Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bringing Paris (Too) Close to Home

--> The world can be overturned in 32 minutes.

Like you, I watched in utter disbelief Friday night, as the news seemed to be “breaking” every other minute from Paris.  Explosions at the soccer stadium filled with fans.  Shootings at a cafĂ©.  And a concert hall filled with young people held hostage, then executed one by one until the police arrived.

Modern technology allows us to see such things in “real” time.  It’s both a blessing and a curse.  Yes, I want to know what is happening as it happens.  Not sure why, though.  But seeing actual death lying in the streets as it happens…I find that disturbing. 

In the days that have followed the spin masters have been hard at work, seeking to make some sense out of the atrocity.  Blame is cast in every imaginable direction.  Some claim it to be the fault of Western politicians.  In other corners it is the fault of open borders and wholesale immigration.  Or maybe it’s purely religious – whether it is Christianity or Islam, although France is largely a humanist society.  Or its blame is to be put on Israel.  I’ve even read where someone is saying it is a gun control problem! 

But the reality is closer to home.  Much closer.

Human wickedness is found everywhere.  That’s not to say in any way that you or I are guilty of what happened in Paris, or that what takes place regularly in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other place on earth where barbarism regularly seems to act in cruelty.  But the ability to live wickedly isn’t far from any of us. 

The same innate sinfulness that possesses the terrorist and drives him to slaughter dwells in every human heart.  It just manifests itself differently.  And of course a person’s worldview comes into play.  The majority of us aren’t driven by our beliefs to destroy those with whom we disagree. 

But what makes me different than the man who strapped on a belt laden with explosives, fully intending to end others’ lives with his own death?

One thing.  Grace.

The God who created us dispenses that grace that changes hearts.  He alone is the source of that kind of grace.  The Bible tells us that it is “…by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.”

“Saved”.  To some nothing more than an old-fashioned term from the vocabulary of a fire and brimstone preacher.  That’s unfortunate.  “Saved” from what?  From ourselves.

You see, it’s our nature that is damaged by our innate sin (rebellion against God) that causes us – you…me…anyone to do wrong.  Your “wrong” might be running a red light while in a hurry to get to work.  Someone else's wrong might be extortion or embezzlement.  For yet another it could be an act of heinous violence that takes life.
God says He has available grace to make the changes necessary in the life of anyone who will put their faith in His Son Jesus.  Those changes are the result of being “saved” by that grace.  It’s not anything I can drum up or produce by any religious efforts on my part.  It’s all about God.

And it’s the only thing that separates me from those deranged killers in Paris.  God’s grace.  That’s it.  That’s a humbling thought.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Without Ceasing...

The other night I woke up repeatedly.  No, it wasn't an old man thing.  I'm not there yet.  I think it was the Lord who kept interrupting my sleep.

And, no, I didn't here Him speak.  Didn't feel His touch.  It wasn't a wind coming through my window.  Each time I woke it was to pray. 

Pastors carry burdens for the sheep in their flocks.  When they hurt or are straying it weighs heavily on our hearts.  It's not something we can easily block from our minds, although that's probably not what we should be doing anyway.

I don't remember everyone I prayed for while lying in bed that night.  But I remember there were several.  And they don't know I prayed on their behalf.  That's not important. 

24/7 is this calling.  Sometimes the shepherd has to sleep with one eye open, so to speak.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Lesson from California's Redwoods

Every Christian needs to be connected in a healthy local church.  It can't be an option.  Here's one reason why.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I'm Trying to Break Free from the Labels

So, if my three favorite presidential candidates thus far are a woman, a black man and a hispanic, can I be freed from being called a sexist bigot?  (Since they're all Republicans, probably not, right?)

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:
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at:
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at:
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at:
50 percent of seminary graduates quit the ministry in the first five years - See more at:"

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 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.