Monday, July 06, 2015

Lying Lips & Potbellies

My son made a joke about my “potbelly” the other day. I kindly corrected him, pointing out that my belly is less of a pot. . . and more of a pan!  Regardless, I already knew I was a few pounds over my ideal weight.

I’ve been using an app on my phone to track my meals and exercise. It’s great to see how a brisk walk can add up to calories burned. On the other hand it’s painful to see how a few Reese’s cups can add up to calories earned.

One day, I was one dessert away from messing up my goal for the day. It occurred to me, “My app doesn't have to know about this dessert. I just won’t enter it!”  You already recognize my folly. Who would I be hurting? Who would I really be lying to? I’d only be lying to myself.

The book of Proverbs has much to say about lying. Three of my favorites are:

Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.Proverbs 13:5 A righteous man hates lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and comes to shame.Proverbs 17:7 Excellent speech becomes not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.

Each of these verses bears the truth that when we lie, we not only hurt our Creator. We hurt ourselves. We drive a wedge between us and God (12:22), sow self-hate and shame (13:5), or undermine our authority and reputation (17:7).

We all have blind spots where we lie to ourselves-- simple things like diet, exercise or deeper issues: a situation at work, a relationship, an attitude. We’re convinced that no one will notice or care. The “Spirit of Truth” cares (John 16:13).  The harder question might be, “Do we care?”

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Giving Good

The last few weeks have been fertile ground for the Lord’s guidance in my life.  A few of our members and I recently took part in the Florence Flourish gathering, where we learned about the needs facing Florence County.  We’ve studied Financial $tress on Sunday mornings, learning how money is a tool for the Kingdom instead a treasure for us to hide away.  In our Sunday schools and on Wednesdays, the theme of reliance on God’s hand has been central.
This was all on my mind when I read this verse:Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27).  I have to keep check on myself whenever that old selfish streak creeps in. I ask, “Are you withholding good?”
The centerpiece to this is “What can we do to help?” We feel overwhelmed, wondering what one person can do to make a difference.  While there is much to learn, there is basic guidance in that simple verse from Proverbs 3:27.

We can break it down three ways:
  1. Do you have good available? You have Time, Money, Influence, or Resources.
  2. Is this good “due” to this person at this time? Are they needy, or just irresponsible?
  3. Are you able to use this good right now? Give sacrificially, but not recklessly.

For me, I consider this verse from the perspective of “whole life.”  I cannot give my time or money to every person or organization that needs help.  I can, however, give my time and money based on where God has place me. Everyone is different, so here’s how it looks for a guy like me:
  1. I’m a musician, so I give money to music ministries I believe in.
  2. I’m a parent, so I give time to places that benefit the health of my child and his friends.
  3. I live in the City of Florence, so I give to groups that help the community.
  4. I’m a part of Effingham Presbyterian, so I give my tithe to the Church. In turn the Church supports other ministries: local, national, and worldwide.

People always ask about specifics, so here they are a nutshell. Our family gives 10% of our paycheck (before taxes) back to the church. If I sell something online, I give 10% to a local ministry in Florence. All proceeds from my Psalms of Lament album go to a local ministry. If I can give my time as “Pastor” without undermining church responsibilities, then I do.  If I can give time as “Dad” without burdening the family, then I do.
My wife has different areas of influence and interest, so her list looks different: Athletics, Education, etc.  There are  seasons where our family is overburdened and we have to say “No” to giving time or non-tithe giving.  But there it is-- nothing too complicated, nothing to boast about, just living life where God has put us; using what God has given us.  Regardless of your income or influence, we can all do the same.  Then, one person really can make a difference.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Colorless Conversations

As we sat around the table, we each talked between bites of sandwiches and sips of water.  Some took notes, others sat and listened. There were pastors (both active and retired), business leaders (both male and female), and laypersons helping out where they had a passion. The nine of us sat in an unplanned but symbolic fashion: black, white, black, white, black, white.  Weeks after Ferguson and days after Baltimore we broke bread together in downtown Florence.

We talked about ideas to build racial harmony in Florence County.  Maybe churches could get together for a joint service? Maybe we could have a community seminar? One leader suggested that since we’re all descendants of Adam and Eve, we should begin greeting fellow members of the community with a hearty, “Hey Cousin!”

We also talked about a simple change we can make right away: “Colorless Conversations.”  When we tell our stories color might logically play a role.  But there are many times when color simply doesn’t matter.  Why not work to make those conversations colorless? Instead of beginning a story with “This black guy said...” or “A white lady did…” just take color out of the conversation.

