The Sun is Setting on our Time in Sierra Leone

(Monday, Feb 19) Thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement, as the sun begins to set on our time in Sierra Leone. In approximately two hours, Tom and I will be on our way to 1st Presbyterian Church for our final time of instruction with the church leaders and members who attend. Today is Armed Forces Day in Sierra Leone, so most of the people have the day off, providing us the opportunity to meet earlier than most other days.  

Our plan is that I will provide additional instruction on how to communicate the Gospel from every text of Scripture. This is an area for important growth for our friends in PCSL, and they have been receptive to our encouragement and teaching. In addition, Tom will teach on the scope of Christ’s mission for the church from Acts 1:8.

Weekend Update

On Saturday (Feb 17), we participated in a presbtery meeting, which marked nearly one year since their moderator and clerk were elected. These men were re-elected to serve a second one-year term, which is the first such election in the history of PCSL. These are important milestones, as they seek the Lord’s revitalizing work in and through the churches in Sierra Leone. 

Yesterday, Tom took multiple kekeh rides (a cross between a motorcycle and a golf cart) to the newest church of PCSL in the town of Kissy. He had the privilege of preaching to that small and growing congregation and providing encouragement to their pastor, Jonathan, who is hoping to be ordained in the near future. Meanwhile, I worshiped again with 1st Presbyterian Church, praying a blessing over the children from Psalm 139 and pronouncing the benediction. When I arrived, I was informed I would be presiding over the restoration of a church member who had been disciplined for public sin, so I took a few minutes to prepare, pulling together Scriptures from Hebrews 12, 2 Corinthians 7 and 2 Corinthians 2. However, after one of the elders preached an excellent message on elders as shepherds, he turned to me and said, “the individual to be restored has not shown today.” It was another exercise in being ready in season and out of season, in addition to the need to be flexible in an ever-changing environment.

God continues to give Tom and I opportunities to share the gospel. As Jeff Wiggs shared yesterday, our housekeeper, H, asked me if I prayed for him while at church that morning. He is from a Muslim background, but has demonstrated interest in learning more about Jesus. I asked if I could pray in Jesus name for him right there, and he was very happy for me to do that. Later in the day, Tom was able to share the gospel with three Kenyan men who were sitting next to us at dinner. Tom has been to Kenya and recognized they were speaking in Swahili. The Lord then opened the door for him to share the good news of Jesus. Please pray the Lord will work through these gospel opportunities to draw people to Himself.

Thanks from the Churches in PCSL

Your gifts continue to be a great blessing to the churches here. Thank you for your loving generosity to bless brothers and sisters in Christ of all ages. Your gifts have been a source of great joy, as they give thanks to God for His kindness. Here are a few videos of thanks and a video of worship:

Prayer Requests

  • Please pray for stamina and clarity during our last day of teaching.
  • Please pray for continued gospel opportunities and boldness to share the good news.
  • Please pray for our brothers and sisters of PCSL to continue to grow in Christ’s love and move forward in His power on His mission in Sierra Leone.

Photos Attached

(1) Worship Team at 1st Presbyterian Church; (2) Elders Osse Kamara and Lati Roberts after receiving gifts commemorating their renewal as moderator and clerk, respectively, of PCSL; (3) just before sunset from our hotel in Freetown.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all soon. You remain in my prayers, and I am truly grateful for your gospel partnership.

In Christ,
Pastor Nate

Grace at Raining Season Orphanage

Last night (Feb 15), I had the opportunity to teach a class of about 25 students on the subject of Worship in the Church. I continue to be impressed by the eager participation of the church leaders and members who come out each evening after a long day of work, many without air conditioning in heat index temperatures of well over 100° (F). Some of the students travel over two hours by public transportation each way, while living with very little income and very little food. In the midst of the challenges of daily living, they are excited to gather and hear God’s Word taught, that they may understand and more faithfully lead their congregations and respective ministries. I have been humbled by the hunger of people both inside and outside of the church to devour the food that leads to eternal life. Please pray the Lord will continue to build His church through His Word and that he would provide for their daily needs.

As I mentioned yesterday, Tom Cox and I had the privilege of accompanying our friend, Elder Osse Kamara, to Raining Season Orphanage in Freetown. Heeding the Lord’s call to “look after orphans…in their distress” (James 1:27,) Osse partnered with a woman from Nashville, TN, in the early 2000s to open this home as a refuge for some of the many orphaned children in the capital city of Sierra Leone. Though the orphanage is not a direct ministry of the churches here, some of the members of First Presbyterian, where Osse is an elder, have joined him in serving the more than 80 children in their care, including one of our students, Sorie Kamara (no relation), who is the executive director.

We learned that the children who live there have come from a variety of circumstances, including losing parents to illness, tragedy, and many to neglect as many are left at the entrance of local hospitals and other public places. Many of the children, however, came to Rainy Season, following a disastrous landslide in 2017 that wiped out the entire village of Mortemeh at the base of a mountain just outside the city. Over 1,100 people lost their lives, and many of their bodies remain buried under ground and vegetation that has since grown over the years. We visited the site of this disaster, a sobering reminder that the tragedies of which we read and hear in the news touch real lives of real people made in the image of God.

At Raining Season, we toured the grounds meeting many of the children and staff, from nurses providing daily medical care from a small clinic, to the cooks preparing large portions of rice from an outdoor kitchen. In addition, we met many of the teachers who provide education, not only for the children who call the orphanage home, but also for the 45-or-so children from the community who have the opportunity, not only to learn traditional school subjects, but to be discipled in the good news of a God who “defends the cause of the fatherless and widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18.)

One experience that left an indelible mark in my heart was visiting the home of the children with special needs. As we walked in the door, we were greeted by sweet children who could not speak, but whose smile spoke of a place where they were safe and from which they were provided. Two of women serving there were taking great care to feed and clothe children who cannot exercise these basic functions of life that we so often take for granted. Again, this to me was a window into the heart of God, who takes pity on us in our helpless condition and calls upon His church to be His hands and feet in showing mercy wherever He has placed us.

Here are a few ways you can be praying for us, as we enter a weekend of ministry and service:

  • Pray for the children and staff at Raining Season Orphanage to experience the love and mercy of the God who adopts us as His own and calls us His children.
  • Pray for our students who are attempting to complete their outstanding assignments from our previous course, that they would be able to submit those to us before we leave, so they can receive credit, as they seek a path toward ordination.
  • Pray for the upcoming meeting of the PCSL Presbytery to be used by the Lord to provide a path forward for the churches to be revitalized in the gospel and its implications on the community.

Here is a video of Sorie Kamara receiving gifts from Calvary of school supplies and a soccer ball for the children of Raining Season Orphanage.

I have also attached the following photos: (1) Elder Osse and Tom looking at the bare hill, where the landslide of 2017 took place; (2) monument at the site of the landslide; (3) cook in the outdoor kitchen at Raining Season; (4) children receiving compassionate care in the home for those with special needs; (5) looking down toward an outdoor corridor near the wall at Raining Season; (6) Tom shares the gospel with children of Raining Season, using a flower as an illustration.

Thank you again, for your partnership in this ministry. The Lord is at work building His church in His Word and transforming the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In Christ,
Pastor Nate

Your Gifts Are a Blessing in Sierra Leone

This week has been filled with many demonstrations of God’s love and yours for the people here in Freetown. Over the past two days, we’ve visited the three Presbyterian (PCSL) church-run schools, as well as an orphanage co-founded and run by one of the elders from 1st Church. In addition we considered the biblical role of women in the church through both Tom’s teaching on the subject, and an excellent devotional given during our gospel-communication lab by a woman who is actively ministering to women in a local prison, as well as in her church. During Tom’s teaching, I had the opportunity to bring up the 11 women in attendance and give them each a card and poster from the women at Calvary. These gifts were well received, and representatives from each of the five churches of the presbytery took an equal share of the remaining notes and posters to distribute in their local congregations.  

Your generous love for your brothers and sisters over 4,000 miles away has been experienced in beautiful ways over the past few days, as I’ve been able to hand out many of the gifts that you sent to bless the people here. Here is a list of how those gifts have been a blessing thus far:


Just over a week before I flew out of Raleigh, I shared a specific need for a phone for one of the ministry leaders in the area, whose current phone is cracked, making his used of it difficult. On Sunday evening, Elder John MaCauley, who leads at the church in the fishing village of Goderich, took public transportation to meet with us at our hotel. During that time, I was able, through your generosity, to present him with a good used phone that will serve him and his church well  Here is a video of John’s expression of gratitude to you at Calvary.

Notes from the Women at Calvary

In addition to the women of the local churches, I was able to share a few of your notes with two members of the cleaning staff at our hotel, as well as a couple of the teachers at Goderich School, a ministry of Elder John’s church. They were each thrilled to receive notes from a sister in Christ from America.

School Supplies and Soccer Balls

As I visited each school – Peace, 1st Presbyterian, and Goderich – I was able to present their respective headmasters with a bag filled with pencils, crayons, erasers, a children’s Easter book, and a soccer ball. As you might imagine, the soccer ball, or football as they call it, was a massive hit with the children. When the children of Goderich saw the soccer ball, their eyes lit up, and with permission from their teacher, they immediately ran to play. One of the classes at 1st Presbyterian School spontaneously broke out in cheering and sincere expressions of gratitude. Here is a video of me presenting your gifts to the headmaster of Goderich School. Here, also is a video of the children of Goderich joyfully playing with their new soccer ball.

I still have toys to share with each of the five churches, as well as books and resources that I pray will be a tool in the Lord’s had for making disciples and the furthering of His Kingdom in Sierra Leone. In addition, I a plan to share your video greetings soon. In a future e-mail, I will share more with you about the story of the orphanage we visited today, in addition to a few photos.

Thank you again for your open-handed generosity. I am especially grateful for your prayers. Here are a few ways you can pray in the next couple of days:

  • Pray for our Thursday evening teaching session, as I will teach on Worship in the Local Church. Pray the Lord will use it to build up these dear congregations, as they seek to glorify Him.
  • Pray for “M”, one of the hotel staff. He asked Tom and I if we had any theological resources for him, which we did, and he is eager to reach and talk with us about Christian doctrine.
  • Pray for gospel conversations, not only with church leaders and members, but also with hotel staff and guests. The Lord has provided several opportunities so far, and we are eager to share the good news of Jesus wherever the Spirit is at work.

