That Awkward Moment When Someone Cusses in Front of the Preacher . . . at Church

Curse words are common place in the world today, but there are a few mutually agreed upon places where curse words are frowned upon, including: kids’ birthdays, weddings, and most definitely church services.

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Well, Shannon* broke one of those rules Sunday. Shannon only recently started coming to church in the past few months. Before that, nothing. No church experience whatsoever. All of this is new to her. I’m not sure if she even considers herself a believer yet. But she’s been coming to Mt Vernon and enjoying it.

At the end of the service I walked up to her to say ‘hey’ and ‘thanks for coming.’ We were in the middle of the post-service scrum to get out of the Worship Center so I touched her on the elbow to get her attention. Apparently I move like a ninja, or she was zoned out or something. Because I scared the bejesus out of her and her unfiltered, immediate response was, “holy sh@!”

I could see on her face that she realized she had just cussed in the church house. Then she looked over and saw me, and the look on her face when it dawned on her that she had just cursed in the church house in front of the preacher was priceless! Her face turned a shade of red not normally seen on a human face. She couldn’t apologize, she couldn’t say anything. Maybe I should have been offended, but in reality it cracked me up. I thrive on awkward moments, and Shannon offered the best one in months.

Rather than admonish Shannon or chastise her, I went out of my way to let her know that she was fine and that we were fine. It was a momentary indiscretion, not intentional. (I did tell her friend there, “I can’t bring this up again because I’m too nice because I’m the preacher, but please never let her live down the fact that she just cussed in front of the preacher!)

Strangely enough, here’s why I walked away encouraged from that moment. I’m glad people like Shannon feel comfortable enough to come to Mt Vernon to explore their relationship with God. She’s not a church person. She doesn’t know the rules. She apparently doesn’t know what you can and can’t say in the church house. These are the very people we need to be reaching! If folks like Shannon feel welcomed enough to come to a church like Mt Vernon, we must be doing something right, even if it means we have to endure a few slips of the tongue along the way.

 

*No way am I going to sell Shannon out and give you her real name.

1 Worldwide Epidemic You Might Not Expect

Over the past month I’ve seen a worldwide epidemic rear its ugly head three different times. The first was at our graduate recognition service at Mt Vernon. The graduating seniors had an opportunity to thank their parents, and a good number of them said something to the effect of, “I’d like to thank my mom for always being there for me. I knew it was tough raising me on your own . . .”

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The following week I spent a week in the Dominican Republic where we’ve helped start a school and church in a Haitian slum. While talking to the pastor there, he had mentioned how one of the greatest issues he faces with the school children is the lack of fathers around.

 

And then, in honor of Father’s Day our local paper ran this alarming statistic:

Only 32 percent of children in Mississippi live with their married, biological parents, according to The Upshot. This is the lowest rate in the country and it means two-thirds of the children in the state are being raised in single parent households. Last year, 83 percent of those households in the country were headed by single mothers, according to the Census Bureau.

One worldwide epidemic that you might not expect is fatherlessness. As a man and a father, I can throw stones. This epidemic is horrific and a complete abandonment of God’s plan for the family. This epidemic is fueled primarily from man’s selfishness, where we want to enjoy the benefits of sexual experiences without accepting any of the responsibilities involved.

Unfortunately, this epidemic has hit such a critical mass that it’s becoming more and more socially acceptable. In my state, more than half the children growing up are without their biological fathers in the same house. That is an epidemic that is ruining an entire generation. (It’s not just my opinion. There is legitimate research to back this claim up).

Here’s the million dollar question: What do we do? What have Christians done to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this epidemic? What can we be doing? What should we be doing?

Eddy Doyle Funeral Message

Yesterday we held the funeral service for Eddy Doyle. Here is the message I shared with the family and friends:

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Today we’re here to celebrate a beautiful life lived to the full and a legacy that will carry on with his family and friends long after we leave this place. Tracy and I started talking about this funeral the day before Eddy passed. Eddy had told Tracy just a few days prior, “I’m ready to go home, I’m just not ready to leave yet.” He wanted to get his family into their new house. He wanted his brothers to come into town. He wanted a few more days with his kids.

We knew his time was coming, but we didn’t know how short it would be. Eddy had fought a battle with cancer for a year and a half. I remember when he was first diagnosed. The initial prognosis was so grim even then, he had to make a decision then about whether or not he would even fight it. Eddy fought it. He fought it his way. He kept his chin up, kept a smile on his face. He’d take a round of chemo in Jackson and then play a round of golf afterwards, just because he could.

