Sunday, December 21, 2014

With An Infant's Cry the War was Won

And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him  and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before  them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough."

Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! 

When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 
- Luke 2:4-15

Usually in the battle in a great war in those days there would have been a massive army gathered to fight.  In this story, the massive army  - the angelic host - didn’t come to fight but to announce that the war had been won.  Usually a trumpet sounded the advance of the army followed by the battle cry of hundreds or thousands of soldiers, heard for miles.  Here the cry of victory was the soft whimper of a newborn baby being placed in his mother’s arms. Usually the conquering general would raise his army’s flag over the conquered kingdom.  But here a tiny infant was lowered into a manger – a box from which animals ate. 

Here in this stable the greatest war of all eternity was won.  On a silent night in the little town of Bethlehem God won the "War of the Worlds" as He became human to win back what Adam had given up by his sin and what we all lost through our own sin. 

God never quit.  He never gave up.  He cannot fail.  His promises are true.  And His promise to each and every one of us is eternal life if we will turn from ourselves and our ideas of our worth and put our total faith and trust in the Savior, Christ the Lord.  

God won the war in the most unconventional of ways. 

(Taken from Pt. 3 of "War of the Worlds", a three part series preached at Nags Head Church.  The series can be heard via podcast at

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Words Have Meaning

Words are crucial to our communication, aren’t they?  Without words and the ability to use them, whether verbally or via writing or sign language, communication can either come to a complete halt or at the least bring confusion. 

The God who created the universe in all its vastness has chosen to communicate with us through His “Word”.  The word “Word” has two applications in the Scripture.

First, is the written Word, the Bible.  He used 30+ authors to write down in 66 books what He wanted us to know about Him, about life, about eternity, etc.  Because the Bible is God’s inspired word – that means “God breathed” it, it is perfect and without error.  He had the authors write exactly what He wanted to say.

Second is the “Word made flesh” – the description John gives us in John 1 of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came to earth in human form to reveal with even greater intimacy just who God is.

Unlike our human vocabularies, where the meanings of words change frequently (“sick” now means very cool) God’s Word, reveals His character, which is immutable – never changing.

Be careful these days when some, even well-meaning believers want to change God’s words to mean things He did not intend. 

Jesus and the Bible are His Word and He’s sticking to it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sometimes You Need a Sledge Hammer

My senior year of high school I was invited by some other teenagers in my church to attend a weekly Bible study in another northern Virginia town about 15 minutes (in those days) away.  At that time in my life I was more than excited about my relationship with Christ, and the opportunity to learn more was welcome.  It didn’t hurt either that I discovered there were some pretty girls there as well.  Hey, I was 17.

A 30-something couple in our church had opened up their home for the study.  He was a contractor.  I don’t remember where she worked, but they just loved being catalysts for teens opening God’s Word and having their lives changed. 

Each week we’d meet in their living room for a couple of hours, Bibles and heart open.  I’d bring my guitar and we’d sing some of those early Jesus people songs.  The combination of love from the hosts and learning truth from the Scriptures caused the numbers to grow.  The living room was packed. 

Then this couple made a decision that has stuck with me for over 40 years.  Not wanting to stifle the growth of the study by a lack of room they decided to tear out a wall between their living and dining rooms.  It wasn’t long thereafter that sledge hammers were punching holes in the walls, wiring was re-routed, two-by-fours relocated and voila, two rooms became one.  Now the numbers of kids could continue to grow.  More would be invited. More would understand God’s grace. 

Tearing out a wall in your house for kids who aren’t even your own is a pretty radical step.  But it was a step they felt compelled by their love for Christ and us that they knew was the right, even though some might feel extreme thing to do.  But, genuine Christianity has been marked by radical moves, tearing down walls for centuries.  A crisis arises, and rather than say what can’t be done someone steps out of the box and does what others never dream of doing.

In once scene from Jesus’ life something similar was done.  In Mark 2 the story is reported how Jesus was teaching in a house in the Galilean city of Capernaum.  The house was so crowded there was only room outside to hear through the doors and windows. 

