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.