Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If My Body is the Temple...

Reading through the Psalms has given me reminders that it's OK with God to use more than my voice when singing praises to Him with the congregation.

I was not raised in a tradition where singing in a worship service involved anything other than vocal expression.  Our hands were either holding a hymnal, or if we were sharing one with someone, gripping the back of the pew in front of us.  But, sometimes I confess to allowing the message of the song to bring a smile, maybe even a rare tear to my eyes.  That was the extent of any physical expression other than singing.

Fortunately, in my later years I've come to learn that other expressions (as long as they are under my control) can be valid in praise.  I'm a Bible believer, meaning that the Scripture always trumps tradition.  And even in Baptist churches there is tradition.  True, it's not "high church", but there are/were traditions that had no affirmation in the Book.  In fact, the Book seemed to say otherwise.

Two that I have been freed to practice allow me to do more than sing.

I clap my hands!  God blessed me with a good sense of rhythm.  And my musical training (I was a drummer in high school) allows me to get the 2nd and 4th beat claps.   So, I'm naturally and physically inclined to do something with the beat of the song, whether it's to tap my foot, move from one foot to the other or contribute to the overall sound with clapping. 

Apparently clapping was part of the worship in the Old Testament Temple worship. 

Psalm 47:1 says, "Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with a jubilant cry."  Then the next verse tells us why we should clap and shout.  "For the LORD Most High is awe-inspiring, a great King over all the earth."  Clap because of Who God is! 

At our church we not only clap along with many of the songs, we also applaud as a form of praise and thanks for what we've just sung.  And it's OK.

Then, I lift my hands in praise.  That was a tough one for me to be freed to do, I confess, and for so many wrong reasons.  But, I figured out that if it's to show God worth, is spontaneous (not coerced or demanded) on my part, and isn't done to attract attention to me it's a legitimate practice for worshipers of the King.

Psalm 63:3-4 (the Psalms were Israel's hymnal) says, "My lips will glorify You [that's praise with my words and singing] because Your faithful love is better than life. So I will praise You as long as I live; at Your name, I will lift up my hands."  This isn't about prayer, although that's the context of Psalm 28:2 and 1 Timothy 2:8.  This is about praise.  And Psalm 119:48 speaks about lifting up hands as a sign of submission and surrender to God. 

We're so fortunate that God has not only made us physically in the manner He has, but that He's OK with us using what He has created to worship and praise Him.  And worship, to be right, must be first done "in spirit and in truth".  So, whether I use my voice, my hands, my feet, am kneeling or lying prostrate before Him, if my heart isn't prepared to worship then nothing else matters.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Well, of course!

For our local church planters.  Whoever you are!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Day To Stop And Remember

On April 6, 1999 my son and I were driving back from North Greenville College in South Carolina.  He was a senior in high school, and the soccer coach at NGC (now University) invited him to come and visit, with the prospect of a spot on their team.  From the Outer Banks, as I recall, it was about a 9 hour drive.  And in 1999 cell phones were a fairly new thing.  My wife had one in her car, but I did not, and frankly didn't want one.

As we arrived home that night about 11:00 we were met with the most horrific news.  One of the teens in our church, Shana Lawler, and four of her friends (on Spring break) were broadsided by a speeding SUV as it ran a red light.  Three of the friends died on the scene. The fourth was transported to a hospital an hour away with what appeared to be non-life threatening injuries.  He would survive.  Shana survived the crash, but with apparent brain injuries and was flown to our closest trauma center in Norfolk, VA.

I showered, changed, got back into my little red car and drove the 75 or so miles to the hospital where I found her parents in the waiting room.  One sister, a high school senior, was with friends out of town.  She was on her way back.  The other sister, a graduate student at UNC was living in Durham. The next day their dad and I drove to meet her, tell her the news and bring her back to Norfolk.

Within a week Shana died of her injuries.  I was with the family as they sang, prayed and said goodbyes just before she was taken off of life support.  I'm still brought to tears by the memories.  A few days later I would preach her funeral to a packed church auditorium, mostly filled with other high school students, inviting them to put their faith in the Jesus Shana knew as Savior.