In the same town was a paralytic with four friends.  They had heard that the Nazarene had miracle working ability and thought if they could just get their friend to Jesus perhaps He would mercifully heal him.  But there was no room in the house.   But these guys weren’t about to let some brick and mortar stop them. 

Up the back stairs they went, carrying their friend to the roof on a stretcher.  Then they began to strip away the ceiling tiles.  When they had uncovered a large enough opening they lowered their friend by ropes to where Jesus was teaching.  Seeing their faith – faith enough to do whatever it took – Jesus told the paralyzed man to get up, pick up the stretcher and go home healed.  And he did. 

But what if the four friends had seen the crowd and not tried the radical?  The roof could be repaired, but their friend might not get another chance to meet Jesus.

Are you locked into dreaming little?  Sometimes the answer is on the other side of the wall or roof.  You may just have to take some risks and punch a hole to get through.

By the way, the wife in the couple who opened their home so many years ago has recently learned that she has advanced cancer.  The doctors have given her weeks to live.  Should she meet her Savior sooner than later, I wonder if someone up there will introduce her to the four in Capernaum who loved their friend enough to tear a whole in the roof.  If so, I’m sure some high fives will be exchanged.

* My friend slipped into eternity a few days ago, two weeks after I originally wrote this for The Outer Banks Sentinel.

Friday, August 29, 2014

When God’s Way Out Isn’t a Miracle

Rescued and kept secure by the army of the Emperor, his enemies were more than ever committed to his death.  But they could not overtake the well-guarded fortress in which he was confined.  So a plan was conceived to bring him out into the open in a ruse to bring him for a second and calm talk with them.  But on the way to the meeting he (and presumably any escorting soldiers) would be overcome and he would be assassinated.

Some forty conspirators pledged a solemn vow that they would neither eat or drink until Paul was killed.  Letting their elders in on the plot they would have had a better chance of being successful had they kept it to themselves.  But somehow Paul’s sister’s son heard of the conspiracy.  Somehow he was in the right place at the right time. 

Caring for his uncle, he went into the Roman barracks where he was sequestered and let him in on the plan for his murder.  At Paul’s instruction he took what he had heard and knew to the Roman commander, a man named Lysias, who thanked him and instructed him to tell no one.  Then at night, in the cover of darkness Paul was led out of the city, guarded by 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen. 

When in the morning his potential assassins learned he had escaped the night before and was guarded by such a large contingent they must have wondered who spilled the beans.

We know of at least three occasions in the book of Acts where God supernaturally intervened when His Apostles had been in danger and were in jail.  Twice Peter was let out with the assistance of an angel.  And Paul and Silas, in the jail in the Greek city of Philippi were freed by an earthquake at midnight.  But God doesn’t always use miraculous divine and supernatural interventions to assail what seems to be the impossible in the lives of His children.

Here in Acts 23 He used Paul’s nephew.  It was providential, but certainly not miraculous.  God just made sure the nephew was in the right place at the right time to overhear some zealous men talking about how they would take care of Paul. 

But, what if, when the nephew came to Paul and told him about the plot, Paul had said, “Don’t tell anyone.  Let’s just see what miracle God might perform”? 

There are preachers who will tell you that the way out of debt is to send them some “seed money”, and God will miraculously multiply that amount back to you.  And if you need a miracle for your health, let’s say they’ll invite you to put one hand on the TV while they pray for you, while with the other hand you’re reaching for you wallet to send them some cash. 

More likely, the way out is to cut unnecessary expenses, live on a budget and honor God in your giving, as you are able.  The answer to our deepest needs and troubles is always provided by God, it’s just not always something unexplainably supernatural.  Be careful when you hear someone say, “Look for your next miracle”.  The real answer form God might be as simple as cutting up your credit card.

Then God had the pagan Romans provide Paul with safety and security to his next stop on the way to Jerusalem.  Again, no mention is made of guardian angels.  Unlike Philip in Acts 9 being “carried away by the Spirit” from one location to another, Paul rode a horse at night in the cover of darkness escorted and protected by 270 GIs.  Taxpayers provided Paul’s protection.  But that’s how God did it.  He’s God, and He can cover us however He chooses.