I’ve attached a few photos for your enjoyment: 1) Tom and I on the hotel terrace; 2) presenting the women with notes from Calvary; 3) a note being handed to a woman from PCSL; 4) girls of Goderich School enjoying the gift of soccer; 5) a classroom at Goderich School.

Lord Bless you all, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming days.

In Christ,
Pastor Nate

Weekend Recap from Sierra Leone

Tom Cox and I are greatly enjoying the fellowship we have in Christ, as we partner together in this work.  Here is a recap of some of the ministry opportunities of this past weekend.

Saturday, February 10

We gathered for our third teaching session on the doctrine of the church. I taught through the various Biblical images God has given to illustrate both the nature and the purpose of His church in the world.  We specifically focused on the church as the body of Christ with Christ as the head, the church as the temple of God with Christ as cornerstone, and the church as the family of God with Christ as our elder brother. The approximately 25 church leaders and members who attended engaged deeply in our discussion and are demonstrating that they are making connections to their own local context.

Following the teaching, we participated in an important afternoon meeting between representatives of the Presbyterian Church of Sierra Leone (PCSL) and Jim Weaver, the chairman of our denomination’s work in West Africa (W.A.R.M). He joined us by Zoom to share exciting news about potential additional ministry partners, who may be considered for a future in-country partnership with the churches here. If the Lord leads in this direction, this would be a huge answer to prayer, as well as an enhancement of the work of raising leaders of which Tom and I have been part. Please pray with us that the Lord would continue to raise up workers for the harvest.

Sunday, February 11

On Sunday, Tom and I attended separate churches, at the request of the elders, so that each of us could observe and encourage one of the men in training, as they proclaimed God’s Word to their people. Because our role is to come alongside the churches in raising up leaders and pastors from among their own people, we believe it is vital that we have the opportunity to observe their preaching in their own context. Each man preached from a text that we assigned that connects to teaching we are doing during the weekdays. I was greatly encouraged to worship with the congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Freetown, and hear one of their elders faithfully proclaim the gospel from 1 Timothy 3:15-17.  

In addition, the Lord gave me two opportunities to exercise the biblical exhortation to be ready “in season and out of season.”  

#1 – I noticed my name was listed in the bulletin as leading a blessing over the children of the congregation. I asked what that meant, and learned they wanted me to pray a blessing over the next generation, which I was delighted to do, using Jesus’ words from Luke 18:15-17 to inform the basis of my prayer.

#2 – Following the worship service, one elder, named Alfred, informed me that we would be visiting the home of a woman whose husband recently died, while he was in Atlanta. When we arrived, I saw many of the young people from the church, gathered on the front porch of her home, and when we went inside, many of the members of the congregation were gathered in the living room. I was asked to sit in a chair in the middle of the room next to Alfred, and he informed me he would like me to speak words of comfort for about 5 minutes. I prayed silently that the Lord would lead me, and I turned to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I acknowledged to Sara, the young widow, that though I do not know her, she is my sister in Christ, and though I have no wisdom in and of myself, I bring God’s Word of comfort in the face of grief. I was deeply touched by the expressions of love from this congregation, showing up together both in times of joy and times of sorrow.

We’ve had several other ministry opportunities, as the Lord has led us to conversations with people of various backgrounds, not only in the church but also in at the hotel.  In my next update, I will share a little about how the Lord is at work and how he is using your gifts of kindness to bless people with whom we come in contact.

Here are a few prayer points for today:

Please pray for each night’s teaching session.  I will be doing the teaching on church leadership tonight, and one of the students will be giving a short sermon for our sermon lab.

Please pray for a young man who is part of the hotel cleaning crew. He is a Muslim with whom we were able to share the gospel today, after he found and read a book on the Lord’s Supper that I left out on the desk in our room.

Please pray for the young woman who suddenly lost her husband in Atlanta. She is planning to go for the funeral in the next couple of weeks, and I have offered to help connect her to folks from our denomination, if that’s of help to her and her family.

Photos below, left to right are: 1) Tom and I with church leaders from the PCSL; 2) a selfie photo with the class, used as a illustration of “pictures” the Lord gives of his church; 3) student, Sorie, with his daughter Samara, whose naming ceremony we attended last March, just after she was born.

In Christ,
Pastor Nate

Update from Sierra Leone

As you have likely heard, Tom Cox and I arrived in Sierra Leone around 7pm local time (2pm EST) on Wednesday evening, after a largely uneventful journey that began at RDU airport 25 hours prior. We enjoyed the new modernized airport in Freetown, before taking the bus to the ferry.

While we waited an hour at the ferry terminal, we met a young woman from Greece named Iro, who was traveling by herself on business, seeking to increase energy access for Sierra Leone, which, we learned, has one of the lowest rates of energy access in the world. It was a reminder to us of the many gifts we take for granted, and the ways the Lord is working through means of His common grace to care for His world.

Once we exited the ferry, we reunited with our friends, Elder Osse and Elder Lati, for who we prayed when he had a motorcycle accident sometime in 2023. They kindly provided a ride for Iro to her hotel, so she would not have to travel alone in the city.

Thursday was a day of recovery from our travel. We spent most of the day at the hotel, getting reacquainted with hotel staff that we had the privilege of getting to know a year ago. I shared with Tom, how encouraging it is to me to be able to be in a familiar place with people with whom we had previously begun building relationships, not only in the church but in the community. In many ways we have been able to pick up where we left off, particularly with a young Christian man named Ephraim, whose love for Jesus is evident, as he serves hotel guests.

Our evening was spent with 24 men and women from multiple churches of the Presbyterian Convention of Sierra Leone, as we began the first of eight teaching sessions on the doctrine of the church (at left). Many of the students who were with us over Zoom in the fall participated, and are are seeking credit as part of training to be pastors and ministry leaders in the church. Lati preached a short sermon on Matthew 16:13-20, as part of our preaching labs designed to help train men to handle rightly the Word of truth (below.)

Last night at dinner, we met a guest named Peter, who is from the provinces of Sierra Leone. He overheard our conversation and asked if he could ask us questions about the Bible. He was deeply troubled that his wife had been chided by the pastor in her home church for wearing pants to a worship service. He asked us to help explain, Biblically, how to understand this. In much of West Africa, pastors are revered as having high authority, and this often leads to misuse of that position and confusion among the people. We explained to him the freedom we have in Christ, sharing several verses, including Galatians 5:1. When we saw him again this morning, he expressed appreciation and shared that his wife was encouraged by the Scriptures we shared. This was a reminder to us of the necessity of sound doctrine and the contrast of the gospel’s beauty with the ugliness of the shackles of legalism.

We covet your prayers during our time here, and I look forward to sharing the many gifts and notes you sent with me, as you partner with us this work. Visit for more information.

In Christ,
Pastor Nate

ABCs of the 2022 PCA GA

ABCs of the 2022 PCA GA

Submitted by TE NJW of CPCA in Raleigh, NC

(AKA: Pastor Nate Wilks of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina)

PCA.  GA.  MTW.  MNA.  RUF.  TE.  RE. ECP.  If you’ve been around a member church of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), you know we have more initials than a closing contract for a house.  Nowhere is this more obvious than at our denomination’s annual gathering, General Assembly, aka GA, held June 21-24, 2022.  For those initially uninitiated to the world of PCA initials, I offer below both a summary and a primer on this year’s gathering, the ABCs of the 2022 PCA GA:

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Week of Prayer and Fasting – January 18-24, 2021

As we begin our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, “Teach Me to Pray,” the Session is calling for a week of prayer and fasting from Monday, January 18-Sunday, January 24.  As part of this week, we will gather Wednesday night, January 20 at 7pm on Zoom for an hour of prayer for our church, our city, our nation, and our world. 

We believe this is particularly important in light of the violence in our nation’s capital last Wednesday, the ongoing political and social unrest, and upcoming presidential inauguration and threats surrounding that event. 

King Jesus has called his church to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” so make plans to join us this week by selecting one day to which you will commit to pray and fast, laying our burdens down before the sovereign throne of God’s grace.  Our goal is that at least two people will pray and fast each day of the week.

A helpful tool for understanding the purpose of a day of prayer and fasting can be found at, written by David Mathis in an excerpt from his book Habits of Grace.

To assist you with your day of prayer and fasting, below, please find a guide you can use to lead you through each petition in the Lord’s Prayer, as well as biblical prayers for our church, city, nation and world.  Each season could correspond with a particular hour of the day, so that we might seek His face throughout the day.  For example, you could start with season 1 at 8am, followed by season 2 at 9am and so on.  If you miss an hour (i.e. 10am), you would just pick up with the next season (3) the next hour (11am). 

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10 Ways the Lord Has Fed My Soul Through Philippians

When I was a pastoral intern in my twenties, my mentor gave me the privilege of preaching my first sermon series from the book of Philippians.  I had no idea what I was doing or how the Lord might work, and frankly, I’m not convinced that what I did those 13 weeks would pass for preaching.  But what I’ve never forgotten is a comment my mentor made at the outset of the series: “By the time you’re done preaching, this letter will become yours.” 

15 years later, I’ve experienced the joy, once again, of preaching through this letter, this time in the landscape of 2020 and with a congregation I love uniquely, 7 years in to our partnership in the gospel.  Once again, the Lord has made this letter “mine,” feeding my soul and applying the truth of this letter in powerful ways. 

As we prepare for our final sermon from this letter, here are 10 ways God has fed my soul through Philippians in 2020:

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Love and Lament: Attitudes of the Heart as We Re-Gather for In-Person Worship

After 15 weeks of online-only worship, we are looking forward with great anticipation to re-gathering this Sunday, July 5 for two in-person services at 8:30 and 10:30am.  Throughout this process, my own heart has found language for my desires in Psalm 42:4, “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God.”  How I have longed to be with you for gathered worship again!

As we prepare to gather this Sunday, and as I consider the ways in which in-person worship will be different, two words have been on my heart: Love and Lament.

