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Friday, January 12, 2018

5 Biblical Responses To Bullying

I don't do subtitle. I hate it when there’s a problem and the preferred solution is to pretend there isn’t one . I’ll sacrifice pleasantries most any time to get to the point.
 Bullying is a REAL problem. No, it’s not a new problem or a bigger problem. It’s just a different world with new minds with a new problem that complicates the old Bullying problem.
I know, cause I’ve been on both sides of this. I am ashamed of been on either side because  it means I believed lies and told them. I offer my apologies.

On this subject, I’ve read and listened to everyone from teachers to psychologists chiming in. Meanwhile, crickets are chirping louder than those who should teach the righteousness to cry out to the Lord. Pastors should attack this as any other sin.

(I am committed to teaching a biblical response and practical application of God’s word on this subject for healing, survival, and redemption. While this post is written primarily to a mature audience, It can be modified to impact teens.  Contact me, if I can help you or your organization)

I remember saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” , before I knew Proverbs 18:21 says that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” We all have misunderstood and misused this power.
Words can hurt. Words can kill.

At the risk of sounding like the Water Boy or Forest Gump, My mama says, “never point out a problem without offering some sort of a solution.”
While I cannot,  here’s 5 things in God’s word that does.

1.Teach your kids and yourself of the intrinsic worth of all people. Every person we have ever met, including the one in the mirror, was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the one who made them. Though we have all corrupted that image, we mustn’t forget who owns everyone. We must not have the audacity to have contempt for His work. SEE

2 Never forget God sees differently than people.

1 Samuel 16:7
....For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Before us may be a farmer, a poet, a musician, a warrior, or even a king. Perhaps, even all of these rolled up into one. It might be that guy, or it could be you. Only God knows... for now. 

3 Be careful what you think and  say. 
Jesus said, what comes out of a man defiles him and we will give an account for every word. We can’t make your fire burn hotter by peeing someone else’s coals. Never try to make yourself feel better by tearing down the spirits of another.

Proverbs 15
26The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.

4 Be different. Not just different, but make a difference. Change your mind.
Romans 12:2
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
 Its a rare, beautiful thing in this world to reach across the aisle to those who need love. Especially, when it comes from those who you have rejected or those who have rejected you . No matter what part in this mess we’ve played , learn to love like Jesus. Remember Christ called out for to the Father for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Because He was perfect, He responded perfectly to bullying.

5 Change
Over and over the Bible says change. 

Ephesians 4
22to put off your old self,f which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

In general people don’t like change. Most southern people, like myself, ain’t going down that road of change peacefully. Even if it means we lose touch with reality, so long as we don’t make waves, we can live at peace. All we have to do is pretend the world is the same place it used to be.
One problem with that philosophy for Christians is following our savior requires us to embrace the truth. And the truth is, this world is radically different from the world that us parents grew up in.  It’s not a brave new world. Though it’s a different world, it is the some old lost and dying one. Only this age has a new problem. It doesn’t fear the creator nearly as much as it used to. Therefore, it isn't wise and it doesn't love like it used to.

Christ has always instructed us to change, not just ourselves but change the lives for others. Christians should lead in combatting the evils that come with bullying.

 Most people might agree on what the problems are, but spend so much time debating solutions, nothing gets done. Let’s change that.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thank God for Sledgehammers

This Thanksgiving,
I’m very thankful for sledgehammers. I’m not just referring the kinds they sale at the hardware store. I’m talking about the metaphorical figurative ones. 

Back in the day, our youth leaders used hammers for an illustration of proper Christian behavior. Eloquently, they explained hammers have a side for building up and a claw to tear down. “Christians should be in the building up business.” I’ve never forgotten the truths in this lesson.

Over the years, I’ve  discoveredafew more, harder learned 
truths. The truth about the Truth is one of those.
The world would have us believe every word must be co mmunicated in a fluffy coating of powdered sugary sweetness. Never mind it might be dripping from the tongue of the devil himself. Truth is, you can deliver truth, nice and sweet, only to have, those who don’t want it, claim you sent it laced with poison and delivered it on a wrecking ball.

