Thursday, January 19, 2017

J.I. Packer

Came across this, such an encouraging and timeless quote. J. I. Packer writes, “The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know God. Disregard the study of God and you sentence yourself to stumble through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”

J. I. Packer, Knowing God 1973

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon Reflection: James 1:2-4 Consider The Joy

Today I continued preaching through the Book of James. I brought a message from James 1:2-4, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Today's message was the culmination of a difficult season of life and the most challenging year I have ever had. I spoke out of my experience of being in God's refining fire of "trials of various kinds". I have experienced the refining fire of hardships that challenge a believer to look inward to consider the cost of following Jesus, that cause one to question his ability to withstand the heat to burn of the dross.

Link to today's message: Count It All Joy

I've had many ministry friends face the most challenging experiences that life can bring upon a human: rebellious kids, young daughters becoming pregnant outside of marriage, broken marriages, divorce, being dismissed from their church they pastored, and much more. I confess like many church leaders, when these things happen to our church members we rush in and help, but when it happens to ministry leaders, like pastors and staff, those who hold highly visible positions we often shrink back from stepping into their lives to walk with them through such painful seasons of life. It's like we unintentionally shun those because they are suppose to have it all together in every area of life.

I understand what it means to be shunned, to fall off the radar of so many I've held dear as friends. I made the effort to become more transparent by sharing my journey and experience with others and reached out friends and leaders to walk with me in this season. I sought extra work to support my family while pastoring bivocationally a beautiful church that has needed revitalization. I sought employment nationally in the secular market and in the Christian market in many fields that I am qualified for with just a couple brief interviews. I sought to bag groceries, stock shelves, sell insurance, and anything else that would generate income. There has not been a job I wouldn't be willing to do to meet the needs of my family. It was as though I was untouchable, in a bubble that permitted no penetration. 

I was in God's divine crucible. It was a season in my life in which God was strengthening my faith, teaching me to trust Him, learning to be steadfast in all things, and being establish in faith, by God's grace and strength, in the school of perseverance (1 Peter 1:6-7). During this time I wept at the throne of grace, begged God to send relief instead of the overwhelming unbearable pressure that I could not take any longer.....No relief was given the season continued.

Anyone who knows me knows I have always had a consistent and hot-hearted walk with God. I've never "become carnal, distant from the Lord", or wavered from obedience. I'm in the Word, sharing my faith, seeking to walk with Jesus, and participate in Kingdom growth. I'll never be the same as a result of this season of "various trials". God has worked His transforming power during this season. He refined my faith causing me to be steadfast in Christ, Jesus put spiritual muscle on me. My prayer has been that I would here similar words that Abraham heard from the Lord when He put Isaac on the Altar, "Now I know that you fear God, because you did not withhold from me your own son, your only son."

Today is a new day! By God's grace I have reconnected with friends and ministry leaders. Along with pastoring I am teaching at a Christian school. I wake up each morning to invest my life in high school students and the faculty, making-disciples. As a pastor I have been recently trained in the school of "Count it all Joy". I'm equipped to effectively minister and care for those who experience the "various trials" of life. The divine crucible has taught me to run to those that hurt. I know what to say, I know what they are felling, what they are thinking, and I know much about the battle for the mind the importance of controlling emotions and how to find answers when no hope is in sight. Together we can "cast all our cares upon Jesus for He cares for us". 

In ministry there is pressure however it will have no equal to the divine crucible. I have more spiritual muscle than I have ever had. I have more training (far beyond the classroom) to shepherd the congregation and express love to those who need Jesus. I've learned about compassion, loneliness, and remaining steadfast in the faith when all seems hopeless. 

I am convinced that as a result of this past season of life I am convinced that God has prepared me for  ministry ahead that will disrupt hell, cause the enemy to shutter, God to be glorified, and lives to be powerfully touched by the grace of God....And I get to be a part of it!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Grateful God Cares

This is one of those weeks when I'm so grateful that the Lord can handle the stuff in my life that can cause me to be anxious and stressed. I wish I could determine the timing of how things work and how others need to best respond, but I cannot. So I've just confessed once again, There is a God, and I am not Him!

