Don’t be scared of fear!

bigstock-Frightened-and-stressed-young-41736385Perhaps fear has gotten a bad rap. I know fear has had some bad days and there are some things that fear does that are not good. Fear can be crippling, it can cause people to react in ways that are bizarre or even dangerous. Fear has been known to keep a lot of people from reaching their full potential. A president once notably said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (FDR)

But perhaps there is something to fear that we are missing.   Amy Bucher said, “People’s natural instinct when confronted with a scary situation is to avoid it. On reflection, most of us realize the downside to running away from fear: Avoidance just intensifies the feelings of anxiety and makes it hard to focus on anything else.”

Researchers say that a certain amount of fear can prove helpful in exceptional performance. “Fear signals there’s something of consequence on the line, a reason to exert effort which often produces greater results.” (AB)

Whenever we are forced out of our comfort zone or challenged to a new level there will instinctively be fear that comes along. It is in this moment that our level of discipline, faith or determination will direct our response. Fear either paralyzes or motivates, it either creates a state of frozen intimidation or drives us to whole-hearted action. This is not a fear problem but rather a me problem.

I have recently been pondering this thought as I have been challenged at a whole new level or personal, spiritual and leadership growth.   After all what great things have ever been accomplished in this world that weren’t first an intimidating fearful idea to a person? Show me something great, and I’ll show you something scary. Show me a person of great influence or accomplishment and I’ll show you a person who knows what it is to be afraid.

When we consider that we are all called to be on mission for God and his Kingdom there are a few considerations that underlie our involvement.

God’s work is always God-sized. God is up to something exceptional in this world.   God’s work is always done in a unique and exceptional ways and God’s work is only accomplished through God’s supernatural power. What is remarkable about this is that God has chosen to accomplish his work with human hands. When we understand this the only appropriate response is to reverently fear and tremble before God.

As I thought more about this it dawned upon me that just about every great leader, whether in the Bible and down through history, somewhere early on in their endeavors stood with fear and trembling before the Lord.  David ran from Saul and the throne that God had anointed him for, in fear.  Paul, was humbled at the calling of God and considered himself the worst of sinners, least among Apostles. Mary had to be told by the Angel to “fear not” when God’s plan for her life was revealed. Even Jesus trembled in the garden before the greatest act ever performed in human history and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

It seems to me that before God does something great his first order of business is to scare someone really good.

Although fear is often the entrance into the calling of God on our lives and is often the first emotion when we are tackling something new, fear is never to be our final destination. Fear that comes from hearing God’s voice and being called of God ultimately leads to great strength and courage.   The same presence that caused Moses to fear at the burning bush was later his source of strength and courage as he stood face to face with Pharaoh. The song writer of the famous hymn put it this way….’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved.

So today perhaps you read this article and are surrounded by fear. Take heart choose to respond in faith and courage. Remember you are in good company and it may just mean something great is about to happen! Don’t let fear scare you!


The Responsibility of Freedom

freedom-and-responsibility-graphic_opt

Happy Birthday America! Today we celebrate the freedom given to us by God, our founders and the brave men and women who fought and died to ensure freedom for all Americans.

It seems that nothing is more American or more attractive to people in general than the concept of freedom.   TV Commercial try to sell us their goods with the promise that it will make us free, Countries celebrate their independence with robust songs and ceremonies of freedom. Christian writer Roger Olsen states, “Politicians, businesspeople, advertisers, salesmen, military leaders and recruiters—all know how to use “freedom” to attract attention and draw interest. Few words are so common while carrying so much weight.”   Freedom is a universal desire placed in us by God Himself. And yet, there seems to be a disconnect from the concept of Biblical freedom and the freedom that is so often pursued in our culture.

As paradoxical as it may sound true freedom actually comes with restrictions. True freedom is the balance of my independence and the understanding of my responsibility to the purpose for which I was created. I am constrained to freely do what God intended me to do in this world. It is best illustrated by a train which is free only so long as it stays on its tracks; a train that jumps the tracks is “free” of the rails but no longer free in the most important sense of the word. It’s a freed wreck that leads to disaster. It is “Free,” but no longer free indeed. The rails simultaneously restrain and set the train free.

When we misunderstand freedom and abandon the “rails” upon we have been founded, We risk losing the very freedom we love so much. Ultimately unchained freedom leads to bondage.

In order to be free we need rails of restraint firmly laid in our lives. Individual responsibility is a rail upon which freedom rides. When we take responsibility for our families, our survival, or success and our failure we are closer to experiencing freedom. When we expect and demand others or a government to meet our needs or find reason to blame someone else for our problems, we relinquish the freedom we ultimately seek.