Christians should be good hammers. We should build up people, but building takes time. Construction is often painful sometimes even deadly. It is a labor intensive cooperative affair .

During construction, it’s incredible how much tearing apart, and breaking down, goes into building something. 

No matter if we remodel or began a new construction, the greater the building, the more tearing down will be involved in the process. The builder will pick up a sledgehammer and separate the useless pieces of the design to carry the project forward. Occasionally, he will break away concrete to correct the problems buried beneath the hard exterior. Eventually, much as the artist breaks stone, he will reveal the finished work. 

God said to Jeremiah 
"Is not My word like fire?" declares the LORD, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock? (23:29)

God sometimes uses people as sledgehammers. A great example is Peter’s reaction to Simon the Sorcerer. 
Trust me, Peter was all out of powered sugar that day.
He was a sledgehammer.
God’s sledgehammers tear down walls.
Once torn down, it reveals a separation of the beautiful truth of His Word from the hideous truth of man’s destructive damnable faith in themselves. Once out of the way, the construction can proceed.
Christ would be broken, so we might build upon a firm foundation.
While the foundation is perfect, as we who are not, work together, let us encourage those laborors,
who focus on the finished product, rather than how dirty the process can be.

So the craftsman encourages the smelter, And he who smooths metal with the hammer encourages him who beats the anvil, Saying of the soldering, "It is good"; And he fastens it with nails, So that it will not totter. 
                    Isaiah 41:7

Construction isn’t something most would want to listen to.
Sledgehammers breaking things into pieces
doesn’t sound anything like Beethoven’s 9th in D minor ( Ode to Joy) Then again, Ludwig wasn’t in the construction business. Construction is the culmination of unpleasant sounds to produce a complicated structures, built to endure the world’s harsh elements.
God has shown me to trust His process and His truth, regardless of unique and sometimes unpleasant tone, He created His messengers to deliver it with.
I’m indebted to those, Who were bold enough, to chip away the stones with ultimate truth of His Word and continue to do so. 
A word that reminds me 

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
Proverbs 27:6

With this truth in mind,
Occasionally, reluctantly, I’ve been the sledgehammer.
Being an instrument of truth doesn’t offer instant gratification. To be honest, Most truth doesn’t offer any. 
Often, it’s a source of depression. Just like no one want to use a sledgehammer, no child of God enjoys being one.  Occasionally, someone will come and thank you for allowing God to use you in breaking down their walls. You’ll tearfully recollect the pain you underwent doing the unpleasant job you know God called you to do, but rejoice when you see the finished work of the changed lives. You’ll recall a moment, when God punched a hole in your wall, with someone and it came down and changed your life for the better. And then you’ll praise God for His Sledgehammers.

Has God ever called you to be a Sledgehammer?

Who has been your Sledgehammer?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Brain Tumors, Hell, and Pecan Trees

In September of 2014, I wrote this blog announcing to the world I had a brain tumor.  On the day I learned I had a brain tumor, I discovered a new pecan tree that had sprouted from the roots of one I was loosing, despite having pampered it.

The new tree reminded me, God brings dead things to life. 

 It was a beautiful sight having just returned home with a stable report from my second annual checkup. The tree has become a symbol of my struggle. Reminding me, God is good.

Lots happened over those three years.  Besides daily pain, I've experienced a misdiagnosis, a cancer diagnosis, brain surgery, temporary relocation for proton beam radiation treatment, recovery. In three years I witnessed a 100 year blizzard in Boston. A thousand year flood, trumped by the following year with Hurricane Matthew. Visited the Grand Canyon.

A daughter moved out, a couple of friends (whom I was sure would outlive me) died, a couple of friends finally conceived, an aunt passed away, and a granddaughter is on the way. 

I answered God's call to the ministry, went fishing for men in Tanzania, got ordained and left a church I loved to teach at another. 

I'm overwhelmed by what God has done and shown me in three short years. But every day, when I get home, a pecan tree reminds me God is good. 

