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The False Hope of Politics

God is sovereign. God is sovereign. God is sovereign. These words are my constant comfort! There’s nothing that can comfort a human being like understanding the fact that God is utterly in control. It doesn’t matter if the circumstances are positive or negative; through it all there’s a deep-seated peace generated in the Christian’s soul by the truth that God is wholly in control. There’s a supernatural rest spawned by that marvelous fact! Charles Spurgeon put it this way, “When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.” I love that!

That brings me to this thought… Politics. In my lifetime I’ve never seen a period where so many’s hope rest in human leaders and their political platforms more than now. I know this by the way they respond to people with opposing beliefs; how they sink to name calling to those who hold to differing opinions; how their social media is consumed with their favorite political leader, and how depression sets in when their man/woman loses an election. This scenario happens on a massive scale every election period, but politics merely sheds light on a problem that is profoundly perpetual, even in everyday life. A dead soul is at home in darkness, and a world who’s hope is in temporal things is as dark as can be. This saddens me.

My hope is not in politicians. They are fallible…Jesus is not.  My hope is built on nothing less   than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Jesus did what fallible man could not do; He kept his Father’s standard of perfection (Matthew 5:48), Jesus was/is sinless (Hebrews 4:15), Jesus fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17), Jesus defeated death (Luke 24:6-7). When our faith is in Christ alone, He makes us alive spiritually. When we are made alive in Christ, we have a “living hope” (1 peter 1:3). No longer do we look to weak and frail humans for hope, but in and through Jesus we rest in an Eternal, Mighty, Splendid, Glorious, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Holy, Perfect, Sovereign God. This is a supernatural rest, regardless of who is in the White House, or the circumstances that surround us; whether we are suffering or experiencing prosperity. Therefore, this is why the following verses (and many more) are so precious to those alive in Christ:

Psalm 115:3 – Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Isaiah 40:23 – who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

2 Chronicles 20:6 – and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.

Job 42:2 – “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

And the list goes on…

If the one for which I cast my vote does not win the presidency, I will still rest, I will still have peace, and joy…

Myrtle Beach Sunrise

I will lie down on the pillow of God’s sovereignty and rest. And… God will be glorified. Soli Deo Gloria

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Remembering my Mentors…

(I wrote this blog several years ago and decided to update it a bit)

Some time ago I did a series of blogs about men who had been/are my mentors.  These men were mentors in the area of Christianity, theology, and pastoral ministry, and were extremely influential in my life in many ways.  There are others who have been greatly influential in my life as well and I’ve been pondering their influence lately.  My parents, of course are at the top of the list; that goes without saying; but there are others outside of the ministry circles that I travel in that have made a major impression on me.  One of these is a man named Jack Stamp.  I think it will help you understand my relationship with this man and his impact on me if I share some background about myself first.

To say I was shy would be a huge understatement.  Looking back, I’m amazed at how shy I actually was, and the things I would do to avoid being around people.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved people, but the overwhelming shyness caused me to avoid people. I would get tongue tied, nervous, and even stutter to a degree when I was forced to face anyone other than my family.  In elementary school I would find myself eating alone in the cafeteria so I wouldn’t have to talk to people. I would avoid looking people in the eye if I saw them in the hallway, simply so there would be no ensuing conversation. Many misread my lack of social interaction as being “snobby”, but it was simply the monster of shyness that constantly haunted me.

There are additional ingredients to the story that are important… I was raised differently than most of my fellow students. Most days after school I was difficult to find because I’d come home, saddle one of our horses, and ride for the rest of the day. If I wasn’t in the riding mood I would, with my best friend Randy Jacobson, grab a cast net, rubber boots, and spend the evening in the waterway at Myrtle Grove, or even paddle to Masonboro Island and surf fish until dark forced us home. My point is this, homework was not even on my radar! I simply was not interested in school…not even in the least.  I went to school because I was forced to go to school.  School had never been a big deal in my family, with neither my Mom nor Dad graduating from High School, although both were very smart. I really knew very little about education; it was a different, even foreign world to me. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything! I experienced things that most never will; nevertheless, I was equally ignorant of others.

I had developed a love for music at a young age. As a little boy I would stand in front of our old stereo console and act as if I were directing the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky; it was a sight to behold. I clearly remember, as a student at Bradley Creek Elementary, during a music introduction/appreciation assembly, a man playing a Trombone and Trumpet in the school auditorium…I was hooked! From that day on I wanted to play music of some form and genre. My family was not wealthy, to say the least, nor were we able to purchase top of the line musical instruments, but my Dad somehow managed to buy me a Bundy Cornet in the fifth grade while I was attending Tileston School.  I played that cornet throughout my entire scholastic band experience! It held up pretty well but towards my junior year age and use started to get the best of it.  A couple of the tuning slides were stuck, the valves were starting to stick as well, the lacquer had worn off in several places and the case had a large hole in it from getting placed too near to a campfire (another story for another time); not to mention it was a cornet! How could anyone be cool playing a cornet, not a trumpet, in High School?!? I would often watch as other students brought new, fanciful trumpets to school, especially the Bach Strads!  I dreamed of playing one; they were so awesome; even the cases were cool! Regardless, I had an instrument to play and I was super grateful for it and to simply to be playing music.

