Sunday, June 28, 2015

When Will the Evil End?

My column from last week's edition of the Outer Banks Sentinel addresses the mass murders at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hope Just in Time

A young man who grew up a few houses down the street died suddenly last week.  The life that led to his death at 34 did not leave us being totally surprised at the news, but at the same time totally sad.

The next afternoon, after I paid his mom a visit, she asked if I would do the graveside service the following Thursday.  Of course, I would.  They were neighbors, after all.  Her son and mine had been boyhood buddies.  And (unlike weddings) I don't turn down funerals if at all possible.

But I wrestled over the days leading up to today's service.  What would I say?  Nothing that I was aware of indicated he had found forgiveness and everlasting life through Christ.  His life (as far as I knew it) was full of the sad choices he had made.  I'm not one to give hope where I believe there is none, or to "preach" someone into heaven.  Yet I knew I had to say something to bring comfort to his mother and 12 year old son.

This morning I opened up the condolences posted on the site of the funeral home.  Lots of sorrow.  Lots of "in a better place" and "another angel" things.  Many fond remembrances of a young man who was kind, polite and if he could be, helpful.  I expected those comments.

But then this one came up.  And it lifted a tremendous burden from my shoulders.

I remember spending “Sonrise Service” with you this past Easter at the Ocean front…that was good! I know for sure there is no pain where you are and you wouldn’t come back here if you could – I thank Jesus that you are with him – that you took the steps to accept Him as Savior.

That was the best news I could have received today, and just an hour before the service.  I was able to say to the crowd assembled that he was in heaven, not because he was kind and polite, but because earlier this year he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.  There was the hope we all needed.

And I shared with them that they, too, could have that same hope.

Thank you Lord, for letting me read those comments in time.  Thanks for opening his heart to the Gospel, and for someone who shared it with him in time.  You know how great I felt hearing that testimony and then being able to share it.  May it bring others who perhaps have no hope to Christ.




Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Is Yours a "Toxic Church?"

I just came across this article today about toxic churches and how their poison destroys pastors.

While there are certainly enough examples of square pegs in round holes and the power hungry serving as pastors, and there's plenty of blame to pass around as to why some churches can just never find the "perfect fit" from a pastor, I found this article telling.

One line jumped out at me...especially when I realized I was once a part of that statistic.  "50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years".  For me, it was right at 3 years.

I was in a toxic church.  The sad thing is that it was a church that I planted.  Some of those in the church, especially those with financial ability and/or leadership are described in Wilson's article.  I learned that disgruntled church members make a poor foundation for a new church.  My resignation (just six months in)followed an attempted "coup" by a small, but vocal and influential clique.

Although I had 5 years of full-time ministry experience under my belt, as well as a seminary degree, I was unprepared to do battle and walked away.

We had grown significantly in those first six months.  Already we were seeing 40+ in attendance each Sunday, meaning we were larger than the other Baptist church in town.  I was 30 with a young family, and great vision for the future.  Suddenly I was without a church, without an income and wondering how in the world I would support my family.

And I knew, because of their eagerness to run me off, that they had in effect cut their own throats and would die a slow death...which they did.  God would not honor that kind of meanness.  Within five years the five who remained finally threw in the towel. 

I typed up my resume and as best I could got word out that I was available.  I heard from a couple of churches.  One dangled the carrot in front of me, got me excited about the possibility and then suddenly dropped me like a hot potato, for what reason I never heard.  I mean I heard nothing.  In a phone call with the other church's designated pastor-seeker I asked, "How old is your church?"  They were a young congregation of just eight years.  "How many pastors have you had?"  Six...six in eight years!  It took me about a half a second to say, "No thanks.  I'm not going to be #7".

My heart goes out to these young pastors fresh from investing 3 or 4 years in grad school training for what they truly believe is God's calling on their lives.  They come out of seminary on-fire for God and in love with His church and mission.  And within just a few years they quit, angry, hurt and often (as did I) doubting their call.

And we wonder why many are saying evangelical Christianity is dying.  Hey, it doesn't work when the "sheep" are killing the "shepherds".

The rest of my story is that there was this church in the same town that was comatose and dying.  Somehow, four years after I quit the previous church, God dusted me off, said He still had use for me and placed me with them as their pastor.  And almost 25 years later I'm still here.

