and then repairs them. He then lovingly replaces the fuses that keep the electrical current flowing, with the Holy Spirit. When all of the maintenance is finished, He places us out into the world to shine for Him.

As you journey through this busy time of year, you may feel all tangled up and unable to glow. Slow down. Give the King whose birth we are celebrating a chance to make you beautiful again.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again… Galatians 5:1

Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:3

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Amazing Grace

You really need to watch this video. I have never heard some of this information before. It is extrememly powerful. Just click on the words Amazing Grace above.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wasted Time

Sometimes it flies, sometimes it crawls, but it always passes inexorably. We mark it, save it, waste it, bide it, race against it. We measure it incessantly, with a passion for precision that borders on the obsessive. Time is so vitally enmeshed with the fabric of our existence, in fact, that it's hard even to conceive of it as an independent entity--and when we try, the result is less than enlightening. Pondering the mystery of what time really is, St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, "If no one asks me, I know; but if any person should require me to tell him, I cannot." Michael D. Lemonick

Time is always moving forward. Whether we are ready for it or not, time will pass. Sometimes we embrace it and wish for it to move faster, such as when we are listening to a really boring preacher. At other times we want it to slow down, such as when we are spending time with a special someone or sharing one of those “unforgettable” moments with our children.

I had one of these moments a few days ago. Since we have two children, and they both like to hear stories before bed, my wife and I take turns putting them to bed. One night she will read to our daughter and put her to bed, while I am reading to our son and putting him to bed. The next night we switch.

Two nights ago was my turn to put our son to bed. We read a short book and then we were just lying on the floor talking. As we came to a place in our talk where we were not saying anything else, he just slid over beside me, took my arm and put it over him, and snuggled up. We just laid there on the floor for a few minutes, not saying anything at all.

After a few seconds, I noticed something. I could hear ticking. He has a Thomas the Tank Engine alarm clock. It is one of those wind-up clocks with the bells on top and the hammer that moves between them for the alarm. The second hand was extremely loud in the quiet room, as if the clock was trying to remind me of the constant passing of time. I wanted to savor that moment forever, but we both needed to go to bed.

Often, we don’t even notice the passing of time. It comes and goes. The times when we are mindful of it is when we don’t have enough of it. However, we should always be aware of how short this life is and how urgent we need to be about God’s work.

In Psalm 90, which is a prayer of Moses, we find the following words in verse 9-10

For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

We truly do not have time to waste doing and focusing on the things that do not matter. Jesus tells the parable in Luke chapter 14 about the great supper. One declined the invitation because he had bought some land and needed to attend to it, the second said that he had bought some livestock and needed to see after them, the third said he had just married and he needed to also decline.

What “things” are on your to do list that keep you from serving God? There is no excuse that is good enough for declining God’s invitation to serve. The seconds are ticking away. What are you doing?

Then [Jesus] said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-60

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Appraisals

Do you have a collection of anything? I used to call myself a collector of collections, because I couldn’t make up my mind about what I really wanted to put all that time, effort and money into. I have had several collections over the years.

I started collecting stamps one time. I bought a Babe Ruth commemorative first-day-of-issue stamp back in 1983 and that was and is the extent of my stamp collection. I also collected baseball cards for several years and still have a number of mint sets from the 80s. I collected Star Wars figures, but they fell prey to my BB gun and now are missing arms, legs and heads.

Nowadays, I don’t really collect anything. I do, however, seem to accumulate many things. The things I seem to be accumulating today really have no value to anyone else but me. There is a great deal of sentimental value that I place on quite a number of things that would be of no value to anyone else.

I enjoy watching the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. My wife just rolls her eyes if it’s my turn to be in control of the remote and I stop there. (By the way, the reverse happens when she in charge of the remote and she stops on HGTV.) I do find it funny that she also enjoys the Roadshow if she watches for a few minutes.

If you have never watched the show, they travel all over the country asking the locals to bring in antiques they would like to get estimates on. Expert antique appraisers uncover personal stories and assign monetary value to these items. Sometimes they have inherited the item or they may have purchased it at a yard sale or antique shop. They usually reveal how much was paid for the item and compare it to the value today.

The appraisers are always careful to tell the people what the item might sell for at an auction or what a collector might pay for it. This is because the item might not fetch nearly that amount if the person tried to sell it to just anyone. Therefore the price is dependent on the value someone else sees in it.

In Matthew 12, Jesus has a confrontation with the Pharisees. At the beginning of the chapter, we find Jesus and the twelve picking heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. The Pharisees accused them of working on the Sabbath, which was against Levitical law. Jesus responded by reminding them of the time that David ate the showbread from the temple, which was also not lawful. However, his hunger and strength was more important than Levitical law at the time.

Jesus then went into the synagogue and saw a man there with a withered hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. The scripture reads, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. (Matthew 12:11-13)

Jesus encountered the man with the withered hand and appraised the value in him. He was worth more than a sheep, more than a sparrow, more than even the Levitical law. This man was also valued by Jesus to be worth His own life, because in verse 14 we see the Pharisees plotting against Jesus. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Matthew 12:14)

Have you ever felt worthless? Have you ever believed you made no difference in the world at all? Do you ever see what some would call the important people in the world and think, “I’ll never be like that; I’m just a big nothing.”?

Jesus says otherwise. Jesus saw Peter, Andrew, James, and John and said, “You are not just fishermen, you are mine!” Jesus walked by Matthew and said “You may look like a despised tax man to others, but you are great in my eyes. Come and follow me!” Jesus looks down on us and says, “You may think you have lived a horrible life and can never be anything of value to God, but I am the great eternal appraiser and I say you are worth more to me than even my own life.”

How much worth does God place on us? He gave up His entire Kingdom, humbled Himself, and became one of us. He then added more value to us by giving up that same life willingly on a cross. As if that were not enough, He then heaped on more value by defeating death, hell and the grave for us.

He gave all and then defeated all. Why? Because there was no way He was going to be outbid with YOU on the auction block. God loves you that much!

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Commitment

I was trying to make my way to the music store from the hospital in Augusta last week. Isn’t it strange how you can go by the same buildings many times, but never really notice what’s there? On this particular day I was noticing things to my left when something caught my eye.

There was a very small store on the side of the road. It was not only small, but it was also very dilapidated. The wood siding on the front was buckled and faded, and the windows were covered in dust. The oddest thing was that it was occupied.

Hand-painted in black on the front of the little building were the words, “TV/VCR REPAIR”. There was an old car parked in front and the door was standing open. I didn’t go inside to see if it really was a repair shop, but I assumed the writing on the wall to be correct.

How much business do you think this person gets? When a television or VCR stops working how many of us send it somewhere to be repaired? Even if we do consider repairing it, we usually take it to the store where we bought it, instead of taking it to someone who strictly does repairs.

