Hope is a Choice

Today as you get up, start another day, start another week, you’re going to face the familiar choice between hope and despair. Despair by far is the easiest choice. This world is going to hell, this nation is running away from God, your job drains you, your family is falling apart, your marriage is dead. Turn on any talk radio or 24-hour news station and you can be easily bombarded and overwhelmed by negativity and despair.

Christians especially are faced with this choice given the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states. The illusion of America as a Christian nation is forever broken. The easy choice is to let despair run free, to close ranks and condemn the nation.

Yesterday I was reminded again that by far the harder choice is hope. Hope forces you to believe in a bigger, loving God in the midst of a world that seems to be falling apart. Hope can seem a fool’s errand when you live in a home environment that is toxic. Hope can seem nothing more than a daydream when you’re stuck in a job that is sucking the life out of you.

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Today I simply want to remind you that hope is a choice. Hope isn’t determined by circumstances, marriage statuses or Supreme Court rulings. Hope is a conscious choice each of us makes to believe in a God that is bigger and better than whatever you may be going through. Hope is a daily reminder that that God is still on his throne, Jesus still died for you, the tomb is still empty, and heaven still awaits us.

Don’t let despair destroy the joy that Christ created you for. Don’t let negativity, condemnation and bitterness stop up the overflowing spring of life within all believers. Choose joy. Choose life. Choose hope.

July Sabbatical

Hey gang,

First I want to say ‘thanks’ to all of you who read and interact with my blog. It’s amazing how through technology we can build the community we’ve built. I’ve loved blogging and will continue to do so, but am going to take a sabbatical for the month of July to pause long enough to catch my breath.

I might post occasionally if something big comes up, and I’ll continue to post my Sunday sermons on here, but I won’t start blogging daily again until August. See you then!

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Story of Hope: Edward

Edward knows first hand what it means to grow up without a father. At the age of 5 years old, Edward’s father left him and his 6 other siblings to their mother. Without his father’s support and guidance, his family fell on very hard times. Despite his family situation, Edward was fortunate to meet caring individuals throughout his young life which helped to steer him in the right direction.

Edward had the talent to play football. Because of his determination and willingness to listen to individuals who helped him along the way, Edward was awarded his senior year in high school a full athletic scholarship to play for Jackie Sherrill’s Mississippi State University Bulldogs.

Even though outwardly Edward appeared to be the most excited young man on earth, his heart was still empty. This feeling of abandonment left on April 13, 1997 when Edward gave his heart to Jesus Christ. From that time God placed in Edward’s heart a hunger to reach out and help other children like himself whose father was not actively involved in their lives. Thus was born the Father’s Child Ministry, a non-profit ministry in Columbus MS dedicated to ending fatherlessness. Father’s Child has a mentoring program for fatherless teens, a support group for moms, and a father’s outreach program dedicated to shaping young fathers into who they need to be.

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It’s been my privilege to be able to be a part of this ministry for the past three years. Edward is the real deal. He’s a man’s man, but it’s his heart for others that defines him. He goes for the most at-risk teens and becomes a father figure to them. This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking at his annual Manhood Camp, where he takes the boys in his program out of town for a weekend of godly character building.

These kids are ones that society might have already given up on. They’re in danger of becoming another statistic, but not if Edward can help it. He’s one man through the power of the Spirit making a difference in over a hundred families. These are the people we should celebrate. If God can redeem the tragic circumstances in Edward’s life and use it as a catalyst for good, I know God can do the same in your life. That’s hope.

to find out more about the Father’s Child Ministry, visit his website.

7 Ways the Church Can Redeem the Supreme Court Decision Legalizing Gay Marriage

Gay marriage is here. Rather than long for the past or fear the future, how can the church redeem the present? How can we turn this tragedy into an opportunity to advance the gospel? Here are 7 steps forward.