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Pastoral Letter: Longing to Regather, and Our Tentative Plans

Dear Calvary Church Family,

As you know, this season has been wrought with difficulty, including the necessity of worshiping apart.  Jesus has saved us into a community and has made us for corporate worship, and our collective hearts have cried out for the community into which the Lord has placed us.

Throughout this season, Psalm 42 has been the chorus of my soul, speaking hope to my own weary heart and longing to once again be with God’s people in God’s presence, worshiping Him together.  I have been reminded often of the words of the Psalmist, whose spiritual angst seems to be a product of a time of separation from the gathered people of God.  “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul pants for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?…These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts of praise, a multitude keeping festival” (Psalm 42:1, 4).

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Calvary Session Letter Regarding COVID-19

Dear Calvary Church Family,

As you are likely aware, the World Health Organization, this week declared the spread of COVID-19 to be a pandemic.  In addition, Governor Cooper has declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, advising against assemblies that exceed 100 people.

Calvary’s Session met Thursday night, and after prayerful consideration and because we do not exceed 100, we plan to gather for public worship this Sunday, as usual at 10:30am.  We believe that as long as we are able to gather, we need the hope that only the gospel provides in the context of corporate worship. 

However, we will also continue to monitor information coming from the CDC and NCDHHS websites for developments and current recommendations.  In light of the changing landscape, below is an updated list of precautions we plan to take, both as individuals and as a congregation:

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A Call to Prayer and Fasting – October 14-20, 2019


The Session of Calvary PCA has called for a week of prayer and fasting October 14-20, as we prepare to transition into our renovated facility on Ray Road. 

In this exciting season, we need to be reminded that while a building is a great gift, it one to be stewarded as a missionary outpost in our community.  We have been called to bring glory to God in this generation and the next by making disciples where we are and where we have been sent.  We cannot do this in our own strength, so we are asking God to empower us by His Holy Spirit for the work he has called us to do.  As the Psalmist declares, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it, labor in vain” (Psalm 127).  Join us this week by setting aside one day for prayer and fasting, as we submit ourselves and this work to the One whose work it really is.

A helpful tool for understanding the purpose of a day of prayer and fasting can be found at, written by David Mathis in an excerpt from his book Habits of Grace.

To assist you with your day of prayer and fasting, below, please find a guide you can use to lead you into God’s Word and to His throne of grace.  We have included 10 seasons with corresponding Scriptures through which you might pray.  Each season could correspond with a particular hour of the day, so that we might seek His face throughout the day.  For example, you could start with season 1 at 8am, followed by season 2 at 9am and so on.  If you miss an hour (i.e. 10am), you would just pick up with the next season (3) the next hour (11am). 

If you would prefer a printable version, you can download the Seasons of Guided Prayer here.

May the Lord be glorified in and through His Church throughout this and every generation (Eph. 3:21), and may He give us the grace to move forward in unity (John 17:22-23).


Season 1 – Hunger and Thirst To Follow Jesus (Matthew 5:1-11)

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Season 2 – Glorify Jesus (John 17:1-5)

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Season 3 – Give Thanks for Our Identity In Jesus (John 17:6-9)

6  “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

Season 4 – Pray that We Would Experience the Joy of Jesus (John 17:10-13)

 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Season 5 – Pray that We Would Be Marked By the Truth of Jesus (John 17:14-19)

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Season 6 – Pray that We Would Exhibit Unity in Jesus (John 17:20-23)

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Season 7 – Pray that We Would See, Savor and Share the Glory of Jesus (John 17:24-26)

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Season 8 – Pray that We Would Be Filled with Wisdom to Discern the Will of Jesus (Col. 1:9-14)

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Season 9 – Pray that We Would Be Rooted in the Love of Jesus (Ephesians 3:14-19)

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Season 10 – Pray that Christ Jesus Would Be Glorified in Us in this Generation and the Next 

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Reflecting, Rejoicing and Remembering:

Reflecting, Rejoicing, and Remembering: 6 Years of Ministry Partnership

Earlier this week, Bethany and I got away for a couple of days at the lake in celebration of our 16-year-anniversary in late July.  Time spent together over meals, hiking, and kayaking gave us opportunity to reflect on how our lives have changed since the day we said, “I do” and to rejoice in the rich blessings of God through years of laughter, tears, difficulty and joy.  Two days without the pressures of daily tasks and meeting the acute needs of our children provided the space to remember both the covenant we made to one another before God and man and the calling of God on our lives as husband and wife.

When we take the time, anniversaries provide the space for reflecting, rejoicing, and remembering what God has done, and this Sunday, August 25 marks another anniversary – 6 years since my first sermon as pastor at Calvary. 

As I think about these 6-years of ministry partnership, I am reflecting on the many changes the Lord has brought our way.  Our children, who were 7, 4, and under 1 when we unpacked out belongings in the summer of 2013, will begin 8th, 5th and 1st grade respectively this Monday.  Many people who worshiped with us that first Sunday are no longer with us, as God has providentially called some away and others home to be with Him.  Many empty chairs have been filled with new friends and partners in ministry, whom we’ve had the privilege to welcome, and some with whom we’ve experienced the sadness of saying goodbye.  And the building in which we gathered that first Sunday is today just weeks from an incredible transformation.

As I reflect, I’m also rejoicing in the blessings of God throughout these years.  He has faithfully enriched our lives with deep friendships and demonstrated His love to us through the kindness of His body, the church, through both the joys and sorrows of life.  He has brought our church through times of difficulty, and enveloped us with His presence, as we’ve gathered for worship, community and service.  He has enabled this ministry to bear fruit, not because of the strength of our plans, strategies, or talents, but because His Word will not return void and His strength is made manifest in our weakness.  And He has provided us with all we need to do all He is calling us to do in this and every season of life and ministry together.

As I reflect and rejoice, I also remember the calling that God has placed on this church is the same today as it was on August 25, 2013.  We have been called to bring glory to God in this generation and the next by making disciples right here in Raleigh and wherever we have been sent.  I’m always amazed that the “multi-everything” expression of the church is God’s great idea for enacting His mission in the world, but we at Calvary have the privilege of being called into His mission together.  And the promise of Jesus given to his disciples before He ascended to His throne is as true for us today, as it was for them 2,000 years ago, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

As I reflect, rejoice and remember on this 6th anniversary at Calvary, my heart is filled with the prayer of the Apostle Paul, as he engaged a similar exercise in considering his beloved ministry partners in Philippi:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ (Phil. 1:3-4).

Happy 6th anniversary, Calvary!

With Gratitude and Love,

Pastor Nate

Opening Day and the Long Season of Life

Opening Day and the Long Season of Life

Baseball Opening day.  Few phrases produce in my heart a greater sense of longing, anticipation and excitement. 

In early spring 2001, I was a young, soon-to-be college graduate, embarking on my first career, as a play-by-play broadcaster in Minor League Baseball.  For me, opening day represented the culmination, not only of a long winter of moving; settling into a new community; learning a new job; and making new friends, but of a many years of working toward a moment I never thought would come.  Yet, on that cool spring evening in Macon, GA, with my stomach twisted in knots and a future Major League superstar on the mound, opening day finally came. 

But the truth about baseball opening day, with all its pageantry and excitement, is that it gives way to a long season, marked by hot days, long nights, unexpected thunderstorms, and hours of unnoticed, unseen work.  Periodically a walk-off homerun, a no-hitter, or a stadium packed with thousands of fans eagerly looking forward to the post-game fireworks breaks through as a reminder – this is really great!

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Standing at the Crossroads of Life’s Transitions

Standing at the Crossroads of Life’s Transitions

It was 2am.  After hours of packing and cleaning, my wife and I sat alone on the floor of our oldest daughter’s nursery, exhausted from a long day, preceded by an even longer week, and something happened that had rarely occurred in our 4-year old marriage – I began to weep.  As I sat in the house we planned and had built, the room we lovingly painted and furnished just over a year prior and considered all that had occurred in three years in our West Virginia home, the excitement of a move to St. Louis was overshadowed by the strange grief of change.  What had at one time been only an unknown future hope was now a package of past memories tenuously stored in our minds and hearts, as we set off on our next adventure.

Three states and six homes later, I’m increasingly aware of the simultaneous grief and joy that lie in the crossroads of life’s many transitions. 

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Signs of Life at the Dawning of Spring

Signs of Life at the Dawning of Spring

As the calendar flips from February to March, I have noticed that the city of Raleigh has begun showcasing signs of life.  Even on a cold, rainy day like today, the landscape is dotted with the white flowers of pear trees, the first wave of the promise that winter will soon give way to spring.  Soon, the white flowers will give way to green leaves and the dancing of daffodils will not be far behind.  Soon, daylight will hang on a little longer until one day I’ll look at the clock on my phone and see that the sun remains at 8pm.  Soon, the 40 degree days and nights will bow to more consistent warm temperatures.  Soon, the forest that looked like the death of winter will sing with the new life of spring.

As I look with eager anticipation to the promise of spring, I’m reminded that in many ways, Calvary Presbyterian Church is on the precipice of a new season, the hints of which have been evident for quite some time.  In His mercy, God has been pleased to bless our church with signs of life.

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3:21 Refresh Week of Prayer and Fasting

3:21 Refresh Week of Prayer and Fasting

(Note: The contents of this blog post were originally posted during the 3:21 Initiative in November 10, 2017.)

The elders of Calvary PCA have called for a week of prayer and fasting February 18-23, leading into the 3:21 Refresh commitment Sunday, February 24, as we pledge our gifts to the 3:21 initiative.  We have asked members of Calvary to set aside one day this week, dedicated to prayer and fasting that we might seek His will and not our own.  Click here to confidentially register for a day of prayer and fasting.

We are asking that the Lord would enable us to operate out of a position of our freedom in Christ, rather than out of a position of compulsion, duty, or fear.  As you pray and as you seek God’s wisdom for how He would have you contribute time, talent and treasure to the 3:21 initiative, remember that in Christ you are those who are:

  • Free From Bondage to live as those who are truly free (Gal. 5:1)
  • Free From Condemnation to live as those who are accepted by God (Romans 8:1-2)
  • Free From Fear to live as those who are the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:15)
  • Free From Results to live as open-handed servants of God (1Peter 2:16)
  • Free From Selfish Desires to live out the great commandments of love for God and love for neighbor (Gal.5:13)

May God give us grace to pray, live, and give as those who are set free in Christ!