I remember getting a television of my very own back in the early 70’s. We placed it on the dresser in my room. Since the dresser was dusted twice per week and polished once per week, it was pretty slick. As I came into the room they day after I got the TV, I bumped it. It slid all the way to the end of the dresser and crashed to the floor.

Today, you might just take it back to the store where you bought it and get another one. Back then we just took it to a little repair shop in Greer, and it was fixed within a few days. It was the same TV, but with a new picture tube. It worked great for years.

The battery is not working on my cell phone. It will probably cost more to repair it than to buy a new phone, so I get to keep this one as a souvenir. Our society has become such a disposable one. Very few things get repaired. We sometimes seek opportunities to obtain something new rather than try to address the problems with the old.

I saw a Hyundai commercial during Monday Night Football that made me think about the way we throw away things when they are not perfect. The voiceover on the commercial says;
Instant gratification has us in a stranglehold.
So much so, that we don’t want to fix things anymore. We just replace them.
Don’t like your nose? Get a new one.
Don’t like your job? Get a new one.
Don’t like your spouse? Well, get a new one.
Whatever happened to commitment? To standing by our decisions?

This applies to our spiritual lives also. If your church has problems, find a new one. If God doesn’t give you everything you want, get a new one. We want to throw out what we don’t like about God’s word, and serving Him so that we may keep and embrace the things that make us feel good.

Living the Christian life is certainly not about instant gratification. It is about cultivating a relationship with our Heavenly Father. No relationship is created or maintained without commitment. The level of commitment to our vehicle, TV, spouse, or anything else on this earth only has temporal consequences. Our commitment to Christ dictates our eternity.

Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods. (Joshua 24:14-16)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Moose Songs

If you are like me, there are songs that remind you of a certain time in your life. Perhaps when you hear one song it reminds you of the first dance you had with your spouse. It may remind you of a lost love, or a carefree summer in your youth. Whatever it reminds you of, those memories come rushing in like a flood when the song is played.

Many times it is not planned. Many times it is heard by chance on the radio, or maybe even over the PA system in a store. These meetings with our past sometimes take us by surprise and send us to another place and time. Music is like a time machine that can transport us in seconds to somewhere in our past.

Personally, I have a long list of such songs. Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash reminds me of singing on our hearth when I was just a child. Smokey Mountain Rain by Ronnie Milsap reminds me of the first time I ever played my guitar and sang for anyone besides my family. The hymn Because He Lives reminds me of Pelham First Baptist Church, where my family attended church during my middle school through college years.

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg by the Temptations reminds me of a moose. In fact, to my brother Ryan and me it will always be known as the “moose song”. When Ryan and I were teenagers, we went with our parents to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. If you have never been there, you should go. It is some of the most spectacular country you will ever see. It is at the foot of the Grand Teton mountain range and just south of Yellowstone National Park.

During the week we had been riding horses, whitewater rafting down the Snake River, and visiting Yellowstone. My parents had put us in a cabin by ourselves, while they enjoyed a cabin to themselves next door. (By the way, for years I thought they did this because they thought we were so mature. Now, since I have children of my own, I realize they just wanted some peace and quiet.)

One night Ryan and I were just goofing around in our cabin. We were singing Ain’t Too Proud to Beg at the top of our lungs. (Go ahead and sing it. You know you want to. “I know you want to leave me, but I refuse to let you go…”) Just as we were halfway through the first verse, a full grown bull moose stuck his huge Bullwinkle looking nose through our open window. At first it frightened us, but then we lost our breath laughing. We ran outside to get our parents, and mom got a picture of the moose running away.

In the book of Deuteronomy, God gives Moses a song to teach to the Israelites. God tells him that Israel will, in time, turn from worshipping Him and chase after other gods. However, He says this new song will endure for generations and serve as a reminder to them to remember the Lord.

God gives us a new song in our hearts when we make Him the Lord of our lives. This song may not be one that we sing out loud, but it is there to remind us of His great works and what He has done for us. Maybe if we slowed down a little and listened a little harder we might hear the song…and remember.

After taking ev'ry detour
Gettin' lost and losin' track
So that even if I wanted
I could not find my way back
After drivin' out the mem'ry
Of the way things might have been
After I'd forgotten all about us
The song remembers when
(The Song Remembers When Lyrics by Hugh Prestwood. Recorded by Trisha Yearwood)


"Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for Me against them. When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting Me and breaking My covenant. And when many disasters and difficulties come upon them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants.
(Deuteronomy 31:19-21)


He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:3)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Forty

There’s this number that’s been floating around in my head for the last few weeks. The number is forty. Just in case you haven’t heard, by the time you read this I will be officially out of my 30s. I really thought I would try to do the Jack Benny thing and just stay 39 forever, but I think I have changed my mind about that. I think I may actually be ok with the age change.

While I am on the subject, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the surprise party Sunday night. You really did a great job of keeping the secret. The outpouring of love and generosity was overwhelming. Lynn, the kids, and I are so fortunate to be a part of this church family. We love all of you.

Anyway, let’s get back to my subject. I think my mother gave me the best piece of advice. While everyone else is ribbing me a bout being older, and “officially middle-aged”, my mother said that I would enjoy my forties more than any other age. She said “before forty, you still have no clue about life, and after you turn fifty, your body starts to fall apart, so go out there and enjoy the next decade!”

Not only do I believe her, but I think there is some Biblical truth to what she is saying. Just take a look at all the instances in the Bible where the number 40 shows up.

It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to cleanse the world and start over. Genesis7:12

Noah waited another 40 days after it rained before he opened a window in the Ark. Genesis 8:6

Embalming required 40 days (although this was an Egyptian custom, the Egyptians recognized the period of 40 for the preparation of going into a new life, what they called the afterlife) Genesis 50:3

Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (TWICE) Exodus 24:18.Exodus 34:28-29 .Deuteronomy 10:10

Moses' face shone after the 40 days on the mountain. Exodus 34:29.

It took the spies 40 days to search out the Promised Land and bring back fruit Numbers 13:25

The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, one year for each day they explored the Promised Land. Exodus 16:35 Numbers 14:33-34

Goliath came for forty days before being killed by David 1 Samuel 17:16

Elijah, strengthened by one angelic meal went forty days to Mount Horeb where the Lord passed by and he heard the voice of God 1 Kings 19:8

Jonah warned the City of Nineveh they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. The people repented in those 40 days and God spared the city. Jonah 3:4 and 10

Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness Matthew 3:17 and 4:1-2

Jesus was seen on the earth 40 days after His crucifixion Acts 1:3

When forty is mentioned, it occurs within the context of a trial, a lesson to be learned, or a major change. Is there a 40 in your life right now? Is God initiating a change in you that will affect your whole life? Maybe you’re going through a tough time and are wondering if there is hope. There is. God never lets troubles go unchecked. There is always hope in Christ.