In my meditations, I've learned to
beware of the "ations" when interpreting God's Word.

God's Word isn't for mere admiration, justification, or gratification. It is for salvation, not just to, but also from a God of perfect love. God's Word cannot simply be read for His pacification. It should be practically applied. Practical application of God's Word, will be nothing more than a speculation, unless there's a dedication, to the implication of God's word. And confirmation, will become nothing more than a fascination, if we succumb to the temptation, to use our imaginations to interpret God's word. Scripture interprets Scripture. Jesus doesn't want mere infatuation. He wants our total love, in Action.

Intentional efforts to make Christianity a custom fitted truth for this generation's cult of personality, has become impossible to ignore. 

Much of what God has said and done, is being ignored, making God appear more approachable. Obscuring part of who He is.

So, in an effort to highlight God's grace , we sacrificed the truth. Hell disappeared and famous pastor author, Rob Bell, declared "Love" the winner.

We've taught we should hate the sin while loving sinners. I believe that's true. It only makes sense, after all, none of us are perfect. Still, let's not forget or pretend the harsh reality is unbelievers, not sin, suffers in Hell. They suffer, not for having never obtained perfection, but from having never embraced perfection. Pretending that isn't the truth, isn't loving.

1 Corinthians 13:6 teaches that love rejoices in the truth. The truth is God is good even when the report is bad. In every moment, in every circumstance, which we we are unable to change, but wish we could, God is good.

 When He destroyed Sodom, He is good. In the flood, when He wiped from the Earth, every living thing except those He saved, God is good. Even in the moment He created Hell, He is good, justified, and righteous. He is holy and worthy of glory, honor, and praise.

God is perfect. Every attribute of His divine nature, every aspect of His eternal power, is a transcendence beyond our comprehension. He created and defines love. He hates sin. Therefore, He loves perfectly And He hates perfectly.
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5:9
Our salvation comes not simply from what poured out of Christ, but also from what God poured onto His son.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:2
The greatest act of love the world has ever known, simultaneously wrought in wrath against all that God hates.

The pecan tree has really grown. In many ways its more lovely now than the first tree I had lost. Here's the thing,
It's not the same tree. 

As I have grown, I'm not the same person. The more Christ reveals Himself to me, through His word, the more I hope to one day become completely unrecognizable to myself. He must increase and I must decrease.

I'm overwhelmed by the love shown by the inventor of Love.
Who has, by His Word, shown me God is Love, but love isn't God. God can be our everything, but everything can not be our God. 

Every time I see the new tree, I am reminded God is good.  He saved me for a relationship with Him. 
He's done miraculous things in my life. He saved me from cancer. He shown me marvelous and beautiful wonders.

I cut the old dead pecan tree down. It was stealing life from the new tree and rejecting everything I did. So, I burned what I planted, and watched my time and resources go up in smoke, knowing whatever beauty or love we see in this life comes from a good God.  And knowing, God's never looked more loving, or more beautiful to me, than when He saved me from the Hell I deserved. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Greatest Hinderance to Church Growth : Gray Elephants

Ask practically anyone in ministry and they will tell you what they see as the greatest threat to the church. Of course, they'll usually offer the greatest solution... their  style of worship.
Theories on what most threatens the church can range from Isis to a dogmatic orthodoxy. 
Let's not forget Jesus said, the "gates of hell will not prevail against " His church. While I find hope in those empowering words, I'll not pretend the church is without her adversaries.
It's not Islam, or Isis that scare me. Neither the darkest, vilest, shameful acts pose a threat to those Paul calls " more than conquerors". No particular style of worship, or denomination offers a solution to what I call, the Gray Elephants.

Gray Elephants, the things the Bible neither labeled as black or white. The amounts it never quantifies. The permissions it never grants or denies. The things that inspire the questions, " how much of something can I do or have? Is this a sin? Maybe there's no right answer, but for sure those are the wrong questions. How can we draw near to Christ, while focusing on how much of the world we can still cling to? 