Our community was both brought to our knees in pain and at the same time polarized as we sought to both seek justice and mercy.  Those are not easy partners.  Someone erected 4 crosses at the intersection, which stood for many years, memorializing the girls and reminding every driver passing by that alcohol and driving are a dangerous, life-altering mix.

Now, eighteen years have passed.  The four girls would be 35.  Most of the students in their schools today were even born in 1999.  The woman who killed them while driving intoxicated is serving four consecutive terms for second-degree murder.

And many of us have not forgotten.  Certainly the survivors - the parents, siblings, friends and the one young man who lived through it - will never forget.  The impaired driver who is in prison for the rest of her life won't forget, nor will her friends and family.  The first responders (I know some of them) have images indelibly imprinted in their brains.

So, I remember this date with this somber reminder of the brokenness that exists in this world.  And I pray, "Thy Kingdom come".

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Sense of Urgency

Who doesn't love the month of April?  Sunshine...warm sunshine!  The azaleas in my yard are blooming, and will soon be followed by the dogwoods.  And with the Spring and the change in seasons comes the end of the multitudinous viruses and maladies that have been so prevalent this past winter.  It's all good.  Spring is really here!

But for me, the start of April has been a dark one.  I feel like a psalmist needing to cry out to God something like, "Death surrounds me!".  A large part of my role as a public safety chaplain is responding to the worst moments in peoples' lives - when a loved one dies.  For some reason it seems I can only remember one in the first three months of 2017.  For that I am grateful.

Yet, this past weekend, April 1 and 2 found me at two homes, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday, helping wives and children and a mother, through the hardest day of their lives.  And then, Monday morning I received a message that a friend's toddler granddaughter tragically and accidentally lost her life the day before.

Three days.  Three deaths.  (And no, I'm not superstitious about the number three.)  And later this week I've been asked to restore four crosses that memorialize a tragedy that took the life away from four teenagers and the breath away from our community eighteen years ago. 

Death is the inevitable part of life that no one can avoid.  Some get to "put it off" and live long lives.  One of my chaplain calls was to the home of a gentleman 74 years on the earth.  He had been ill for some time and his passing was not a surprise to his family at all. 

Others don't make it to their "threescore and ten".  The second of the three was a 49 year old husband and father.  He didn't even know he was sick until the week before he died, and even then it was totally unexpected.  And of course, the one could have seen that coming.

I was sharing with my men's small group last night these events, asking them to pray for the three families.  And in line with the study we're doing reminded them of the urgency that is part and parcel to sharing the Good News of Christ with others in our realms of influence.  The Gospel is an urgent message to be spoken and lived because it is the only hope beyond the grave.  And no one knows when that day will come for any of us.

Do you live life with that sense of urgency guiding your thoughts, words, actions? 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Looking for the Perfect Church

An elderly lady stopped by the church recently and was met by one of our staff.  It seems she was checking out the church.  Church shopping, if you will.

Her story is that she was a member of the church up the road 26 years ago, but they "ran the preacher off", so she left.  I've been around longer than that, so her slant on that story is a bit, shall I say, off.  But, after a while she came back...for a while, until someone said something that "hurt my feelings".

So, she stopped by to find out if this was a church where the preacher "preaches the Word".

Well, guess what?  The preachers in that church for the past quarter century that I've known them have always "preached the Word".  But, according to her, the reason she has found herself shopping is not due to a preacher's apostasy.

Our staff member explained a couple things to her about our church that she thought might also be offensive to the dear sister in some way.  "Our music is not what you're used's very contemporary".  But she insisted the music didn't matter.  (I'm smiling at that one.)  So, just maybe she'll come check us out.  We'll welcome her.  But my guess is even if she stayed, she wouldn't stay long.

She's looking for perfection.

And it's not here.

Most church shopping is unnecessary. In fact, it's often sinful.  That is unless you have moved to a new geographical location and worshiping with your "home" church has become impossible due to mileage.

There's too much in the words of Jesus and the writings of the Apostles that communicate Christian virtues that are given by God's grace to us that should allow us to overcome and deal with hurt feelings.  Virtues like forgiving one another as Christ as forgiven us.  And having the same attitude of humility displayed for us by our Savior.  We like to use the phrase around here that "it's not about me" when selfishness starts to rise to the top.