Sometimes we have to deal with future plans, livelihoods, and they affects they can have on others. A timeline for an answer regarding future activity ticks away. I confess that over the weekend I carried the issues that face me and their affects upon others on my shoulders. Admittedly, once again I was reminded my shoulders are not broad enough nor strong enough to carry the load. Plainly said, all this affected my attitude and outlook on the day. I got the reminder from my precious wife when she said, "snap out of it, give it to the Lord, I can't have you carrying what is not yours to carry." Easier said than done, but wise counsel taken to heart.

All the issues remain the same, my decisions and the timing of receiving information keeps the pressure on.  The good news is, I'm a child of God, the others affected are His too, and all this has to do with how the Lord decides to arrange His work force for best Kingdom impact.

So I pray for wisdom, seek wise counsel, give it all to Christ, and live each day grateful Jesus has broad shoulders and can handle all the pressure. Regardless, of the timing, people involved, and outcome I am thankful the Lord works everything for our good.

Lord Jesus, I'm glad you got this one....better you than me!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Season Of Sent

I'm not sure how we could be more ready to go. You say, GO? Go where? My reply is, "I don't know exactly where". But I'm ready! The LORD told Abraham, Moses, and others that they need to be ready to go and He would show them where. They didn't know where God was going to send or lead them but because of their trust in God they made preparation to go.

Errin and I seek to live out our faith in every way possible. We are not perfect people, we both have our faults, but one thing for certain....we seek to follow the LORD wholeheartedly. God has clearly led us to be ready to go. This is not some irresponsible activity we decided to do. Through much prayer and conversation we have positioned ourselves to be ready to go wherever God sends us! We have moved out of the house and into what we fondly call "temporary housing" also known as an apartment. We have sifted through all of our earthly possessions. We are in a lot of boxes siting in storage and the apartment is set up enough to be comfortable. Everything else we have was either sold or given away. Our load is light, we are excited, we are living by faith.

So why? The best answer we can give you is that we are called by God for ministry. Our "go status" is because we know God is leading us to a place of service.

Presently, I am pastoring in Orlando, Florida. We love the church we serve. The people are loving, compassionate and desire to honor the Lord. Errin is also serving as a Lead Administrator at a private Christian school, she impacts students lives everyday. We are blessed to have very good places to serve the Lord. We are doing significant Kingdom work. We are touching lives and seeing them changed.

So what do you do in a situation like this? We wait upon the Lord, He orders our steps as He demonstrates His faithfulness each and every day. We work and serve in our ministries with all of our hearts and strength. We walk obediently and expectancy, knowing the Lord has called us to this "season of sent".

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Confidence and Endurance

When was the last time the Lord spoke to you? I mean spoke in such a way that He shook you to the core of your soul? God speaks in several ways: through His word, in our circumstances, and through others. We sense that "small still voice" or His "tap on the shoulder" in worship, our devotions, and from conversations with godly people. The good news is God is speaking to us, He is intimately involved in our lives and everything that touches us.

God has been stirring in my heart about my ministry assignment.  We have been fortunate to join God in many good works in Orlando, the church I pastor is heading in the right direction,  the family is faithfully serving Jesus, we are all healthy...God is good! I recently found myself on my face before the Lord, prostrated on the bedroom floor pouring out my heart in a Jacob wrestling with God moment, desiring to hear from Him...desiring direction for this transition. It was an extensive time of prayer like none other I've experienced. I wish I could tell you I left the prayer closet with all the answers and time frames that God was going to work...that didn't happen.

What happened in the next few hours is absolutely amazing! God brought two strangers into my life with a message of encouragement and confirmation that He is faithful and at work. He reminded me that He is preparing Errin and me for what is ahead. This message fits my understanding how God works, He always prepares the man for the ministry....this is a time of preparation! God is working His character into our lives in ways and places that need His touch for where He is sending us.

So here's how God answered...

Periodically I drive for Uber. I do it for several reasons but at this moment they are all unimportant. I picked a man up at the hospital, turns out he was a pastor in town. I didn't know him and he didn't know me. The preacher spoke direct words of encouragement about waiting on God. He said many things that connected with my time of prayer the night before. We prayed together and then he was dropped off. It was a wow moment, how could he had known what was going on in my life and how did he know how to speak to my need? God had my undivided attention. Of course the answer is he was God's messenger with a message for me.

It gets even better!! In the morning while driving I picked up a lady, she was Brazilian and heading to her place of work. She was my third or fourth rider of the morning, picked up on the far side of town. A lot of things have to connect to make sure I picked her up. She sits down and says she wants to tell me about her morning devotion. She said she didn't know why but that she needs to share what God placed on her heart.....