For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5


Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
John 14:1

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

To Die For

I recently heard a message from another pastor who was preaching on the life of Daniel. He was speaking of how Daniel never compromised his faith in God, even when it meant trouble. He stood strong in the face of adversity and held on to the Truth, which eventually delivered him.

One of the comments out of that message struck me. He said “When we cave, in following Christ, nobody respects it. Those who don’t follow God have no respect for us, and those who do follow God have no respect for us either. So we might as well go ahead and do the right thing.”

Have you ever thought about that? Did you realize how spineless we look to others when we don’t stick to the beliefs that we hold? When we do the right thing, it is respected by everyone. When we do the wrong things, everyone else sees how small we are.

I believe this is the reason so many will follow those who stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the outcome. If you line up the great people of history, you will find that most of them stood their ground when others just conformed. Christopher Columbus, Galileo, Susan B. Anthony, and Rosa Parks all changed the world when they stood their ground.

In the book Made to Count, by Bob Reccord and Randy Singer, the story is told about a meeting of youth and student ministers who were brainstorming about college evangelism and how to reach the next generation. Popular youth speaker Louie Giglio was present, but very quiet. He didn’t laugh when jokes were made about getting fired if they tried some of the “cutting edge” stuff. Finally, someone nudged Louie by asking what he thought it would take to reach the next generation. His response was incredible. He said, “We’ve talked about some ideas that we like, but then we’ve jokingly said that we didn’t like them enough to die for them. My read of the next generation is that they are looking for precisely that-something important enough to die for-and they’re willing to follow someone who will put their life on the line for that cause.”

I think Louie Giglio is exactly right except for one thing. I believe what he said is for all people, not just the next generation. People are looking for answers, people are looking for a leader, and people are looking for that one person who will stand for Christ no matter what.

Peter thought he could stand with Christ through whatever happened. In Matthew 26:34-36, just before the soldiers took Jesus away to be crucified; Christ had told his disciples that they would all stumble before the night was over. However, Peter said “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.

If you read the rest of the story, you know Peter denied Jesus, and the rest of the disciples also fled. They were willing to follow Him when He was performing miracles and teaching, but when things got rough, they were nowhere to be found. Of course, they all realized their mistakes, were forgiven and all but one of them eventually died for their faith.

You may not be called upon to actually die for your faith, but sooner or later, you will find yourself in a situation where your faith will be tested. Will you pass the test? Will you plant your feet firmly on the Rock and fix your eyes upon Christ and say “Come what may, I will serve the Lord!” or will you cave to the temptation to water down your faith or even deny it? Remember that God gave everything for you. Can you give Him any less?

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Stand Up!

Preachers seldom face as large an audience as confronted Dudley A. Tyng on a March day in 1858. More than five thousand men were gathered in Jaynes' Hall in Philadelphia to hear the beloved preacher. At the time, the city was being stirred by a great revival. There was a certain charm and appeal about this speaker. He seemed to find just the right words to stir his listeners. He was so moving and convincing in his message that he drew thousands to those gatherings.

Three weeks later, he was dead. The city was shocked when it read of the accident that had claimed him as its victim. Mr. Tyng had gone to his home at Brookfield, near Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately Mr. Tyng suffered a fatal accident on his farm. Shortly before he passed away, he was briefly conscious. Those by the bedside heard him whisper, "Tell them to stand up for Jesus." Undoubtedly, it was the message he wanted carried to his friends in the minister's union who were conducting the city-wide revival.
There was one acquaintance in particular, to whom these words came as a challenge. George Duffield, pastor of the Fifth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, had been the late preacher's intimate associate and close fellow worker. To him it hardly seemed possible that one so beautiful in spirit and so dedicated to the Master's cause could have passed so abruptly from the scene. He began thinking that Mr. Tyng's final words should be translated into some enduring form of memorial.

The following Sunday, when the time came for the sermon in his own church, Mr. Duffield preached from the text in Ephesians 6:14: "Stand therefore." At the close he read a poem he had written, "Stand Up! Stand Up for Jesus!"Probably he never dreamed that he had written a great hymn. A copy of the lines was given to his Sunday school superintendent, who in turn had them printed on a special leaflet so that they could be sung by all the children.It could not stop there. The words seemed to fire men's souls throughout the land. When George Duffield made a trip to the battlefront in Virginia a few years later, he was deeply stirred as he heard thousands of army men sing "Stand Up! Stand Up for Jesus!"

The lyrics to a song from several years ago say “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” Truly if we do not stand for Christ then we will fall to all the temptations and tricks that Satan can muster. Standing for Christ means just what Ephesians 6:13 says; “Take up the whole armor of God”.

Each day we must “put on” this “armor”. The interesting thing is that even the knights of old could not put on their armor themselves. They had to have a page or servant help them. We cannot obviously put on righteousness ourselves; we must have God’s help. We would not dream of adorning ourselves with our own salvation, truth, and shield. All of these things comes from God, and He alone will make sure that we are ready to be able to stand for Him.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.
George Duf­field, Jr.


Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Ephesians 6:11-13

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Time

My daughter was watching the original Disney Winnie the Pooh video the other day. You know the one; Pooh meets Tigger for the first time, they have a blustery day, and Pooh has a nightmare about Heffalumps and Woozles. I loved Winnie the Pooh stories when I was a child, and I think I love them even more today.

I remember back in the days of only three channels on television, this same Winnie the Pooh came on for several years as a “Special Program”. It came on about the same time each year and I always looked forward to it. There was no such thing as a VCR, so if you were going to watch something, you had to wait on it to make its annual appearance.

The same thing was true of several other shows. Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Ten Commandments, and of course all of the Christmas and other holiday shows all came on television regularly and you actually waited for them to air.

There was something magical about those nights when you finally got to see that one show you had looked forward to all year. Sometimes the wait was hard, but it was always worth it.

Somewhere along the way, we became a world of convenience. Jiffy Pop gave in to Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn; going to the movies gave in to renting the latest feature and watching it in bed; going to the bank gave in to the ATM and online banking; the Sears catalog gave in to internet shopping, and the evening supper gave in to the drive-thru. We just can’t seem to tolerate waiting for anything anymore.

One of the biggest problems with this is when we try to apply it to our Christian walk. We want instant answers and instant results from God. When God doesn’t answer our prayers right away we tend to do one of two things. Either we begin to doubt His involvement in our lives or even His very existence, or we try to fix things ourselves. Either way we are on the road to failure.

But what do we expect when we do not give God our time that seems to be so precious to us. We seem to find the time to spend hours per week at football games, dance recitals, the lake, the woods, the gym, or the party down the street. However, we just can’t seem to squeeze a few minutes each day to read God’s word and speak with Him.