I don't think she would want to hear me say to her the first time she had a complaint about something we do (unless it is unbiblical, and then she would have to stand in line), "Well, it's not about you, is it?".  That either sends them to Jesus in repentance or sends them down the road, looking for the ultimate preacher and church.

God put us in fellowship with other imperfect saints, knowing we will sometimes rub each other the wrong way so that we can learn those virtues and allow them to overcome our feelings for His glory.

So, if you think it's time to go shopping because of feelings, put your bag down and ask God for grace to maintain and remain where you are.  Stop running from a work of grace that God wants to do in and through you, that just might trigger revival! Ask Him for illumination into the wrong attitudes that have hidden themselves in your own heart before you abandon the Bride. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

And Thus It Began

True story coming.  (I need to put this down while I can still remember it.)

Forty one years ago I was asked by a co-worker if I would go with her to a college basketball game.  She had a reason for asking me, and the reason wasn't me.  It seems she needed to get a message to a guy who had recently taken her out that she was "broadening her dating horizon", so to speak.  People (mostly him) would see her with me at the game and get the point.  More fish in the sea,or something like that. 

So, really, I was being used.  But I didn't mind.

We had met just a couple months earlier when I got a job in the shoe department at J.C. Penney.  I knew who she was since she had been a cheerleader at the college.  She didn't know I existed.  But we became friends as we sold shoes. 

She came by my home to pick me up (it was her invitation to go out).  I'm certain I introduced her to my parents.  Then I drove her VW bug out to Jefferson Forest High School where our small college without a gym (or campus) of our own played its home games.  Sitting in the bleachers we chatted as we watched the game.  I remember the lady sitting behind us complimenting her on her hair. 

After the game I suggested we go and get some pizza.  It was raining hard and we got so wet getting from the car to the restaurant that she used the hand dryer in the rest room to dry her hair.  I remember "Take It To the Limit" playing on the restaurant juke box.  This was in the days before "classic rock" was classic, mind you.

We ate, talked and she took me home.  That date was 41 years ago January 26.

I'm not sure when, whether that night or soon after - maybe at work - I decided to ask her out for another date.  And to my great pleasure she said yes.  And the rest is, as they say, history.  Almost ancient.

Interestingly, we never have commemorated that first "date" as many couples do, simply because neither of us knew the date.  But, with the help of the internet you can figure out almost anything.  So, last year I was curious...when was that? 

I knew three facts: (1) There was a home basketball game; (2) It was in January; and (3) It rained.  From there it was pretty simple.  Find a home game in January, 1976 on a rainy night in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Only one game qualified, and it was on January 26.

So, for the first time in 41 years we're going out for pizza to celebrate that first date.   No basketball game, but we hope to catch our nephew's wrestling match. 

I was just a decoy.  But I wound up the winner, didn't I?  I think so, too.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

We’re One of “Those” Churches

Every so many years December 25 falls on a Sunday.  Since I’ve been the pastor of Nags Head Church (1991) this makes the 4th time.  So, I’m no rookie at this!  My second year here Christmas fell on a Sunday, and I was the one who insisted we gather that year on Christmas day.  So, my family (with three under 10) and a few others came out.  It was the last time we did that!

The past couple of weeks I’ve read blogs imploring churches not to cancel services on Christmas day.  And the authors (mostly pastors) give some compelling reasons.  They’re just not compelling enough for us!  Like Elvis, we’ll be home for Christmas.  But, we’re not somehow ignoring or downplaying the significance of the Incarnation.

Our tradition is to have Christmas Eve gatherings every year.  In the past they’ve taken place in the evenings.  Last year we moved them to the afternoon (we do two), and our attendance increased by about 50%.  If it’s about reaching people (and I believe it is), that’s a good thing. 

But this year we’re thinking a bit more out of the box, radical or if you choose heretical. 

We’re moving our Sunday worship schedule to Saturday.  For those diehards who thump the “Sabbath” drum, there you go!  We’ll be worshiping on the Sabbath!  We won’t have any services in the evening or on Sunday.