She said God wants us to have have great confidence in our faith in Christ and that He will greatly reward unwavering confidence in Jesus as I wait on Him. She said I have need to endure what I am going through because it is the will of God, and that I will receive what is promised. She left me with this passage of Scripture....

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will
of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38  but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

As the this woman spoke the presence of Jesus filled the car, as she spoke I knew I was on holy ground hearing from God.  I wept in humility, I wept indignantly before Him who cares for me. This was one of the most moving seasons of prayer for me. Today I walk confidently that God is working in ways I cannot see or understand. I must patiently wait on Him...Always easier said than done.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Another Great Day

I'm not exactly sure what the difference is between the concepts of "church revitalization" and "church replant". Both begin with an existing group of "called out ones" who are seeking to be obedient to the Great Commission. Both begin with a church location: large, small, new, or old. Both are a lot of work for everyone involved, require tremendous sacrifices, and have the same end results.

We are not sure when the last baptisms took place at the "old church", Eastside Baptist Church. I've heard its been as as long as three years, its been a while. Many records have been lost; the church roll vanished and is being built. So I'm not sure when the congregation experienced the last baptism. Regardless....Today we baptized three people as a brand new church, Oasis at Conway Gardens.

Samuel George is a young man being homeschooled by his parents, they have done an amazing job raising him and teaching him the ways of Christ. He was so excited to be baptized. Carol Krasinski is a senior adult, she has been growing in her faith over recent months. She expressed her desire to be baptized because she was a growing disciple. Her step of obedience meant so much to her as she understood the biblical importance of Scriptural Baptism as a believer.

Sarah was baptized too, on her 16th birthday. Obviously, she's known the Lord as her Savior, she has a strong walk with Jesus. Her ministry is blossoming as she lives her faith before her high school friends. She had five friends with her at church today. Each one at a different stage in their journey getting to know Christ as Sarah prays for them and shares the Good News. Our Sarah is growing up, she is unapologetic about her faith in Christ even as she embraces friends from all walks of life on her HS campus. She is a great missionary with a huge heart of compassion for those who need Jesus.

Tomorrow is Monday, a new day. There is much more to do to the church facilities along with much planning and preparation for the Grand Opening of Oasis at Conway Gardens on October 2nd. We host the Chris Tomlin's Worship Night in America on October 25th. Then we will provide a community Fall Festival on October 30th! I better get back to work.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Empathy: Loving Like Jesus

Thursday morning about 1am I received a call that one of our long-standing members died in his home. He had not been out of the house to attend church since I became pastor due to his illness. However, his wife Jo was a faith member and participant at the church. She's a short sweet  white haired lady from North Carolina who is a bundle of love and grace. She carried her burden for her husband so graciously. When asked how Ron was doing, she always had an honest positive report of God's faithfulness.

I've have had the front row to a beautiful ministry over recent months. For some reason Jo was drawn to Errin (my wife), these ladies would greet each other often and chat up a storm. Jo has always been on Errin's heart, often reminding us to pray for her and Ron, wanting to go by the house and check on her and Ron. I love watching my wife care for others with such beauty. To watch Jo and Errin, two gracious southern women, walk through the deep waters of Jo's needs has been a beautiful sight.

Thursday morning's early call about Ron's passing immediately called Errin to first alert. I tried to let her sleep and get out of the house without her so she could be rested for the heavy workday ahead of her. But this was Jo and in just a few short moments Errin would be waiting for me in the car so she could hold the hand of her dear southern friend.

Maybe I'm just a proud husband who loves to watch his wife serve the Lord and love people. But I think it goes deeper than that. I see Jo, a loving gracious lady in a time of need. A woman who handles  difficulty in a way that reflects a godly woman. And I see Errin, who loves to love people. Pouring herself out to care for others. Often willing to sacrifice far more than a good nights rest to meet the needs of others.I see the heart, hands and feet of Jesus.

Jo you are in my prayers as we celebrate your 60 years of marriage to Ron and his home going.

Baby, you are an incredible helpmate, wife, and co-laborer. I love watching God use you in so many ways. You have such a special touch with people and a heart filled with compassion. I know what you're thinking......To God Be The Glory!