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1. Rejoice. Wait what? Absolutely! Rejoice. What does the Bible say in Philippians 4:4? Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! How can we rejoice? What can we rejoice in? God is still on his throne, Jesus still died for our sins, the tomb is still empty, heaven still awaits us. We need to be characterized by joy, not defeat. This caught us by surprise, but this didn’t catch God by surprise. Our mission hasn’t changed. We don’t need to be moping, defeated, angry, bitter, complaining Christians. We serve the Almighty God of the universe. He’s got this. Choose to rejoice.

2. Wake up from our slumber. Romans 13:11 says, And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Maybe this is the wake up call that we needed. Maybe we need to be reminded that we’re in a war, not with the government, not with the Supreme Court, and not with the LGBT community. We’re in a war with the principalities and powers in the spiritual realms. As fun as ball games and television shows and cell phones are, we’ve got bigger issues. Let’s wake up from our slumber and and realize we’ve got a part to play in this world, and it’s not to be distracted by all the cheap entertainment out there. Our salvation is nearer then when we first believed. Some people say this is a sign of the end times. What if it is? Are we ready? Are we paying attention or are we distracted by all the first world problems we deal with in America?

3. Make your marriage the most winsome one out there. We can condemn homosexual marriages all we want. Where we need to be aiming our attention is at all the heterosexual couples that are making a mockery of God’s institution of marriage. Let’s get our own house in order on the heterosexual side of things before we start condemning the other side. The gay community sees us proclaiming the only way as one man and one woman for life, and they see our sky high divorce rates, and they see hypocrisy, and they’re right. One of the greatest witnessing tools you’ll ever have is your own marriage. Don’t just witness with words, witness with deeds. Make your marriage the most winsome out there. Make it the most attractive. Make it the strongest. If this is your first, second, third or fourth marriage, make it so strong and so appealing to the outside world that they come to you, asking you what your secret is. Then you can point them to Jesus. Jesus himself tells us this in Matthew 5:18, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. If this whole debate is about marriage, let’s not just say what we’re for, let’s show what we’re for by our own marriages.

4. Choose the way of grace and truthChurches are picking sides today. There is going to be a strong gravitational pull to choose either the compromise camp or the condemnation camp. Even the gay community itself will say, “You’re either for us or against us.” Let’s choose the way of grace and truth. Let’s choose the way of Jesus, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). But if we don’t come out and condemn homosexuality, doesn’t that mean that we’re condoning it? Not at all. Look at Jesus in John 8, in the passage we read earlier. When Jesus encountered a woman caught in the act of adultery, he didn’t compromise his belief in Scripture. Adultery is still wrong. But neither did he condemn her. He held onto truth but showed her grace. If we can figure out how to live out grace and truth when it comes to this issue, first we’ll find a way to truly redeem this opportunity and shine the light of Christ’s love in a dark place. Warning we’ll probably be as misunderstood as Jesus was and receive friendly fire from the right and from the left.

5. Love first. Peter tells us, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Befriend homosexuals like you would anyone else. Some of you have family members that are gay, and you’re already trying to figure out how to love them without condoning their lifestyle. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Someone asked me, should I allow a gay couple into my home? I would. I’ve got no problem with it. Because I’m comfortable with it? No. But because Jesus did it. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. He showed grace where people needed it the most. The religious people didn’t understand it. Don’t stigmatize someone for their homosexuality anymore than you stigmatize someone for their obesity, marital status or economic status.

6. Prepare for refugees from the sexual revolution. The Bible is clear that homosexual acts are a sin. That shouldn’t cause us to rejoice with righteous indignation as much as it should cause us to grieve at all the pain people are subjecting themselves to. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:27). Since we believe that God’s plan for sexuality is within marriage, we will deal with a lot of hurt people who found out the hard way that sex outside of marriage is not God’s way. In the same way, there is an entire community out there who is convinced that all of their problems just got solved by the Supreme Court’s decision. What we believe is that sooner or later, they’re going to realize that the homosexual lifestyle is not the answer they were searching for. There are going to be a lot of hurting people out there, and we need to be ready for them. That’s why it’s so important to love first. If we’ve burned all the bridges between us and them, there’s no way for them to come back when they search for God.