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Standing For Life: What Do We Do When Outrage Doesn’t Work?

Standing for Life: What do we do When Outrage Doesn’t Work?

We live in what many have called an outrage culture.  My social media feed is filled daily with posts expressing shock, anger, disdain and often disregard for those whose opinion differ from that of the one posting.  Often we reduce people down to lowest common denominator of the views they hold with little regard for the fullness of who they are.  The reality is that Christians are as guilty of these things as anyone else.  Yet, outrage-fueled posts have no effect on transforming the minds and hearts of those whose views do not reflect our own.

But what are we to do when the only rightful response to an issue or idea is righteous anger?  What must a Christian do when outrage doesn’t work?  This question has been on my mind since reading over a week ago that the New York state legislature passed a bill permitting abortion at any time up to the birth of a child.  Subsequent comments by prominent political leaders have left me saddened at the reality of sin in a world in rebellion against the God who has created human life in His image and likeness.  Perhaps like me, you have wondered what are we as Christians called to do.  While I do not have all the answers, I do believe the Scriptures would lead us in at least the following ways:

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And Yet, We Wait…

It’s beginning to look like Christmas at the Wilks home. Earlier this week, we trimmed this year’s tree with ornaments collected for our children and family over the years. Our hedges are decked with lights, two small lit trees welcome guests on our front porch, and a wreath is shining on our door. The enthusiasm of our three children has been palpable from the moment the music came on (after Thanksgiving dinner of course), to the process of decorating our home.  There is greater-than-usual excitement, as the promise of Christmas morning stares them in eye each day, and yet, we wait.

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In Appreciation For Faithful Men…

In Appreciation For Faithful Men who Entrusted to Me What they Had Been Taught

This morning I was looking through a few old pictures on Facebook.  It’s funny what one will find in looking back.  Old memories flood my mind like a tidal wave, reminding me of long-forgotten joys, oft-remembered pain and much appreciated people whose presence in my life have left an indelible mark.

One particular photo has elicited in me a spirit of incalculable gratitude.  In this picture, taken the occasion of my ordination to pastoral ministry over 7 years ago, I’m surrounded by three pastors – faithful men who took particular interest in passing to me what they had learned through years of following Jesus and serving his church.

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What Time is It?

What Time Is It?

“Daddy, what time is it?”  With little concept of the reality of time, my youngest daughter asks this question on many nights.  “It’s 9pm” is the equivalent to “it’s 7pm” to her.  It’s simply an answer from her daddy in which a meaningless number is attached.  But when I say, “It’s bedtime,” she knows it’s time to spring into action – brush teeth, get dressed, read a book, sing songs, say prayers, and go to sleep.  Without my specific reminder of just what time it is, I don’t know if my youngest child would ever go to sleep.

I wonder how many people walk around with no idea of just what time it is.  Oh, we know the time on our smartphone and the date on our Google calendar, but do we really know what time it is, and does it spring us into action?

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Presence is Better than Presents

Presence is Better than Presents

“Did you get the presents for my birthday yet?”  Even before, “Hello” or “Good Morning,” this is the question with which my youngest child greeted me moments after springing from her bed earlier this week.  Never missing an opportunity to meet audacious questions with silly answers, my response was, “You always have my presence!”  “Dad!” she replied in confused tone, “You know what I mean!”  After a few minutes of circular exchange, I said simply, “Sweetheart, presence is always better than presents.” 

For the record, of course we got presents for our child’s birthday, but as I’ve reflected on this playful conversation this week, I’m struck by how often I have the heart of a soon-to-be six-year-old child, as I think about and communicate with God in prayer. 

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Warm Welcome for Wary People

Warm Welcome for Wary People

“Welcome!”  This is the greeting we received today, as we walked our youngest child into her kindergarten classroom to meet her teacher for the first time.  As we looked around the room at parents and children, we were impressed by the warm welcome given to wary students, as they entered this strange room ready to embark on the beginning of many years of first days of school.  From the name tags on the tables, to the personalized cubbies, to the packets left for each child, everything in the classroom communicated, “Welcome!  We’ve been expecting you, and we’re glad you’re here.”  By the time we left, our daughter felt so comfortable and welcomed, she gave her teacher a giant hug, joyfully declaring, “See you Tuesday!”

All of us know the feeling of walking into unfamiliar territory for the first time.  Whether it’s a new classroom, job, city or neighborhood, we have all experienced the wary feeling of being a stranger, wondering if we will be accepted, welcomed and embraced.  This is especially true in the local church, where relationships among members are tight and where the language and culture may be unfamiliar.  This is why those who belong to a church must make intentional steps to communicate, “Welcome! We’ve been expecting you, and we’re glad you’re here.”  But where does this begin?

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5 years – 5 Prayers of Thanksgiving for Calvary PCA

5 Years – 5 Prayers of Thanksgiving for Calvary PCA

When I first stepped into the pulpit at Calvary five-years ago this week, I could not possibly have imagined the joys, sorrows, challenges and triumphs that lie ahead.

I could not have known that my family would live in three homes, that one of my children would be enrolled in three schools in as many years, or the extent to which we would be loved by a congregation seeking and praying for God’s renewing grace in their midst.  I could not have known the names or faces that would come and go, making an indelible mark on our family and church by bringing joy through friendship and sorrow through loss.  I could not have known who would make a midnight phone call, seeking comfort in the midst of crisis, or who would pull me aside after church to express their delight at the news of a new job, new life, new relationship, or new opportunity.

I knew that pastoral ministry was a beautiful, difficult calling, but the details of what we would face together in the coming years were a mystery, just as what lies ahead for us in the future is unknown to all but God.

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Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table (Part 2): Tasting Community

Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table (Part 2): Tasting Community

My family enjoys a good buffet.  There’s enough food to feed the hungriest parent and plenty of options to satisfy the pickiest child.  However, my wife and I have discovered one major drawback to our trips the local buffet – we may show up together, but we rarely eat together.

With three children ages 5, 9, and 11, we find ourselves taking shifts to the buffet line.  My wife takes one child through the line, and I’ll take another, while our oldest child works her way through on her own.  Once our two youngest children have their food, I will typically stay with the children at the table, while my wife gets her food.  Once she returns, I’m ready to take round 1 through the buffet line.  Finally!  I sit down and grab my fork to eat, and then I hear a voice next to me, “Daddy, I’m ready for seconds.”

Welcome to the buffet – where we all get what we want, but scarcely enjoy it together!  This illustrates why increasingly, we prefer a “family meal” at home or in a sit-down restaurant to the everyone’s-pleased-but-not-together experience of the local buffet.  We miss the joy of tasting, not only our food, but the community we have together.

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Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table: Savoring Mercy

Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table: Savoring Mercy

Where do you want to go to eat?  This question in my home typically elicits one of three answers.  If it’s not my children’s favorite fast food joint or a place serving breakfast all day, it’s almost always their favorite buffet – known affectionately in our home as the hog trough.  Why?  Because buffets are full of choices – unending choices, sure to please the pickiest eater.  Of course, the enticing, all-you-can-eat dessert station, complete with cotton candy, might have something to do with their palate’s restaurant of choice.

Our lives are often a lot like that buffet.  Every week includes a series of choices – some that fill us well and others that feel good for a moment, but leave us empty, like the cotton candy in the dessert line.  But in any case, we make the choice – from the places we shop, to the sports we play, to the videos we stream on the device we choose to carry into the restaurant we choose to patron, to the church activities in which we engage.  Life’s options often feel like a line at the local buffet.  In fact, for many of us, the Christian life has become a series of trips to the buffet line.

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Hurry Up and Wait!

Hurry Up and Wait!

Nearly every morning, one of my children waits by the door.  Backpack slung around their shoulders, left hand on the doorknob and eager anticipation written on their face.  “Dad, can I go yet?  I don’t want to miss the bus!”  “Not yet,”  is often my reply 5-10 minutes before it’s time to leave.  “Isn’t there something you can do while you wait?

This familiar exchange reminds me that unlike their father, this young child has mastered the art of being early, which means the opportunity to learn the art of “hurry up and wait!”

Life, in many ways, is a series of waitings – filled with regular opportunities to hurry up and wait.  We wait to graduate from school.  We wait to hear back from a prospective employer about a new job.  We wait for the day we can finally afford that house, that car, that vacation.   We wait to meet the love of our life.  We wait for the birth of a child.  We wait by the bed of a sick or dying loved one.    We wait for that diagnosis to discover the cause of our symptoms.  We wait for reconciliation.  We wait by the phone for a call that may never come.  The question for us is not will we have to wait, but instead, what will we do in our waiting?

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10 Pastoral Prayers for 2018

10 Pastoral Prayers for 2018

As we move into a new year of ministry together, I am keenly aware of our need for God’s work in our midst.  I am also conscious of my tendency to pray small prayers, asking God to do things that feel safe and manageable.

However, as I read the Bible, and particularly the prayers of God’s people, I am struck by the humanly impossible petitions and promises contained within its pages.  God’s promises to His people are not attainable through human effort or intellect, and the prayers of Scripture often ask God to do what only an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving and gracious God can do.

To that end, I have found myself praying prayers for Calvary Presbyterian Church that only God could answer and that are clearly beyond my grasp.  I invite you to do the same.  Below are 10 specific ways in which I am praying for the people of Calvary in 2018:

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What is the Purpose of a Gift?

What is the purpose of a gift?  In recent days, I have been thinking about this question, as my children excitedly complete their Amazon wish lists with a number of items they hope to receive as gifts this year.  As I scroll through their list, I’m not sure there is enough hours in a year to play all the video games they’ve saved, enough space to fit all the stuffed animals my daughter has marked, or enough bins to hold the variety of Legos they want to add to their collection.  As I look around our home, interspersed with long-neglected toys, clothes that still include the tags, and books collecting dust, I cannot help but wonder – how long it will take for this year’s gifts to join them in the dustbin of obsolescence.

Both giving and receiving gifts is a special experience, but the reality is, once the initial excitement wears off, gifts often fail to live up to the purpose for which they were given in the first place.  This is a picture of what can happen in the local church.