Setting the tone a bit more… Jack Pindell was the longtime Director of Bands at Hoggard High School…he was legendary. I had heard about him my entire school band career and had always looked forward to one day being in his band. This was especially true after I took “Summer Band” with Jack Pindell as director while I was still in Junior High School. As silly as it may sound, it was fairy-tale material! At least it was to me. That Summer Band experience only whet my appetite for the “real band” that was awaiting me at Hoggard High School. I was in another wonderful director’s band, Bob Hood at the time at Lake Forest Junior High School. He had prepared me well and built great expectation and anticipation in me of how incredible my High School band experience would be with Jack Pindell; I could hardly wait. But then, while I was at a music clinic at East Carolina University I got the gloomy news… news that no Pindell fan ever wanted to hear… “Jack Pindell is retiring!” My response to this news was akin to panic, “But I was finally in line to have him as a director and he’s retiring?!? This can’t be!!!” But it was true. My next thought was, “Who on earth could fill his shoes?”

Here’s the picture, a shy, discouraged, scholastically disengaged kid; now even more let down because I would never sit under the baton of Jack Pindell. I began to wonder if I should give the new guy a chance or if I should simply drop band and music altogether… I ultimately decided to continue.

I left Junior High School as a rotten student in everything but band!  I hated school and had no intention of ever going to college. College was for other people, as a matter of fact the whole college idea was an enigma to me, and I actually knew nothing about it. But what I did know is that it was an extension of school and I wanted nothing to do with it…but I LOVED band! I was actually pretty good at this band thing and Bob Hood recommended me for the Symphonic Band at Hoggard, which was a big deal! Most sophomores entered the band program at Hoggard through the Concert Band, so I felt blessed and a bit privileged.  There was also Marching Band, which was my first taste of band in this storied program. So, there I was, brand new at Hoggard, nervous, still extremely shy even as an official High School student, trying my best to sort through the things new High School students have to sort through, and wondering what would happen from here… enter Jack Stamp.

When I first met this man, he was barely even a man. To the best of my recollection he was only about ten years older than I was, at best; although the mustache he grew seemed to make him look more mature and even gave him a degree of authority. Despite his relatively young age, he always seemed older than he actually was. Looking back, I understand it was his wisdom that gave him a seasoned countenance. He knew he had to emanate maturity, not only with his students but with the entire faculty and beyond. That attribute served him well during his tenure there.

As strange as it may sound, I remember his walk; he had a distinctive walk; as a fellow student described it, “he would shuffle as he walked”. To me his walk sounded like a seasoned drummer in a small Jazz combo using brushes on a snare drum while keeping time to “Begin the Beguine”. I actually think he was a walking metronome, or maybe it was just the percussionist in him. Regardless, his timing was impeccable, in many ways.

“Mr. Stamp”, as we called him, had a gift of pulling the best out of you. At times it was done in what could be called unorthodox ways, nevertheless it worked. Case in point, I was Third Chair, last seat trumpet in the Symphonic band my sophomore year and we were practicing a piece that had an important third trumpet part. The two guys that were in the chairs ahead of me were goofing around a lot that day and could never play the part correctly. He finally got very perturbed by their constant shenanigans and tomfoolery and sent them packing for the remainder of the practice. At that point I was the only third chair trumpet, but using my gift of blending into the woodwork it was as if there were no third trumpets at all when the other two walked out the door. We resumed practice and when we got to that significant third trumpet part I played it; rather well actually! Suddenly he stops the band, looks at me with a “what was that?” look on his face, and throws his baton towards me!! Obviously, I in return looked at him with a “what was that?” look on my face also! He then says something like, “Why haven’t you been doing that???”, basically saying, “you’ve been sitting there, not playing to your ability and not being the best you can be”, and he would have no part of that. It was a defining moment for me. As silly as that may sound to some, that one incident (which he says he doesn’t even remember) changed me.  Through that one act I was given confidence that was long overdue and greatly needed. That is what Jack Stamp did well, and often.

It was after that incident that Mr. Stamp called me in his office and had a “heart to heart” talk with me. I don’t recall the exact words, but it went something like this, “Once in a while, in a setting like this, someone will rise up from seemingly nowhere. They will be someone that no one expects, someone that most people overlook; and they will excel. You are like that Joey, you have the ability… you just need to do it…” Jack Stamp probably doesn’t remember that moment either, but I will never forget it. By my senior year, I found myself playing First Trumpet to grade six music in the Hoggard Band! That may not mean much to many, but to me it was far above what I ever thought I could accomplish and was a testament to Jack Stamp’s investment in me and compassion toward me.

Through those 3 years of band at Hoggard High School I leaned things from Jack Stamp that remain with me to this day; things like do what you do with passion and excellence, be kind while you do it, be classy, love your fellow students and treat them well, be a gentleman, love your country, have fun but get the job done, enjoy music, genuinely feel the music, dream big, leave a legacy, and the list goes on and on… I strive to do those things today. He showed me that a shy, insignificant, overlooked kid could do major things and do them well.

I am now a pastor; I don’t play my trumpet much, other than a time or two per year at church, but I constantly use the other things Jack Stamp taught me. His footprint is all over my life, as well as many, many others that have had the privilege of sitting under his baton, wisdom, and care.