Just don’t be upset when the sea doesn’t part.  You might not need a miracle… maybe just an alert nephew.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blessed Assurance [Updated]

My mom called Friday.  Mom’s old school.  No email.  No Facebook.  No texts.  She doesn’t have a computer, but she does have a cell phone.  But even when she calls I think in her mind it’s still “long distance”, so the conversations are brief and to the point.  And for some reason, at this stage of her life, when I look at my ringing phone and see “Mom”, I wonder what bad news might be coming.

The night before my dad’s oldest lifelong friend was taken to the hospital by his wife.  He complained that his head felt like it was about to explode.  I’ve known this man, I guess since infancy.  He and dad were boyhood friends.  They played together, joined the Marines together and it seemed like they competed to see which one could produce the most offspring.  Dad lost.  He only had five.

Eventually they both wound up in Viet Nam, and then came home to finish out their military careers and move on to other ventures.  For many years they somehow lost touch.  But in mid-life they “found” each other again, and what they found made their friendship even better and deeper, for they discovered they were no longer simply best friends, they were brothers.

Let me explain.  They were not physically related.  But in their post-Viet Nam years they had both, unbeknown to one another, committed their lives to Jesus Christ.  And as it often happens, their families followed dad’s example and became Christians as well.  Then, when again they connected and began to talk about their lives they were overjoyed to hear of their own separate but similar faith journeys.

Now Dad’s best buddy is dying.  The doctors give him no hope.  And after all, he’s pushing 80 years old.  There’s not much his body can do to rebound from a massive brain hemorrhage.

I’ve tried to get some updates by checking his Facebook page.  (Yes, he does Facebook and has tried without success to get my dad into the 21st Century.)  Here are some of the most recent comments posted to his page that I’ve found.

“So you are going to sneak out of here and let the rest of us here to deal with all the junk that's going on...”.  (He was very vocal about social and political issues.)

“Love you granddad going to miss you, but I know I will see you again. We are praying for everyone.”

“We are going to miss you.”

One grandson posted a poem he wrote, titled “Poppa’s Love”.

What I didn’t find was silence, as if they were afraid to address the inevitable truth: our dad/grandfather is dying.  I didn't see fear of the unknown.  In fact I read comments that made his death sound more like a transfer to a new duty post than an end. I read peace.

But that’s how Christians respond to death.  We don’t “grieve like the rest, who have no hope” as though all is lost and gone.  That’s because when a man or woman puts their faith and hope in Christ, it is faith and hope for eternal life.  Death is only a change of location, and while we do grieve, it is not a hopeless feeling.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection our hope is that the grave will not hold us either.

I read their comments and so admire them.  And I’m glad I understand what they say and what they feel.  Jesus said, "I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” (Jn. 5:24)

The old Gospel song we sang said, "Blessed assurance!  Jesus is mine.  O, what a foretaste of glory divine.  Heir of salvation.  Purchased of God.  Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.  This is my story, this is my song."  

When the end comes there can be peace if that is your song.  Life without Jesus means death without Him, too.  Choose Jesus.  Choose peace. 

[UPDATE:His oldest son posted this on Facebook this morning, 8/21/14] 
"No words will ever express the debt I owe you. There is no way to fill the void. You are my hero, and I want to be just like you when I grow up; I always have. Enjoy His presence; see you soon. Love you."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are You Ready for the Darkest Valley?

The Apostle Paul was on his way to Jerusalem after wrapping up a long, five-year journey through the Roman province of Asia, Macedonia and Greece.  It was his third missionary venture, and as was his history, it was one of personal risk and threats against his life.  There were those who simply wanted the great Christian evangelist silenced, even if it meant assassination. 

Sharing some final thoughts with the elders of the church in the Asian capitol city of Ephesus – men in whom he had personally invested three years of instruction and mentoring – he opened up as to how he could go on in the face of persecution when most would likely have given up.  His words are almost superhuman.