We think that we can just cruise all week and not even give God a second thought and it will all be OK on Sunday. Sunday morning worship has become a Christian drive-thru where we get just enough to get us through until the next week. However, we are getting no real nutrition because we are not feeding from the bread of life. We are not drinking from the living water that Jesus promised would make us never thirst again. We believe we just don’t have time to fill our hearts and souls with the spiritual nourishment that He so longs to give us, so we run by church for a quick fix.

If you think you are short on time, you are correct. All of you who are reading this are running out of time. You are running out of time to tell someone you love them, to forgive those who have wronged you, to spend a few precious moments with your children or to see a sunset. But most of all, you are running out of time to serve the One who gave His life so that you could live, and to share that good news with others.

Make the commitment today to spend more quality time with God this week. It will make His week to hear from you, and just might make your eternity.

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their
lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five
were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a
long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. "At
midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' "Then
all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the
wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' " 'No,' they replied,
'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil
and buy some for yourselves.' "But while they were on their way to buy the oil,
the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the
wedding banquet. And the door was shut. "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!'
they said. 'Open the door for us!' "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I
don't know you.' "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the
hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

He who testifies to these things says,
“Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Light your space

At one of the institutions of higher learning that I attended, I decided to take tennis for PE credit. I really did want to learn to play. My mother plays very well. She has competed in many tournaments and hates to lose. She bought me a very nice racket and had me ready for my class.

The first day of class, our instructor (who was a member of the tennis team) had us hit the ball back and forth. We worked on nothing else all day, but getting the ball over the net. I assumed the mechanics of the class would come later. After the first class was over, he called us aside and told us that he would work with anyone who was genuinely interested, but if we did not want to return, he would make sure we got credit for the class.

Which do you think everyone chose? Of course! There was not a single person who ever returned to that tennis court for class. We all got an “A” for that class and we were happy. However, I never picked up my racket again except to pack it when I moved. It is still somewhere among my possessions to remind me that I never reached my potential because it was convenient for me to do nothing.

Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marveled at the beauty of the new church. Everything had been thought of and included. It was a masterpiece.

But then someone said, "Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is really quite dark in here. How will the church be lighted?" The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship."Each time you are here'" the nobleman said, "The place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God's house will be dark".That's a poignant story, isn't it? And it makes a very significant point about the importance of our commitment and loyalty to the church.

The poet Edward Everett Hale put it this way:
I am only one,but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.

I have no idea if there ever was such a church as the one described in the story above. I do know that if it happened today there would be a lot of “dark” places in the church. I don’t necessarily mean in the church building itself. I mean in the church as a whole: the church that Jesus said He would build, against which the “gates of hell would not prevail”. (Matthew 16:18) When we choose to not let our light shine before all, we darken a little bit of God’s kingdom.

What kind of church member are you? Are you completely satisfied just sitting in the pew Sunday after Sunday, being “spoon-fed” the Gospel? Are you doing all that you can to ensure that the message of Christ is lived out in your life both inside the walls of our church and out in the community? What if every single member of Edgefield First Baptist served our church, attended our church, loved our church, shared our church, and gave to our church exactly as you do? What kind of church would this be?

I believe that God is blessing our church right now because of the faith and courage of some. However, what would happen if everyone became engaged and impassioned about the work of God’s Kingdom? It starts with you. Will you be obedient to Him and light your space in this church and in His kingdom?


“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be
hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand,
and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before
men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Football Weekend

OK, I’ll admit it. I am very excited. Nothing energizes and excites me like football season. I was definitely not disappointed this weekend! I watched Strom Thurmond defeat Batesburg-Leesville in a dramatic way, I was thrilled to see Appalachian State upset Michigan (with the help of one of Edgefield’s own, number 16, CoCo Hillary), I appreciated South Carolina’s stunning win over Louisiana Lafayette, and was on the edge of my seat for the entire Clemson vs. Florida State game.

Basically, all my teams won this weekend. That doesn’t happen often. Therefore, I just know this will be a great week!

I guess I’ll join the rest of the world and give a nod to the Appalachian State Mountaineers. Who in the world would have thought that Michigan, who was ranked number 5 in the nation, could fall to Appalachian State? I don’t think anyone questioned the validity of the football program at Appalachian State. They are a great football team. However, when it comes to match-ups like this one, the larger schools have more players that usually can out last and wear out even great smaller school teams.

There were Saturdays in recent years when I was afraid Furman might walk out of Death Valley (In SC, not Louisiana) with a win. The Tigers just wore down the smaller school by the third quarter and pulled out the win.

“What does any of this have to do with anything?” you may ask. I say it has a great deal to do with our world and how we view things. We tend to think all of the power, prestige, and influence goes to the strong, wealthy and persuasive. We tend to think that there is no hope for the “little people” anymore.

How many businesses just give up because Wal-Mart comes into town? How many battles are lost because the enemy looks too large or powerful? How many situations in our lives are not resolved because we think we are not skilled enough to handle them?

Because of this we cheer wildly when the “underdog” wins because we would like to overcome the greater enemy ourselves. We have hope that we can rise to greatness in our own situation. If Appalachian State can beat Michigan, then we see many things as possibilities that we may have thought to be impossible before.

Jesus said many times that the last shall be first and the first shall become last. (Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 9:35, 10:31; Luke 13:30) God also doesn’t like the proud. In the Bible, those who think too highly of themselves usually do not fare very well in the long run.

Consider what we call “The Beatitudes” in Matthew chapter 5. Jesus says that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are the blessed ones. Isn’t it interesting also, that Jesus reserves His most biting words for those who were in the most powerful positions of those days?

Imagine this. On one side of this contest is an empire that covers almost the entire known world. There is an advanced form of government, an elevated, intelligent society, and a military that was unstoppable. Within this larger body is a religious group that has aligned itself with the government to maximize its influence and power. This group not only has the power to dictate morality and political allegiance to those who follow it, but also is given the authority by the larger government to carry out justice as deemed necessary to its people.

On the opposing side of this conflict is a thirty-something year-old carpenter’s son, and a ragtag group of twelve men. One of whom is a traitor, and the rest are undependable at best. In fact, when the real contest begins, they all run away to hide, leaving only this one, solitary man against the mighty Roman Empire and the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Some would say He lost the contest, because they killed Him. However, just as the last seconds were ticking off the clock for the end of the game, the ground rumbles, the stone was rolled away, and our Savior burst forth from the tomb in a glorious way.

What in your life seems too big to handle? Can you truly say that it is greater than the monumental test that Jesus faced? If God fought for Him to save you, do you not think He will stand with you as well?