Fast forward to the early 90’s… I had not heard from or much about Mr. Stamp for many years. When the internet became accessible, I jumped on the bandwagon and thought I would take a shot in the dark and do an online search for Jack Stamp. Low and behold there he was!! He was everywhere!!  The man that I knew as my High School band director was a world-renowned composer and director! I discovered that his music is played by bands all over the world! Needless to say, I was amazed and strangely proud. I found his e-mail, (he was teaching at Indiana University of PA at the time) and sent him a message. It was wonderful to reconnect! Our reconnection turned into a couple of fantastic reunions, with the now “Dr.” Stamp joining many of his former Hoggard High School students.  I think everyone involved would say it was an incredible time. Jack Stamp was only at Hoggard four years but did more in those four years than many do in a lifetime!

Fast forward yet again to the middle 2000’s. As you can imagine I was shocked, overwhelmed, and excited when he called me one day and told me he was getting married and asked me to help officiate the wedding! What an honor to be part of that major event in his life! It was a surreal event and yet another reminder of the huge impact he has had on me.

Obviously, I could go on and on in an attempt to describe how much this “mentor” has meant to me, but hopefully you get the idea. There’s really no possible way to sum up the influence he has had in my life and the lives of countless others. God’s grace is evident in my life in so many ways; allowing Jack Stamp to be in my life is certainly part of that evidence. I simply wanted to thank him publicly for seeing something in me that very few others saw, and for taking the time and energy to invest in me.

I can never repay you for that investment, it’s genuinely impossible, but for now I will simply say a very heartfelt thank you “Mr. Stamp”jack and joey 1!

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Supper Time and Preaching

blog picMy parents raised three boys in a culture that was quite different than today. My brothers and I had no “devices” to contend for our time; rather we would spend the majority of the day outside running, riding bicycles or horses, shooting BB guns, playing army, etc. We ruled not only our neighborhood, but the entire community, which we considered our kingdom. Very rarely did a day go by that we didn’t make our rounds throughout our kingdom, making sure there were no potential threats to our regime. But this type of activity was exhausting and as the active hours went by, surely made young fellows awfully hungry!

By the end of the day my brothers and I always expected to hear my Mom’s sweet, but authoritative voice calling loudly from our front porch, “Timmy, Joey, Randy…SUPPERTIME!!” It seemed to us that the entire world could hear her calling. Immediately we would stop what we were doing and run toward home, like horses headed back to the barn! We knew that our Mom had been working diligently, selecting a recipe, preparing, setting the table, and anxious to serve what she had prepared. Even as we ran home we could almost taste what she had cooked. She always had the tastiest meals. Sundays were exceptionally good! Her Sunday specialty was Fried Chicken. I can’t tell you how many Drumsticks were secretly swiped from the kitchen before she had finished the rest of the meal! We just couldn’t wait!! Another favorite of mine was my Mom’s “Chicken and Rice”. She would steam the chicken, cook white rice, and pour the grease from the chicken over the rice… my mouth is watering just thinking about it!!

Not only did her meals taste incredibly good to us, they were good for us. They helped us grow properly, and helped us to face the strenuous activities that faced us each day. Also, she LOVED preparing and serving these meals to her children! We were her children, she was responsible for us, she loved us, she knew eating well was good for us, and she  worked skillfully and diligently to develop a desire in us for good, healthy food. She was super satisfied to see us running to the table and consuming the meal she’d prepared, then watching us grow into men, in part because of those meals. The same holds true for my wife, and I’m sure for anyone else that regularly prepares meals.

She also got very frustrated and even upset when we showed a lack of interest in her meals. If we were late to the table, showed a lack of desire for her food, didn’t eat well, etc., it would make her visibly dejected and obviously sad. In her wise mind if we didn’t eat well, and have a healthy desire for her meals something was wrong.

I’m a pastor now. A huge part of my responsibilities as a pastor is preaching and teaching God’s Word. I often think of the similarities in my Mom’s meals and the sermons I prepare and preach and lessons I teach. As a shepherd to my flock it does my heart good to see the sheep I am responsible for desire the Bread of Life that is served to them. When they come to the table on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings desiring God’s Word with great anticipation, I could not be more happy…and happy for them, because my “children” are eating well.

I know, just like my Mom knew, that when my children eat well they will grow well. They will be able to live this life well, in the good times and the bad. They will be able to face the strenuous days, months, and years ahead of them . When I see my sheep excited about the meals that have been prepared I am extremely satisfied, knowing the result will always be positive.

On the other hand, when my “children” show little interest in the meals I prepare, my heart is broken. My heart is broken because I know they need to eat, and eat well in order to give God glory and, “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Here are some things we all should do as Christians in regards to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word:

  • Pray for a strong desire for God’s Word
  • Make every effort to feed on God’s Word regularly
  • Refuse for anything to keep you from Sunday Morning an midweek Scripture meals
  • Read God’s Word regularly… the more you read the more you will desire to be fed

When the preacher serves up God’s Word this week, show up, listen up, eat up, and grow up in God’s Word!

But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” -Matthew 4:4

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A Call for Genuine Heroes

News Flash! We live in a vastly different world than we used to.  Commiserate with me for a moment as I languish in my “good ol’ days” and” bygone days”. Old-timers would say “Joey, you’re still wet behind the ears!”, and I suppose in comparison I am. Despite their protests, I’ve seen a lot in my nearly 55 years; including the demise of many of the heroes the “Old-timers” had, which were my heroes as well! I think this was the classic era of heroes.