"And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” – Acts 20:22-24

Life for Paul was wrapped up, not in himself or his own wants, but in serving out the purpose given Him by the Lord.  The possibility of death was not concern for him since, as he wrote to the Philippian church, “To live is Christ and to die is gain”.  It wasn’t that Paul had a death wish.  There was much he wanted to accomplish in life.  But he had this incredible contentment in knowing his life was totally in God’s hands.

On the journey to Jerusalem Paul was twice urged rather passionately by caring friends not to go on to the city.  They had some “inside information”, revealed to them by the Holy Spirit that something horrible awaited him there.  Even his fellow missionary Luke tried to talk him out of the trip, but Paul would have none of it.  His heart was set on getting to Jerusalem.  His response to their attempts to dissuade him was, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Men who hated him and the message he preached were waiting for him there.  He knew that.  Yet he wasn’t afraid and in fact was ready for whatever would happen “for the name of the Lord Jesus”.

Like you, I’m sure, I have been shocked beyond words at the reports of the atrocities happening in Iraq as ISIS, a group filled with hate for anyone who dares believe in a different God than their own seems hell-bent on annihilating entire cultures from existence.  Children are being beheaded.  Young girls are seized, raped and sold off as slaves.  Men are crucified in front of their families.  And all because they claim faith in Jesus Christ.

As I read the reports and see the pictures I am beyond words and cannot find the right emotions as I think of innocent men, women and children suffering such horrors.  What bothers me as well is the thought that it is only by the grace of God that I wasn’t born in Iraq.  Who am I to escape their hell?  Who am I to be so blessed as to be an American?  And more, if I was one of the Christians in the path of the evil swath cut by these Islamic extremists, would I deny my Savior to escape certain death?  Would I, like Paul, be ready when death seemed certain?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I want to say, “Yes!”.  But if it was my child with a rifle pointed to his head; if it was my wife or daughter being dragged away to be raped and worse; if it were my hands and feet about to be nailed to a cross, would I cave or would I die with courage?  Would I be ready?

Please join me in praying for those who will pay the ultimate price in this genocide.  Join me in praying for someone to intercede on their behalf.  My heart breaks for what is happening, and I know yours does as well.  Let’s hope they are ready.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Driving Down the Stake

Today marks an anniversary for me, one that many would argue is the most significant of my life.  And I would not disagree.

Although I can never remember not going to church as a boy, it wasn't until I was ten that the purpose for Christ coming to be a man, live a perfect life, die an unjust death by crucifixion and then rise from the dead "clicked" within me.  I could tell you many Bible stories, and sing you many songs about the love of God.  And I was a pretty good kid.  But not until I was ten did it impact me personally.

I don't remember everything the pastor of the little Baptist church preached.  But I do remember his sermons about the return of Christ, especially Jesus' comparison of that event to the ark and Noah.  One day, Pastor Kirk told us, God would close the door and it would be too late to get in.

I didn't want to be left out.  And while I knew as much about the Bible as a young boy could know, I had never by faith put my eternity in Christ's hands.  When the preacher asked us to raise our hands if we knew we were ready to meet the Lord should He come, I knew I could not and was not.  And that bothered me enough that sometime that week, as best I knew how I believed in Jesus.

At our church the way you drove the stake of a decision like that into the ground was to "come forward" during the final song of the service, take the pastor's hand and tell him why you were brave enough to slip from your seat and in front of everyone "walk the aisle".  So, during the week I worked up the courage - even told my mom what I was going to do - and as soon as the first stanza of whatever song it was began, I responded to the "invitation". 

After spending a few minutes with a kind gentleman in the church back in the choir room, who made sure I understood my need for the Savior, I was brought back into the service and standing beside the pastor, introduced as a new believer in Christ.  That day was July 31, 1966.  Although I am sure it was earlier in the previous week when I believed, that's the day I look back to as when the stake was driven and my eternal destiny confirmed in my heart.

Three weeks later, in a mud-bottomed pond in a cemetery (I think the perfect setting for a death, burial and resurrection) I began the life of a disciple of Christ by obeying His command to be baptized. 