He will. I’ve read the end of the book.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more
death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former
things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fears

One of the things a pastor does is visit the hospitals to see and pray for those who are ill. Most of the time, these visits are quite uneventful. They consist of talking with the patient and family and having a prayer with them before leaving. In fact, the actual visit is always the highlight of the trip. The travel to the hospital and actually finding the patient is the adventurous part.

I have visited patients in more than one hospital where the information desk had no record of the person’s name. In these cases, I have learned to inquire about the patient at the nurse’s station where they are most likely to be. You can usually find out more from the nurse’s station than the information desk. At least here in Edgefield, we only have one floor and since everyone in Edgefield either knows everyone or more than likely is related in some way, most of the people that work in the hospital can help.

One visit that I will never forget happened after I had been in Edgefield for about two weeks. Derry Billingsley, our minister of music at the time, graciously volunteered to go with me to visit someone who was in CCU at the VA Hospital in Augusta. Since I had no idea where that was, I accepted.

As we entered the building, Derry told me that he knew where CCU was so we didn’t need to visit the information desk. We took an elevator up a few floors and got off. We stepped from the elevator and the door closed behind us. As we walked into the hospital corridor, something didn’t feel right.

Only about half the lights were on, most of the rooms were dark, and there were no people around. We approached the nurse’s station where there were a few papers and some pens, but again, no people. At this point, I began to get a little uneasy. A busy hospital corridor is one thing, but an empty, dimly lit one is a bit creepy for me.

Derry suggested that the CCU might be through the electric double doors nearby, so we went to try them. I pushed the button and the doors opened to an even darker area. Derry stepped in, but I did not. The door began to close behind him, and he had to rush to get out. He and I both had enough and began walking briskly toward the exit. We were met by an employee who then informed us of the relocation of the CCU.

Our fears were unfounded, but seemed real at the time. I still believe there was probably a security camera person rolling on the floor laughing at us. We both felt silly for getting a little nervous in that darkened corridor. I just couldn’t help remembering the hospital scene in one of the old Halloween horror movies.

Isn’t that the way fear is though? Most of the time, our fears are unfounded. We are afraid of things that go bump in the night only to find them to be nothing in the light of day.

There were about 10 recent reports of a hairy creature frightening people at a campsite in Winnipeg, Canada. One witness informed the Mounties of this creature that was pounding on their camper. The Mounties investigated, and discovered an 18 year-old man wearing a gorilla mask playing practical jokes on the campers. Now a hairy creature pounding on your camper at night is indeed disturbing, however, once the discovery of the man in the mask is made, it seems silly.

Satan’s number one tool against us is fear. As many of you have heard me say from the pulpit, F.E.A.R. stands for False Education Appearing Real. 2 Timothy 1:7 says
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
God doesn’t want us to go around fearing all that we don’t know or understand. He wants us to boldly go out in His name and love the lost enough to overcome our fears and share God’s love with them knowing He will protect us when we are in His will.

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
(Proverbs 28:1)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
(Psalm 91:1-7)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Skydiving

I saw an article this week on EdgefieldDaily.com that intrigued me. There is a French skydiver who is going to attempt breaking several records in a jump he will make next month. He will float into the atmosphere in a weather balloon, and jump out head first at about 131,000 feet. Since he will be falling from such an altitude he will also reach a speed of nearly 1000 mph. This will break the sound barrier at 760 mph. He believes he will reach the sound barrier within 37 seconds, and the entire jump will take only about 8.5 minutes.

His equipment is equally as fascinating. His suit is designed to heat up as it meets resistance, so the minus 212ยบ f temperature won’t bother him. His helmet is also designed with hearing protection since he will experience a sonic boom when he hits the sound barrier.

This jump will set several world records. If he is successful, he will have the record for the longest sky dive, the highest parachute jump and the highest altitude achieved by a human in a balloon. Even with all the obvious dangers, the 63-year-old Michel Fournier says he is “looking forward to it”.

All this reminds me of a newspaper article in my office that I have kept for many years. I’m not sure why I kept it. Perhaps it is the horror of the story; maybe I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened. For whatever reason, the story got my attention and has kept it for about 12 years now.

The headline of the article reads, “Skydiving Plane Crashes, 12 Killed”. There were twelve people on board the plane including the pilot and co-pilot. This means that the other 10 people were in the plane for one reason; they planned to jump out of it and parachute to earth.

A quote from the article further adds to the mystery; “There were parachutes on board, but there was no evidence that anyone tried to leave the plane.” First of all, I would not be on a plane for the purpose of flying very high into the air and jumping out “just for fun”. Secondly, if I were going to do such, I certainly would think something like the plane going down would prompt me to get my parachute and give it a try. These people obviously didn’t even try to get out.

Too many times we are trapped in a crashing plane in our lives, holding on to the very thing that could save us. However, what is outside is very scary, and although the inside might destroy us, at least we are familiar with it. What makes us stay in our comfort zone when Jesus is standing out in the storm of this world with the waves pounding, the lightning flashing, the thunder roaring, the wind howling, saying “come”?

For some reason, we think the people who need to hear about Christ are going to just wake up one Sunday morning and decide to find a church to attend. While I know first-hand that this does happen, it doesn’t happen often. Those who are lost need to hear the gospel. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). If they do not come through our doors, then how will they hear? They will only hear the word out of our mouths and see it in our lives.

The problem is that while God does bless us with his presence on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, He is much more active “out there”. “Out there” is where those people live who are not like us. He is with them where there is hurt, disease, poverty, injustice, war, famine, abuse, drugs, and scandal. Jesus stands in the midst of this storm and calls out to us to “come”.

Will you meet Him there, in that uncomfortable scary world, or will you remain in your little plane that is crashing with your parachutes strapped on, never to attempt an exit that will save your life and many others?

And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You
on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat,
he walked on the water to go to Jesus.
(Matthew 14:28-29)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fishing

As many of you know, my family just got back from a great beach vacation. It was nice to get away and just spend time with my wife and kids for a week. The kids were great fun and watching them play on the beach and at the pool at their ages was a real treat.

We did many of the same things we always do at the beach. We swam, built sand castles, ate out, and wandered around at Broadway at the Beach. However, I did get to do one thing that I will never forget.

My 5 year old wanted to go fishing. Now, I don’t mean he wanted to go down to the shore and throw a line in, he wanted to go out into the ocean. I finally found a reasonably priced excursion and on Thursday morning we headed out before the roosters got up, for a half-day fishing trip.

We went out on a boat with about 20 other people to fish for snapper, sea bass, flounder and others. The captain took us about 15 miles out to sea. Needless to say, my son was very excited. After about an hour ride out into the ocean, we finally put out lines in the water to fish.

I baited the hooks countless times, and we only brought in very small fish. Others on the boat were bringing in good size sea bass and the like. I could tell my son was beginning to get frustrated, so I suggested we take a short break. We ate some crackers and just looked out over the ocean for a few minutes and enjoyed the father/son time.