As others have done in campaigning for Christmas services on Sunday this year, here are some reasons we are not, both practical and historical:

1. Ours is a pretty young church.  With right at 200 partners (our word for “members”) we typically have around 100 children (who are not yet partners) from birth through 5th grade in church every Sunday.  Having had three of my own, and now with four grandkids in elementary school, I understand how doing the Christmas morning thing with kids, then trying to get them ready to leave it all behind to go to a church service (that typically would be somehow scaled down…and for what reason?) isn’t a choice we felt necessary to put to our parents.  It’s like, “If you really love the baby Jesus you’ll get to church to celebrate”.  Really?  We’re calling ours a “guilt free Christmas weekend”.

2. We don’t typically have Saturday worship gatherings.  So moving ours this year to Saturday is kind of a unique thing for us.  And we like to do and try new things and change it up.  That’s part of our church’s culture.

3. This allows our folks (many of whom travel over the holidays) to take off earlier on Christmas Eve to get to grandma’s house…even in time, perhaps to go to a Christmas Eve service (double dipping) at her church!  They would not have been with us on Sunday anyhow.

4. We’re putting the word out every way we can in the community so those who are unchurched and are looking for a place to do a Christmas service will see what we are doing.  If it floats their boat, great!  If not, there are plenty of good churches around us meeting on Christmas day.  And that’s OK.  One of our values is to always expect the unchurched to be invited by our congregation.  By the way, we’ve been open every other Sunday this year (except when Hurricane Matthew visited)!

5. Paul’s cautions to the churches in Colossae and Galatia about legalism regarding “observing special days, months, seasons and years” reminds me that it is Jesus who is the pinnacle of our worship, not a date randomly chosen by someone we don’t even know.  We all realize that no one alive actually knows when Jesus was born, and that scholars tell us it probably wasn’t in December.  Maybe there’s a good reason the date of His birth wasn’t recorded.  So, does it really matter that we move it one day from tradition?  We’ll be worshiping the new born King with just as much fervor (and we’re counting on a bigger number of worshipers) on Saturday than we would have on Sunday this year.

Just as the bloggers I’ve read have refrained from casting judgment on those churches which choose a less traditional path to celebrate Christ’s birth (and I appreciate their grace), I have no issue with churches who will be open on Christmas day. 

It’s about understanding your church’s culture and your community. I’m certainly not one who believes God wants all churches to be the same.  So, whether your church gathers this Sunday, or gathers Saturday only or Saturday and Sunday, as long as Christ is the reason for our gatherings God is pleased with us.   

I wish you a merry celebration!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Overcoming Fear With Love

We’re living in a land of fearful people. 

I’m reading such things since the election that say:
·      Blacks are afraid of the KKK becoming strong. 
·      Hispanics are afraid of deportation.
·      The LBGTQ community is afraid that they will lose their “equal” rights.
·      Cops are afraid of being shot.
·      Muslims are afraid of every kind of discrimination.

All of that fear is in the kingdom that does not belong to Christ.  Yet, from what I’ve seen the last months and especially the last week it is just as evident in evangelical churches of every color. 

Fear is crippling.  It shuts us down. Silences our witness. I’m preparing for Sunday’s message in Judges, and in chapter 6 the Israelites were so afraid of the Midianites that they “made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves and strongholds”.  And this in the very land God had given them and promised was theirs.  So, they were paralyzed as a people for 7 years because of fear.

We can’t pretend the fears around us aren’t real or that some of them aren’t legit.  Many of them (on both sides) are fed by this mess we call social media.  It’s like a frenzy sometimes, and it seems Christians are as prone to hand-wringing as anyone.  I confess that my personal fear in the election was that we would have to endure 4 more years of attacks on religious liberties like we’ve seen the past eight. And certainly (said my fear) we can’t allow that, because our ability to wave the banner of Christianity depends on our 1st amendment rights, right?

Then I read the Bible.  Especially the New Testament.  And I hear Jesus saying things about His Kingdom, like these words to Pilate.  "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here."