So, if you're a young, maybe defeated pastor, who has been burned by a preacher-killing church, please don't allow them to make you feel as though God can't use you.  It's not you He can't use, it's them.  Hang on.  Stay faithful.  Find other avenues of ministry and mission until He picks you up and puts you in a healthy place.

If you're a pastor, or you know a pastor you know needs to talk about this, I'm available and would love to help.
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/30171-churches-unhappy-with-pastors-should-look-in-the-mirror-consultants-say#sthash.Rk5ebbQT.dpuf
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/30171-churches-unhappy-with-pastors-should-look-in-the-mirror-consultants-say#sthash.Rk5ebbQT.dpuf
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/30171-churches-unhappy-with-pastors-should-look-in-the-mirror-consultants-say#sthash.Rk5ebbQT.dpuf
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/30171-churches-unhappy-with-pastors-should-look-in-the-mirror-consultants-say#sthash.Rk5ebbQT.dpuf
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/30171-churches-unhappy-with-pastors-should-look-in-the-mirror-consultants-say#sthash.Rk5ebbQT.dp"

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Most Controversial Man

 
Never one to shy from controversy, the short trek from Bethany to Jerusalem found Him with a growing crowd of the curious and the confessors.  Just days before in the little suburb village the One who had become a sensation in both Galilee to the north and Judea to the south by His miraculous powers had done the impossible again.  This time His friend Lazarus, dead and entombed for four days had responded to Jesus’ clarion call in the cemetery to “Come forth".

Wide-eyed onlookers must have quickly spread the news around the village, whose population was swelling by pilgrims passing through on their way to the weeklong Passover celebration in Jerusalem.  “He raised a dead man to life.  I saw it with my own eyes”.  So, it was no surprise on the Sunday that kicked off the festival He was surrounded as He made His way to the Holy City.

Surely none of them, other than Jesus, could have imagined how the shouts of joy and exuberance in God’s salvation would within a few short days turn to calls for His execution.  Even His twelve disciples, who had been given ample warning that this would be their last Passover with Him; that this visit to Jerusalem would result in His crucifixion seemed to ignore His purpose for this Passover.  Maybe they just got caught up in the moment. 

Certainly they never imagined how the man they followed – they had already come to believe He was the Messiah – would plummet from the exalted Son of David, the deliverer of the oppressed nation to being traded for the life of a known insurrectionist. 

Yet Jesus not only knew what would transpire those coming days known as “passion week”.  Imagine knowing that within these city walls waited your unjust arrest, trial and execution for the crimes of others in just a few days, yet being compelled, not by some suicidal death wish, but by your love for those who would hate you to refuse to retreat.  Of course we can’t imagine that.  

The events of that week, which included stirring up even more “controversy” by upsetting the apple cart of hypocrisy among the religious elite to the common people were all carefully orchestrated by something more than “fate”.  This was the culmination of an eternal plan to make possible the reconciliation of estranged mankind back to a relationship with our Creator God. 

Around the world this Sunday multiplied millions will gather in churches to remember and celebrate Jesus of Nazareth’s ride on the colt of a donkey through the city gates and into the welcoming throngs of a people longing for a political leader to free them from the grip of Roman domination.  To them He would return Israel back to its long ago place of a proud and independent kingdom, reigning from the throne of His ancestor and national hero David. 

Palm Sunday is a day that should be full of mixed emotions.  On the one hand we’re celebrating with the multitudes, shouting “Hosanna”.  But on the other hand perhaps we should be shouting, “Turn around. This isn’t going to end well”, because we’ve read the story.   We know what horrible suffering He’ll endure, and that by the setting of the Sabbath sun He’ll die a brutal death.

It’s a tricky day.  But it’s a day worthy of our expectation and our exultation.  If it has never grabbed your attention, perhaps this is the year to give it some thought.  The week ushered in by Palm Sunday was a week like no other in all of history.  In fact human history turns on the events that transpired.  That includes your history and mine.  So, take time to consider this most controversial Man.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dare We Take Such Risks

 

Thursday marks a week since a horrific crime shocked the entire Outer Banks community and even more so our faith community, which has reached, out to and opened itself up to the homeless who live among us.  While staying in one of our churches and for reasons I have not yet heard, one of the guests of A Room in the Inn violently stabbed another guest, killing him.   

And it happened in a church.