I recommended that we throw the lines out again and he reluctantly agreed. After about three times with no bites, he wanted to give up. I convinced him to keep trying, because this is why we had come. He continued trying.

Some time passed, and we were about 30 minutes from heading back in when I saw his line take off. He began to reel the line in, but the fish was fighting. I helped him bring the fish in and by this time we had the attention of the entire boat. What we pulled in was about a 2.5 foot long shark.

My son could hardly contain himself as we pulled the shark in the boat and the captain told him it was a keeper. There just happened to be a contest for the heaviest fish and my son won with his shark. He won a trophy and some money, which he later spent at the Bass Pro Shop on the way home.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He spent some time with the disciples. On one of these days, Peter decided to go fishing. Some of the others who were fishermen decided to go also. They were not having much luck, when Jesus called to them, asking if they were catching anything. They just simply said “No”.

Jesus then told a bunch of fishermen, who knew the lake well that they were fishing in, to fish on the other side of the boat. When they did, they couldn’t bring in the fish because of the weight.

How many times do we give up too quickly because things that we can see with our eyes don’t seem to be working? How many blessings of God do we miss because we are fishing on the “wrong side of the boat”? What is the work we need to be doing in our churches and community that we simply do not do because we have tried to accomplish it every way WE know how, to no avail? Who does God want us to share the gospel with, but we offer up excuse after excuse, because we feel inadequate?

God wants your nets to be full, and your work for Him to be fruitful. But, we need to be listening to His voice in order to receive our instructions on how to reap His harvest. The 5,000+ people would not have been fed that day if they had only tried to use the visible resources available. Don’t make the mistake of putting God in a box and limiting Him in His work by the standards of this world. Give your all to God and watch what He can do with it.


He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. (Matthew 14:19-20)

Monday, July 30, 2007

God's Protection

I do not know if the following story is true or not. I do know, however, that Jesus taught many of His best lessons through parables that were understood to be fabricated stories that illustrated His point or taught a lesson. Never underestimate God. Remember that a football in my hand is worth about $10. In Peyton Manning’s hand it’s worth millions. My life with me in control is worth some, but in God’s hands the impossible is not only possible, it’s probable. With that understood, please take this story as the parable it is intended to be.

During World War II, a US Marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific Island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades.
Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed.
As he waited, he prayed, "Lord, if it be Your will, please protect me. Whatever Your will though, I love You and trust You. Amen."

After praying, he lay quietly listening to the enemy begin to draw close. He thought, "Well, I guess the Lord isn't going to help me out of this one." Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave.

As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave.

"Hah, he thought. What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humor."

As the enemy drew closer he watched from the darkness of his hideout and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite a while.

"Lord, forgive me," prayed the young man. "I had forgotten that in You a spider's web is stronger than a brick wall."

We all face times of great trouble. When we do, it is so easy to forget how God can work in our lives, sometimes in the most surprising ways. And remember with God, a mere spider's web becomes a brick wall of protection.

Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah
For You, O God, have heard my vows;
You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
You will prolong the king’s life,
His years as many generations. He shall abide before God forever.
Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him!
So I will sing praise to Your name
That I may daily perform my vows.
Psalm 61 NKJV

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Eye for an Eye

But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:23-24 NKJV)

Have you ever wanted revenge for some wrong done to you or to a loved one? Maybe it doesn’t even have to be someone close to you. I can get very angry with people I don’t even know, or will ever meet, just watching the news.

For example, there was a story in the news this week about a couple who almost let their children starve to death because they were playing “Dungeons and Dragons” online. Stories like that are why I choose to not watch the news most of the time. My heart can’t take that kind of beating.

The Old Testament, as we see above, teaches that revenge is justifiable, as long as it is equal to the offence. An eye for an eye is a very common saying in our world today, even though Jesus made it very clear that He was the catalyst for changing that teaching.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48 NKJV)

Perhaps we could all learn a lesson from the folks who were having a dinner party in Washington back in June. It started about midnight on June 16 when a group of friends was finishing a dinner of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp on the back patio of a District of Columbia home. That's when a hooded man slid through an open gate and pointed a handgun at the head of a 14-year-old girl. He demanded money from all of them and indicated that he would start shooting if they did not comply. One of the guests spoke up and said "We were just finishing dinner, why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

The man then released the girl, took a glass of wine, commented on how good it was and asked for some cheese. He was given some cheese, a crystal glass, the remaining bottle of wine. As he was leaving, he apologized for the intrusion, told them that he must have held up the wrong house, and asked for a hug. He then got a group hug from all five guests and he left.

Jesus told us to love our enemies. He taught us that the only way the world knows how different we are as followers of Christ, is how we treat others. Even the worst people love those who love them. We must love those who have wronged us, hurt us, taken advantage of us, and even betrayed us.

Not only does Jesus say to love them, but He also says for us to go out of our way to be kind to them. Just giving lip service to the issue and saying that you forgive and love them isn’t enough. We must put that love into action and be kind to them.

The people at the dinner party did not claim to be Christians, but they took a chance on this principle and it worked. Why not give God a chance in your life to show you His power? If you really truly turn your life over to Him, He can do more with it than you could in ten lifetimes.

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 NKJV)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Weatherman

In case you haven’t noticed in the last couple of weeks, it’s pretty hot outside. I don’t mean just a little warmer than usual. I mean it’s HOT! In fact it’s so hot outside that I saw something this weekend that I have never seen before. I actually saw a cat lying in the grass panting like a dog. I had no idea that cats panted, but there she was with her tongue hanging out just like my Golden Retriever.

I follow the weather pretty well. I am fascinated by weather forecasters and all of the technology that goes into predicting the weather. I can sit and watch The Weather Channel for hours if my wife would let me.

I am still confused about the whole “percentage” thing in weather prediction though. How does a meteorologist decide on what the percentage of rain is each day? The summer is easy for them. The typical summer forecast goes something like, “Highs today in the mid 90s with a 30% chance of scattered (or isolated) thundershowers in the afternoon”. (What exactly is the difference between scattered and isolated anyway?)

I am of a different mindset. Because I am not a gambling man, and because I never understood the laws of probability, I really think they have it all wrong. I maintain that on any given day the chance of rain, snow, sleet, hurricane or any other weather event, for that matter, is 50/50. It will either rain or it won’t. There you have it, the Stacy Williams fail-proof weather predictor. It will work for you in any season, any time. The next time someone asks you what the weather is going to be, just say “Well, it is either going to rain or it isn’t.”

