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!

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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

321_Slider
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
Nov 5 – SACRIFICE

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?

Invitation
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

CALVARY PCA WEEK OF PRAYER AND FASTING – July 3-8, 2017

 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
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

Answer_2
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

Surgery
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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