Self-Restraint is a rail upon which freedom rides. Freedom is not life without laws or limits. That is a train wreck. Until we find the grace demanded to restrain ourselves there will never be enough laws or law enforcement officers to keep us in line. The debates over gun control, drugs and sexual crimes would be solved in a moment if men and women were able by God’s grace to control their own appetites. Lives committed to “free indulgence” of everything they desire demand a society where freedom is limited by law and government. The Apostle Paul says in I Cor 10:23-24 23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. By grace he gladly enchained his own freedom for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

 Transcendent truth is a rail of freedom. In our modern attempts at liberation, we have systematically removed absolute morality and we wonder why we cannot control our society. In a world that says there is no absolute right and wrong we mustn’t wonder why freedom disappears. Where there is no God, No transcendent truth the heavy hand of government must rule. Communist regime’s both past and present have illustrated this well.

Christ and His Gospel are the answer to freedom crisis in our world. When he reigns in a life that life will find power to reign itself. A Christian embrace of freedom is the blessing of any society. By the grace of God in Christ a life is simultaneously set free and restrained by grace. This is the only hope for true freedom. Jesus said, “He who the son sets free is free indeed! John 8:36.

In his treatise On Christian Liberty the Reformer Martin Luther summed this up well: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”


Stepping out or settling down?

images-6Now 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. Eph. 3:20

I recently have been reminded that every so often Christian leaders and Pastors have a very serious choice to make. It seems for me that about every 3-5 years I am faced with this decision. This choice is one that determines our level of effectiveness, the growth of our faith, our level of obedience and ultimately our level of satisfaction in this life.

Regularly through the cycles of life, leadership and ministry ever one of us has to choose between stepping out further on the difficult path of faith or settling down on the well-worn seat of mediocrity.

At some point we are all familiar with both decisions. Somewhere in the genesis of our ministry or at the beginning of a new assignment we have felt our passion and excitement merge with the necessary energy to be bold and courageous enough to pray and work to see God do something bigger than our own abilities. At other times following difficulty, failure or just a lack of vision we have decided to back-off, let up and settle down.

Lest the distinction between these two decisions be misunderstood let me make clear I am not talking about becoming a sleepless work-aholic, one who ignores for the sake of work the greatest priorities in life. Every leader must first rest, spend time in the Word, Pray and lovingly serve their family.

What I am talking about is not exclusively an action it actually has more to do with vision than it does with cluttering our calendars. It’s more about faith than it is about function. Actually one may take the comfortable road of settling down and end up with more “to do” than if had they “stepped out” in bold faith for God. We limit God when we only see the task of life that we perform as his plan. The work of God is not so much about what I can do as it is trusting him for the supernatural work that only he can perform.   One is settling down by marking off a list, being comfortable with weekly accomplishments. Year after year going through the motions of ministry without ever really risking anything for God’s Kingdom. This road is paved with safety, comfort, passivity, is predictable and only performs the maintenance task of life and ministry.   The other is stepping out into an uncomfortable, risky, aggressive, spontaneous, sometimes controversial, yet transformational path. This path is marked by prayer and sincere belief that God wants to do something powerful in this world for the sake of the Gospel and His Glory.

The allurement of settling down has caused many to fall short of the best God has for
them. The ministry becomes a casual routine distracted by a myriad of good, safe, predictable things. The excitement is more about a fulfilling hobby, a relaxing pleasure than the unseen, unfulfilled work of God in their life and ministry. Prayer is scarce, spiritual burdens are light and sermons are little more than a last-minute, inspired download.

At the heart of this for me is the question, “what am I willing to believe God for today in my life, my family and His Kingdom in this world?” I have been blessed to watch God do some really great things.  And yet it seems with each new blessing and experience of God’s grace comes the temptation to “settle down”. Isn’t this enough? Can’t we just be content, Lord? Must we step out again? Do you realize how crazy this sounds?  What about my comfort? What if I fail? These questions and a thousand more are the arrows of the enemy to stifle our faith and chase us to a place of comfortable repose.

So today we are all faced with this choice. By grace let’s resist the temptation to take the broader way. Let’s believe again for the impossible, dream again for our church and it’s Gospel impact in your community. Be burdened for the person it seems is the most hopeless. Expect God to move in our churches this weekend, anticipate the unexpected transformation that accompanies the work of the Holy Spirit.   Be it great or small let’s make today about stepping out not settling down!

“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” William Carey


Maybe the earth is flat

If the title of this article startles you perhaps it should. Although the question over the shape of thimages-5e earth seems to have been answered long ago, (Even the Bible affirmed this in, Isaiah 40:22 It is he who sits above the CIRCLE of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain.”) This past week it made major news when NBA All-Star, Kyrie Irving, made the claim on a podcast that the earth indeed was flat. This created quite a news story with people asking him during all-star weekend if he indeed denied such obvious reality.