By-in-large, the heroes of the Old-timers were people of character, bravery, integrity, and an undying desire to “do the right thing”. Their mindset could be summed up in the cry of Superman, “Truth, Justice, and the American way!” They were heroes that parents wanted their children to look up to, mimic, and even pattern their lives after. They were movie stars, soldiers, musicians, teachers, Firemen, Astronauts, and so forth…

But…we have allowed those heroes to vanish. They’ve vanished into the annuls of history, much like the hero cowboy of an old Western movie that rides off into the sunset at the conclusion, followed by a “The End” written in the PT Barnum font, as majestic “Magnificent Seven” type outro music escorts the hero away.

With the exit of the classic era heroes, who do young people look up to? Who do they look to as their heroes?!? Unfortunately, many who are viewed as heroes today are on the bottom rung of the ethical and moral ladder. Our society has permitted those who once were recognized as unhealthy and even immoral to be the people we aspire to become. That is sad, unfortunate, and even dangerous.

I write primarily to Christians. A Christian is someone who has trusted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; someone who has been made alive spiritually by Jesus. When Jesus breathes life into you, He gives you a new nature; you desire differently, think differently, and act differently. A new nature seeks godly people to look up to and mimic. We need that! We need godly people to mimic, imitate, and pattern our lives after. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, understood this, and said it several times, including the following:

1 Cor. 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Phil. 3:17: “Brothers, join in imitating me. . . .”

Phil 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

In these verses, along with several others in the Bible, Paul instructs believers to watch him, and imitate what he does. Paul could confidently instruct us to imitate him because he was following Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, he was pointing people to Jesus and he wanted others to do the same, so he shows them how!

This is what we should be mimicking! The apostle Paul was a warrior of the faith; a marvelous theologian, a passionate evangelist, and a compassionate minister. In every practical sense Paul was a hero of the faith. He is the type of hero we need! Paul, who’s life was surrendered to the Lord Jesus, modeled what our lives should look like, therefore, we should imitate him.

There are people you know, men and women who, much like Paul, genuinely and passionately love Jesus. They serve him faithfully, share him fervently, and enjoy him fully. These people may not be Hollywood famous or Wall Street wealthy, but they are heroes!

Watch them, spend time with them, follow them, mimic them, and pass down their legacy of loving Jesus!

These people may be a Janitor in a school or church; a teacher, a musician, a Doctor or Nurse, a Truck Driver, etc.…. They are around you; near you, and accessible to you. Take advantage of God’s gracious provision and imitate them. Make them your earthly heroes!! Do not invest your energy on creating earthly heroes that carry no eternal value, regardless of their fame or wealth. Find those Paul-like people who make much of Jesus and let them become your earthly heroes… it will pay eternal dividends!

“All heroes are shadows of Christ”

John Piper

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Choosing a Church

Where should I go to church?  In generations past that question was clearer, mainly due to a population that was much less transient.  If you attended a church it was likely to be the church in your community. Most church-going folks would find the community church and get plugged in.  If there were things they didn’t agree with, they would talk about it from a biblical view, work through it, and continue to serve and glorify God through that local church. But that was yesteryear…

Today’s church search tends to be quite different. In 25 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard a plethora of reasons people attend church; and unfortunately many of them are very man-centered. It’s not uncommon for me to hear phrases like:

I want the music I like; I’m looking for a church where there’s a lot of activities for my children; I want a young pastor; I want an old pastor; I like how hip that church is; I like how traditional the dress is at that church; I want a pastor that tells good stories; I want a church that doesn’t judge; I like my church because they don’t ask much of me; I left that church because they didn’t offer enough… and the list goes on, ad nauseam; one man-centered thought after another…

These man-centered thoughts drive people to change churches like socks; using them until they’ve worn them out or until they desire a different style. If they’ve grown tired or bored with their church, they simply leave… Distance is not a deterrent in our transient society. Some folks will drive to the other end of the county for a good ear tickling.

This mentality raises the question, “What criteria should be used to choose a church?” The Bible is replete with ecclesiological instruction, but I will build my brief argument on Acts 2:42,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The birth of the church was marked by several determining factors, including:

The apostles doctrine: The message of the gospel was delivered to the church through the chosen men of God known as the apostles. They delivered truth, doctrine, instruction, etc., that was vital to the church. They taught the church Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Pneumatology, etc.  They taught the church what the gospel was all about; the ins and outs of what the gospel is and why it is needed. To do this properly, they had to teach the Scriptures in a systematic manner. They were expositors of the Bible. Alistair Begg puts it like this,

“A good church is a Bible-centered church. Nothing is as important as this–not a large congregation, a witty pastor, or tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit.”

The early church had a steady diet of the meat of the Word of God. This was priority in the church. The church knew who Jesus was, what He did, how to know Him, etc., and the result was a church that was filled with passion, peace, and purpose! The early church knew how to live well and they knew how to die well, because they knew the Bible well! Calvin said,

“Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults.”

Proper preaching of the Bible is absolutely priority in choosing a church. If the church has everything you want, except exposition of Scripture, it’s the wrong place to be. Without a steady diet of Scripture, you will be a weak believer that’s “Tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine…” You’ll not know how to live as a Christian in a thoroughly secular world; you will be filled with angst and anxiety because of your lack of knowledge of the sovereign, almighty God; you’ll not know how to glorify God, which is your purpose in life; and you’ll not know how to deal with suffering when in manifests itself in your life.