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3:21 Week of Prayer and Fasting

Week of Prayer Fasting November
3:21 WEEK OF PRAYER AND FASTING – November 12-18

 The elders of Calvary PCA have called for a week of prayer and fasting November 12-18, leading into commitment Sunday, November 19, as we pledge our gifts to the 3:21 initiative.  We have asked members of Calvary to set aside one day this week, dedicated to prayer and fasting that we might seek His will and not our own.  Click here to confidentially register for a day of prayer and fasting.

We are asking that the Lord would enable us to operate out of a position of our freedom in Christ, rather than out of a position of compulsion, duty, or fear.  As you pray and as you seek God’s wisdom for how He would have you contribute time, talent and treasure to the 3:21 initiative, remember that in Christ you are those who are:

  • Free From Bondage to live as those who are truly free (Gal. 5:1)
  • Free From Condemnation to live as those who are accepted by God (Romans 8:1-2)
  • Free From Fear to live as those who are the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:15)
  • Free From Results to live as open-handed servants of God (1Peter 2:16)
  • Free From Selfish Desires to live out the great commandments of love for God and love for neighbor (Gal.5:13)

May God give us grace to pray, live, and give as those who are set free in Christ!

[Read more…]

Learning to Pray from a Daughter and a Dot

Learning to Pray
Learning to Pray from a Daughter and a Dot*

“Go brush your teeth, and I’ll come help you get ready for school.”  With these familiar words, I attempted to send my 5-year-old daughter, Elise, from the kitchen with marching orders to get the day started and give me an opportunity to do an all-important check of my Facebook feed.  Monday morning priorities, you know.

As Elise hopped down from the table with her usual exuberance, she moved, not toward the hallway, as instructed, but instead she skipped the opposite direction toward me.  “Elise,” I said in full daddy-tone. “What did I tell you to do?”  Without missing a beat, she gave me a giant hug and snuck a peak at the phone in my hand.

“Prayer dot!” she exclaimed.  Her eyes locked on my face, looking to see how I would respond to her spotting the green dot affixed to the upper right hand corner of my iPhone screen.  “Elise, I said…”  Ugh!  I can’t encourage the members of Calvary Presbyterian Church to pray for the ministry of our congregation every time they see that dot throughout their day and suddenly ignore it when my own daughter eagerly wants to stop and come before her Heavenly Father.

“I guess we should pray,” I said.  With that, Elise and I both lifted up Calvary and our ministries before our great God, and then, she bounded down the hallway with joy on her face, prepared to get ready for her morning at school.

As she turned the corner, I sat at the table thinking, “my daughter just used a dot to teach me to pray.”  While I seek to teach our congregation to pray for our 3:21 initiative and therefore, to entrust all we are and have to our Lord, He is using simple prayer dots as my daughter’s teaching-aid to instruct me in the way of faith.

As you go before the throne of God’s grace in the coming weeks to lift up the ministry of Calvary in prayer, may you have the gift of going before him with the faith of a child, “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:14).  May we have open hearts to be taught to pray, even by the smallest in our midst!

*Learn more about Calvary’s 3:21 Initiative here.  Prayer dot cards are available at Calvary each week.  We encourage each of our members and attenders to take one and use it to help guide your prayers during our 3:21 Initiative.

3:21 Initiative – God’s Glory in All Generations

3:21 Initiative – God’s Glory in All Generations

We live in an amazing area of the country with tremendous resources and opportunities.  Each year, Raleigh is rated as the #1 or #2 place to raise a family by a variety of publications.  According to the Wake County website, Wake county is growing by an average of 62 people per day – that’s 22,630 people per year – good for the second fastest growth rate of any county with >1 million residents in the nation.  If that number stays flat, that’s 226,300 people in 10 years.  Since Calvary was planted in the mid 1970s, the population of Wake County has quadrupled from approximately 250,000 people to around 1 million people in 2014.  Estimates are that in just under 40 years (2054), Wake County will hit the 2 million mark.

This is great news for us, because the church is called by Jesus Christ to the great commission.  As you go, make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Mt. 28:18-20, Acts 1:8).  The beauty is if we desire to reach the nations, all we need to do is walk out our front door.  Of the 62 new people per day in Wake County, 9 of those (15%) are international residents.  We are called to make disciples where we are and where we are sent.  And God has graciously planted us in the middle of one of the most vibrant, growing and changing areas of the country.  But what does that mean for who we are and what God would have us to be?

Paul has a vision in Ephesians 3.  In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul lays out first what God is building – A church made up of diverse people to be the house of the Holy Spirit (2:19-22).  In other words, the church is the place where God would live.  Second, He tells us how God is building this Church – By saving people by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (2:8-10), so that all the ways in which we would divide would be broken down by our union with Christ.  Third, He tells us the why or purpose of the Church (Ephesians 3:10) – that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

In other Words: The church is a diverse community of people saved by grace through faith in Christ to display the wisdom of God to the world.

On the ground, what’s clear is only God can do this!  Before laying out this vision, Paul acknowledges this saying in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”

Then he continues with His vision for the church, “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”

All we do should be about bringing glory to his name in all generations where we have been planted.  This is why we say that Calvary PCA exists to bring glory to God in this generation and the next by making disciples where we are and where we are sent.

Over the next five weeks, we will be engaging in what we are calling the 3:21 Initiative, in which we desire to cast this vision that the church would Bring Glory to God in this Generation and the next.  On a practical level, this means that we are taking the next steps toward the renovation and expansion of our facility at 6520 Ray Road in order to meet the needs of an ever-changing, ever-growing community.  This will include a commitment of time, talent and treasure on the part of God’s church.

In order to prepare our hearts to prayerfully commit this vision to “the one who is able to do far more than we ask or imagine,” we will be preaching through several pieces of the 3:21 Initiative over the next 5 Sundays:

3:21 Sermons


October 15 – VISION

Ephesians 3:21

Glory to God…

  • In Christ
  • In His Church
  • Throughout all Generations


October 22 – TRUST

2 Peter 1:16, Hebrews 11:1

Faith Must…

  • Be Anchored in the Truth
  • Believe in the Truth
  • Grow in the Truth
October 29 – GENEROSITY

Romans 11:36

All Things are…

  • From Him
  • Through Him
  • For Him

Romans 12:1-2

Living to Die & Dying to Live…

  • Motivated by Mercy
  • Marked by Worship
  • Moved by Transformation
November 12 – COMMITMENT

Romans 12:3-16

All In…

  • Belonging in Christ
  • Gifted by Christ
  • Loving for Christ

Other Key Dates

  •  10/29@ 5:30pm – 3:21 Property Update
  • 11/12-19 – Week of Prayer and Fasting
  • 11/15 – Church-wide Prayer
  • 11/19 – Commitment Sunday
  • 12/03 – Celebration Sunday


As we enter this season together, there are two things, I pray we will keep in mind:

#1 – God is building His church to be the place of His Dwelling.  Brick and Mortar are a means to the end of making disciples where we are and where we have been sent.

#2 – Our goal here is to see this vision made a reality – that the glory of God would be made known in and through this church from generation to generation – now and in the future.

Join us in prayer over these next several weeks that God would be please to bring glory to His name, unity in Christ’s Church, growth in faith and love, and a culture in which we would faithfully make disciples where we are and where we are sent.

Fall Again: Good News for the Seasons of Life

Fall Again
Fall Again: Good News for the Seasons of Life

As I sat in my window seat, sipping a complimentary beverage at a local coffee shop this week, I peered up from behind my computer screen to catch a glimpse of a sign I somehow missed as I entered the door just minutes before.  There it was in bold letters with illustrations of autumn leaves around the headline – “Fall Again.”  In spite of the high 80s temperatures outside, the sign reminded me of what I had conveniently forgotten: Fall is here; another season in a busy year.

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Good News for A Lonely World: The Message of Exodus 21-40

Good News for a Lonely World
Good News for a Lonely World: The Message of Exodus 21-40

A recent headline from an article by Dr. Keith Ablow declared, “Loneliness is Now More Deadly than Obesity.  And We Don’t Have a Plan to Reduce it.”[1]  He cites findings presented at the recent American Psychological Association conference asserting that, “social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death.”

We live in a paradoxical time in which we are surrounded by others and inundated nearly every moment with so-called “social” media, yet recent studies show that people feel more isolated and lonely than ever before, and it’s killing us.  One only needs to observe a sea of people checking their smartphones in a crowded restaurant to know that we bring many of our feelings of loneliness upon ourselves, but the reality is that the solution may be deeper than simply downgrading to an old-school flip phone.  This is but a symptom to a deeper problem.

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Life in Transition: Looking Back and Looking Forward on Ministry Together

Wilks Family
Life in Transition: Looking Back and Looking Forward on Ministry Together at Calvary

Last night our family attended a “meet the teacher” event at my son, Hayden’s, new school.  Tomorrow, my wife will drop off our oldest child, Kayleigh, at the building where she will begin her middle school experience, so she can meet her teachers and other incoming 6th graders.  Simultaneously, I will accompany my youngest child, Elise, to meet her teacher, as she begins the final year of preschool for any Wilks child.  Very few people love change, most abhor it, but the reality is that life is often a series of transitions interspersed with short spurts of stability.

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A Call To Repentance in the Wake of Charlottesville

A Call to Repentance in the Wake of Charlottesville.

If you’re like me you have been horrified, deeply disturbed, and even self-reflective at the events of violence and hatred on display at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA this weekend.

In light of these events, we led the congregation of Calvary Presbyterian Church in a season of repentance, lament, and longing during our Sunday worship gathering.  Below is a transcript of what I said in leading the members of Calvary into this season:

Reflections on the Events of Charlottesville this weekend and a call to repent, lament and long for Jesus.

* Let me be abundantly clear.  There is no room in the Christian Life and Christian Church for racism or white supremacy or any supremacy that supplants Christ’s Supremacy.  None!

* Revelation 7:9 describes a day when Christ sits upon his throne and at his feet is the multitude too large to count from every tongue, tribe, and people and language standing before the throne, washed white by the blood of Jesus Christ, crying out with ONE voice (not disparate voices), ONE voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

* In Ephesians 2:14-16, the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus has broken down in his body the middle wall of separation between God and Man and Humanity with One another.  Here is what he says:

 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

* In John 17 – Jesus prays fervently for this church of every tongue tribe and nation and every generation to exhibit the Unity that exists between the Father and the Son – a unity that has existed from before the beginning of time.