Life for me began anew that summer.  I didn't understand it all then, and certainly don't understand it all now.  But I'm forever grateful that God opened my heart to grasp the Good News that God wanted me in His family, and that it was an easy decision to make. 

If you haven't driven that stake yet, the Bible says that "today" is a great day to do so. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fellowship with my church. Important or impotent?

On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread.  Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight. - Acts 20:7
This is the clearest verse in the New Testament that indicates Sunday was the normal meeting day of the apostolic church.  Although it’s not commanded, it is their example, and one that the church has followed for over 2,000 years.  Because it is not commanded (and Sunday is not the "Sabbath" of the Big Ten), we have liberty today to worship corporately whenever.  

(I'm excited to hear of churches that have multiple worship gatherings on Sundays and because of growth need to find other days as well.)

Because our country was founded by Christians (read their documents), Sunday was go-to-church day for them and our culture originally viewed it as “The Lord’s Day”.  So, it was a standard day off for most everyone.  My generation can remember back not too long ago when most stores were closed on Sundays?  Why was that?  It goes back to our Christian roots as a nation.  At one time virtually everybody went to church in America.  

But going to church for tradition or because it's expected can ring very shallow.  There ought to be more, don't you think?  Something changes in my life when I want to do something and am passionate about it, opposed to having to do something that I just don't see as important.

How important was fellowship to these first century Christians?  Apparently they put everything else aside to eat and fellowship and be taught through the night on Sunday.  And consider that in their pagan culture Sundays were no different from any other days.  So it likely wasn’t a day off, unless they took it off, or were self-employed and set their own schedules.  Many of them were probably slaves and had no choice when they worked.   

So, on the Lord's Day, after a full day of labor, they went home, whipped up something for the pot luck dinner and headed to the place of fellowship and worship.   That made for a long day.  And in this occasion they didn’t just have a normal (whatever that meant to them) Sunday evening service.  The Apostle Paul was in town and would be speaking at their church that night.  Everybody would want to be there!  

Luke graciously let's us know that Paul was long-winded!  He "extended his message until midnight"!  So passionate about gathering together were these believers that even sleep was less important to them than being together as a church. 

I have pastor friends who tell me how upset people in their churches get if the service goes past noon.  They will tap on their watches, or set their alarms for 12:00 to let the preacher know that "his" time is up.  Some, they tell me,  will get up and leave.  For them beating the Methodists to the lunch buffet or Cracker Barrel is priority #1.   

And without exception, those kinds of churches, filled with believers who have more important things to do on the Lord’s Day than worship and fellowship, are weak, sick and powerless. Perhaps if we had more of this passion for the church and fellowship and teaching we might see God revive the churches in America.

Perhaps one day they'll wake up to the fact that without the church we who are Christians are left to deal with a world out to destroy our faith and our families.  That’s why the Bible assumes every Christ-follower will partner with a local church.  That's why apart from the protective umbrella of the church we’re like sheep outside the fold and easy prey for the wolves.  Hanging with the church is a powerful detriment to wandering, starving and disappearing back into a world from which we were salvaged.

Jesus didn't create the church out of boredom.  The church is so important to Him that we're told in Ephesians 5 that He died for "her".  She's His bride.  When we who profess Him as our Lord lose our passion for being with this amazing family there should be warning lights flashing that our hearts are in danger of finding other loves.  


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I'm Not As Dumb As I Look

In some ways pastors are like cops.  You know, (maybe you really know) how when a cop pulls someone over for an infraction and some sort of excuse is given that is so contrived and contradictory, that the cop thinks, "This guy really believes I'm dumber than dirt".

Often I'll run into a, shall I say, "lapsed" church member...someone who hasn't darkened the door of my church for let's say at least a year.  I hear all kinds of excuses...

"I've been really busy".  Oh.  And the rest of us get eight days in our week and just sit around with nothing to do.

"I've found a church that better suits my family's schedule."  So you're telling me they don't meet on Sunday mornings?

"I'm more suited to such and such church because their music is quieter."  So, when you joined our church, with its loud music, were you being dishonest with your sincere desire to partner with us?

