Step Up…

On July 4, 2004, Grace Fellowship celebrated their first worship service in a high school theater. That first service happened because of faithful servants who were willing to do whatever it took reach people for Jesus and help them grow in their faith. Most of those faithful servants weren’t on the stage with a microphone. Most were in the background quietly serving Jesus by serving others.

Fast forward to 2021. Lives changed. Souls saved. Jesus glorified. But many of those who started with us have graduated to heaven or life’s circumstances have led them to move to be closer to family. Those who once stepped up and answered the call of service are no longer able to fulfill that calling.

It is said that our greatest ability is our availability. In so many ways that is true. It doesn’t matter how skilled or gifted we are if we are unavailable when the Lord brings opportunities our way.

Way back in the Old Testament we find a poem written by a judge and prophetess named Deborah that reflected on a battle against the Canaanites. In her poem, she shares some interesting insights – “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2)

In verses 13-18 of Judges 5, Deborah lists the tribes to stepped up to answer the call to defend Israel. Among those tribes were Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, and Naphtali. These tribes were willing to risk it all to defend their immediate families and their kinsmen. But she also mentions the men of other tribes – Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the whistling for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, staying by his landings. (Judges 5:15-17)

What a contrast! Many of the tribes rallied to the cause, but others chose to twiddle their thumbs, to play it safe, to look after themselves without regard for their brothers. Their own comfort and safety in the moment overrode the great need for their nation.

When God sends opportunities our way, we have a choice. We can step up and serve or we can step aside and let others carry the weight. If enough people step aside, then those who step up become overburdened or the work simply doesn’t get done.

If you’re part of the Grace family and reading this, then I want to challenge you to consider stepping up. Be ready to say “yes” unless the Lords leads you otherwise.

So, what do we do when opportunities come our way? Are they all from God? Should we simply say “yes” to every opportunity? No. We can’t do everything. We need wisdom to know what we should embrace and what we should let pass.

Here are some questions you can ask to evaluate whether this is an opportunity for you –
Will saying “yes” keep me from fulfilling my responsibilities to my family?
Will saying “yes” provide an example of faithful service to my family?
Am I saying “yes” because of of guilt or human pressure?
Do I have a good motivation for saying “no”?
How will saying “yes” help my church fulfill its mission?
How will saying “no” hinder the mission of my church?
Is it the right time to say “yes”?

But the overriding question we must answer is this – Is God calling me? If the answer to that question is “yes,” then it is time to step up and embrace that call. Grace Fellowship has 17 years filled with men and women who said “yes,” and because of their willingness people were blessed and God was glorified. Is it time for you to step up?

[Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash]

Remembering 9/11…

I’m not sure I have much to add to all that is being said and written today – 20 years after the nightmarish terrorist attacks on our nation. But to say nothing at all seems to belittle the horror of that day.

I was still at home watching the news when the first plane hit the tower. There was a lot of confusion and speculation at the time. It was assumed to be a terrible accident. Reporters tried to sort through the incoming reports, but all speculation was set aside as another passenger jet slammed in the second tower of the World Trade Center. I don’t remember saying anything, only sitting and staring and wondering what was next.

By day’s end, we had our answer. The twin towers fell. There was a charred and burning hole in the Pentagon. And there was a downed plan in a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 had died. The world changed that day, and we became aware that we were not out of terror’s reach.

The world is a dangerous place. None of us is truly insulated from disease or crime or poverty or death. This is a broken world filled with broken people – sometimes broken and twisted. We who live the United States are still relatively safe, but it is only relative.

Our lives and our families can be dramatically change in an instant. Terrorism is most likely not the thing that will do us in. Auto accidents, cancer, heart attacks, and disease are far more likely to take us out. Our lifespan is finite, and our life itself with have plenty of struggles.

In an uncertain world, we need something certain, something we can hold on to, something that won’t let us down. In reality, that something is a Someone. We need God.

I know people will ask, “But where was God when the planes ran into the World Trade Center?” The answer is not all that complicated – God was where He always was – He was with us.

God created this world without the heartaches and loss that we experience today, but that first couple decided they knew better then He, and we have not only shared in the penalty of that decision, we have been making that same tragic mistake every since. The world is what we have made of it, and if it were not for the mercy of God we would all be living in abject misery without hope.