* Here’s the reality, it is easy to look at the images of men in their nice polo shirts holding torches and people wearing their white hoods and carrying their flags and think – “Look at them over there.  Look how the seeds of hate run deep in them.  I’m glad I’m not like that.”

* But when I think about the reality of what Christ has secured and what Christ prayed for and what Christ is doing in the world today, I cannot help but see myself in those images.

* I cannot help but think about the vestiges of racism that remain in my own heart;  The silence that too often characterizes my lips;  The inaction that fails to get out of my apartment or my office or the coffee shop and pursue real racial reconciliation in my own heart and life and lead the church to do the same.

* I can’t help but remember the words of Dr. King that remain as true today as they did when first stated that 11am on Sunday is the most segregated time in America.

* I cannot help but feel the hypocrisy of my own heart and life, knowing that every Sunday morning, Bethany and I leave our apartment complex where we are the overwhelming minority and come to this church that Jesus loves, where we are part of the overwhelming majority.

* I don’t stand before you as a man who has it all together or even knows what to do.  But I stand before you as a fellow struggler knowing that we are in desperate need of the reconciling power of Jesus Christ, so that we the church might be the true reflection of Christ’s unifying Lordship over all things through His work at Calvary.

* What I know is we are a people in deep need of repentance, faith and Christ’s reconciling work.

This morning we lament, not only the horrifying events and evil in Charlottesville, but the vestiges of division that remain in us.  May Jesus have mercy on us.




Ordinary to Extraordinary

Photo Credit: Ryan Hatton

Photo Credit: Ryan Hatton

Ordinary to Extraordinary: Giving thanks for the Fruit of Ordinary Life and Ministry

We live in an Instagram society.  Snap a photo, post it, and display what appears to be an extraordinary moment in the midst of ordinary life.  This often makes us assume that life should be full of the incredible, the fanciful, the extraordinary.

In reality, life and ministry is a series of normal, mundane, ordinary and repetitive moments that sometimes bear fruit in extraordinary ways.  Day-to-day life for most of us is full of the repetitive cadence of waking up, eating meals, washing dishes, cleaning a home, driving to and from work, grocery shopping, taking care of family obligations, paying bills, checking e-mail and social media, watching television, going to bed, getting up the next morning, and repeat.  Yet once-in-a-while the faithful living-out of the ordinary moments of life gives way to something extraordinary: new relationships blossom, new opportunities fall in our laps, we graduate from school, awards come our way, a pay raise relieves financial pressure, a vacation breathes new life into our lungs, retirement gives a new perspective on life, our children embrace Jesus, we have a moment of clarity years-in-the-making.

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From Danger to Praise

From Danger to Praise
From Danger to Praise!

“Warning!  Serious Injuries and deaths have occurred beyond this point.”  These are the “welcome” signs that awaited Bethany and me this week, as we hiked at Hanging Rock State Park together in celebration of 14 years of marriage.  I both chuckled and cringed at these signs of warning, knowing they portend real potential danger, illustrated in the stories of real lives lost and real lives changed by a false step, or simply an unforeseen disaster.

Yet, we forged ahead, along with countless other men, women and children, because at the peak of hanging rock is a glorious view that with sure footing leads to praise!  “You’re almost there,” people would say to us on their way down.  “It’s beautiful and amazing and so worth it!”  They were right.  As we stood at the peak of Hanging Rock, I thought, “I can’t imagine what would have been lost if I’d turned back at those signs.”

Many of us, including myself, often view the journey of the Christian life as a hike to the top of Hanging Rock, particularly when it comes to the call in the life of every believer to evangelism, or sharing one’s faith.  The journey is one full of signs that scream, “Warning!  Serious injury and deaths have occurred beyond this point.”  Sharing our faith can be quite an adventure, but we are often afraid of the dangers, the consequences of saying the wrong thing or of being rejected by our families, our neighbors, our friends, and that can feel like death.

However, when we have seen a greater glory, we cannot help but respond in a praise that extends beyond ourselves and to those around us who are hiking the truly dangerous journey of life – one without God.  In Psalm 40:2-3, the Psalmist testifies to what God has done for him, saying, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (vs. 2).  When Jesus saves, he does so out of our real danger and sets our feet upon the One who is our solid rock, enabling us to behold a greater glory.  The response?  Praise that extends to a world in danger.  He continues, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (vs. 3).

Has the Lord Jesus taken you out of the pit of destruction, the miry bog and set your feet upon the rock?  Has he put a new song of praise in your mouth?  If so, may He enable your praise to extend beyond yourself to your family, your neighbors, your friends and co-workers, who are in need of the same.

This Sunday at Calvary, is Neighbor Sunday, and we will be sharing the Good News of how Jesus has come to seek and save the lost, those who are truly in danger, that they might see a greater glory.  Use this opportunity to invite your friends to join us, that they, too, might “put their trust in the Lord.”

Do Your Want Your Usual?

Do You Want Your Usual
Do You Want Your Usual?

“Good morning.  Do you want your usual?”  These were the words I recently heard spoken by a local barista to two coffee-shop patrons.  Consistent.  Thoughtful.  Familiar.  Welcoming.  Comforting.  That’s what these words represent.  How long does one have to regularly patronize an establishment before they are known by employees to have a “usual?”  A month of weekly visits?  Weeks of daily visits?  Does it depend on consistency of order?  Does it depend on consistency of the employee?

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Whom Should I Invite?

Whom Should I Invite?

Whom should I invite?  This was the question my wife Bethany had to answer leading into her 10th-birthday sleepover some years ago.  As she pondered this question, she couldn’t fathom leaving any of the girls from her 4th-grade class out of the opportunity to gather for her party, so her parents graciously let her invite every girl from her class.  I’m not sure they ever did that again, but Bethany had a great time, and all of the girls felt welcomed!

We extend invitations for events that we think are important and to people whom we care about.

In Luke 14:15-24, Jesus tells a parable about a man who sent out invitations for a great party.  Invitations were extended to close friends, but they made excuses.  They had better things to do and other commitments in their life.  So, the servants were sent to the alley-ways and the overpasses of the city to extend invitations to the homeless, the blind, the crippled, and the lame.  When that didn’t fill his party, he sent his servants to extend invitations to people outside the city – the highways and the hedges.  Why?  It was to be a great party, and a great party needs guests eager to dine at the table of the host.

Do you believe that that the people you know and meet need to be invited to the great party to dine at the table of the great host, Jesus?  When was the last time you invited someone to church?  When was the last time you invited someone to meet your church family, or more importantly, to meet Jesus?  After all, there is no greater party than the ones thrown by Jesus.

On Sunday, August 6, Calvary will be hosting “Neighbor Sunday”, complete with a community party.   This is a unique opportunity to invite our family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends to dine at the table of the great host, Jesus, whose parties outshine all the rest.  We will have great food, games, and bounce house and slides for the kids.  This is not a gimmick, but an opportunity.  It’s not a guilt trip but an invitation.  It’s not high-pressure, but a friendly welcome to all who would come to meet Jesus and meet your church family.

Let’s consider together whom we might invite, because we aren’t simply extending an invitation to a fun afternoon on a hot summer day, we’re inviting those we care about to come and dine at the table of King Jesus.

Calvary PCA Week of Prayer and Fasting


 The elders of Calvary PCA have called for a week of prayer and fasting July 3-8, leading into the congregational vote on July 9 to determine whether or not the Lord would have us move forward with the expansion and renovation of Calvary’s building at 6520 Ray Road, Raleigh.  We have asked members of Calvary to set aside one day this week, dedicated to prayer and fasting that we might seek His will and not our own.

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Changing Lives Through Gospel Hospitality

Gospel Hospitality
Changing Lives Through Gospel Hospitality

Excited, Scared, Disconnected, Hopeful, Confused, Alone.  These words describe well the mixed bag of emotions that was 22-year-old me in February 2001.  I completed my college course-work a semester early, and moved to Augusta, GA to begin my first career as a Minor League Baseball Broadcaster.  Although no one else knew it at the time, the excitement of reaching a life-long goal fresh out of college was tempered by a mixture of utter terror and deep loneliness, as I left my family and friends for a state and city in which I had never previously set foot to begin a role I was not confident I could perform with competency, much less success.

My first Sunday in Augusta, I walked into a small Presbyterian church with no prior connection other than an e-mail exchange with the pastor with a funny last name.  As I sat down, a couple about the age of my parents, turned around and introduced themselves, sharing with me that they had a son about my age.  I didn’t know their son would one day be a fellow-student at the seminary I could never have imagined I would attend, and I certainly didn’t know that he would become a pastoral colleague in the presbytery of the church, where I would fill a role I swore I would never fill: pastor.

As the pastor began his announcements that Sunday, I could tell that not only was he aware I was visiting, but he was about to single me out and publicly welcome me, the new “voice of the Augusta GreenJackets.”  When he asked me to give my best “home-run call,” and I responded with a self-deprecating remark, I had no idea that he would follow-up with me by inviting me to many lunches and even dessert in his home.  I certainly had no idea that in less than two-year’s time, I would ask him for his daughter’s hand in marriage and that I would call him “father-in-law.”

In the weeks following my first visit to this church I would attend and in which I would cut my ministry teeth as a volunteer in the youth ministry, I was invited to the homes of several of the older members of the congregation, who saw a young man who had to be lonely and certainly had to eat.  The hospitality of that couple, that pastor-turned-father-in-law, and those older church members gave me the thing I most desperately needed in that season – a family.

In the midst of the busy summer ahead, there will be many people moving into this area, approximately 65-per-day, according to the Wake County website.  Some may be your neighbors, some may be your co-workers, some may visit Calvary.  All will be in need.  Many of these men and women will be like 22-year-old me, finding their way into a new area for the first time, and in desperate search for connection, in need of the family that the body of Christ provides.  How might you be like that couple, that pastor, those older church members in my own story?