Don't feed the Gray Elephants.
1 Corinthians 10 
12Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 

Unchecked strengths are our weaknesses waiting to exploit us. By thinking we can handle things in moderation, gives us the illusion of being immunized from the effects of sin,  rather than just being saved from it. Once we let pride remove our borders, we use our strength to move away from God. In the wake, families break up, pastors fall, churches close.

Do we want 
to live simply delivered or live completely devoted?
Are we only liberated, or wholly dedicated?
Let's Look at 1 Corinthians 10
31Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God
: 33 Even as I please allmen in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
It's that dedication, our love for God and fellow man, causing our light to shine through the denying ourselves. Likewise, it's the lack of such causing us to stumble or causing others to. There is no greater threat to our walk or our ministry.
Elephants, just like our compromises and liberties, begin small, yet have a tendency to grow into massive uncontrollable beasts.

Eat the Word.
Feed the sheep.   
Starve the Gray Elephants.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Gazing into an Empty Tomb

Today, Christians all over the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No doubt, defeating death is a cause to celebrate. Christ endured death. We had invented death in a collaboration with Satan, and together perfected it with the cross . On it, Jesus took our punishment, so man might once again be joined to God.  

Easter sounds so simple 2017 years later.  Here in America, we will all go to a egg hunts, eat a lot of ham, and blow up social media with our family photos. I enjoy it every year.

Sermons tend to be better at Easter. After all, today many people will come who rarely attend. Over the years, I've heard all sorts of metaphors come from the Easter celebration. Can anything offer more hope than an empty tomb? 

Every year, like the early followers of Christ, we come to gaze into an empty tomb. It's where you go from here that matters. Before the resurrection, most of those followers scattered in front of the cross. After meeting the resurrected Christ, those followers embraced the cross.

Christ life is an example we must live by. His life, His example includes His death. Jesus said " It is Finished"

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

2 Corinthians 5:21

"It is finished", are the words on which eternity pivots. Spoken on the cross, Christ calls us to death and life. We cannot have one without the other. Death to this world must come to have life in Christ. We cannot hope in our resurrection without embracing the cross. "It is finished" echoes through the ages, not as the ending of life, but death to hopelessness.

Rarely is it taught at Easter, but tucked away in the resurrection story is the great commission. Jesus returns from the dead to give us one task. Preach the Gospel. Tell the world about Him. What He has done for us is finished. What we do for Him cannot be. Once we meet the resurrected Christ, serving Him who saved us  must become more than annually gazing into an empty tomb. He came that we might have a full life. May we look outside the tomb, embrace His cross for us, and follow Him. 

Happy Easter



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Aynor's Churches: The Good,The Bad, & the Ugly.

 I grew up, in what I considered to be the buckle of the Bible Belt. It was a stigma I could live with. Honestly, I was proud  of it. I went to high school  in the little golden town of Aynor, S.C. Aynor, is a two stop light town, surrounded by family farms and rural area residents, who boastfully self proclaim the place to be, " God's Country".

I remember pledging allegiance to the Bible, the Christian Flag, and the American Flag, during vacation Bible school. Promises, I intend to keep.

The South offers a culture and tradition enriched in hospitality, and honor. Church is a big part of that culture. The South affords a comfortable setting to become a "Christian". Then again, when did Christianity become comfortable? Honor and hospitality are cheif among social graces, but they offer no redemption for society. They introduce no grace for individuals. I fear, a false sense of spiritual security has infected our community. As biblical illiteracy increases in our congregations, our churches have become places of social interactions, rather than, places where souls are rescued. Acceptance now trumps repentance. It's not a style of worship that scares me. What's lacking is the of depth of teaching God's word. American worship now often requires an entertaining factor. We blur the line between the sensational and the spiritual. Not because of our style, because of the lack of devotion to the word of God. The South might be the Bible Belt, perhaps the increasingly unopened, definitely the unapplied, Bible Belt. Of all the ministry, I've been involved with, nothing has been met with more spiritual opposition than the effort to take God's word to our schools. I praise God for that. Mainly because His word tells us to. Not only for that, but because, I know this will cause growth.