For a year and a half Eddy lived, he worked, he loved his family, he served at church every Sunday he was in town. You’d never know from the outside the battle he was fighting on the inside. If you ever have to die from cancer, you couldn’t have asked for a better journey than Eddy’s. He was healthy and active until the very last week. When he started to go downhill, he went downhill quick. No long drawn out saga. He went as quickly and as painlessly as you could expect. For that we are thankful.

This funeral today isn’t so much for Eddy as it is for us. Our time of pain and grief is now. Eddy’s time of pain and grief is over. Some of the bigger questions we’re wrestling with today are: why? Why did Eddy have to die in his prime? Why did he have to get cancer? The truth is, we’ll never know the full answer to that this side of heaven. Now that Eddy’s there, he knows why, but here we’re left wondering.

The Bible says in the book of Isaiah that God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. But here’s what we can hold onto in the midst of this valley of grief: Pain is big, grief is big, death is big, but God is bigger.

We can ask our questions, but deep down I don’t think we need the answers as much as we need to know that God is here. Grief is big. Death is big, but God is bigger. He’s still on the throne, and he’s here today in our midst. When you don’t know what to hold onto, hold onto God. He’s bigger than whatever pain you’re walking through today, even the loss of Eddy.

When we encounter death we are forced to come face to face with our own mortality. For many of us, life is the moment, the future is always a day away and questions about death and the afterlife are beyond our horizon. But here, now, in this moment, we’re forced to confront the bigger questions about life and death. What happens after death? Do we cease to be? Do we continue on in some form or is death simply the end? Is heaven real?

Here’s what we believe the Bible teaches, and for those of us who believe in Jesus, it’s an incredible hope to hold onto especially when dealing with the reality of death. The Bible teaches that everybody lives forever somewhere. Death is not the end, but merely a transition from one life to the next. That’s why we use the phrase that Eddy passed. Death can seem so final, when it’s really not. Eddy passed from one life into the next.

And if Eddy could come back right now and share with us the most important decision he ever made, it wouldn’t be his career choice or what college to go to or even to marry Tracey. I believe Eddy would say the most important decision he ever made was to place his trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins. Eddy placed his faith in Jesus. He trusted in him, and because of that now he’s in heaven with Jesus.

In the Bible we only get glimpses of what heaven will be like. It’s so beautiful and wonderful that human language can never fully capture it. But here’s what we know: heaven is a place where there’s no more pain, no more suffering, no more cancer.

We can grieve because Eddy’s dead, but that’s not completely true. Because of Eddy’s faith in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, Eddy is more alive now then he’s ever been. He’s more alive than all of us right now. He’s experiencing what true life in heaven feels like.  So don’t think of Eddy as dead and gone. He’s with Jesus in heaven. He’s very much alive, he’s just not here. He’s passed on from one life to the next.

The day he passed as I was sitting with Tracy I asked her, “What do you think is the first thing Eddy did in heaven?” Her answer was immediate: “He found his brother.” Personally, I think Eddy is having the time of his life right now. He’s having a family reunion. If there’s a drum set up in heaven, he’s already found it and had a jam session. If his house or his desk up in heaven needed organizing, he’s already obsessively organized it. Don’t remember Eddy as this earthly shell wrecked by cancer. His spirit is very much alive. He’s just not here with us.

So for us left behind, perhaps the most important question is: what do we do? How should we respond to Eddy’s life and passing?

First, I would say grieve for ourselves, but don’t grieve for Eddy. It’s normal and healthy to grieve the passing of someone as dearly loved to us as Eddy. But don’t grieve for him. Eddy’s fine. He’s happy. He’s in a better place. He’s been completely cancer free for two days now, and he’s got a million plus cancer free days coming his way. Eddy’s good. Eddy’s with Jesus. Grieve for ourselves, but don’t grieve for Eddy. He’s where he wants to be.

Secondly, we have an opportunity to honor Eddy by being family to Tracy and Tanner and Will. Tracey and I have talked several times throughout this process, and she’s good. Her and Eddy came to peace with this a long time ago. They were at peace with what was going to happen. She is at peace with what’s happened. She’s good. But there is a void left by Eddy that we collectively can help fill in the weeks, months and years to come. If you truly want to honor Eddy’s memory, don’t just grieve now. Be family for Tracy and the kids in the months and years to come. That’s the best way to honor Eddy.