In Hebrews 13:1-2, we’re told, “Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  I’m certainly not an angel, but I am one who deeply benefited from the hospitality of men and women who looked past their age and past themselves and chose to show me Christ’s love through hospitality.  This summer, let me encourage you to prepare for the stranger in your midst, to invite the new neighbor over for a meal, to invite the church guest to join you for lunch, to ask your new co-worker how you might pray for him or her in the midst of their life transition.

As you show and share the love of Christ through Gospel hospitality, you never know how you might be used by God to change the life of the lonely, scared, and disconnected.  You never know what they might write about you on their blog 16 years from now.


Ducks Out of Row

Ducks Out of Row

Just over a year ago, my family found out that we would need to move from the house we had rented for three years and find a new home here in Raleigh.  Once we got over the initial shock of discovering we would be searching for another place to live at the end of our lease, we went to work to make sure our kids could stay in their current school.  Concisely put, we would need to move into our new home before July 1 in order to assure that our son, Hayden, could remain at his current school throughout his elementary years.  The problem?  Our lease was up on July 31.

Our landlord graciously offered to shorten our lease by one month, allowing us the opportunity to move to our new home before July 1, 2016, thereby assuring that Hayden would remain at his current school for the next 4 years, if we so chose to enroll him there.

Through a process that included many phone calls, several e-mails and a tear or two, we had all of our ducks in a row – or so we thought.

Not long after we moved into our home, we got word from the school district that there was a stray “duck” of which we had not previously been aware, and Hayden would most likely have to attend a new school, beginning next year (2017-18), after all.  Since then, we have worked through a fairly detailed transfer process, and each step along the way, no matter how many ducks we got in a row, we have discovered it is likely not enough, and he will be enrolled in a new school next year.

This process has reminded me that this is the world in which we live – a world full of stray “ducks.”  So, what does it mean to trust in God when our ducks get out of row?

In Proverbs 16:9, we’re told, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  Sometimes we try so hard to get all of our ducks in a row that we forget to submit our ways to the one who really knows what is best for His people.  This is why the writer reminds us, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov. 16:2).

Our first priority is often to commit our work to accomplish our goals, but we are graciously reminded that, because we are loved by a God who knows better than we do what is best for our lives, we are set free by Jesus to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” knowing that He will provide exactly what we need to enable us to be made more like Jesus.

Are you so busy getting all of your ducks in a row that you forget to seek Him first?  How do you respond to that stray duck?  May God give us the grace to ask Him to commit our ways to Him, and leave the results in His gracious hands.

Why Praying For “Good” Is Less Than Great

Praying for Good
Why Praying For “Good” Is Less Than Great

On many mornings, I have the privilege of driving my children to school.  On each drive, I ask them the same question, “How can I pray for you today?”  Most days, I get the same reply: “For me to have a good day.”  My response, likewise, is always the same: “What?!?  You’re going to ask the all-powerful, all-knowing, unchanging God of the universe to simply give you a good day?  He has so much more for you!”

Of course, I chuckle – err – die a little inside, because I know and admit that I, too, rarely ask this gracious, kind, abounding-in-steadfast love Heavenly Father that we serve for much more than simply my definition of a “good day.”

When we stop and think about the things that really weigh on our minds and our inability in our own power to really do anything about most of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it’s no wonder that on many days, the best we seem to muster in our requests to God is “give me a good day.” Because I think we struggle to believe that God is both powerful enough and loving enough to really meet our needs.  But James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

So, what then should we ask of a God whose power, knowledge, nature and love are infinite?  The Apostle Paul gives us language to pray for the humanly impossible, and I believe these prayers are a helpful pattern for us to go beyond the surface-level, innocuous prayers that so often mark my (and maybe your) prayer life.

#1 – For the confused, we can pray to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that we might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-10).

#2 – For the hopeless, we can pray that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened, that we may know what is the hope to which we have been called, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:18) and that the God of hope would fill us with all joy and peace in believing, that we might abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13).

#3 – For the weak, we can pray that we might be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in our inner being (Eph. 3:16), and according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Col 1:11).

#4 – For the ungrateful, we can pray that we might give thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of saints in the light, because He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:12-13).

#5 – For the struggler, we can pray that the God of peace would sanctify us completely that our whole spirit and soul and body would be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that He who calls us is faithful; he will surely do it (1Thess. 5:23-24).

#6 – For the lonely, we can pray that Christ would dwell in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17) so that…

#7 – For the one who feels unloved, we can pray that we would be rooted and grounded in love, that we might have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that we might be filled with the fullness of God (Eph 3:17b-19)…

Why would we pray such humanly impossible, audacious prayers?  Remember that when you go to God in prayer, you go to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, and to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).

Moving Forward Together on Unsure Footing

Unsure Footing
Moving Forward Together on Unsure Footing

In the summer of 2011, I had the privilege of serving on a mission trip in Honduras.  After a week of service, the long-term missionaries scheduled a day for our team to explore the rain forest just outside of the town of La Ceiba.  We enjoyed a hike rife with potential dangers: a tree, equipped with poisonous spikes lining much of the hilly trek; a rickety bridge with broken planks; and a little scorpion most of our team stepped over before one team member noticed it standing in the middle of the path, looking for a foot to strike.  But the reward for working together to get through the beautiful, uncertain, treacherous path was a breathtaking waterfall where we would stop for lunch.

Once we made it to the lunch spot, Mike, the mission-team leader suggested that we make our way over a series of jagged and slippery rocks to the pool formed at the base of the waterfall.  We soon discovered our own limitations.  The bare feet on slippery rocks make for unsure footing.  Mike, who has done this dozens of times patiently worked along with the more stable-footed of our team members to assist each of us, one-by-one, over the rocks.  At one point, one of our team members froze in fear, terrified that the next step could lead to a journey out of the rainforest by stretcher.  “Just grab my hand.  You can do this,” encouraged Mike, gently bearing the weight of this team member so everyone could get through to experience the beauty of God’s work first-hand.

As I consider the next several weeks together at Calvary, prayerfully investigating the possibility of investing in the renovation and expansion of our current facility in order to bring glory to our God in this generation and the next by making disciples where we have been planted, I have reflected on this journey through the rainforest.  For some, the next several weeks might feel like a journey of unsure footing – one moment full of excitement about future possibilities, and the next, the sense of a rush of fear, not knowing how to move forward without pain.  How do we move forward together, when some can bound through the rocks with no thought to the dangers ahead and others are tempted to simply stand, frozen in fear?

Mike’s actions illustrate well, the posture the Scriptures prescribe for moving together on unsure footing.  The Apostle Paul, puts it this way, “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility, and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).

In other words, we must first remember what we already have been given by Jesus.  The unity we have in the Spirit of God is not first and foremost something we achieve, but it’s a reality achieved for us by Jesus.  We are to be unified, because Unity in the Spirit is the very identity of the church.  We must be eager to maintain this unity that belongs to us, but what does that look like?  This unity looks like the following postures:

#1 –  Humility, meaning we consider the ideas and concerns of others in our church family, knowing that we do not have all the answers, and we need the gifts and weaknesses of everyone…

#2 – Gentleness, meaning we encourage each other in the midst of fears and differences of opinion, not disparaging the thoughts or contributions of others, but seeking ways to build up…

#3 – Patience, meaning we are slow to speak and quick to listen without expectation that everyone will share our perspective, knowing that we have a God who is infinitely patient with us all…

#4 – Bearing with One Another In Love, meaning we assume the best in one another and sometimes offer a listening ear or a shoulder on which to cry, while reminding one another to keep looking up and moving forward with a hand to hold.

May the Spirit of God enable us to maintain the strength in these postures of unity, so that we might move forward together in the midst of unsure footing.

When Knowing the Answer Is Not Enough

When Knowing the Answer Is Not Enough

We’ve all known that student in class.  You know, the one who has all the answers any time a question is asked.  Hand raised, answer given, but often in reality, the person is completely unmoved and unchanged by the information so readily available to the mind.

As a pastor, one of the greatest struggles I experience is my inherent inability to make someone take the information they know intellectually and drive it deeply into their bones in a way that transforms.  This is simultaneously one of the most challenging, yet liberating aspects of my role as pastor.  Challenging, because I so desperately desire to see people changed and set free by the gospel.  Liberating, because I’m driven to my knees again and again, to confess to God that I am not the Holy Spirit, and to plead with Him to do what only He can do.

This week, a video from my home-town, Huntington, WV television news station made the rounds on Facebook, illustrating the God-shaped gap between what we know and the transformation that only He by His Spirit can bring into one’s life.

Tim Irr, the anchor of WSAZ-TV was at the Huntington police station, interviewing a woman who had been arrested that night as part of a prostitution sting in that city.  She desperately wanted to share her story on the air, expressing remorse to her family and offering a warning to others who would listen.  The anchor asked in multiple ways whether she had any hope for the future and what it would take for her to walk away from a life of addiction and prostitution.  Her answer broke my heart.  “I’m an addict,” she said resignedly.  “There is something broken in me, and I don’t think it can be fixed.”  The anchor, clearly displaying his own humanity did not want her to settle for that answer.

“What’s it going to take for you to stop?” he asked with hopeful compassion.  And that’s when the disconnect became tragically clear.

“The only way to get sober and stay sober is Christ,” she said.  “Belief in Jesus will save you.”  Irr had a little hope now – a breakthrough, perhaps.  After confirming she’d witnessed Christ’s transforming work in others, this mother of two teens said in a hopeless tone, “I don’t want to walk that life.  Apparently, I chose the wrong road.  I believe, but I don’t want to live the right life.”

What hope is there for this woman, living life with the knowledge of God’s transforming power in Christ, but unconvinced that it is for her?

Only a heart softened by the love and grace of Jesus, a heart that knows not only what Christ has done for others, but that it’s for “me” can be transformed to live for God, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit alone.

In Romans 8:1, the Apostle Paul explains that for all who belong to Jesus, they are no longer condemned, but instead, “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).  It’s only when we see that by Christ’s finished work, we are no longer condemned that we are set fee by God’s power to have that which we know driven deep into our hearts to live for Him.  The apostle explains it this way:  “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6-7).

My prayer this week has been that God would give this woman and all of us the grace not only to know, but to be set free by His Spirit to live for Him!

