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Heavenly Affections

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

(Psalm 42:1-2 ESV)

I’ve grown so weary of bad news.  Day after day thousands of news outlets pour all their efforts into reporting tragic happenings; from images of flag-draped caskets to flooded streets and water rescues.  Video footage from drought stricken countries, war-torn nations, community violence, and school shootings have become commonplace and we’re barely even moved by the reports. It seems as if it never ends and certainly never gets better…especially if you’re a pastor.

Pastors often hear the worst things.  In counseling sessions, people pour out their hearts.  I will say this, nothing surprises me any more…nothing.  In nearly 25 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve learned that people endure horrendous and tumultuous events; and many on a regular basis.  I hear of financial failure, ruined relationships, bizarre addictions, and the list goes on… It never ceases.

Then there’s the video I saw today, of the little boy in Syria whose home was destroyed by a bomb.  He sits in the back of an ambulance, dirty, disoriented, and wiping blood off his forehead.  It was such a sad and sickening sight.

Sin is everywhere, and like a snail that leaves a slimy trial, or a tornado that leaves utter destruction in its path, sin devastates.  I’m sick of the result of sin.  I’m sick of it in my life, the life of my family, the life of the people I shepherd, and it’s far reaching effect throughout the whole of humanity.  In one sense, sin is the mother of disaster; where sin abounds, disaster thrives.  I am simply tired of it all.  The more suffering I see, the more I can be identified with Romans 8:19…

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

In other words, I long to see Jesus.  I long for the day when creation will be restored.  I long for the day that is described in the book of Revelation,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Sure, there’s a lot I want to do, a lot of gospel I want to preach, but the more I see this world, the more I want to see Jesus.  David felt the same many years ago when he wrote,

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

(Psalm 63:1, ESV)

A “dry and weary land” gives you great thirst.  For those who are alive in Christ, he is consistently and perfectly creating a disdain in us for the things of this world and ever increasing our desire for him, to be realized ultimately in his presence.  Come Lord Jesus…

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Categories: bible, biblical, Brother, Christians, cross, Glory, God, Gospel, grace, Jesus, king David, sin, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cleveland’s Messiah

If you’re a sports fan, and not from Cleveland, Ohio, be thankful. The following quote from Wikipedia is reason why, “The Cleveland sports curse is an ongoing sports superstition involving the city of Cleveland, and all of its professional sports teams.  Cleveland has three major sports teams: The Browns of the National Football League (NFL), the Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB)’s Indians. The city’s teams have endured an unprecedented combined 156-season championship drought, having not won a title since 1964, when the Browns won the NFL Championship Game, two seasons prior to the first Super Bowl.”

That is the sad state of sports in Cleveland, but they had a ray of hope when, in 2003 their professional basketball team, the Cavaliers drafted the first overall draft pick Lebron James straight out of High School.  Lebron was a highly talented Shooting Guard in High School and was predicted to be an NBA super-star by many experts.  Their predictions came to fruition; by 2007 the Cavaliers were in the finals of the NBA Championship, but ultimately lost the series to the San Antonio Spurs.  It seemed as if the “Cleveland curse” was alive and well.  To make things worse, in 2010 Lebron left the Cavaliers to seek a championship ring with the Miami Heat.  He played four seasons for the Heat, reaching the Finals all four years and winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.

Life was great for Lebron but Cleveland was still reeling over his departure, and for all intents and purposes were nursing a root of bitterness from his perceived betrayal.  But then, in 2014, in an unexpected and surprising decision Lebron announced his return to Cleveland and the Cavaliers!

It didn’t take long for the basketball prowess of “King James” to make an impact; the Cavaliers were back in the NBA Championship series in 2015, but in the end lost to the Golden State Warriors.  Yet again, the Cleveland curse was alive and well!

Fast forward to early December of 2015.  Lebron and his Cavaliers had just suffered an overtime defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans.  Lebron had played well himself, scoring a season high 37 points, but his team seemed lethargic at best.  After being asked about the difference the return of two team mates may have, many were surprised by Lebron’s response,

“It’s only one guy in the world, ever, where everything will be all right when he comes back, and that’s Jesus Christ. Other than that, you can’t bank on nobody being OK.”

Who’d a thunk it?? I mean, we’re used to hearing these obligatory postgame interviews with oftentimes pithy quips from players who would rather be in the locker room showering, but Lebron’s statement was completely out of left field, and somewhat surprising!  Many may have ignored his response and urged him on to a more secular and SportsCenter worthy quote, but I was fascinated by what he said!  It’s as if this quote from Lebron James makes the entire “Cleveland Curse” make sense, at least from my perspective.

Think about it this way, the whole “Lebron era” in Cleveland has been a source of hope for Cleveland sports fans; hope that the curse would finally be over; hope that this special player in the story would bring light to a dark state.  Some even referred to James as “The Messiah”!  But contrary to what many wanted him to do, he deflected the title and duty of “Messiahship” away from himself and on to the one who truly deserves the title of Messiahship and the only one who can do the work of the true Messiah!  In one brief, concise statement, poor grammar and all, Lebron James put it all in perspective.