The exposition of the Bible is an absolute priority in the church, and everything else should compliment the preaching of the Word. When the exposition of God’s Word is not priority, people quickly become weak, feeble, scrawny, and simply unhealthy Christians that are more concerned about their fleshly needs than the glory of God. Choose a church that makes exposition of Scripture a priority!

-Fellowship: This “fellowship” is living life with each other, centered in Christ.  It’s not simply getting together and talking about the game, or eating a potluck dinner, etc. It’s living in genuine Christ-centered community together, with the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.

David Paul Tripp rightly said,

Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.

Our Christ-centered fellowship with each other pictures our fellowship with Christ Himself, brings glory to God, and encourages the church. Choose a church that practices and encourages genuine Christ-centered fellowship!

-Breaking of Bread: A biblical church will practice Communion, or what some call “The Lord’s Supper”. The apostles specifically instructed the early church to practice the breaking of bread and drinking the wine to show the gospel and to commune with Christ. This must be priority in the church. A good church will be gospel saturated and a gospel saturated church will practice Communion. Choose a church that understands and practices The Lord’s Supper!

-Prayer: The last thing mentioned in this Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church has the incredibly amazing privilege of prayer. The church is known as “The house of prayer” (Isaiah 56). The church doesn’t grow by the creative ability, charismatic personality, or oratory gymnastics of a pastor. God grows His church. Sure, you can draw a crowd through many ways, but that certainly is not a church. We desire to see large crowds, but only if God is genuinely making people alive through Jesus, not merely because it’s the “best show in town”. Tozer said,

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.“

God’s people should consistently pray, acknowledge their dependence on Him, and rest in His sovereignty. When prayer is priority in the church, His people enjoy Him, He is glorified, and the church grows in a genuinely healthy manner. Choose a church where prayer of a priority!

Finally… Forgive me for my sense of frustration, even exasperation. I’ve grown weary of fair weathered worshippers. God grant us believers who love His church because it’s a manifestation of His grace; because it’s a picture of the god-head; because it’s the vehicle in which the gospel travels to all peoples; because it’s where believers are instructed in the things of the gospel…and so on…  May the day of “cafeteria church”, where people go to pick and choose whatever their favorite style is, be a thing of the past. Love the church for what God made it, not what the world has molded it to be.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.church pic

1 Peter 2:9

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Jesus: God’s gift of love – Guest Blog by Chris Canuel

As the Christmas season is officially upon us, many of us will spend a lot of time over the next several weeks thinking about gifts. Unfortunately, we can spend so much time thinking about Christmas gifts for others, or maybe even ourselves,  and end up forgetting the greatest of all possible gifts. The gift I’m talking about of course, is that gift that God gave the world over 2,000 years ago.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

So, why is Jesus the greatest of all possible gifts?

Jesus is the greatest gift because in giving us Jesus, God shows us how much he loves us. Sometimes we talk so much about God’s love and about how God IS love – which of course is absolutely true – but sometimes we talk about it so much that we start to take it for granted. We often forget what an amazing thing it is that God WOULD love us, that God DOES love us, and in giving us Jesus He is showing us that he always WILL love us.

To be loved by a holy and perfectly righteous God is no small thing. Do any of us deserve this love of God? Absolutely not. The Bible is clear time and time again that all of us are sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Isaiah 64:6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…” Some translations there refer to all of our good deeds and “filthy rags”…

So even our best deeds, even at our BEST, we have nothing to offer up to God. God is so far above us, there is such a large chasm or gap between us and God that I don’t even have a word or adjective to describe it. If God didn’t lower himself and come down to our level, then we would all be in big trouble. But in Christ that is precisely what we see God doing.

We have all sinned against a Holy and righteous God. Sadly, we continue to do so. Even our best deeds are polluted by our sin. But God says in Isaiah 1:18, “…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool…”

Here is the good news of the Gospel. Jesus is the means by which we become white as snow. Through the shed blood of Jesus we have been cleansed. God in His great love for us, sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth to take our sins upon Himself and to save us, to cleanse us, to give us His righteousness, and to save us.

Because “God so loved…” He didn’t allow us to perish in our sins, but instead God offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8 says, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, as we kick off this Christmas season, remember that Jesus is the greatest gift of all possible gifts, because in giving us Christ, God shows us just how much He truly loves us…

chris-canuel

Chris Canuel – Author, Pastor

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The Perfect Christmas

As a pastor, the Thanksgiving and Christmas season is extremely busy. The planning for special services, benevolence situations, get-togethers, etc., not to mention the normal activities and functions we still must do… they all keep me in high gear. Ask any pastor and they’ll tell you the same, it’s an extremely busy time of year!

I must preface my thoughts by saying I love Christmas! I love the music, decorations, Christmas plays, concerts, but most of all (of course) the reason for it…celebrating God’s incarnation. But oftentimes I have found myself allowing the things of ministry to cause me to miss the beauty of it all…and I hate that.

There is so much pressure to get things done, to make Christmas perfectr7CwvhW. For me, the very busy time begins just before Thanksgiving. Our church sponsors a community Thanksgiving service where we invite people who have no one to eat a Thanksgiving meal with to come and eat with us. This takes much planning and effort to pull off, and lots of folks to help pull it off, but like so many other Holiday functions, it’s worth the effort. It’s always a wonderful time together, and I can’t imagine not doing it every year. But it can be a bit taxing, so I’ve created a tradition to help me unwind a bit.

