Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wherever He Leads...

     One of the old favorite hymns that can be found in most church Hymnals is Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go. It is used as an invitational hymn in many services. The chorus of the hymn is:
Wherever He leads, I’ll go,
Wherever He leads, I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so,
Wherever He leads I’ll go.

     This wonderful hymn is meant to convey the sentiment of the believer’s heart, that wherever Christ sends us, we are willing to go. For followers of Christ, there is no distance too far or no sacrifice too great to make for their Savior. This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Even when we don’t completely understand, we trust. So, if all of this is true – if we trust Him and are
willing to go, then why are we still here?

     The Southern Baptist Convention, through the North American and International mission boards support around 10,500 missionaries. Approximately half of those are serving in the United States and Canada, with half of those serving in the southeast United States – the Bible Belt. That means that the area with the greatest concentration of churches also has the greatest concentration of missionaries. If we are willing to go wherever He leads – He isn’t leading us very far. He also isn’t leading us to say very much either. Despite all of our lofty ideals about the Great Commission, making disciples is not really our priority.

     Baptists have a proud history of missionary service. In 1793 William Carey left his home and all that was familiar for India where he would invest his life. In a day when there was no real interest in mission work, Carey dared to follow God’s call. He would labor for seven discouraging years before seeing the first Indian accept Christ. By the time of his death in 1834 he would see hundreds of professions of faith, the Bible translated into several Indian dialects and the end of Suttee (the ritual of burning widows alive on their husband’s funeral pyre).

     Every year Southern Baptists honor the memory of Charlotte Diggs “Lottie” Moon, who gave her life in missionary service to China. At the age of 32 she left her job, a life of privilege and turned down a marriage proposal to set sail for the Tengchow province. Though only standing 4’3” tall she was passionate and unrelenting in her advancement of the Gospel. Lottie once wrote, "How many million more souls are to pass into eternity without having heard the name of Jesus?"

     Even with the commitment of these admirable missionaries and thousands of others who have followed in their footsteps, billions of people still live in unevangelized lands. They will live their entire lives without ever hearing the name of Jesus. Every day tens of thousands of them will die and face eternity without the Savior. They will pay the price for their sins without ever knowing the One who gave His life on their behalf.

     Jesus said that only those who were willing to “pick up their cross” could follow Him. Where He leads requires commitment, it requires sacrifice. Both William Carey and “Lottie” Moon knew what it meant to sing “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.” I often wonder, do we?

     As believers each of us must seek His purpose and be willing to say “Lord, I’ll go wherever…, I’ll do whatever.” It is a scary proposition to think that He might lead us somewhere unexpected or maybe even inconvenient. He might take us out of our comfort zone. But remember, if He is not Lord of our location then He is not really Lord of our lives. Sincerely ask God today, “Where do you want me to go?” “What do you want me to do?” Be open for His answer. Be willing to listen to Him and be willing to go “Wherever He leads.”

In His Service,

Monday, June 22, 2015

Shining Light in the Darkness

     Last Thursday the nation awoke to the news that nine people had been murdered at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  A lone gunman joined a group of worshipers who had gathered for Wednesday night Bible study, and after spending about an hour with the group pulled out a hand gun and began firing.  Fourteen hours later he was in police custody and details about this disturbed, deluded young man began to surface.  This young man, corrupted by a white supremacist ideology chose to kill those he believed to be less worthy of life than himself.

     These events have become far too common.  Two and half years ago the country was shaken when over twenty students and teachers were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.  In 2007 a Virginia Tech student killed thirty-two people before taking his own life.  Sadly, these spree killings have become far too common in our country – particularly in our schools.  While the details and motives change, the result is always the same.  Lives lost, families destroyed and communities shattered.

     In an attempt to make sense of it all politicians and media focus their attention on ancillary issues like gun control, mental health and in this case, the Confederate Battle Flag.  The problem is today as it was in December 2012, as it was in April 2007, as it has been since the fall of man – sin.  No matter how many laws we enact, no matter how many regulations we create we cannot change one simple fact.  We are, by our nature, sinners and we are powerless to change it.

     All of this is not to say that there is no hope, it’s just that it’s not within us.  When there was no way, God made a way and that way is Christ.  It is in surrendering to His lordship and receiving the gift that only He can bring.  That was never more apparent than Friday after the shootings in a Charleston courtroom.  At the gunman’s arraignment, the families of the victims did something that no one expected.  When given the opportunity to speak to the man who had taken the lives of the ones they loved they forgave him. 

     Nadine Collier, whose mother was one of the victims said “I just wanted everybody to know, I forgive you…you took something very precious away from me…but I forgive you…”  Anthony Thompson, the grandson of Myra Thompson told him, “…we would like you to take this opportunity to repent … confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that He can change it – can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you will be OK. Do that and you will be better.”

     In their darkest hour, they chose the Light.  They allowed the love of Christ to push back the darkness and they met hatred with love.  In a moment, they did more to honor God and exalt the name of Christ than I or any other pastor could do in a thousand sermons.  They showed the world a supernatural ability to forgive someone who had taken what was most precious to them.  They forgave him, not after years or months but hours.  They showed him the grace and mercy that he had denied the ones they loved.  In doing so they showed the world Jesus.

     “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:44–45.