With God there is hope. Hope for peace in the middle of our pain, and hope for an eternity without pain or sickness or tears. The old song says, “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” This is a broken world. We make the best of it that we can. We try to relieve some of the heartache and hardships that many experience along the way. And we invite others to enter into an immediate and eternal relationship with God through trusting in His Son as Savior.

As we remember today and mourn, let us also look to the only One who can set things right – and will do so, perhaps sooner than we might suppose.

Go Deeper into Grace…

I woke up early this morning. As I repositioned myself and my pillow in an effort to lull myself back into sleep, my mind became fixed on the goodness and grace of God. That is a weighty subject for so early in the morning, but it brought to me a great sense of peace and contentment. I’m not sure I want to experience that every morning shortly after 3:30, but it was more than worth the grogginess I will feel after lunch.

We spend far too little time dwelling on God’s grace. Those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ know the necessity of grace for our salvation. The Apostle Paul states clearly – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

There would be no salvation for me or anyone else apart from the marvelous grace of God. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. God’s love was so great that He sent His one and only Son who would die on a cross to pay the price for sin. Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and that meant He had done everything necessary for the salvation of lost and sinful humanity.

Christians sing about this grace. Pastors preach about it. But I dare say we do not dwell on this grace nearly enough. Doing so could be absolutely transformative for our attitude and our daily lives, for we are not only saved by grace, we are called to live in it!

I remember as a child taking trips to Ocracoke Island. As the tide would recede, pools of water would remain behind. There was great delight in playing in those pools. And as I get to the beach from time to time, I still see children playing in those shallow accumulation of ocean water left behind by the retreating waves. That is often where we as believers live when it comes to appreciating and enjoying the grace of God.

God’s reminder to me this morning was to go deeper into grace. There is a vast ocean to be enjoyed and explored, but we become far too content in the shallows.

2 Peter 3:18 tells us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” So, how do we do this? I’m not sure there is a single recipe, but there are actions you can take to experience more of the inexhaustible grace of God.

You need to set aside time to contemplate God’s grace.
This may be quite challenging for you. Life can be quite busy. Slowing down is a luxury. Stopping seems impossible. And when we’re not busy, we feel the need to be distracted from everything by vegging out in front of the TV or hanging out with friends. Solitude is a foreign concept for many today.

The psalmist calls us to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). This is a command, yes, but it is also an invitation. We will likely never develop a richer appreciation of grace or have a deeper affection for God without pulling apart from our routine to mediate upon the greatness of our God.

You need to spend time reading and reflecting on God’s Word.
If we want to know God more, we need to dedicate time to knowing His truth. Yes, our understanding of God may increase when we watch a sunset or hold a newborn, but if we truly desire to know Him more deeply we need read His Word.

The Bible is not merely an instruction book on how to live in a fallen world; it is God’s self-revelation. It is in God’s Word that He reveals Himself, His will, and His ways. He wants to make Himself known to us, and He has chosen a means that we can understand. Though human words can never fully express the majesty of an eternal God, the Bible is sufficient to lead us to know the Lord and not just know about Him.

It is in the pages of the Bible that we discover that “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is within that sacred text that we learn that we “were dead” in our sins and our trespasses (Ephesians 2:1) and were in our fallen nature “enemies” of God (Romans 5:10). God needed to reveal this to us because that sin keeps us from entering into a relationship with Him. He had to point out the penalty of our sin and our own helplessness to fix ourselves so that we might turn to Him in faith.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

When we come to understand the absolute holiness of God and our own utter depravity and hopelessness, we will marvel at the vastness of God’s grace and love and mercy in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you have heard God’s invitation to go deeper into grace. It requires an intentionality on our part, a willingness to shift our priorities and rearrange our time. It is an effort on our part to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We must lift our eyes from the knee-deep pool and gaze at the endless ocean. We must once again discover that grace that once amazed us and can do so again.

Let us go deeper into grace…

[All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version]

From Grief to Glory…

Today, there is just a heaviness in my heart.

I grieve over the divisions in our country that seem to become greater with each passing day.
I grieve over the bitter and harsh attitudes of those we have chosen to lead us.
I grieve over the callous disregard to common decency.
I grieve over the seeming unimportance of human life to so very many.
I grieve over the spiritual lostness and darkness in our nation.
I grieve over the disruptions we are all experiencing and the devastation it has caused for so many.
I grieve over the pride and arrogance that seems to permeate our culture.
I grieve over the senseless violence committed daily in our nation and around the world.
I grieve over the obsession with trivial matters and the willful ignorance of issues that truly matter.