Events that Changed the Trajectory of Life

Events that Changed the Trajectory of Life

“Surgery.”  I still remember that day as vividly as if it were yesterday.  21 years ago next month, I sat on the table in a cardiologist’s office, and heard one word come out of his mouth – surgery.  Oh, he said a lot more, some of which I faintly recall, but when he looked me in the eye and said the words few 17-year-olds hear, “You need surgery,” I knew things were about to change.  I had a congenital heart defect that could not be wished away, and one whose treatment I would simply need to lie down to receive.  Nothing I could do would fix it; it was out of my hands.  Two months later, I went under the peaceful sleep of anesthesia, and bringing nothing to the table, but the condition of my heart, I received the treatment only my surgeon could provide.  It was the event that changed the trajectory of my life.

“Exodus.”  That is the word the people of Israel needed to hear and what they needed to experience after nearly 400 years as slaves in Egypt.  Nothing they did could bring about the rescue they needed.  They were of such a condition that only one could do the work necessary to set them free.  In Exodus 12:51 a most anticipated statement is made, “And on that very day the LORD brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.”  Only the LORD could provide the treatment necessary to deal with Israel’s condition as slaves, and after years of promises, suffering, and crying out with waxing and waning hope – God brought them out!

In the Old Testament, the Exodus is the great event of salvation for the people of God.  They were a people enslaved with no hope of rescuing themselves, and the LORD God set them free.  It was the event that changed the trajectory of the life of Israel.

“Resurrection.”  This is the Word that all need to hear today.  The reality is that all of us have a heart condition about which we can do nothing, and that is that we are enslaved by sin, bringing nothing to the table, needing the treatment that only God can provide.  The Cross and Resurrection is that treatment that changes the trajectory of our lives.  That is how Jesus came to bring about a new Exodus, setting free those who entrust their lives to him.  This weekend we remember, how Jesus came and suffered in our place, taking the guilt and shame of our sin upon Himself – so that all who place their trust in Him are raised with Him to New Life.

Join us this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the event that changed the trajectory of all of Human History – the New Exodus, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Missing and Moving the Mark: The Recipe for Growing Guilt

Missing the Mark

Missing and Moving the Mark: The Recipe for Growing Guilt

Over the weekend, David Brooks wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, exploring the strange dimension of guilt in a largely amoral society.  Brooks postulates that in a society bereft of absolutes, guilt remains, because “society has become a free-form demolition derby of moral confrontation.”  There is much wisdom and insight in Brooks’ article, but this has caused me to reflect on the nature of sin and what it means to live in God’s world, even if we fail to acknowledge it.

Sin in the Scriptures is a descriptive word from the world of archery.  It literally means to “miss the mark,” and theologically it is to miss the bullseye of God’s standards.  But in order to deal with the guilt and shame of sin, one of the things we have done is simply move the mark.  How?  We shoot the arrows of our own desires and designs, which often change day-to-day, week-to-week, and year-to-year.  Once the arrow is on the proverbial wall, we paint a new bullseye – a new standard.  We say, “this arrow is my standard on sexuality, that arrow is my standard on the value of human life; that arrow over there is my standard on how I handle my money; that one is the extent of my faithfulness to my spouse; that one way over there is my standard on honesty and lies.”  In creating new standards with which I inherently agree, I can now be guilt-free.

But as Brooks observes, creating my own standard strangely doesn’t eradicate my guilt, but may actually enhance it.  In Romans 2, the apostle Paul says that the law of God is written on the hearts of men.  In other words, when we zoom out on the new bullseyes we’ve created by shooting the arrows of our own desires and designs, we discover that God’s standard remains, because we remain in the world He created!  Therefore, our guilt hangs on like a burden that will not fall.

I’m so glad the Easter story gives the answer to the guilt that remains, as Jesus exchanged our guilt for His grace, so that we might be truly set free – not from God’s standard – but from the guilt and enslavement of my own!  May God have mercy on us –  that we might be set free from guilt and shame and made free to desire that which God desires!

God’s Plans Are Better Than Mine

Mexico Missions Team + Vida Nueva

Calvary Missions Team with Members of Iglesia Vida Nueva, Zihuatanejo, Mexico

God’s Plans are Better than Mine

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  I experienced this truth first-hand, while traveling for our recent mission trip to Mexico.  Here’s what I wrote on Calvary’s short-term mission’s blog about this experience:

On Tuesday, July 5, sitting on the tarmac in Atlanta, waiting for takeoff, I began to sense that God had different plans than what we had originally designed.  Don’t think I’m a prophet or son of a prophet, I can just read a watch!  Every time the pilot spoke through intercom to the cabin, our departure time was further delayed, and each time, I looked at my seat-mates Jeff and Gwen Wiggs, and smiled, saying, “God may have a different idea about this than we do.”  As it became abundantly clear we were unlikely to make our connecting flight from Mexico City to Zihuatanejo, I started thinking about Acts 16:6-10, where the author tells us that the apostle Paul’s mission team was prevented by the Spirit to speak the Word in Asia and Bithynia, and instead, Paul receives a midnight vision compelling him to go to Macedonia.  I wondered, “What is God up to?”

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Pray for Calvary’s Summer Missions Team July 5-12

Mexico Missions Team

Calvary’s Summer Missions Team will be serving in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, July 5-12, 2016.  We will be joining long-term mission’s partners Guillermo and Jennie Salinas, who have been serving as church planters in the 4th largest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero since 1996.  Please pray daily for the team through the list below and keep up with the team throughout the week on the team’s missions blog here.

We are on our way!  Would you please PRAY?  July 5th – 12th

That We would 

Glorify God – Psalm 96:2-3 ~ team verse

Love Others – John 13:34-35

Bless Others – Matthew 9:36-38

Be Humble – Psalm 25:9

For our-  

Safety – Psalm 139:5

Health – 3 John 1:2

Flexibility – Proverbs 16:9

Communication – Colossians 4:6


The Details

Glorify God – That all that we do while we are in Mexico as well as traveling would bring glory and honor to God.

Love Others – That we would love on the Salinas’, church members where we will be doing construction and the people we encounter when helping with the puppet programs.

Bless Others – That we would be looking for ways to bless others while traveling and during the time we are in Mexico.

Be Humble – For us to make a conscious effort to put others interests ahead of our own. A willingness to learn from others.

Safety – While traveling, at the worksite and around town.

Health – For us to get rest, stay hydrated, eat safe food, be protected from accidents and avoid infections from mosquitos.

Flexibility – With the schedule, work we will be doing, the food, the travel and our teammates.

Communication – To be able to communicate effectively despite the language and cultural barriers.

Who’s going? – Steve & Nathan Bowyer, Jay Diepenbrock, Tom, Lisa & Nathan Gyori, Ron Hatton, Ginger Hobgood, Mike & Megan Larsen, Jeff & Gwen Wiggs and Nate Wilks.

Where? Zihuatanejo, Mexico to work alongside Guillermo & Jennie Salinas missionaries with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship that Calvary has supported for years.

What? Construction & helping with the puppet outreach ministry.

When? Depart RDU 9:30 AM Friday, July 5th arrive Zihuatanejo 6:10PM.

Return July 12th leave Zihuatanejo 12:35 PM arrive RDU 11:47 PM


Youth Basketball and Maundy Thursday

Recently, I helped coach the final game of my son Hayden’s basketball season. I have served as the assistant coach for this team of nine 6 and 7-year-old boys, and a week prior to the season’s penultimate game, I was called upon to lead practice in the coach’s stead. One thing became evident in those 60-minutes of herding cats – I mean, instruction. It was not enough to tell these boys what I wanted them to do. I had to show them, then participate with them, as they dribbled, passed, shot and played something faintly resembling defense.
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9-11 And the Eternity in Our Hearts

Today is a day when many of us remember where we were 14 years ago.  9-11 is etched into our collective memories in a way that very few days in our lives are.  I remember getting to work around 9:10 that morning – about 10 minutes later than I was supposed to, and meeting my boss in the parking lot.  He looked unhappy, and I thought I was in trouble.  But as I got out of my car, he said, “A plane has hit the world trade center.  Let’s go watch the news.”  Moments after I walked into his office, we learned that another plane had flown into the second tower, and we soon knew there was an attack on our soil.  Not long after, we learned of the fate of two other planes – one that attacked the Pentagon and the other that crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania. 

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Is Life Really Meaningless?

Recently, while getting a cup of coffee at a local establishment, the barista, who knew I was a pastor, asked me what I was studying to preach in the fall?  “Ecclesiastes,” I said, curious as to her response.  “Oh.  That’s easy,” she said.  “Life is meaningless…Next!”  Her answer endeared her to me, because sarcasm is my second language.  But, more than that, everything in my heart wanted to say, but wait, there’s more!

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Why is Grace So Difficult to Receive?

Why is grace so difficult to receive?  Early this summer, I was challenged with this question in a profound way.

As a pastor, I often challenge people from the pulpit to care for their neighbors and strangers, to demonstrate the love and grace of God that has been shown to them.  There are people all around us every day that need to be shown the grace of God through our actions, and God has placed us in their lives for a purpose.

This sounds right, is often convicting, and challenges us to think outside of ourselves.  But, it’s not often that I embrace being the recipient of the love and grace I call people to demonstrate to others.  My weekend experience revealed in my heart an often theoretical understanding of the love and grace of God through the kindness of others, but truly embracing grace means I have nothing to give, and that is a difficult pill to swallow.

My family and I were driving the 450 mile trek from Chattanooga to Raleigh, following a week at our denomination’s annual pastor’s gathering (General Assembly), when the battery light came on the dashboard.  After several days of meetings, I was eager to get home, so I stopped and prayed that it was a fluke and that God would get us home in due time.  God had a different timetable than I did.

As we wound through the mountains on interstate 40, just west of Asheville, our van became less like a vehicle and more like my stubborn dog, when it doesn’t want to be led by her leash.  The harder I pushed the gas, the more noise the vehicle made, but it refused to shift, and my wife said the words I did not want to hear – “You need to get off this exit and find a place to park.”

Soon we found ourselves in West Asheville, NC, sitting in a Subway restaurant connected to a gas station, frantically working the keyboard on my laptop and the keypad on my iPhone, trying to find a mechanic who could see and fix our van at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.  No one was open, and no one we talked to knew of anyone who could do the work that day.  Next step – Find a hotel!

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