And I read the Apostles Paul, Peter and John writing to Christians living in a worldly kingdom, the Roman Empire, where their religious liberties were disappearing under emperors who had it in for the Christians they saw as potential insurrectionists and revolutionaries.  

Paul wrote to the Roman church: For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, " Abba, Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. – Rom. 8:15-17

Peter wrote to the persecuted church: 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed,15but set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. - 1 Pet. 3:14-17

John then wrote,  And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.
17In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; for we are as He is in this world.
18There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because He first loved us.  - 1 Jn. 4:16-19

I could go on and on pointing out the passages that instruct us not to fear what the world might throw at us, and that we should expect those things, even suffer because of those things because we have citizenship in another kingdom.  There’s plenty of that in the Bible.

Our struggle (at least mine) is in living this dual citizenship we have.  On the one hand I know the Word and its promises and admonitions about living in fear.  How many times did Jesus say “Fear not”?  A bunch.  We know that in our heads.  But when we are constantly bombarded through media and conversations with stories and conjectures, "breaking news" and conspiracy theories those things can easily overcome what we know the Bible to say.

So, these suggestions:
1. Safeguard what you let into your mind that comes from “this world”.  I found myself hiding a lot of others Facebook posts yesterday because I knew their content would only either make me mad or focused on the wrong kingdom.  "Garbage in. Garbage out."

2. Use your influence and your words to love the fearful.  You don’t have to agree with the fears, and maybe you can’t relate to them at all.  But, as Christians we’ve got this promise that love casts out fear.  Maybe we just need to be less defensive, stop arguing and love like Jesus. That requires sacrificing my right to be right.

3. Spend more time in the Word than in the news and on social media.  It’s no wonder that we live in fear.  We’re feeding our minds and hearts with the wrong food.  If I didn’t know that I have this other citizenship in Christ’s kingdom, I’d be totally fearful right now.  And fear only causes us to lash out in defense.

4. Trust God.  That’s easy to say and is almost cliché.  But, if I truly am trusting God then I’m good with whomever resides in the White House or the governor’s mansion.  I may not agree with him/her/them, but I know God has my back and that of my family and my country…even if He allows us to suffer.  Are we truly any better or more special to God than Christ or the Christians under Nero’s thumb? 

5. Look for His Kingdom to come.  When Jesus said to include “Your kingdom come” in our prayers it was for a reason.  Praying for it won’t make it happen sooner.  My guess is that day of the Lord is already on God’s calendar.  But praying for it keeps it before my mind and it is our blessed hope.

My hope and prayer is that the coming days and years, should we have them, will bring about a renewal in the church as we become less worldly and more kingdom centered.  Our perspective has to change and become more than words.  And I know that if I’m sincere it has to start with me. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Truth or Warm Fuzzies?

A friend posted a meme on his Facebook wall the other day.  I'm not a great fan of memes, mostly because they are often distortions of the truth.  And the ones that tell me I need to say "Amen" or "Share if you agree" are the most unliked.

"Amen" is a sacred word in my vocabulary, usually concluding a prayer or vocalizing my agreement with theological truth.  So, I'm not one to throw them out when engaging in small talk.  The word simply means, "That's truth", or "I agree".

What I don't need to be agreeing with are distortions or half-truths.

Here's the meme.

It originated from some source called "God First Ministries".  To me it goes along with those memes that tell me "If this post gets 1,000 likes FB will pay for his surgery.".  Who believes this stuff?

I replied to my FB friend, "And you believe this is true because someone posted a meme?"  His response had me SMH (I have learned a few of these abbreviations).  And he's no kid.  We went to college together.  We were taught to value truth.  

But, he said, "Dosen't (sic) matter if true or not still don't have a problem posting Amen.Amen."

What?  Truth doesn't matter?  You're OK posting something that has a better than good chance of being false?  Truth is irrelevant as long as the sentiment gives me a warm feeling inside?

This is not to say that I have never fallen prey to a seemingly legitimate "news" flash, only to regret I didn't do my homework first before "liking" or "sharing".  I've had a few bites of crow pie.  And because of that I try to be more diligent.

I decided then that while keeping him as a "friend" I'll "unfollow" him.  SMH too often only gets me dizzy.