Third, put your hope in Jesus. I know that not everyone here in this room is a Christ follower. Maybe you’ve never been a church person. Maybe you went to church as a kid but had a bad experience and haven’t been back since. The reason we here today can be so hopeful, the reason that Tracy and the rest of Eddy’s family can have such peace in the midst of this grief, is because the power of Jesus is real.

Tracey told me that she wasn’t raised in church. Much of the whole Jesus thing has been new to her. But she told me, “It’s real. It’s all real.” She’s felt the peace and presence of Jesus throughout this journey in ways that are undeniable.

The reason Eddy was at peace through this fight with cancer was because he placed his trust in Jesus. The reason Tracey can be at peace through this is because she’s placed her trust in Jesus. If that’s something you’ve never done, you can have the same peace that Eddy had. It’s as simple as placing your trust in Jesus and his sacrifice for you on the cross to secure a place for you in heaven with him, and now with Eddy.

The last thing we should do is look forward to the day we’ll see Eddy again. If we believe in Jesus, then Eddy’s waiting for us. He’ll greet us with a big hug, he’ll say, “What took you so long.” He’ll show off his heavenly resurrected drum skills. I know heaven is perfect but he’ll find a way to obsessively organize something and make it more perfect.

And then we’ll be together forever. Until then, we don’t say ‘goodbye’ to Eddy. We simply say, “See you later.”

A Father’s Day Letter For Those Without Fathers

by Robin Daffern

It’s almost Father’s Day, an occasion to mark and celebrate the contribution that your own father has made to your life. Personally, if I looked at the true “definition” of what Father’s Day is, I wouldn’t be celebrating very much. My father has never made a meaningful contribution to my life.

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He divorced my mom when I was a baby. Even though we lived in the same small town while I was growing up, he barely made any effort to have a relationship with me. He never knew my favorite color, my favorite food, who my best friend was, or my dreams in life. He never asked. He never cared.

For years I was bitter of the relationship that I longed to have. I saw so many of my friends be “daddy’s girls”, and I wished that I could have that with mine. I’m sure he loved me because I was his daughter, but he had a difficult time showing it. Eventually, I got over the bitterness and just realized that a normal relationship was not going to happen for me.

My mom did remarry. My step-dad was the constant in my life. He loved my mom and was always there. He and I were never extremely close, although I knew that if and when I needed something, he would be there. He too never knew my favorite color, my favorite food, or my dreams in life. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. I think sometimes it was hard for him to relate to young girls (he grew up with two older brothers). He too loved me. He loved me the best he could, and for him I am grateful.

During my adolescence, I was fortunate that God put some incredible men in my life who stepped in to fill the shoes of “daddy” in places I needed it. My youth pastor, Stan, guided me spiritually. My gymnastics coach, Coach Eddie, encouraged me as I pursed my passion. I probably spent more time with Coach Eddie than any other man in my life. He made me laugh, made me feel special, and looked out for me.

Now that I have four amazing children, Father’s Day means something different. I am truly grateful to be married to a man who loves our children, is active and present in their lives, and is the most amazing father in the world to them. They are blessed more than they know.

So as I celebrate Father’s Day this year, I celebrate my step-father, Stan, Coach Eddie, and my husband, Josh. But more than anything, I celebrate my Heavenly Father. Because I am a Christ follower, I will always have a Heavenly Father. Jesus has put some amazing men in my life who have loved me unconditionally, and for that I am grateful. To all of the dads out there, be present in your kids’ lives. To the men who fill an active role as “dad”, even if they aren’t your natural born children, I say ‘thank you’.

Trying to Make Sense of the Senselessness of the South Carolina Church Shooting

Unless you lived under a rock the past 48 hours, your news world has been saturated with tragedy coming out of Charleston, South Carolina. Now that the initial shock and horror is beginning to wear off, how can we begin to make sense of this senseless act of violence? Here are four things to remember:

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  • No explanation can ever be sufficient when the loss is personal. Acts of violence that you see on a news report are just unfortunate statistics. But the loss becomes so overwhelming when there’s a personal connection that no simple explanation, not even a Bible verse, can adequately quantify the senselessness of violence like this.
  • The effects of sin and evil in the world are devastatingly real. Sin is like a bomb that went off in the world, leaving a trail of collateral damage in its wake. Sin is so deceiving and so destructive that it can even twist a human heart into thinking that killing innocent people is the answer, when it never, never is. Once again, we know this from a theoretical standpoint, but it becomes all too real when it affects us in a way that we can’t control. The church being targeted wasn’t some form of divine punishment. It’s just the consequences of a sin-infested world. Like a tornado ripping through a community, it will destroy one house while leaving the next house intact.
  • Evil is big, but God is bigger. Deep down we know we can’t fully understand this act of violence this side of heaven. I don’t think we need answers as much as we need to know that God is here. God is with us. Evil is big, but God is bigger.
  • Put your hope in heaven. The victims in this attack are in a better place. You can grieve for those left behind, but don’t grieve for those who’ve died. They’re with Jesus, with no more pain, sickness, sorrow or death. That hope carried them through life and death. That hope is available to all.