A Room in the Inn is a cooperative effort supported by numerous churches providing shelter and meals during the cold months for those who have nowhere else to live.  Fourteen local churches open the doors to their facilities, using classrooms and lobbies as dormitories for a week at a time.  Church kitchens serve breakfast and dinner and bagged lunches are prepared for the guests each day. 

It is an outreach staffed largely by church volunteers, each with a concern for those without their own homes.  No other such shelter exists here in Dare County, whether public or private.  And while some are shocked to learn there are homeless people living amongst us in this resort county (with multimillion dollar beach homes), some 39 different individuals found a warm, dry dwelling and meals in the participating churches last year.  As many as 17 stayed overnight at my church in January.

You won’t see the homeless unless you know what to look for and where to look.  With no urban center they seek to blend in, not desiring any sort of public recognition.  Many of them have jobs, but with employment difficult to find in the off-season, they’re income levels don’t support rent.  In the cold months (and haven’t we had some cold this winter) living outdoors in tents or under unoccupied rental homes is not an option. 

It does no good to deny their existence or to wish they would go away.  Burying our collective heads in the sand isn't a viable option.  The reality is they are here, some by their own choosing, some by unfortunate choices and others because the promise of employment and a new start never materialized.  Many suffer from one form or another of mental illness, which only adds another level to the need for care...one which a church-based program cannot provide.

What took place last Thursday morning after breakfast in Duck will certainly cause the board members of A Room in the Inn as well as those participating churches to stop and wonder about the future of the outreach.  With minimal government involvement the torch has been taken up by the faith community, where perhaps it belongs.  But at what cost?

As we so tragically learned last week there is risk involved in inviting strangers into your “home”.  No one truly knows the heart of any man or woman and how he or she might react when put into a group to live with other strangers.  The question that has to be asked is “Is the risk worth the outcome?”   It may be a difficult question to answer.

Christians are guided into caring because of Jesus actions and words.  He was Himself “homeless” during His three years of ministry. "Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head."  He recognized that the plight of the poor would ever be with us.  “You always have the poor with you”, and encouraged those with means to be generous to them. 

Perhaps these words are the most challenging to us. “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.

"Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

"And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”

And there is the challenge to do something “for the least of these”.  Hopefully we can figure what that something is.



Friday, February 13, 2015

You Do Make History, You Know


It’s no secret to those who know me well, that I’m a history buff.  Ask my kids.  I've drug them all over the country to see battlefields and national treasures.  To me there is something special about learning about and visiting moments in the past that have impacted our present. To my children, not so much I think.

That interest for me goes beyond what’s in the history books. In recent years I’ve developed a passion for unearthing my family’s roots.  In that research I have not only discovered hundreds of years of ancestry, but also I’ve also found “lost” family members.

If history is a “dry” subject to you, consider that it is more meaningful, when it is your own history - when you can place yourself in places and times past.  As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize and appreciate the people whose influence and friendship helped shape me through the years. 

That’s why I go to youth group reunions even though I haven't been a teenager in 40 years. It’s why I look for ways to thank my pastors and professors who taught me academics and God’s Word.  It’s why I rekindle friendships when I can with long-lost friends on Facebook.

I had one of those “historical” moments this past Tuesday.  An old childhood friend had died, so I made the trip to Jacksonville, NC for the funeral.  I saw some people I had not seen in over 45 years.  We reminisced and had a great time telling old stories and laughing a lot. 

Driving after the service to the cemetery on the other side of town I began to realize, “This must be the place!”  And as I turned off the highway into the cemetery, indeed, on my left was the pond where Pastor Walter Kirk had baptized me in August, 1966.  Baptized in a cemetery pond…but that’s another story for another time.

It was my first return to that special place in my life in almost half a century.  It was where I publicly professed Jesus as my Savior and began a life-long journey of following Him. That's historic!

Treasure your history.  If you are a believer, it is His story in your life.  And share that story with your family and friends.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sometimes the Band Wagon is a Poor Ride


Poor Brian Williams.

Last week he got busted.  Stars and Stripes, the venerable military news source from within the Pentagon exposed him as a liar for saying a chopper on which he was a passenger took enemy fire…or something like that.

Now, years later his “embellishment” has come back to bite him.  Realizing he was caught, he quickly broadcast his form of an apology to the military.  I happened to be watching that night, and ignorant of the controversy (sometimes ignorance truly is bliss), I thought, “Not sure what you did, but at least you’ve come clean and said you’re sorry”.  And I naively thought that would be the end of that.