Predicting weather is nothing new. It is even found in the Bible. Jesus talks about the sings that we read in the skies to predict weather.
Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. (Luke 12:54-55)
He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ (Matthew 16:2-3a)


Jesus, however, wasn’t giving the people a lesson in weather prediction. He was instructing them on reading the signs of the times. In the Luke passage above, He was speaking to the multitudes who came to hear Him preach. They were so anxious to hear Him that they were trampling over each other. Jesus knew though that not all of them were there for pure reasons. Many were there out of curiosity or to see if He was for real. In the rest of the passage He calls them hypocrites because they are able to read the signs of the weather, but cannot see the sings of who He really is.

It is interesting to note that the two times Jesus refers to the weather He uses two different examples of reading the signs of the skies, but He also refers to His audience in both passages as hypocrites. In the Luke passage He is speaking to the crowds. In the Matthew passage He is speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

We like to read the Bible and pretend that we are better than the Pharisees and Sadducees, but we are not. When we encounter Jesus, preaching the coming of the end of time, do we really believe it? If we really truly believed that the signs we see all around us were pointing to Christ’s return wouldn’t we want to be doing something about it? Wouldn’t we be in a rush like the week before Christmas to make sure all of our friends and family know the one who dies for us? My prayer is that you will experience Christ in such an unmistakable way that you cannot help but tell others about Him.

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
(Matthew 25:1-13 NKJV)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My Truck is Stuck

Some years ago, when we only had one child, my wife and I took our son to a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Greenville, SC. Lynn would probably call me a collector of collections, because I am really not devoted to any one of them as a full time hobby, but I do collect autographed books. This particular book that we were in line for was a children’s book called Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy, named for the bat that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson used when he played major league baseball.

As we were standing in line, someone came up from behind, put their hands over my eyes, and said “Guess who?”. Not being a big fan of these kinds of games, I was not very friendly and shrugged them off. When I turned around, I saw Kevin Lewis who is an old fraternity brother of mine from college. After I introduced him to my family, we exchanged the typical small talk. I found out that he was the Senior Editor for Simon & Schuster’s Books for Young Readers and had traveled down from New York with the author to visit Greenville for the first time in years.

I also found out that he had written several children’s books himself. One of the books he had written we actually had on our bookshelf at home. In fact, at the time our son’s favorite book was Chugga Chugga Choo Choo, by guess who…Kevin Lewis. I was floored that I had never paid any attention to who had written the book. Kevin and I exchanged addresses and said goodbye. Several weeks later, a package arrived containing signed first editions of all of Kevin’s books, all of them personalized to our son.

Another of Kevin’s books, My Truck is Stuck, soon became another favorite, and now our daughter has discovered them. My Truck is Stuck is about a dump truck that gets stuck in a hole. With a great rhyme, it tells of the driver’s efforts to remove the truck from the hole. In the process they flag down a car, van, jeep and bus for help. Each one is hooked to the rest to try to pull the truck out of the hole. It is a counting book of sorts, and it is fun to count how many “engines roar” to try to pull the truck out. The drivers finally encounter a tow truck and mechanic who then lifts the truck and pulls them out. The illustrator, Daniel Kirk, actually shows the frustrated assistant calling the mechanic without the driver’s knowledge.

While this is not a review of Kevin’s book, (although I highly recommend his books for small children) I do think it shows us something about ourselves. Why is it that we wait until the last bitter end to actually call on our creator for help? We try to do so many things ourselves, to help ourselves, and only when those things do not work, do we call on God. If we would only trust Him from the beginning to take care of us, then we might not spend so much time and energy on self preservation and damage control, and more on sharing the good news of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

One day while they were in Capernaum, Jesus and the disciples got into a boat to escape the crowds. Jesus was apparently tired, so he decided to take a nap. Capernaum is located right on the Sea of Galilee which is famous for its sudden and violent storms and on this day they got a big one.

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”(Matthew 8:23-27 NKJV)

Now imagine the scene with me. There are thirteen men on this boat. We know from the Bible that at least four of them were fishermen by trade and there may have been more. They were used to storms on the sea, and were rugged men who could handle the boat. Therefore we can assume several things. (1) The storm was unusually bad, (2) They had scrambled and did all they could to try to save the boat to no avail, and (3) Jesus must have been really tired to be sleeping through it all. (Just for the record, I wish I could sleep like that!)

If they had been listening to Jesus, even while they were in Capernaum, they might have not been so afraid during the storm. Just since His arrival there, He had already healed a Roman Centurion’s servant, Peter’s Mother-in-Law, and as Matthew says “many others”. Jesus had already shown them His power in great ways, but they still believed they were going to “perish” in the storm.

What storm in your life do you believe might kill you physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally? What hole is your truck stuck in that no matter how many places in which you seek help, none can get you out? Why not turn to the One who created the storms and holes of life and who loves us enough to send the One who can calm our storms and pull us out of the holes. Give your life and storms to Him today. He may not always calm the storm, but He will always comfort you.

And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. (Acts 2:21 NKJV)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Heroes

Who were your heroes as a kid? If you have been reading this column for some time now, you know that some of my heroes from childhood were, of course, the great John Wayne, the fearless Evel Knievel, and the “man in black” Johnny Cash. I used to love to shoot the bad guys with my cap gun, just like John Wayne and you all know by now the story of how I tried to emulate Evel Knievel by jumping my purple bike over a defective ramp. But I don’t think I have ever told you about my love for Johnny Cash.

When I was very young, perhaps two or three years of age, I would put on shows at my house. We had a fireplace that was about 18 inches high. The opening for the logs had a screen on it that you could open and close with a chain. This chain had a decorative end on it. That was my microphone. I would get on the fireplace and sing “I hear the train a comin’/ Comin’ round the bend/ I ain’t seen the sunshine, since I don’t know when…” I entertained many family members that way.

As you get older, your heroes tend to change. John Wayne died in 1979, Evel Knievel got too old to jump anymore, and Johnny Cash went out of style for about twenty years or so. I had to find more heroes. Where do you go to look for heroes?

Heroes tend to be what we are not, but wish to be. We always put those people on a pedestal who we most want to be like. If you want to be invincible for example, you might pick Superman. If you want to be rich you might pick Bill Gates. We typically make heroes out of people who are doing whatever the thing is that we dream about being or doing.

While there are many who we and our young people might call heroes, most are really just fallible humans like ourselves. You can look to Hollywood for heroes, but will find that underneath the makeup, smoke and mirrors, there is much brokenness. We can turn to sports for our heroes, but there we find many who crack under the pressure to be the best and turn to drugs and the allure of unheard of wealth. What about our parents? Some of us were fortunate enough to have parents that we could look up to as role models in our lives. But, unfortunately, many have grown up in homes that are not at all conducive to establishing healthy role models.

We are getting ready to launch Vacation Bible School next week. The theme of VBS this year is Heroes and the scripture is Hebrews 12:1-2.
Run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus,
the source and perfecter of our faith.
We will study those who are truly heroes in our world. We will talk about Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist, The early Christians, Aquila, Priscila, Apollos, and the ultimate hero, Jesus.