Stuff like that. 

But check out what I heard this morning..."I've been going to church with my boyfriend to such and such church at 11:00."  Then a sentence or two later, "I really want to go to 'my church' (which happens to be the church I pastor where she hasn't been seen for several years), but I have to work every Sunday." 

So, which is it?  You're going to church with your boyfriend on Sundays or you're working on Sundays?  Seems to me it can't be both. 

Get real.  I might look it, but I'm not that dumb. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

If You Liked the Movie, Read the Book!

Like much of culture Hollywood understands fads…especially if there’s money to be made from them.

Classics like “The Ten Commandments”, “The Robe”, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Ben Hur” had their more that fair share of success.  Disney even got into the Bible story genre with its animated “Prince of Egypt”, telling the life of Moses. 

Ten years ago (has it been that long) Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” surprised the Hollywood establishment.  Who thought a very graphic movie about the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life spoken in Aramaic with subtitles would gross over 600 million dollars worldwide?  The film industry saw then that, indeed, film-goers, especially those in America would turn out in droves to see movies based on Bible characters, even if they were highly religious in content.

Now another adaptation of the life of Jesus, “Son of God”, is on the big screen.   Actually it is an edited reprise of last year’s television mini-series “The Bible”, extracting the best scenes from that portrayal’s life of Jesus and marketing it to the cinema.  If early indications hold true it will be successful as well.  Its first weekend showed a take of 26.5 million dollars.  And really, it’s a rerun.  Not quite the 83.8 million Gibson’s film earned, but good enough to come in at #2 nationwide.

Some more fundamentalist critics have picked apart what they see as diversions from the scriptural accounts and for that reason have discouraged attendance.  While the producers have claimed their own Christian faith, they are not theologians and like all other Hollywood productions have used “artistic license” in telling the story.  But most evangelical and Catholic voices find it a worthy film.

I’ve not yet seen it.  Not sure that I will, only because I choke at the price of admission to a movie these days.  But I may, and if I do I may invite some friends – maybe those who either aren’t believers or who find Jesus interesting, yet aren’t “into” the church thing.  Anything that can spur conversations about Jesus can’t be a bad thing.

Let me encourage you to do a couple of things as we draw closer to the Passion Week.

First, for those who celebrate Lent, go see the movie (unless you gave up movie-going).  I don’t personally get into the season of Lent – it’s not part of my tradition -  but talking with many who do I hear more about them and what they’re giving up than I do about Christ and what He gave up.  That’s just my impression.  So go see the movie and let its images be imprints on your minds as you journey to the cross and the resurrection this season.  Make it different than before.

And for all of us I would encourage you to use the movie as an appetizer to the real meal.  Over the next 40 days why not prepare your hearts for the horror that was Jesus’ crucifixion and the exultation that is Easter by reading the Gospels.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell The Story from their four different, but divinely inspired viewpoints.  It is such a compelling story, and told without “artistic license”.  Get into the Word.  By it comes faith.  And we could all use more of that.

And if you don’t own a copy of the Bible I’ll give you one.  Just stop by and see me.  It’s worth the read.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Sometimes as a pastor you wonder if the message really gets through.  And then there are days when you are reminded that you are part of an amazing group of people who no only get it, but truly live to serve.

At Nags Head Church we have purposefully built our ministries around and on the shoulders of our volunteers.  At many churches, especially those like ours that are nowhere near mega-status, nor can be, congregants are content to let the ministries of the church be run by the pastor, or if he's fortunate enough, the pastor and staff.  That mindset totally misses the dynamic of the church that the Apostle Paul shared with the Ephesian church.  It's our belief that in a healthy church every part(ner) does his/her part.

That implies that every one who belongs to the local church has a part to play.  Gifts, passion, skills, and life experiences all come into play, making each partner in the church different and with the potential to offer something significant when Christ has His place of lordship in their lives.  And it doesn't have to be the "mature" who contribute.  More often than not it is the "newbies" - those young in their faith whose enthusiasm sparks a fire under the rest of us.