But was I ever wrong!

The next day if you Googled “Brian Williams” the story of his lie and apology lit up the search engine like Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving.  Then, doing what all true investigative reporters do, they began to dig for more dirt.  Was this his first lie?  And suddenly the stories multiplied exponentially.

Social media wasn’t about to be left behind on this one.  No, sir.  And the clever memes began to pop up, inserting Williams into photos with Lincoln, with the astronauts landing on the moon, and with him saying he told Frodo where the ring was hidden. 

It’s human nature.  The bad side of it, I guess, to kick a man when he’s down.  Even when his slip, his failure, his sin, has an effect on who? 

Two thoughts.  First, I’m no big Brian Williams fan to start with.  It’s not that I don’t like him.  I just would rather listen to another talking head try and convince me of the world’s current events and that they really happened.  He’s on a network that, shall we say, hasn’t the best reputation for solid journalism.  Ever watch Today?  It’s more soap opera than news. 

So, his make believe war story, while offensive to some in the military, hasn’t served to ruin my week.  Not even my day.  The guy told a lie.  He got caught.  Now he’s got egg on his face in front of millions.  OK.  But aren’t there more important issues facing America and the world right now than a journalist’s fantasy ride?  Get over it.  Let’s move on.  No harm, no foul other than his reputation as trustworthy.  Brian Williams’ lack of integrity hasn’t changed my life. 

Second, and more important is this: I’m a liar, too. 

Now, I try not to make a habit of telling falsehoods.  In fact, I try to be honest to a fault.  For me, dishonesty and a lack of integrity would jeopardize far too much. 

But innocent?  Not me.  I did tell my 4th grade teacher that it wasn’t me who spilled ink on a page in the World Book encyclopedia.  She knew I was lying.  I was the only kid in class with a fountain pen.  (Still can’t explain that one.)  I did tell my friend’s older brother that I didn’t know what happened to his pocketknife, when I had taken it off his dresser.

All that to say this: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.  Yes, he should have known this was wrong.  It seems he has a problem.  But I say let’s forgive him and move on, with or without him on the tube.  I can’t help but raise my eyebrows that it is the media pouncing on Williams, like cannibals feeding on their own kind. 

I like the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippian Church.  “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”  Isn’t it just time to change the channel?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Holocaust Deja Vu

In 2010 I was privileged to visit Paris briefly and Grenoble for a week.  Beautiful cities.

One of the sites we were able to visit in Grenoble was a Holocaust museum.  It provided an excellent look into the extreme troubles French Jews (and non-Jews who were sympathetic) suffered at the hands of an evil ideology, Naziism.  I was are of the atrocities in Nazi death camps and the horrific medical experiments which used Jews as guinea pigs, but didn't the history in France.

What happened in Europe under Hitler should never be allowed to happen again.  But prevention doesn't just happen.

Now at the hand of another invading evil it appears the Jewish population in France is experiencing déjà vu 75 years later.

When will we learn that a nation's way of life, if grounded in liberty, is worth defending "at the gates"?  If we don't learn from history we're doomed to repeat it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

When It is Time to Limit Someone’s Freedom


--> We've all heard it said, "Faith and politics don't mix".  I'm not so sure.

I believe that there are some points where faith (and for lack of a better term) political beliefs do intersect.  My understanding of my Christian faith is that it does and should guide all my other beliefs since it is so much of who I am.  So, for me and most folks who have any sort of religious convictions, saying we must separate our faith from our politics is quite difficult, if not unreasonable

This week’s terrorist attack in Paris – the latest in a string of Islamic induced atrocities – is one of those intersections. 

As an American who still believes in the basic foundations of our society as framed by the authors of our Constitution I am stronger than horseradish on our freedoms or rights guaranteed by that document.  Two of those freedoms - religion and speech - are magnified in a world where in the name of a god some men feel the right and obligation to squelch the rights of others…even if that squelching means their death.

I’ll defend your right to belittle my faith.  Likely we won’t have much of a social relationship if you do, but you have that right. Like it or not, our right of free speech endows us with the right to be offensive.  But if you are I won’t seek to kill you.  And why not? In this country and in western civilization such a right to kill is not recognized. 