In the midst of this grief, it would be easy to shut down – to attempt to put my head in the sand. Some days, quite honestly, I just want to weep and go back to bed for a long, long time, as if this is somehow just a bad dream.

But I, and perhaps you, are called to something more, something better, something higher. Jesus declares that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). If we are salt, then we have a mission to enhance the flavor of life and fight against the moral decay of our culture. If we are light, then we are called to shine brightly the life and message of Jesus to a world that is often dark and scary.

We are not defeated, therefore we are not discouraged. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). If God is for us, who can stand against us? (Romans 8:31) God has a plan and a purpose, but He also has the power to back it up. I’ve read the back of the book (Revelation in the Bible), so I know the end of the story. God wins! And we share in that victory!!

I also know Jesus’ promise not to leave us alone (Matthew 28:20) and send a Comforter, a Helper who would come alongside us to provide what we need for the moment (John 14:15-31). God’s Spirit dwells in His people, so how can I feel helpless and hopeless?!

So, I grieve, but it is not a grief devoid of hope. As the Apostle Paul wrote – 
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)

Instead of despair, I will hear and respond to the call of God –
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

(Psalm 60:1)

Take Everything…

Sometimes you hear a song and it wrecks you on the inside. You get the sense of “Woe is me! For I am undone.” No matter how many years you may have walked with Christ or how much you’ve grown in the faith, you realize just how far you are from where you desire to be. It triggers two conflicting desires – one is to run and hide from the holiness and majesty of Jesus and the other is to run to Jesus and fall at His feet. This song both undid me and called me to come nearer, ever nearer to my great and gracious Lord.

More Like Jesus – Passion

Here at the lyrics:

[Verse 1]
You came to the world You created
Trading Your crown for a cross
You willingly died
Your innocent life paid the cost

Counting Your stature as nothing
The King of all kings came to serve
Washing my feet
Covering me with Your love


[Chorus]
If more of You means less of me
Take ev’rything
Yes, all of You is all I need
Take ev’rything

[Verse 2]
You are my life and my treasure
The One that I can’t live without
Here at Your feet
My desires and dreams I lay down
Here at Your feet
My desires and dreams I lay down


[Chorus]
If more of You means less of me
Take ev’rything
Yes, all of You is all I need
Take ev’rything
If more of You means less of me
Take ev’rything
Yes, all of You is all I need
Take ev’rything…


[Bridge]
Oh Lord, change me like only You can
Here with my heart in Your hands
Father I pray make me more like Jesus
This world is dying to know who You are
You’ve shown us the way to Your heart
So Father I pray make me more like Jesus
Oh Lord, change me like only You can
Here with my heart in Your hands
Father I pray make me more like Jesus

This world is dying to know who You are
You’ve shown us the way to Your heart
So Father I pray make me more like Jesus
More like Jesus I pray
Make me more like Jesus
Oh Lord, oh Lord Father I pray,
Father I pray Make me more like Jesus


[Chorus]
If more of You means less of me
Take ev’rything
Yes, all of You is all I need
Take ev’rything
If more of You means less of me
Take ev’rything
Yes, all of You is all I need
Take ev’rything

I hope that there is something God brings into your life today that breaks you and remakes you, that causes you to run to Jesus and fall at His feet with a broken and contrite heart. If more of You means less of me, Jesus, take everything.

Do Not Be Conformed…

Fads and trends come and go. Some people seem to be immune to them, while others chase them with great passion. The fad may involve a particular style or brand of clothing, a trendy new vehicle that everyone wants to drive, or the latest phone or techie gadget. None of us are immune to hopping on the bandwagon and joining the parade of what is currently popular.

It’s amusing to watch how hairstyles have changed through the years. Here’s a link to an animated video showing changing hairstyles. For the most part, asking your stylist to help you look a little more like the guy or girl you just saw in a movie isn’t the worst thing in the world… just don’t expect him or her to perform miracles!

The challenge for us is not so much wanting to drive a Lincoln because Matthew McConaughey makes it look cool or lining up to get a Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich because everyone else is doing it. The challenge is not so much that we wear a certain pair of jeans, imitate the makeup of a popstar, or include the latest slang term in our vocabulary. The challenge is that we don’t allow ourselves to be ruled by what the world around us says is important. As a child of God, we must be careful that our value system is shaped by the heart and will of God, not by the fluctuating values of the world.