The Bible is full of heroes who really lived and achieved great things. They are worthy to look up to, not because they were near perfect in themselves, but because they allowed God to use them in a mighty way. These men and women stood with God on their side and looked fear and even Satan himself in the face and never backed down. They ran their race with dignity, because they did not run the race alone. They kept their eyes on Christ and paid no attention to the whispers of those who said, “you’ll never make it”.

Whether you are going to be a part of our VBS this year or not, please pray for these young people who will be attending. Pray that they will find their hero in Jesus Christ, who will never get old, and will never fail them. In fact, my prayer is that all of us will hear the call of Christ to follow Him wherever he leads. Is Jesus Christ your hero? If not, learn more about Him and what he did for you, and I think you’ll find no better role model and hero for your life.

Help me understand Your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart. (Psalm 119:34 HCSB)

Friday, May 25, 2007

The old joke goes, “Where does a 500 pound gorilla sleep?...Anywhere he wants!” I don’t really know how much Bokito, an 11 year-old male silverback gorilla, weighs, but he certainly caused a stir at the Rotterdam zoo in Amsterdam last Friday.

Bokito decided he was tired of the same old grind everyday. I guess eating the same things, seeing the same scenery got to him. He burst out of his enclosure and according to Reuters Press; he went on a rampage through the Rotterdam zoo. The news story does not explain what they mean by “rampage”, but it does tell a very interesting story about his few moments of freedom.

It seems that the first place he went was the zoo cafeteria. Perhaps he wanted one of those burgers he had smelled for years, or maybe he just wanted a cup of coffee and a newspaper. In any event, he headed into the cafeteria.

While on the way to the cafeteria Bokito spied an old friend. A 57 year-old Dutch woman who has so far been unnamed, was quoted as saying, “I stood by the small apes in the Africa section when I heard a thud behind me. I turned around and there was Bokito. I had nowhere to go.”

The woman had been visiting Bokito for many years. She indicated that she and her husband came to the zoo almost every day to see Bokito. She even has baby pictures of the gorilla when he was four months old in the Berlin zoo. However, the face to face meeting with her gorilla friend was not what she wanted. “He gripped me, sat on me with his full weight and began biting me," the woman told the Telegraaf, the local newspaper. "I could only think 'O God, I'm going to die, I'm going to die'."

The odd part of this story is the woman’s reaction to the event from her hospital bed. She says, “He is and remains my darling". She said that the gorilla that sat on her, broke her arm, and bit her so hard that his teeth were covered in her blood, is still her favorite.

We daily act out this very scene in our spiritual life. We sin because we are tempted by the sin. We fall to the temptation, and then suffer the consequences of that sin. When we are beaten up and still recuperating from our wounds, we are right back thinking about when we can do it again.

Bill Cosby does a great job of illustrating this in his one-man-show called Himself from some years ago. He talks about the pains of getting sick after consuming alcohol. He vividly describes the man who, with the room seeming to spin, gets sick from the alcohol. He then says “now don’t forget, you did this because you ‘owe it to yourself’ to have a ‘good time’”. Not long after the experience the man begins to plan the next time he will “owe himself’ a “good time”. He learned nothing. The Bible says “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." (2 Peter 2:21-22 NIV)

None of us are perfect. We all have “sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The old quote stands true. “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it”. If we cannot learn with God’s help to overcome the things in our life then we will continue to wallow in the mire of our own twisted creation.
We cannot control what tempts us, but we can control whether or not we give in. I have not talked with anyone yet who could honestly tell me what the comedian Flip Wilson used to say; “The devil made me do it”. Satan cannot make you do anything. He tempts you and beckons you, but ultimately you make the decision to act on the temptation.

God says that He will help us to learn from our sin, and to be free from our sin. Yes, we can be free from sin. At least we can try to be free from sin. God is not going to program you robotically to correct the things that you can correct yourself. If you think it’s wrong, it probably is.

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1 NKJV)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Ramp

The other night I was reading a story to my 5 year-old son, Cade, before bed. Occasionally, after I read a story, he wants me to then tell him a story. Sometimes he wants me to make one up, and other times he wants me to tell him some tale from my childhood. On this particular night he wanted a story about me.

If you ask him about it, he could tell you almost word for word the tale I am about to share with you. I know this because he repeats it to me almost daily. He thought it was so funny and such a lesson learned that he chooses to remind me of it regularly.

Anyone who grew up in the 70’s knows the name Evel Knievel. For those of you who are too young, or were living under a rock during the late 60’s and early 70’s, Evel Knievel was a motorcycle daredevil. He used to jump cars, buses, and canyons. He is perhaps the most famous daredevil who ever lived. If it was out there, he would try to jump it on his Harley Davidson XR 750. (Incidentally, some of you out there reading this have tried as of late to imitate Knievel without much success. You know who you are…Repeat after me “I am not Evel Knievel”)

I decided sometime around 1975 when I was about eight, that I would perform my own stunt in my backyard. I had this really cool purple bike, and I genuinely thought I was invincible on that bike. I invited all of my friends over that afternoon to watch me jump my bike. I really do not remember what I was jumping over, but I’m sure it was dangerous.

The original plan for my ramp was a piece of plywood supported by two concrete blocks. I had the plywood, but could only find one concrete block. To this day I do not know why I chose to replace a concrete block with a football, but I did.

When my friends showed up I took my bike to the top of the hill for maximum speed, and began pedaling down the hill. I raced for the ramp with no fear. I was going to jump that purple bike further than anyone could imagine.

I my front tire hit the ramp and I knew at that moment that something was very wrong. The football, as you might expect, shot out from under the ramp, my bike stopped immediately and I flipped over the handlebars. I skinned my knees, my shins, hurt my arm and neck. That was my last career jump.

Sometimes we as Christians do similar things. We try to build our own lives out of the materials that we have on hand. We think we can handle things on our own and that we do not need God. A football has no place underneath a ramp, but it was all I had. I refused to ask for any help until I got hurt.

Some of the things we build our lives on have about as much place there as a football under a ramp, but it’s all we have. The good news is whatever we have, can be made perfect if we give it to God.

Five loaves and two fish were not enough to feed a crowd of 5000 men, much less the women and children who were also present that day. A small smooth stone was not enough to kill a 9 foot tall giant. A song was not enough to cause chains to fall off and prison doors to open. But, when these things were placed in the hands of Almighty God, the impossible becomes not only the possible, but the definite.

What are you trying to build your life on? Have you been using what you know or think you know to get by? Try giving what you have to God and just watch Him help you jump further, higher and faster than you ever dreamed you could. With God, all things are possible.

Where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn't God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation. (1 Corinthians 1:20-21 The Message)