Likewise, we are blessed to worship as we choose, not as the government chooses for us.  That’s the primary reason the Pilgrims exited the Old World.  In England they were told what church was legitimate, and because they chose to practice their faith differently they felt compelled to go somewhere where they might have religious freedom.  And for their daring and vision we should be grateful, whether we have adopted their views or not.  We benefit from their sacrifice.

But as free speech has limits – the SCOTUS says we cannot yell “FIRE” in a theater (for example) – so does the freedom of religion.  One such example of a limit is when a man’s religion tells him that it is somehow a “holy” thing to kill “infidels” (those who have another faith).  In a free country sometimes freedom has necessary restrictions to protect the rights of all.

If indeed, as some who know more about it than I, a basic tenet of Islam (as given in the Koran) is to destroy all “infidels” then should the practice of Islam be allowable as a religion in nations where men and women are free to choose?  If (and I believe there are) some Muslims who reject that tenet, are they aware of the “fanatics” among us who live to kill non-Muslims?  If they are, and they are covering up, whether out of fear or out of some sense of fraternity, are they not also guilty? 

I’m not sure how, in France for example, once the door is opened to all (regardless that they may hold to beliefs detrimental to the good of society) the door can be shut.  But it’s obvious that in some instances we all can’t just get along.  Maybe France will be stunned enough to realize what they have allowed in the spirit of liberty could spell the end if changes are not made. 

And I’m not sure we in America should wait for France, Britain or Germany to show us the way.  But we had better soon begin to realize that there are times to limit freedom when that freedom threatens to end our way of life.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

When You Don't Understand, He Does

No one looks forward to disappointments, especially those whose occurrences interrupt our well-being via circumstances that are truly out of our control.  Like the quarterback being blindsided by the forearm clothesline of a blitzing linebacker, they can knock the wind right out of our sails and spin us until we’re dizzy…if we let them.  And if we’re not careful they will steal our joy and stunt our growth.

In the late 80’s I was hired by a contractor from Virginia Beach who was planning on moving into the booming building business here on the Outer Banks.  The company was well established in south Hampton Roads, and I was given the assurance that, “We’re planning on being there for the long haul.”  Yet, at the completion of their first project here the superintendent called me aside on a Thursday afternoon to tell me the next day would be my last.  They were pulling up stakes and heading back to Virginia.

He didn’t know it, but my wife and I were going to sit down that evening and fill out the paperwork to initiate the purchase of a home.  Buying that house (it would have been our first to own) was a big step and one we were looking forward to taking.  It was another move in our lives toward living the American dream.  But dreams aren’t reality and they don’t always come true.

I remember thinking, “What?  God, are you keeping track of me?  How could you let this happen?”  My conversation with my wife when I got home was, “You won’t believe this”, and “We can’t buy a house if I don’t have a job”.   To say we were perplexed is putting it mildly.

It would be great to say that the next day I got a call with a new job offer.  But I didn’t.  Instead I filed for unemployment benefits for the first time in my life and found odd jobs to earn some cash to supplement what I was receiving.  I guess I never knew from week to week how I would work to make ends meet. 

When we feel like we’ve been cut off at the knees and we haven’t been at fault our response boils down to two choices.  I’ll get bitter about it or I’ll get better.  I’ll retreat into rejection mode or I’ll look for the silver-lined cloud and see just how God is going to use this to change me for the better.  Either way it is my choice.  Circumstances can turn me upside down but they can’t ruin me.  If I’m ruined it’s because I chose to be rather than looking for the opportunity to overcome and advance to something new or different.

I’m not a believer that God will not give you more than you can handle.  Too many times I’ve seen that proven wrong.  Who made that up, anyway?  It’s not in the Bible.  Instead, God will allow the overwhelming in my life to bring me to total dependence on Him.  That verse in Romans 8 continues to ring true as it gives me hope that not only is God watching, He’s ultimately in charge and can find a way that I can’t see to turn what initially appeared a disappointing frustration into a grand blessing in disguise.

Maybe you’re very familiar with these words.  Maybe they’re new to you.  But here’s a promise from God to those who love Him.  “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”  All things.  Even the curve balls and the “I never saw that coming” shockers.  As I was taught years ago, “All means all and that’s all all means”.

Guess what?  2015 is going to bring some of those kinds of unpleasant surprises your way.  How you respond to them is your choice.  But if you kick and fight against what God may be doing to move you to the next level because you don’t immediately understand it you might just miss out on the best things to come.