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!

Living the Dream

This past Sunday, I shared Grace Fellowship’s Dream Statement. This is the dream that birthed Grace Fellowship in July of 2004, and it is the dream that continues to sustain us as we move forward in faith.

Grace Fellowship’s Dream Statement

It is a dream of hurting people encountering the grace of God through the life of His church.

It is a dream of God’s people gathering to experience genuine, life-changing worship.

It is a dream of creating an environment where the unchurched can discover what being a member of the body of Christ really means.

It is a dream of a church with a passion to see the unchurched enter into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is a dream of a church equipping its members to share the good news of Jesus with the aim of leading the unchurched into a personal relationship with Him.

It is a dream of a church committed to the Great Commission and expressing that commitment by giving generously to missions causes, by actively participating in local and international missions, and by helping to start new churches in areas needing a Christian witness.

It is a dream of a people who fully embrace others regardless of their race, age, or social standing.

It is a dream of the people of Greensboro, Greene County, and the Lake Oconee area being positively affected by the grace of God through the life, ministry, and worship of God’s people.

The best IS yet to come!

Review of KK Original Filled Doughnuts

Krispy Kreme Original Filled Doughnuts

I must admit that I did not make it to a Krispy Kreme location on Saturday to get my free Original Filled doughnut as part of KK’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but my good friend Amy Ferman was sweet enough (no pun intended) to pick up one Chocolate Kreme filled and one Original Kreme filled for me (and the same order for my wife). In other words, I ate them a day after they were made — not the ideal taste test, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to either Athens or Milledgeville to get one fresh.

I came home having received the much-prized doughnuts at church. They remained undisturbed on my desk (except for a quick whiff) until I got home. I fixed a pot of coffee, settled into my recliner, and began the test. My verdict = YES! I’m not sure how the doughnut scientists pulled off this culinary masterpiece, but the doughnuts (even a day old) were superb – beyond what I had expected – and I had high expectations.

Admittedly, my doughnuts didn’t exactly match the picture above. I think the Chocolate Kreme filled was closer to the picture and had more filling than the Original Kreme filled, but neither had the perfect ring of filling inside the whole of the doughnut.

My wife asked me after I consumed them both (Original first followed by the Chocolate) which I thought was better. Although I thoroughly enjoyed them both, the Original Kreme was my favorite by far. I’d buy that doughnut every time I stopped in a KK… every – single – time.

If you didn’t try on Saturday, you missed your chance for a free one, but it is worth $1.09 plus tax, and you might was well get a cup coffee or a chocolate milk to make the most of your experience.

Disclaimer: I received no compensation from Krispy Kreme (monetary or otherwise) nor am I an official spokesperson for Krispy Kreme -- but I'm open to either. 🙂

When the President Shows Up…

This past Sunday, a church was surprised to have the President of the United States show up during one of their services. David Platt, Pastor Teacher at McLean Bible Church, wrote in a letter to the church about the circumstances of this unusual situation: “At the end of my sermon at the 1:00 worship gathering, I stepped to the side for what I thought would be a couple of moments in quiet reflection as we prepared to take the Lord’s Supper. But I was immediately called backstage and told that the President of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like for us to pray for him. (The complete text of his letter to the church can be found here – https://www.mcleanbible.org/prayer-president )

I admit to you that I have never had this happen to me before! Few pastors have. Certainly, I have had elected government officials attend a service. Unlike the stop-in visit from President Trump, all of those who visited the churches I’ve pastor have stayed for the service. I have typically acknowledged their presence, thanked them for their service, and encouraged the congregation to pray for them, their families, and all our elected leaders. Since these elected leaders are often in the public eye, if they visited more regularly, I try not to highlight their presence to allow them to participate in the service without distractions. I cannot even imagine being told off-stage that THE President was on his way and requesting prayer!!!

With his Bible in his right hand and his left hand on the President’s back, David Platt offered a prayer for Donald Trump. The link above also has a video that shows the entirety of Trump’s appearance and Platt’s prayer. Please take a moment to view it. I think you’ll find that the prayer was politically unbiased, saturated with biblical truth, and fitting to the moment.

I do not know David Platt personally. I have read his books. I have heard him preach in person. I have viewed videos of his teaching. And I supported his efforts while he served as President of the International Mission Board. I respect him as a person, as a brother in Christ, and as a fellow pastor. My impression of what took place this Sunday is that David Platt did exactly what I hope I would do. He successfully avoided making Trump’s appearance a political rally, and offered a thoughtful, meaningful prayer for the leader of the free world — at the request of the President.

This nation is deeply divided in its opinion of our sitting President. Some see him as a man who can do no wrong. Others see him as a man who can do no right. And still others are willing to acknowledge that he’s a human being who is not always right and not always wrong – in other words, he’s a mixed bag like the rest of us – with the exception that he serves in the highest office in the land. Praying for President Trump SHOULD BE what we are doing regularly, just as we should pray for whoever the President is regardless of whether we agree with his or her political stances or not. This is our biblical mandate – “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

You may question President Trump’s motives for dropping in unannounced and requesting prayer. You may believe it to be a calculated tactic to endear himself (or in some cases to further endear himself) to the evangelical community. Perhaps, you’re right; but the criticisms (some of them quite harsh) of David Platt are short-sighted. This was one of those unexpected “opportunities” that pastors often have to face on Sundays, although, admittedly, his was an unexpected opportunity on steroids. He wrote about that in his statement, as well – “Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, and we’re faced with a decision in a moment when we don’t have the liberty of deliberation, so we do our best to glorify God. Today, I found myself in one of those situations.”

His written statement to his congregation has been labeled by some as an apology. He does acknowledge that some may have been hurt by the choice to pray over the President, but he also goes on to state that what he did was non-political and thoroughly biblical. Although my opinion may not rate high, I commend David Platt for doing what he did and how he did it. In my view, he handled it with grace and truth.

If you agree with President Trump’s policies and positions, pray for him. If you disagree with the President’s policies and positions, pray for him. If you have mixed feelings about the President’s policies and positions, pray for him. But what if you (as many evidently do) have intense feelings of dislike for the man who currently holds the office of President? What if you think he is the embodiment of everything you despise? Well… pray for him. Did not Jesus instruct us to love our enemies and to pray for even those who persecute us?