Have you ever made cookies using a cookie cutter. The object, of course, is to make cookies that are all pretty much alike. If you are making star-shaped cookies, you press the star-shaped cookie cutter into the dough, and you can end up with a batch of cookies that can be virtually indistinguishable from one another. That is a great picture of being conformed. It’s an outward pressure to shape your attitude and lifestyle.

We’ll consider the rest of this verse tomorrow, but let these words from God remind you to be cautious about going with the crowd. When we anchor our beliefs, attitudes, and action in the teachings of Jesus, we can have great confidence that we are following in His footsteps. When we tune in our ears to what the world claims is true and right, we will find it to be ever-changing and unstable. What is true today maybe be false tomorrow or, worse yet, the very concept of truth itself becomes vague or irrelevant.

Who or what is pressuring you to fit into a certain way of thinking or behaving? Is is consistent with the call of God and the Word of God? Be aware… and be wary!

Praying in Light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)…

I am not one given to panic, and now is not the time to go down that path. In fact, God calls us to faith and not fear, to trust and not panic. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It is in this faith and confidence that we come to God in prayer. We are called not to be anxious about anything but to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). So… I am asking you to pray. In fact, I am calling you to prayer.

Below are two prayers – one longer and one shorter. How (or if) you choose to use them is entirely up to you. I might suggest you use the longer prayer as part of your daily devotion time and the shorter one at moments throughout the day. It may be that the shorter prayer is one that you can use with your children or grandchildren. Remember, most of them aren’t totally clueless about the coronavirus, and some may be fearful of it. To acknowledge the problem with them while professing your confidence in God can be a comfort – and a teachable moment.

While I offer these prayers to you, there is not magical or mystical about them. Feel free to prayer as you are led by the Holy Spirit. I only ask that you join me in the throne room of our King to lay our petitions before Him.

A Daily Prayer — 
Loving Father,

We come today acknowledging that you are God and we are not. Our understanding and power and limited. You are all-knowing and have power without limits. We confess that too often we rely only upon what we can do or what others can do for us. Too often we draw from a well that is too shallow and insufficient for our needs, but you are an ever flowing spring, a river of living water, a source inexhaustible and renewing.

Our nation and world are awash in confusion and riddled by fear. This coronavirus fills our news casts and often fills our minds. While you give us the sense to plan for the worst, you never call us to live in fear. You call us, instead, to walk by faith, to be strong and courageous, to trust in You with all our hearts, and to be loving and compassionate to those who are hurting.

Today, we renounce our fear and choose to walk by faith. We join our hearts to pray for the stop of the spread of this virus. We join our hearts to pray for wisdom for our local, national, and world leaders who are making decisions that affect the lives of so many. We join our hearts to pray for the recovery of those who are infected by this virus and for those who grieve the loss of those who have died because of it. We pray for the church, the people of God, here in the United States and around the world, that we will respond to this in a way that expresses our absolute faith in You, shows our unswerving commitment to serve those in need, and displays our ultimate hope in the resurrection through Jesus Christ.

Loving Father, You are our peace and our hope. You are the Rock upon which we stand, the Fortress where we find protection, and our Refuge in times of trouble. We offer this prayer in faith in the name of our Savior Jesus. Amen.

A Shorter Version that could be prayed throughout the day — 
Loving Father,

We walk by faith and not by sight. We will fear no evil, for You are with us. We join with our brothers and sisters in Christ to humbly ask that You – 

– stop the spread of this Coronavirus
– heal those infected by this virus
– bring peace to those who have lost loved ones because of it
– give wisdom to our leaders to make good decisions in this time
– give boldness to Your people to show mercy and compassion in so great a time of need.

May our faith in You and our hope for our resurrection through faith in Jesus cause us to live in such a way that people give glory to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Forgiveness Is Hard…

Forgiveness is hard! For some, that may be the world record of understatements. The pain of betrayal, abuse, or unfaithfulness can leave wounds that never seem to fully heal. Because the hurtful memories cannot be forgotten, some don’t want to forgive. They finger their pain like worry beads as they rehash events over and over again, creating an ever-deepening pool of bitterness.

When we forgive, we are not excusing the behavior of another person. Some behaviors are both abhorrent and inexcusable. Some behaviors demand justice, and, sadly, some bad behaviors never receive that justice. Does this mean we are justified to withhold forgiveness? We may feel that way, but when we withhold forgiveness, there is a price pay.