7 Marks of a Spirit-Filled Church

What does it look like when the Holy Spirit shows up in power in a church? ‘Spirit-filled’ is a buzz word that energizes some denominations while sending others into a tizzy. Rather than rehash modern interpretations, I want to look at a beautiful description of the Spirit-filled church in Acts 2 and highlight seven identifying marks.

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42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

1. Unwavering devotion (v 42). They were all-in. This wasn’t something they did half-heartedly or on the weekends they were free. They were absolutely devoted.

2. Overwhelming awe (v 43). Their worship wasn’t lip service. It was real, it was genuine, it was overflowing. They knew they were a part of a divine movement and that reality overwhelmed them.

3. Undeniable proof of God’s power (v 43). That’s my terminology for signs and wonders. Whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual healing, there was undeniable proof that things were happening and lives were being transformed in a way that could only be explained by the presence of God.

4. Complete unity (v 44). The believers were together and had everything in common. At this point there were no hidden agendas, no arguments, no denominations, no church splits. The only thing Jesus prayed for future believers in the New Testament (John 17) is that they would be united. That’s why if you read Acts 5 the first thing Satan attacks is their unity. A Spirit-filled church is a church united.

5. Sacrificial giving (v 45). They gave to anyone as they had need. They completely realized that everything they had was a gift from God, and they were simply stewards. If God wanted them to give their possessions to someone else, that was His call. They trusted God enough to give sacrificially.

6. Intentional community (v 46). They worshipped together. They ate together. They did life together. They didn’t just do life sitting in rows. They did life in circles. They did life together.

7. God-sized growth (v 47). When God shows up in power, it’s unmistakable. God grew the church. The apostles adjusted their sails to prepare for the wind of the Holy Spirit, but it was the Spirit himself that fueled the church then, just as He’s the only one that fuels the church today.

4 Ways to Adjust Your Sails to the Wind of the Holy Spirit

The Bible says on several occasions to be ‘filled with the Spirit,’ but what does that mean? Yesterday at Mt Vernon I used the illustration of the wind filling the sails of an ancient sailing vessel. When the wind fills the sail, the boat has power (Acts 1:8) to move in the direction that the wind is blowing. It’s not our job to determine which way we want the wind to blow, but to adjust our sails to the direction in which the wind of the Holy Spirit is already blowing. Here are four ways to practically adjust your sails everyday:

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1. Surrender control – Being filled with the Spirit starts with the loss of control. The Holy Spirit calls the shots, not us. When God calls us to repentance, he’s calling us to surrender our way of living for God’s way. To come under the full influence of the Holy Spirit, you have to take yourself out of the driver’s seat. Paul puts this beautifully, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

2. Saturate yourself in the Word – If we want the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us, we need to hear his voice and recognize his promptings. God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and the Holy Spirit many times will use specific Scriptures to guide us on a daily basis. The more we meditate on Scripture, the bigger we build our sails, and the easier it will be to recognize when the Holy Spirit is speaking to us.

3. Dialogue with God throughout the day – Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Adjusting your sails to the Holy Spirit means remaining constantly vigilant to where and how the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing. As great as a weekly church service might be or even a daily quiet time, more is needed. The Holy Spirit is constantly moving, and we need to be constantly attentive to him. Practically speaking, we need to have an ongoing dialogue with God throughout the day. A dialogue is part talking to God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells the church to “pray without ceasing.” A dialogue is also part listening to God. Work on the discipline of being aware of God’s presence at school, work, Walmart, the ball field, and everywhere in between. You’ll find that the wind of the Holy Spirit blows in all of those places, not just within the four walls of a church building.

4. Obey – The first three are useless if you don’t obey. The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to you for your amusement or to simply give you advice. Look at some of the key moments in the book of Acts (like chapter 16 when Paul takes the gospel from Asia to Europe). Those moments changed world history because the early believers not only listened to the Holy Spirit, they obeyed. If you’re not sure what to do, the safest thing to do is the last thing you know God told you to do.

When you surrender control, saturate yourself in the Word, dialogue with God throughout the day and obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings, buckle up! You’re about to start living.