Each year, immediately after the Thanksgiving meal, I help tidy up, tear down all my turkey frying equipment, pack my vehicle with my suitcase and banjo, and head for the South Carolina State Bluegrass Festival in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Outside of missing just a year here and there, I’ve been attending this Festival since the early 80’s. I continue this tradition to see old friends, listen to God’s music, and of course to relax for a couple of days.

It doesn’t last long, for before you know it Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday are a memory and I’m on my way back home, getting geared up to preach Sunday morning and hitting the ground running for the Christmas season! And from that moment it never stops…nevertheless it does give me a brief respite between Thanksgiving and Christmas…except this year. Yep…this year would be different.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner and I quickly made my way south to Myrtle Beach and began to enjoy my aforementioned enjoyments, when I felt a funny feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t long before I realized I had picked up a stomach virus of some sort. I endured it Friday but was forced to head back home early on Saturday, and I’m very glad I did…it only got worse. I can endure most of the symptoms of a stomach virus, but the weakness that came with this one really frustrated me!! I mean, I HAVE STUFF TO DO!! But this thing wiped me out. I was pretty much useless. I mean, like a sack of reject hammers useless. So much so that I had to miss preaching Sunday morning…which is one of the worst things for me. I’d rather preach than eat. But I couldn’t help it. I was too sick to do either!

I was pretty frustrated, knowing all the things I needed to be doing, people I needed to be seeing, etc.… but I also know that God is sovereign. There’s a reason for it. I’ve learned over the years, through experience, and immersing myself into God’s word that He is working in every situation. For instance, a verse we all tend to know very well, Romans 8:28 says,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This is the word of God. It’s true…it’s alive…it’s active…it’s life changing…and I trust what it says. I know there’s a reason that I came down with a virus and I’m actually thankful to God for it, for His word also says,

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
(Philippians 4:6)

I can thank God for a virus because He has a reason/purpose for it. I certainly cannot imagine the fullness of His plan, but by His grace I can clearly see some evidences of of it. For one, it’s made me slow down and realize the Christmas season will go on with or without me. God doesn’t need me to accomplish His will this season or any other season. He may or may not choose to use me in it, but He certainly doesn’t have to!

While I incredibly missed preaching Sunday, I have enjoyed slowing down and simply thinking about the beauty of Christmas… Jesus came to earth to “tabernacle” among us, live a sinless life, pay the penalty of sin on a cross, died and rose again… this is Christmas! Christmas is not the things we do, it’s what Jesus did.

My encouragement to you is,

Don’t miss the perfect Christmas while trying to make Christmas perfect.

Relax, enjoy, focus on the main thing…Jesus, the Perfect Christmas.

Come, let us adore Him…

 

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Making the most of Mentors: Some brief thoughts on how to have a proper mentoring relationship

Mentoring is 20620796_10212740897253354_8047508259673876878_nextremely important in Christian ministry, but it’s worth is not appreciated as it should be. To have a mentor is to be blessed, and any mentoree (what I call someone who is being mentored) should work diligently to make the mentoring relationship viable. It’s important to handle mentoring relationships properly to get the most out of them and to bring glory to God. Here are some things I think will help…

  1. Listen, listen, listen

There is nothing more important in a mentoring relationship than the mentoree simply closing his mouth and opening his ears. Not listening in a mentoring setting is akin to a car with no tires; it’s pretty much useless.  The objective in a mentoring setting is for the mentoree to learn as much as possible from his mentor, and use what you learn for the glory of God in the ministry God has assigned you to.  But if you talk more than listen, you nor the people you will minister to in the future will profit from years of knowledge and experience of your mentor.

Often mentorees want to impress their mentors with their knowledge.  Don’t let that be you! Let your mentor be a mentor; don’t use him as an ego builder for yourself. Remember, this relationship is not about you, it’s about you being equipped better to make much of Jesus and to point people to him.

If your mentor is equipped to be a mentor, let him do the talking; if he’s not, find another one who is and listen.

  1. If you must talk, ask questions

If you can’t resist the urge to talk, then at least let your talk be in the form of questions.  Ask your mentor questions often and listen intently to his answers. Questions are a wonderful way to find out who people are, where they have been, what they have done, and the why to all the former. Questions get people talking and lets the person know you genuinely care about what they think.

In a ministry mentorship you should ask questions in the following areas:

Call to ministry, Family, Gifts, Theology, The Church, Conflict, Burnout, Humbleness, Etc.…

Asking your mentor questions in these areas is like opening a treasure cove of ministry knowledge… don’t allow it to go untapped. Even if you already know what the answers to your questions will be, it’s incredible discipline to ask and simply listen.

  1. Observe

Observing your mentor in everyday ministry is priceless. You must observe him as he interacts with his family, friends, public, and church family. The wealth of knowledge and insight you will gain from these interactions can save you from a plethora of mistakes and missteps, and help you gain trust with the people you minister to.

Observe him as he deals with an irritated or frustrated church member in a business meeting or someone who drops by his office and asks for money. Observe him as he engages a server as you eat lunch together and as he stops to chat with a group of seniors. Observe him as he kneels down to spend time with a little child to show them they are important.