Louis B. Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” There is wisdom in those words. By refusing to forgive, we have the mistaken notion that we are hurting our abuser; in reality, we are hurting ourselves. Having been made a victim by the actions of others, we lock ourselves into that role adding chains of our own design.

There are no easy answers here. In fact, it’s hard, really hard. You can’t wish the pain away. You can’t wash away the memories. But there is a price to holding on to the bitterness that comes with unforgiveness – a heavy price. So how do you begin to lay aside the burden?

Admit to having unforgiveness in your heart
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Realize that you’re in a spiritual battle
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Meditate on how great a salvation you have received
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Ephesians 1:7)

Ask God to enable you to do what may now seem impossible.
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Jesus, Luke 18:27)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Are you holding on to unforgiveness? Perhaps today you could take the first step to freeing yourself from that heavy load.

Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash

How to Apologize…

a·pol·o·gya regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.
(Lexico powered by Oxford)

For most of us, we learn to apologize early in life. It goes something like this – “Tell your sister that you’re sorry.” The response (if there is one) is often a reluctant, “I’m sorry.” Some of us haven’t advanced very far from our preadolescent apologies.

Duke Kwon, pastor of Grace Meridian Hill in the nation’s capital, shared some good thoughts on apologizing via his Twitter account (@dukekwondc). Read this slowly. It can be a great plumbline to evaluate your own efforts at apologizing.

HOW TO APOLOGIZE

  • express sorrow (“I’m sorry”)
  • own guilt (“I was wrong”)
  • name specific wrongs (“I did X”) 
  • name impact (“I hurt you”)
  • no IFs (sorry “if I…”)
  • don’t blameshift/defend (“but you…”)
  • no passive voice (“sorry you were offended”)
  • make amends (“what can I do…”)
    (I made slight changes in this list adding quotation marks, changing “u” to “you” where needed, and adding elipses for clarity)

Very often, “I’m sorry” is just the beginning of repairing the damage. I’ll admit that I have too often thought my apology was the end of the matter. Sometimes it is: Forgiveness and understanding are extended, and the issue is put in the past. More often than not, however, some follow up is essential.

Such follow up may include a genuine expression of remorse over the offense and/or a change of attitude or actions. If the offense was something repeated or was very hurtful, it may take a good bit of time for the offended person to process what happened, sort through all the emotions, and take the initial steps toward forgiveness and restoration. To expect someone to quickly “forgive and forget” can be unrealistic.

It is also important to add that forgiveness can be extended without the relationship simply picking up where it left off. Some actions irreparably damage relationships. A person may forgive another but chose to break off the relationship because of deep or repeated abuse by that person.

Application time — Is there someone to whom you need to apologize today?

Check back for my next post – “How to Forgive…”

Bible Reading in 2020

Many Christians begin the new year with high hopes of reading God’s Word every day. Some go to great extremes to make sure that everything is in place – the right Bible, the right markers, the write note-taking journal, etc. Unfortunately, things begin to fall apart after week one. Life gets busy. We get lazy. Our once bright and shiny resolution finds itself shoved in a corner buried with the dust of our guilt.

Will 2020 be any different? Will you actually finish your Bible reading plan on December 31, 2020? Well… I have no clue. I do know this – if you don’t start, you won’t finish.

To help get you started, here are some helpful downloadable resources –
New Testament Reading Plan
One Year Chronological Bible
One Year Bible Plan
One Book at a Time Plan

In addition, there are a boatload of online reading plans and Bible reading apps, in fact, too many to mention. Here are a few options to search for –
The Bible App for Kids (FREE)
Bible by Life Church (FREE)
Daily Bible Verse (FREE)
Our Daily Bread (FREE)
Olive Tree Bible+ (FREE)

Another option is a podcast by Walk Thru the Bible. Each episode provides a short devotional thought and a guided journey through each day’s Scripture passage. This can be accessed through Apple Podcasts or Google Play. Follow THIS LINK.

Okay… that’s plenty to get your started. You can always ask friends what they use.

Here are a few tips –
Pick a plan. (Make it a reasonable one.)
If you miss a day, don’t quit – just pick up and keep going.
If you miss a few days, don’t quit – keep going.
If you end up missing half a year, don’t quit – keep going.
Read to know God more, not just to know more of God’s Word.

God’s Word is worthy of our time and effort. Let’s do this!