7. Pray for a Saul of Tarsus from the LGBT community. If we think this is a dark time, go back to Acts 8, when Saul of Tarsus started destroying the church in its infancy. That was a truly dark time, until Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and changed the course of Christianity. Let’s pray that a Saul of Tarsus, someone right in the middle of the LGBT community, a leader of that community, finds Jesus in a revolutionary way. A person like that could change his or her world. Let’s pray that God would raise up a Saul of Tarsus from the LGBT community.

QUESTION: How else can we redeem the Supreme Court’s decision and turn this tragedy into an opportunity?

12 Thoughts on Our Response to the Coming Reality of Gay Marriage (Part 1)

4.10.13

Gay marriage is here. Originally posted: April 10, 2013

I believe that gay marriage is coming, whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not. Rather than another conservative evangelical diatribe on the rights and wrongs of the issue, these next two posts will be suggestions on how we should respond once gay marriage becomes legal nationwide. (Although I doubt it will happen with these Supreme Court cases currently pending, I do think the time is coming, as the current is running swiftly in that direction). **Update: The recent ruling against DOMA did not make gay marriage legal nationwide, but legal in states that have already voted for it.

1. Jesus tells us to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. The world will always force us to take one of two options: either support gay marriage (and compromise our biblical beliefs) or violently condemn gay marriage (and lose our influence in the culture). When the world gives you only two options, choose option three. There’s a way to navigate the minefield. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:6

2. Why have we singled out gay marriage as the greatest evil in America today? Is it because we don’t struggle with it? The merits or evils of gay marriage aside, here’s my question: where’s the same moral outrage against pornography? Against materialistic excess, the love of pleasure and recreation, against the fact that many of us love our sports teams more than God? Where’s the moral outrage against that? Do we single out gay marriage as the greatest evil simply because we tend not to struggle with it as much? “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3

3. Our moral argument against homosexual marriage is destroyed because of the utter decay of heterosexual marriages. Many claim to want to protect the ‘sanctity of marriage.’ When one in two marriages end in divorce, when immorality is rampant, there’s not much ‘sanctity’ left to protect. To claim the moral high ground is hypocritical. He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Mark 7:6

4. Is our goal to preserve conservative values in America or to reach the world for Christ? Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. What’s our ultimate goal? To protect conservative values, or to win the world for Christ? Satan would love nothing more than to distract us on issues that are ultimately secondary. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:2

5. Paul tells us that it’s not our job to judge the world. That’s God’s job. This one hurts. It’s not our job to be the morality police. It shouldn’t surprise us when non-believers actually act like non-believers. Paul makes it very clear: judging the world is God’s job, not ours. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

6. Jesus died for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Whether we like to admit it or not, God did not discriminate based on sexuality when he died on the cross. If someone embraces the homosexual lifestyle, then they stand in the same position as a person who’s embraced the heterosexual lifestyle: a sinner desperately in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

QUESTION: Your thoughts? How should Christians respond to gay marriage?

Here’s the link to Part 2 on this topic.

12 Thoughts on Our Response to the Coming Reality of Gay Marriage (Part 2)

4.10.13

Originally posted: April 12, 2013

In my last post, I began to share twelve thoughts on our response to the coming reality of gay marriage. By the sheer number of clicks on that post, it’s obvious that this is a topic that many are working through. So, for what it’s worth, here are six more thoughts on the subject. Would love your comments below.

7. Jesus showed grace to notorious “sinners.” If you look at Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 6), or Jesus calling Matthew (Matthew 9), you’ll quickly discover that even when “religious” people avoided notorious “sinners,” Jesus didn’t. He embraced them. What example does that set for us? As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

8. James tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This should knock out any angry Facebook rants on the subject. Here’s the reality: you can’t argue someone into the Kingdom. Even if you technically win on points, you’ll still only drive them further away. Was an argument was persuaded you to follow Christ? My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20

9. Paul tells us to speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth in love requires a relationship. If you’re going to share something as foundational as biblical truth on sexuality, you need to build a relational bridge strong enough to support the gravity of that truth. So, before you flippantly condemn the entire homosexual community to Hell, how many homosexuals are you friends with? Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15