Sports is fun, but in the grand scheme of things it’s nothing but temporary, and we would all benefit if we would back up a bit and observe a view of the “big picture” of life.  Sometimes sports can be a snapshot of the bigger picture; Cleveland sports most definitely falls into that category.  The “Cleveland curse” surely serves as a metaphor for the sin curse that all mankind is infected with.  We live in darkness because of the curse of sin.  There’s nothing, regardless of how hard we try, that we can do to remedy the curse ourselves.  We must look for someone who can break the curse, someone who is capable and willing to do the work of redeeming man from the curse of sin; someone who can meet the requirements and pay the penalty for the curse; someone who can truly win the championship for us!  Lebron clearly told the world who that person is, and he did not point to himself.  At that one moment Lebron was a modern day John the Baptist who, when some were calling him the Messiah said, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:21), but pointed them to the true Messiah, the one that could genuinely save them from the curse, and pointed them to Jesus. Kudos for Lebron!

Could it be that the entire Cleveland curse is indeed a metaphor for the gospel?  It certainly can be.  If we are wise we will use it as such and take the timely advice of one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Lebron “King” James, by getting our eyes off of temporary things and fallible people and fix our eyes on the genuine Messiah, Jesus Christ, because no one will be “OK” without Him! Look unto Jesus!

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A New America?

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.  (1 Peter 4:19 ESV)



   

This is the last verse in the fourth chapter of the book of 1 Peter.  In a real sense it summarizes the entire chapter and even the entire book/letter of 1 Peter.  It also summarizes what is now or soon will be the society in which we live. 

Anyone with their ear to the ground …actually, anyone with an ear at all has heard reports which tell of our “rights” as Christians that are being tested; some even blatantly seized.  The America of 20-50 years ago is definitely not the America of today.  That America was one in which “Christians” basically pulled the strings, and they did it by pulling the lever in the voting booth.  We voted for leaders who would stand for what we believed and would promote “morality”.

But like a child that gets everything he wants and cries and throws temper tantrums if he doesn’t, we too had gotten used to the government catering to our wants and cowering to our wills.  But those days are gone…and the sad part is we are not realizing it, nor are we, at least in my estimation responding properly.  We are acting and operating as if it were still the good ol’ days in America…  But it’s not! America is different now, and Christians need to comprehend that most important fact.

I am certainly not saying that we should help usher in an anti-Christian era by lack of action on our part.  Yes, we should “stand up for our rights” (at least the few we have left), vote for leaders who will glorify God, etc… but we have to think differently now; we have to think like the believers in 1 Peter were instructed to think; we have to think as if we are aliens in this land (we are), we have to think like God wants us to think when He has brought persecution upon His church.
This is what I will be writing about in weeks to come.  No, I don’t think for a moment that anyone is salivating at the thought of me writing, but for my own sanity and edification if nothing else, I will share some biblical thoughts on how those alive in Christ can and should respond in an anti-Christian society.
Thanks for tagging along…
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Mentioning my mentors, J.W. Long Jr.

This is my second blog in a series regarding the mentors God has placed in my life over the years.  There have actually been many, but I’m mentioning just the ones that happen to be or have been in vocational ministry.  My last blog was devoted to my first pastor, Worley G. Hawthorne.  This one is devoted to my second pastor, J. W. Long Jr.

My first memory of pastor Long was when I was still a member of Park Avenue Baptist Church where Rev. Hawthorne was the pastor.  Several Independent Baptist churches in the Wilmington area had an “Attendance contest” which lasted several months.  Rev. Long’s church won.  That’s not surprising now, after later observing his competitive spirit and “can’t quit” attitude.   After being declared the winner pastor Long and his church, Community Baptist in Carolina Beach, along with all the other churches involved in the contest gathered at Park Avenue Baptist to enjoy a celebration dinner.

As young boys do, my brothers and I were in the church yard playing when Pastor Long and his family arrived.  He had a large family, 8 including himself!  I watched, intrigued as they all quickly yet with the precision of a military unit exited their station wagon.  When Pastor Long got out of the car and started towards the tables where the food was, he glanced over at us, stuck his index finger high in the air and said, “We’re number one!!”  In response, and not knowing any better I barked, “We’re number two!!”  That was my first memory of many.  Sometime later, after some internal problems at Park Avenue Church, my Mom decided to start attending Community Baptist church; Rev. Long had become my pastor.
    
I loved Pastor Long’s family, and still do…they all were very gracious and friendly to me…more than they will ever know!  It was clear that they had been raised with a high view of God and His Word, which speaks highly of their Father…and their incredible mother! 

I’ve tried to think of one word that describes this man best…some that have crossed my mind are, passionate, zealous, fervent, enthusiastic, animated, faithful, hardcore, even fanatical… None of those fully encompass the personality and passions of this man, although he epitomizes each of them at times.  He loves God’s Word.  That’s one thing that was evident from the beginning and remains with him today.  He instilled in me a passion for the Word of God and a desire to hide it in my heart.  That was huge with Pastor Long!!  He pushed us to memorize Scripture…to know it by heart…to be able to recall it whether we had a copy of it in our hands or not.  That was priceless.  His compassion for people drove him to be a passionate evangelist.