Again, the lessons you can learn from this observation is beyond priceless and simply cannot be learned in seminary. Never overlook the little things that a mentor does; everything he does is a lesson in how to do ministry.

  1. Respect their years of ministry and life

You may be super duper over the top brilliant and the greatest theological mind since the apostle Paul himself, but that is not the end all.  You must know how to use that knowledge in a manner that brings glory to God, not yourself, and doesn’t make much of yourself but points people to Jesus.

Unfortunately I’ve seen young men in ministry abuse their God given intellect by thinking they’ve got it all figured out and the old guys are just, well…old. While that may be true, every old guy has seen a lot, and often forgotten more than you will ever know. DO NOT BE A “KNOW IT ALL”! Be humble, listen, ask questions, observe, and respect the years of experience that God has providentially blessed your mentor with.

You can learn something from everyone, even if they’re not on the same theological level you are on. A good theological mind is a must in ministry, but do not overlook the experience of someone who has loved God and served Him in the trenches for years.

I have seen this scenario many times in ministry; someone is saved as a teenager; goes to Bible college immediately after high school; then directly to seminary, and begins pastoring a church. Oftentimes they have never had a job that required a lot of physical labor or much of what many church members must face on a daily basis. Then they get frustrated at church members because they simply do not understand what people endure. This is where a good, experienced mentor can help. Most have been around and understand what people bear day in and day out, and if you listen, ask, observe, and respect their ministries it will make things much easier for you and keep you from many ministry calamities!

  1. Pray for them/thank God for them

Finally, the greatest thing you can do as a mentoree is to pray for your mentor and thank God for them. I have been immensely blessed with men who have poured  their lives into me and have invested countless hours mentoring me and teaching me about biblical ministry. I am indescribably indebted to them. Anyone who has a mentor is blessed and should show they’re gratefulness by praying for them and thanking God for them.

May God continue to raise up godly mentors, as well as wise mentorees who will use the mentoring relationship for the glory of God and the good of His church.

One generation shall commend your works to another,

    and shall declare your mighty acts.

Psalm 145:4

Categories: bible, biblical, Christians, cross, God, Gospel, grace, Jesus, mentor pastor preach, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fit for Heaven

Allow me to be real for a bit…

“A lot of things change for a man when he turns 50…” I recently made that statement to my 24 year old son.  I think most men around the age of 50 would agree. I call it the “Reckoning Stage”; a stage where reality becomes real and we must reckon with the changes that have taken place in our lives.  If I had to list some changes I have experienced since I turned 50 nearly three years ago, they would include:

  • Talking less
  • Listening more
  • Having more compassion
  • Empathizing with people more
  • Being patient with people
  • Having less control
  • My body slowly failing
  • Being much more emotional than in years past
  • Appreciating life and people more
  • Periods of isolation
  • Regrets

That’s just to name a few… These changes are prompted by life.  By “life” I mean the things that happen in life; the natural flow of life, brought on by the fall of man.  Disappointments, failures (yours and people you love), crime, suffering, etc.… all of which are a result of sin.

I was channel surfing the other night and landed on a Sit-Com called “The Middle”; a show based on the life of an average middle class family.  By in large it’s a comedy, but from time to time the show has moments of sentimentalism, like this clip that shows the Dad summing up his “Reckoning Stage” stage of life well…

This stage of life is a natural.  The question that arises is “how do we handle it?”  If you’re a passionate person, this stage could wreck you.  It can twist you, choke you, depress you, and break you. 50 years of “life” can breed melancholy in you before you even realize it.  But it doesn’t have to…

Here’s the good news; if you’ve trusted in Jesus, 50 years of “life” is simply a tool to fit you for Heaven.  In other words, the more you see the pain and suffering in this life, the more you simply want to be with Jesus.  That’s the point and purpose…and that’s where I am. Don’t get me wrong, there’s so much here that I love and want to experience more, like family, church, etc., but it certainly doesn’t trump my desire to be with Jesus.  Even as life changes, God’s grace is at work, preparing me, molding me, fitting me for Heaven, for His glory and my good.

So when you see this middle aged man growing older, being more emotional than he probably should, know that it’s all being used by the King of glory to get my eyes off of earthly things and on to heavenly things… Jesus.

As always, Scripture sums it up perfectly:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 2:1-5

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Unmet Expectations

“Unmet expectations”. These are not words that we may not voice frequently, but most of us certainly think it.  If you’ve been in a relationship for more than a minute, you have probably experienced unmet expectations. You may have even experienced a severed relationship because of unmet expectations. As a pastor, I’ve seen the nastiness of unmet expectations wreak havoc in many relationships; but it doesn’t have to happen. Here are some thing I ask you to consider…

  1. Many people begin relationships with lofty expectations.

Don’t deny it… You most likely have had lofty expectations of someone when you began a relationship; maybe even before you met the person.  Oftentimes these lofty expectations begin in our minds when we’re young, when the idea of romance initially takes root in your mind. It’s nearly impossible not to let lofty expectations begin, and even more difficult to keep them in check once they take root.  The question arises, “Where do these lofty expectations originate?”