For the last week, I have had more tgan  a taste of reality. I've had a helping helping. Here are some of the things I learned by helping bring a release time bible class to Aynor.

The Good:
There's lots of God's people in Aynor still committed to sharing the gospel by teaching the word of God. Call me old fashioned, but I'm pretty sure I can make a biblical case  for that being the only way. Of course, I'd have to use the Bible to do that.
Lots of people gave sacrificially and independently from church. A couple, who recently relocated from West Virginia, gave $1000.00. As far as I know, they have no family here.
Even one, unchurched, high school friend, sponsored a student for an entire year. In the thirty years we have known each other, nothing had caused us to hug or cry together. This did.
Of the few churches that gave, all gave overwhelmingly generous gifts, considering the size and dynamics of their congregations. It was refreshing to find people, who not only value God's word, but have faith in the promises found inside it. We now have enough money to fund the high school ministry. Prayers have been answered.

The Bad.
There are churches who would have liked to give in our area that could not. It's simple mathematics. In terms Bible Belt people will understand " you can't get blood out of a turnip ."  Low attendance is low offerings. I remember these places as once thriving.  Now they have the discouraging choices of advancing the kingdom through local missions or keeping the lights on. I fear, they have a harsh reality ahead of them. If you are a child of God worshipping at these facilities, you should not just leave. However, you should not just stay either. This world is not our home. Make sure what is keeping you there is more than the temporary sentimental mortar of what once was. Do not allow the bricks your grandfathers laid become an anchor in complacency.  Do not allow temporary walls to prevent pooling together  your eternal family's  resources. Make your foundation on the Rock of your salvation that calls you to rescue your brothers and sisters, who are still lost. The church, the true church, will sow seeds beyond the soil of it's southern traditions. They will plant beyond the graveyards of dying church campuses. We haven't even started funding our middle school. I pray for a vision and clarity for the church.
The Ugly.
There was an incredible lack of interest from some pastors and church leaders. To be fair, there were some legitimate concerns from some pastors who were being cautious. I get that,... well sorta. In my mind, all legitimate concerns were overly cautious at best, or lame excuses at worst. Any problem could have been worked out, provided they got involved with a passion to let the Word of God speak for itself. 
While I will not betray a confidence in those candid conversations to protect the congregations, I will tell you my thoughts on what I encountered. 
Some of it was a lack of interest. There were pastors who never even returned a phone call. Some of it was plain old pride. They couldn't lead and wouldn't follow. Some of it was laziness. They had means but lacked vision to press forward. One pastor friend said," I'm not going to support it,  it's personal." Seriously?  Over and over,  I heard, "we are already helping the Fellowship of Christian Athletes". I didn't know whether to ask them, "if they understood the difference or did that mean the kids who aren't in sports can go to hell?" There was plenty of ugly apathy to go around, but the most alarming fact is some pastors weren't simply unsupportive. Some rather seemingly opposed this effort. 

The ugliest person I've found  in all of this has been myself.  Constantly, I've questioned my conscious , asking God to prevent me from having a judging self righteous spirit. 
I keep telling myself, I don't know hearts or where people are in their walks. I can only judge fruits not hearts. I can and must stand on God's promises while falling on God's graces. Yet, I still found myself, for the first time in my life, feeling like a liar. I have been blatantly dishonest to my friends. I pretended to be understanding while I'm totally oblivious as to why they won't help. I can't understand the lack of passion or urgency in the heart of people, who say they belong to God, for evangelizing the youth of its own community outside its doors. If it were any other mission, I might could understand. These young people belong to us. These are our responsibility. We are supposed to be brothers and sisters devoted to God, His word, and His people. If we can set aside our differences to cheer and support the same school athletes, but cannot collectively minister and deliver the word of God to all our youth, then heaven help us. What are we worshipping? What are we teaching? 

wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?
by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 
psalm 119.9 ". 

If this is God's Country, His people will sow His seed and reap His harvest here. 

Please continue to pray for this effort.