All this week our church is providing shelter and meals to a group of homeless residents in our community.  We do this twice a year during the winter months, part of a cooperative effort among other churches here.  This ministry in our church is put together, organized and led totally by volunteers.  Our small groups take on the bulk of the meals and providing chaperones who spend the nights.

Today and tonight we're in the middle of a snow storm, with winds gusting at 40 MPH and temps dipping into the low 20's.  The roads are getting iced over, making driving icy and dicey.  Yet, a team of volunteers came in late this afternoon ready to serve a meal they had prepared to seven men and two women who have nowhere else to go.  None of our volunteers complained about the weather, or let it dampen their spirits at all.  They served with gladness.

One even went back out into the storm to pick up a food item for one of our guests.  He didn't have to do that.  In fact, no one said, "Hey, would someone go out and pick up some tuna fish?".  He just got up and and went for it.

But that's the way these folks at our church serve, not just in an outreach like this, but in all the varied ministries that are the nuts and bolts of the church.  I was there tonight, more as an observer than anything else.  Also because I knew there would be a great meal!  But I found myself thankful for these ministers - these partners in the faith using their gifts, passions and skills to invest the life of Christ they have received into those who may or may not yet know Him.

Tomorrow the roads will be worse.  But more who have committed to serving will do their best to come and do their part.  Perhaps others, who have four wheel drive vehicles and have said they will step up and provide transportation if needed will do just that.  But together, with hearts that seek after Christ, the job will be done to the glory of God.  They see i as just doing their part.

This is one of those latter times as a pastor.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life as the Imago Dei

In all of the life on planet Earth, including plant life, animal life and humanity only one species carries within each member the greatest distinctive of them all.  It can’t be seen by a microscope or through DNA testing.  It’s not the result of some evolutionary mutation or genetic drift.  Science can’t repeat it in a laboratory.  In fact, many scientists would argue it does not exist.

The foundational story of God’s creative work on earth tells us that when He made the first human He did so by crafting them in a fashion totally different than any other living creature.  So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” (Genesis 1:27)

So much could be drawn from that one sentence.  But because today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade I’ll just focus on who we are: created in God’s image. 

How is it then that animals and plants, not bearing the image of their Creator rank higher on the preservation list than those who do?  How is it that in the minds of some piping plovers and sea turtles must be protected at all costs, yet ending the life of unborn humans – the only of God’s creation for which Christ died – should be no one’s business but that of a woman and her doctor?  How is it?

The answer must be that somewhere we lost the sacredness of whom we are: bearers of the image of God.  I don’t know when that brick in our cultural foundation was lost, but on January 22, 1973 it was chiseled out by those who should be protecting the rights of the most helpless rather than labeling them persona non grata. 

As a result some fifty million Americans never got a chance to allow God’s image imprinted within them from the moment dad’s sperm hooked up with mom’s egg.  Forty- one years of canceled life.  That would equal two generations.  Could within them have been the mind that would have found the cure for cancer or AIDS?  I guess we’ll never know.

Lest you think I have taken on a political tone today, I assure you for me it is not about politics.  It is about our moral and spiritual compass losing its frame of reference – its true north.  The image of God was buried under the pretense of reproductive rights and convenience while we closed our minds to the rights of the unborn.

Until this greatest American injustice is reversed there is something we can do to mitigate the continued loss of lives.  We can teach our children to be sexually responsible.  We can instill within them values that include life being sacred.  We can adopt those born to parents unable or unwilling to provide home and family.  And we can pray.

Just a little over six years ago I stood in the NICU at Duke, wearing a sterile hospital gown, a sterile mask and sterile latex gloves looking in fear, awe and wonder at a tiny micro-preemie born at 1 lb. 6 oz.  I had never seen anyone like that before, and it cemented in my heart and mind what had already been formed in my conscience and ethics.  Life is precious.  This was a living, breathing person who bore the image of God.

She’s now in kindergarten.  No one gives hugs like hers.  Maybe she’ll grow to come up with the cure.  Maybe not.  But she was given the chance to live, which is what all of us old, young and unborn deserve.  Let the image of God come through.