The seeds of Lofty Expectations in relationships have a plethora of origins; such as:

Parental Influence.  You watch, sometimes subconsciously, the way your parents interact. This may cause you to mimic their relationship, expecting the same thing from your future husband or wife that you see in your Father and Mother.  From one perspective, if you’re a female, you may have watched your Dad being very romantic, often buying your Mom flowers, opening the door for her, calling her charming names, doing well financially, taking out the trash, mowing the yard, doing “man stuff”, etc., chances are you will have the same expectations of the male in your relationships. On the other hand, if you’re a male, you may have watched your Mom have great respect for your Dad, working hard, being frugal, preparing meals, making herself look nice, all while having a career, etc. Again, chances are you will have the same expectations of the female in your relationship.  Or you may have experienced things vastly opposite of what I just described and you expect your spouse to be opposite of what you grew up watching.  Regardless, you have expectations from watching your parents.

Societal Influence:

Like with parents, you form presuppositions from society.  We are bombarded by what I call societal agendas.  Every society has a standard, good or bad, and societies will push their standard through television, social media, etc.… People in these settings sometimes don’t’ even realize that these constant influences begin to form lofty expectations that we will impose on our future relationships.  In other words, we will expect our future spouse to act like the characters we’ve seen on our favorite TV shows or in our favorite book.

There are many other influences that help create lofty expectations… the point is, most of us bring lofty expectations into relationships.  But is this ok?  Do problems arise with lofty expectations?  Well, of course.  If not, I wouldn’t be blogging about it.

  1. Lofty expectations become unmet expectations.

Let’s make this as simple as possible; if you go into a relationship with lofty expectations, be prepared for lofty letdowns.  Lofty expectations, sooner or later become unmet expectations, and unmet expectations sooner or later lead to major problems within relationships, especially marriage. Your spouse may do well for a period, meeting your expectations, and you have a sense of accomplishment; “I did well picking this mate”, etc. But as soon as your spouse fails to do what you expect he or she to do, you’re let down. Lofty expectations have become unmet expectations, and the temporary happiness you had from your spouse doing what you expected has disappeared. Now what?!? The slippery slope of unmet expectations begins to do enormous harm.

  1. Unmet expectations become relationship killers.

Once lofty expectations become unmet expectations, and remain unchecked, relationship damage is imminent. You need to understand this; you CANNOT expect unmet expectations to not harm your relationships. This is true in friendships, work relationships, etc., but mostly in marriage. It’s imperative that you know your spouse will let you down, as you will your spouse. It’s not difficult to understand that none of us are without sin; “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). That includes you… and me… and your co-worker… and your friend… and your spouse… and your pastor… ad infinitum.

When you get upset because someone has not met your expectations, the very core of your relationship begins to crack, and if actions are not taken to repair it, those unmet expectations will cause irreparable damage and ultimately kill your relationship. Make no mistake about it, the more you are disappointed from unmet expectations in your relationship, the more your relationship is doomed.

  1. We have no right to have expectations of others.

The question arises, “Don’t I have the right to expect certain things from people in my relationships?” No… no we don’t. You have no more right to have expectations of others in your relationships than they have the right to have expectations of you. Bottom line; only Jesus has that right…He’s earned it, you haven’t, and never will.

When we expect others to act certain ways, do certain things, don’t do certain things, etc., we are acting as if we are the standard bearers; an attitude of, “you must live up to my expectations, and if you do I will reward you with a relationship, but if you don’t, you don’t deserve me.” In other words, arrogance raises its ugly head. This attitude and actions in a relationship stem from a fallen humanity, not from God. This idea is found in Galatians 6:1-5,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

(Galatians 6:1-5 ESV)

So how do we approach relationships in a godly manner?

  1. Take your emphasis off others and focus on your relationship with Jesus.

There it is… it’s that simple. If you take your focus off the other person in your relationship and, “take the log out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:5), your relationship will improve radically. In relationships, it is tremendously important to use the energy you’re exerting on others through unmet expectations, and use that energy to, “examine yourself…” (1 Corinthians 11:28). When this is done, relationships improve. Find your fulfillment in Jesus, not the person in your relationship.

Ted Cunningham rightly said,

Remember, people are not your source of life. Jesus is your source. Don’t ask others to take His place and fill you up. Jesus is an unlimited supply. The people in your life are limited supplies.

Yes, it’s healthy to search for a mate that is like mindeddsc_0100 theologically, and other areas, but the more important matter is, does he or she have a desire for God? If they do, they will improve over time, just as you will. You will never find the perfect person to be in a relationship, so don’t try. Seek someone who loves Jesus, someone whose desires are Godward, and encourage them, don’t have expectations of them. A Christ-centered relationship is sanctifying, each person in the relationship is being set apart by the Holy Spirit; this takes time.

Per Scripture, love is an act of the will; it doesn’t depend on how the other person acts. We are told to love…period. You can love the person in your relationship, regardless of how they act… this is what Jesus did. Marriage models the relationship of Jesus and the church; He willingly loved, even while we were sinners, and gave His life for us. We are to do the same in relationships. When we do, God is glorified and we are satisfied. If your relationship hinges on whether a person acts the way you expect them to, you are not modeling Jesus or pointing people to Him. On the other hand, when you love others, even when they don’t meet your expectations, Jesus is modeled and we are content.

I understand this may be a strange concept, it was to me at one time; but if we chew on it and adhere to it, it will radically change our relationships for the better…

Categories: bible, brokenness, Christians, Friend, Friendship, Glory, God, Gospel, Jesus, mercy, Uncategorized, unmet expectations | Leave a comment

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