In His Service,

Friday, May 1, 2015

To the Class of 2015

     If you are like most people, high school was a mixed bag. Some days were good, some days were bad. You have memories that you will cherish and some that you will want to forget. You had teachers that inspired you and others that made you … well, let’s just say that they weren’t quite as inspiring. Whether you loved high school or couldn’t wait to get out, one thing is true – after you graduate, it is over. It’s in the past; you can’t go back and change it. 

     It is not uncommon for high school students to be told by their elders, “enjoy your time in school, these will be the best days of your life.” Let me tell you now…it’s not true. Follow that line of thinking and you are well on the way to becoming Uncle Rico; selling Nupont fiber woven bowls and buying time machines on-line. I can’t think of anything more depressing than to think that your best days are behind you before the age of twenty.

     As you celebrate this memorable time in your life know this, your best days are not behind you – they are still before you. There will be joy and sorrow, laughter and tears but never allow yourself to believe that tomorrow cannot be better. I graduated over thirty years ago and although I enjoyed high school, I would never want to go back. Life is not longing for yesterday, it is living today and pursuing tomorrow. As the apostle Paul wrote, “…one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14) 

     As you are already well aware, life cannot be summed up in a few simple rules. That being said, I would like to share with you a few things that might help you as you begin the next chapter in this book that is your life. I’ll try to be brief.

     First – intentionally pursue your relationship with Jesus. Make Him your first priority. Life after high school is definitely less structured, you have more freedom to schedule your time as you desire. Of course, the problem is life moves a lot faster and you have a lot more to do. It is easy to let things fall by the wayside. Don’t let Jesus be one of those things. Purposefully set time aside for Him. Jealously guard that time and resist the temptation to let other priorities infringe on your time with Christ. Allow Him to guide you steps, influence you decisions and direct your life. It won’t be easy, but it will be right.

     Second – don’t just follow your heart. I’m not sure where we came up with the idea that this was ever a good idea. I’m sure you know some classmates who have really bad decisions because they were following their heart. According to Scripture, “The heart is more deceitful than all else, And is desperately sick…” (Jer 17:9) I’m not saying don’t pursue your passions, just don’t make life altering decisions based on the whims of your heart. That is a recipe for disaster. If you are intentional about your relationship with Jesus, He will prove to be a much better guide for you than your heart.

    Third – don’t take yourself too seriously. The fate of the world doesn’t rest on your shoulders. You are going to make mistakes and it will be okay (unless you are holding nuclear launch codes). You need to be able to laugh at yourself and give others permission to laugh with you. Laughter is one of God’s great gifts, use it as much as you can. There will be plenty of opportunities to cry, don’t miss your chances to laugh and do it loudly. If that causes other people to think that you are a little strange – that’s good, you don’t need to stress about their opinions anyway.

     Welcome, to the next chapter in your life. Remember, God doesn’t make mistakes. You are here for a reason. Your existence has purpose – His purpose. The LORD will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden; and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11).

In His Service,

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Life Gets in the Way

     Recently, I was in a conversation with a pastor friend about our general lack of commitment of the things of God. Sure, we start out with the best of intentions but somewhere along the way our enthusiasm fades and our good intentions, like so many unfinished projects, amount to nothing. He said, “It’s like evangelism conferences. When you come back from an evangelism conference you are full of energy and great ideas and are ready to save the world, but before long, life gets in the way and nothing ever comes of it.” Sadly, I knew exactly what he was talking about when he said “life gets in the way.” It happens to me all the time.

     This week I was talking with someone about Sunday School material and wondering if new material would help motivate people to spend more time in God’s Word during the week. She confessed that she didn’t spend as much time in God’s Word during the week as she should and she felt guilty about it. “I really intend to spend time with my Bible, but things happen during the week and life gets in the way.” There it is again – life; and it always seems to be getting in the way.

     This presents us with a real dilemma. Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth and the life.” Does this mean that the life is preventing us from following the way? Is the Messiah blocking the narrow path that leads to righteousness? Absolutely not! What then do we mean when we say “life gets in the way?”

     The problem is in our differing definitions of life. When Jesus says that He is the life, He is referring to the fact that we can only have eternal life through Him. He is drawing attention to the reality that He is the source of life. Without Him, there is no life. He is the life in the truest definition of the word. That is, however not how we most often use the word. When we talk about life in this context we’re not talking about life in the universal sense, we’re usually talking about our life. We are talking about the activities, tasks, decisions and priorities that occupy our time and thoughts. Life, for many of us is filled with those activities and obligations we feel are necessary to achieve some desired effect. That effect may be self centered or focused on service to another. Either way, the activities that fill our days and therefore our lives are activities we choose.

     Rather than blaming life for getting in the way, let’s be honest. The choices we make each day are what really prevent us from having a deeper, stronger relationship with Christ. Our priorities are what prevent us from spending time alone with Him, immersed in His word. That same pastor friend also once told me that it was his experience that “people do exactly what they want to do.” The problem is that we want too much and often our wants are contradictory. In such cases the stronger want wins. We want to gather with other believers to worship Christ, but we also want to stay in bed on Sunday morning. We want to tell others about Christ, but we also want to avoid potential embarrassment. We want to serve God whole heartedly, but we also want that raise and promotion at work. 

Of course, as long as we can blame life for getting in the way we can still think of ourselves as victims who are at the mercy of the unseen forces pulling us away from God. If the real problem is our choices then we become coconspirators in our own spiritual apathy. Remember, in the end it isn’t life that gets in the way – it’s just us.

In His Service,