10. One of the greatest evangelistic tools you’ll have is a strong God-honoring marriage. A strong, long-lasting biblical marriage of one man and one woman for life is getting rarer and rarer these days. It seems like most don’t make it. If you make your marriage work, you’re providing an incredible witness to the world. God’s design for marriage was to be a picture of his love for the world. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

11. Don’t allow hatemongers to represent us or shame us. There will always be extremists on either side, pressuring us to come out unequivocally in support of gay marriage or to come out and violently condemn the entire homosexual community. Jesus didn’t allow hatemongers to put words in his mouth. Neither should we. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” John 8:3-5

12. This whole issue reminds us that this world is not our home. We look forward to a better place. There will be a day when we don’t have to deal with this issue, or any other dividing controversy. Remember, for believers, this world is not our home. We look forward to a better place. Put your hope in that. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

QUESTION: What thoughts would you add to this discussion?

5 Ways to Recover the Boldness of the Early Church

Even a light read through the book of Acts reveals a church that’s markedly different from many churches today. They were united, passionate, and they changed their world. And above all, they were bold. You see that word time and time again when you read their story. So how can we as the church today begin to recover the boldness of the early church? Here are five steps:

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1. Put the resurrection in the forefront – The more we dwell and celebrate and meditate on the resurrection, the bolder we’ll become. Think about it. The greatest thing that most people fear is death. Jesus conquered death. Jesus has conquered our greatest fears, and his Spirit is now inside of us. What do we have to be afraid of? Seriously? What do we have to be afraid of?

2. Focus on God’s power, not our problems – When the disciples prayed for boldness in Acts 4, they didn’t start by complaining about their problems. They focused on God’s power. They reminded themselves just who was on the throne of the universe. They were threatened by men, but they served the Sovereign Lord who made the heavens and the earth and the sea. They had the trump card. When you pray, don’t focus so much on your problems as you focus on God’s power.

3. Embrace the Holy Spirit. As uncomfortable as it might be with your religious upbringing, everything we see happen in the book of Acts happened because the Holy Spirit fueled it. He’s the power behind the church. Behind every mention of boldness in the book of Acts you see the Holy Spirit. Until we’re ready to put up our sails and adjust our sails to the moving wind of the Holy Spirit, we’re not going to go anywhere.

4. Pray big prayers. The early church not only prayed, they prayed big prayers. We never see the early church praying, “God, please bless the food, keep us safe, help me get that promotion, help my kids be good kids.” They prayed big prayers. Prayers much bigger than them. When we start praying prayers bigger then us, we’ll start seeing God doing bigger things than us.

5. Give sacrificially. All of the descriptions of the early church included how they gave sacrificially to others as they had need. You know and I know that anyone can talk a big game, but what’s the saying? “Put your money where your mouth is?” If someone is bold enough to trust God with their money, they’re bold enough to start changing their world.

4 Great Things That Happen When a Church Plays Together Outside of Its Four Walls

Last night Mt Vernon finished MTV on Location, a four week break from our normal Wednesday schedule. For MTV on Location, we took church outside of our four walls to different local parks in the community. No worship services. We just ate and played together. Reflecting on the month, here are four great things that happened:

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1. Change of pace. It’s summer. People are ready for a change of pace during the summer. Many are traveling. Numbers are going to fluctuate naturally. Changing the schedule to something new matches the expectations of the people and flows beautifully into the natural rhythm of a church year.

2. The church gets to know its pastors. For many church members, their only interaction with pastors is on Sunday morning, behind the safety glass of a pulpit and a scripted service. Church members need opportunities to see pastors in real life. Want to build a different connection with your congregation? Play volleyball with them.

3. You get to know your community. Every single week I got to meet a new family I had never met before. Some of them had never been to Mt Vernon at all, and some I might have missed in the hustle and bustle of Sunday morning. Having leisurely time to get to know new families was invaluable.

4. The family that plays together stays together. Fun is important. Fun builds fellowship. Fellowship is biblical. Playing together builds communal experiences and bonds that brings any church family closer together. Don’t think of a play night as a filler night. Be intentional about it!