His preaching style was unlike anything I had ever heard…loud, passionate, and unreserved.  He certainly wasn’t worried about what people had to say about him.  He seemed, at times to invite controversy; but through it all he was faithful. 

I suppose the greatest influence he had on me was his emphasis on Scripture.  He consistently and constantly spoke of the importance of Scripture and why we should take it not only literally, but seriously.  I will forever be grateful for that!  His passion for the Word of God was infectious indeed!  That is a huge reason why I love expository preaching now…I believe the Bible is God’s Word, and since it’s God’s Word we should certainly consider it priceless and handle it properly.

Pastor Long is in his twilight years now; he still preaches on the radio, and I suppose other places when he can.  His family still carries on his charismatic personality (that’s a good thing), and I still have an extremely high view of God’s Word because of J. W. Long.  There’s so much more I could say, but for now I simply want to say…Thanks Dr. Long, you made a difference in my life…

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Grace years

Last Friday I spent a few minutes at the Wilmington area “Relay for Life” with my daughter Blair and some close friends who are survivors of cancer.  At this venue were thousands of luminaries, each one representing someone who died due to the blight of cancer.  To say the least, it was a sobering experience; an experience which tends to make you re-evaluate priorities, desires, etc. 

I am approaching 48 years old; that can be sobering as well.  I didn’t say depressing…I said sobering.  Getting older doesn’t scare me or depress me at all…as a matter of fact, the older I get the more excited I get, knowing that this sin laden life will be gone…forever…no longer will I struggle with the flesh.  More than that, I will be in the very presence of Jesus.  I’m sure that that sounds trite and unoriginal to many, but I could not be more thoughtful in saying it.  The thought of being with the one I treasure makes all other things pale in comparison…seriously. 

Even though I’m not freaked out over the thought of nearing fifty, I am a bit burdened by it.  I am burdened, thinking of all the self-absorption, disobedience, and wasted time over those 47 plus years.   How much time have I wasted…how much have I focused on myself?  I know better.
 If God sees fit to allow me to live the average life span then I have about another 20-25 years.  In the grand scheme of things that’s not very long.  My overwhelming desire is to live every moment of the time I have left for the glory of my gracious God… I want to be consumed with Jesus.  God has stripped away things from me, even spiritual seeming things, to the point where there’s nothing left but Him…it’s taken nearly 50 years…

I don’t want to spend the years I have left pleasing the flesh…the thought of that sickens me.  I am completely satisfied in Christ; nothing else can satisfy like my Savior.  So if that means working as a bi-vocational pastor…so be it.

I will pour my efforts into glorifying God in that job and introducing people to Him through that job.  If that means being the pastor to a handful of people then so be it.  I will love those people and thank God that He has allowed me the overwhelming privilege to minister to them.  If He takes that away so be it.  I will love my incredible family and strive to model Christ’s love for His church.  I want my mind to be set on Jesus at every moment… I will not allow other things; temporal things to capture me.

Every second of life is a gift from the giver of life…to be used to give Him glory and enjoy Him.  God grant me a few more years to do that…better than the past.

Therefore…  “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. 
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Thanksgiving to Who??

Psalm 100 is such an amazing song and so very appropriate for this time of year, but one thing stood out to me as I read it again recently; the Psalm is not about merely giving thanks, it’s about giving thanks to our Creator, the one whose grace is far greater than any man could ever imagine. Notice how God is the center-piece in this beautiful tapestry…

(1) Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! (2) Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (3)Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;[a] we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (4) Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! (5) For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
(ESV)

I am saddened when I think of how general and pointless my thanksgiving has been at times. Upon reading Psalm 100 it’s clear that our thanksgiving should be directed to one in particular; that being the sovereign, gracious God! Cornelius Plantinga Jr. was unerringly correct when he said,

 “It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Christians in public institutions often see this odd thing happening on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful “in general.” It is very strange. It’s a little like being married in general.”

Of course, we are not, nor can we be “married in general”; that perverts the meaning and purpose of marriage entirely, as does giving thanks in general on Thanksgiving Day! So while I am so “thankful” to have a day set aside for giving thanks, may I direct all my thanks and gratitude to the only deserving One whose faithfulness endures through all generations!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Valley of Vision

I love “The Valley of Vision”, a collection of puritan prayers and devotions. If you do not have a copy you should! In place of mindless musings on my part I’ve chosen to add a prayer from “The Valley of Vision” which focuses on the new year. This is my prayer as well!


YEAR’S END

O LOVE BEYOND COMPARE,
Thou art good when thou givest,
when thou takest away,
when the sun shines upon me,
when night gathers over me.

Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love didst redeem my soul;

Thou dost love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.

Thy goodness has been with me during
another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.

Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the blessed Pilot of my future
as of my past.

I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes
to the waters ahead.

If thou hast appointed storms and tribulation,
thou wilt be with me in them;

If I have to pass through tempests of persecution
and temptation,
I shall not drown;

If I am to die,
I shall see thy face sooner;

If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not;

If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;

Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort
or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always
for thy use.

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Who cares what I think anyway????!!!!

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