Scripture speaks of how God has appointed many cultures and nations (Acts 17:26).  The Lord sees the rich, the poor, the powerful, and the oppressed (Proverbs 22:22, 29:13). Perhaps the most significant example of God’s attitude toward His colorful creation comes in Galatians 3:28.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

With Christ as our Redeemer, we go well beyond just being cousins. We’re brothers and sisters looking forward to a wonderful family reunion someday!

Your Cousin (& Brother),
Pastor Brian

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Decline of "Cultural" Christianity

Ed Stetzer provides some good insight on the recent Pew study about declining Christianity in America: 
For example, the cultural cost of calling yourself “Christian” is starting to outweigh the cultural benefit, so those who do not identify as a “Christian” according to their convictions are starting to identify as “nones” because it’s more culturally savvy.
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Monday, May 04, 2015

Sidewalk Evangelism

It’s difficult to share the Gospel with a dude zipping by on a skateboard. It’s hard to speak the Truth to the woman with the headphones who won’t look up at you. But it’s perfectly natural to tell the story of Jesus when the young athlete, the theater major, or the fashionista stops for a brief moment after you say, “Good morning, do you have a second for me to tell you some Good News?”

Jacob K. of invited me to UNC Pembroke to participate in one of his outreach events. The campus provides a designated free-speech zone and college students have thoughtful questions and are eager for answers. We met up with four others who specialize in this sort of thing. They’re evangelists from all over and they take part in open-air preaching; handing out small cards with Scripture passages or phrases printed on them.

I found it to be very uncomfortable but also very fulfilling. There is a certain safety to Sunday Morning for this here “preacher.”  For me to be out on a sidewalk handing out cards was a big stretch. I recalled the legalists who shouted down on me at a rock-concert a few years ago or
the street preacher I heard once who condemned everyone he saw without any mention of Grace or Forgiveness. Was I now one of those guys?

Each conversation began with a variation of “I’m here today sharing Jesus’ Good News and asking people: ‘If you had to stand before God right now, what would He see when He looked at you?’”

One student said, “He’d tell me to study harder.” Most said something like “Well, hopefully He’d see me as a good person.” With that we’d have a short conversation, learning to see that in Christ there’s no need for “hopefully.”  In Christ it’s a “definitely” or a “certainly!” I’d mention 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I pointed out that He is the one doing the forgiving and cleansing-- not our own goodness or works.

We’ve all shared the Gospel with friends over the years. Speaking to strangers is a very different experience. Social conventions are stripped away and it’s as if you have permission to be immediately upfront and honest. You’re expected to get right to the point. Responses vary. A few came back to talk more. A few said “I never thought of it that way.” Some asked pointed questions but no one was angry or antagonistic.

No one got down on their knees or prayed a sinner’s prayer. No one asked for directions to our church! But everyone we spoke to heard the Truth of Jesus presented in a clear, understandable, and loving way. Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Some days we’re like a Paul, other days we’re like Apollos. But every day God is God!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dementia, Philippians 4:7 and how God will "Guard your mind in Christ Jesus"

Have you ever read the wrong Bible verse at the right time? You go to look up a particular passage and end up on the wrong page or the wrong verse, and yet it speaks to that very moment in such a way that you thank the Lord or taking you there.

I was visiting with a friend recently, someone who has been progressing through symptoms of dementia for some time now. It was the first time my friend didn't recognize me.  You've probably experienced something similar. Studies show over half of those 85 and older will experience some form of dementia.

I opened my Bible to share a comforting verse, and it was marked from another day.  It opened to Paul's letter to the Philippians, a chapter that has absolutely nothing to do with dementia, aging, or memory loss. It was the wrong verse (but the right time):

"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7

That really got to me. The wrong verse at the right time. I've read that verse a million times and never once considered its truth applying to the "long goodbye" we experience through dementia.

We think of those we love, living with some form of dementia, wondering what God is doing in their lives (or ours).  Romans 8:26 tells us that The Spirit intercedes for us when words fail us. Philippians 4:7 tells us that God can guard our hearts and minds when memories fail us.

As long as you are here on earth, God is working. He's working on you, through you, in you. There is no wasted life or wasted memory, and His ways will often "surpass all understanding."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Yesterday's sermon on Daniel 6 can be found here: I'll paraphrase my favorite quote: Obedience in God got Daniel in the pit; faith in God got him out (Paul Redditt).