He said on the Jefferson and Frye podcast: “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” “The Earth is flat… It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” He later reiterated those beliefs to ESPN’s Arash Markazi when he said.   “I think people should do their own research, Hopefully they’ll either back my belief or they’ll throw it in the water. But I think it’s interesting for people to find out on their own.” He went on to say “I know the science and I don’t mind going against the grain in terms of my thoughts.” http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18710759/kyrie-irving-cleveland-cavaliers-believes-earth-flat

I know the earth is round, but I fully understand how Kyrie can make such a claim and I am even surprised that people are shocked to hear him say so. You might be asking “under what premise can someone legitimately deny such a proven scientific reality?” It’s very simple, in a worldview that denies absolute truth and where truth is relative, the earth can be flat, and this is the prominent worldview in our world today. Relativism says, According to a Stanford university study in 2015, there can be no framework-independent vantage point from which the matter of whether the thing in question is so can be established. Relativism has been, in its various guises, both one of the most popular and most reviled philosophical doctrines of our time. It is seen as a harbinger of tolerance.”

This is a world where one can believe anything as truth and be tolerated or even celebrated. You see there is no absolute truth so Kyrie Irving believes the world is flat, why are we giving him grief? What happened to the “harbinger of tolerance?” Fortunately for Kyrie his teammate, Lebron James still embraces relativism, he said;if he decides he wants to say the earth is flat, so be it, He’s an interesting guy, and he believes it.”

In a world where facts are fluid, truth is transient through time and morality moves with prevailing cultural shifts, maybe the earth is flat.

If a man can be a woman and a woman can be a man without any scientific evidence, maybe the earth is flat. If a beating heart, a brain, fingers, toes, arms and legs, feelings and sensations are not a human being, maybe the earth is flat.

You see the problem we have is not that there is debate over the shape of the earth, It’s that we no longer know the foundations of truth, morally, scientifically or eternally.   We have created a reality of our own making along with science and morals to back it up. In that world, Kyrie Irving’s claim is totally legitimate so for that matter the world can be square.

This madness comes subtly over time. When we question the creator it won’t be long until we are questioning the creation.   Our country long ago abandoned the source of truth and now we are a ship without a sail on the sea of reality.

The pathway back to real truth is to embrace the one who said, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.”   The one who was “In the beginning and was with God, and who was God. The one through whom All things were made, and without him was not any thing made that was made. Trust me Jesus Christ knows the shape of the earth and not even an all-star NBA player can change that truth!


The night we met Joseph and Mary

If the title startles you, it should. What a claim. Let me explain

For years, following our Christmas Eve services, my wife, our kids and I would travel downtown Roanoke with a mini-van full of cookies

, coffee, hot chocolate and warm clothing. Our desire was to show a homeless person the love of Christ on Christmas Eve. This was a meaningful time together for our family.

On one occasion, late at night, we were just about finished with our distribution we noticed a couple walking across an empty lot. The kids were eager to stop and distribute our goodies. My parents were with us and as we pulled along side the curb the kids and my wife climbed out of the van and offered the small gifts we had. Our kindness was received with joy and a request for prayer. The kids invited my dad and I to get out so we put the van in park and joined them for a time of prayer. This is when we learned their story. They had been turned away from Rescue Mission, which was already full and ha no beds available for them. They were from North Carolina, she was pregnant, they were not married and they were worried about spending this ni001ght in the bitter cold. We prayed with them got back into our van and pulled away. We didn’t drive very far before we began to discuss their plight and our responsibility to them. Had we really on Christmas Eve met a travelling, expectant, unmarried couple who had no room to stay? Would we do nothing about it?

Immediately we began driving around looking for them determined to get them a hotel room. A few minutes later we found them cuddled up on a park bench a few blocks away. We invited them to get in and took them to a local hotel for the night. We’ve never seen them again since that night.

Had we really met Joseph and Mary? No, not literally. What we had witnessed was the humility of the birth of our Lord. This story drove home a reality that we often lose in the glamor and beauty of the season. We are so good at decorating the manger and articulating the narrative that sometimes we forget the humiliation Christ embraced when he wrapped himself in skin.

Christmas is the message of the Incarnation of God. The amazing thing about Christmas is that the creator of the world wore human flesh, flesh like yours and mine, The flesh of a young unwed mother who had no place to stay the night of his birth. Someone put it like this, “A thousand times in history a baby has grown to become a king, but only once in history has a King stooped to become a baby”.

This is the message and meaning of Christmas. More than just the celebration of his birth Christmas is the epicenter of the human timeline where God entered into this world on a mission to redeem humanity from the universal condition of sin.

Christmas is the promise made and kept about Jesus. Christmas is the arrival of the Incarnate God as a baby wrapped in human flesh. Christmas is the visible unfolding of God’s plan to save the world from sin. Christmas is the dividing line in human history. All of these are centered around and focused upon the one we all love and serve Jesus. He is more than another religious figure who started a religion, he truly is the central figure of time and eternity, the darling of Heaven, the promise of God the creator and the longing of every human soul. This is Christmas!

I don’t know what ever happened to our “Joseph and Mary”.  My prayer is that they have come to know and serve the one, who like they, was homeless on Christmas Eve.

 


Ok, here’s what I am doing Wednesday morning… depending on who wins!

doube-face-palmThis election is different in that there are such polarizing differences in the candidate and particularly in the platforms. So, I have decided to articulate in this article what I intend to do starting Wednesday morning, depending on who wins the presidency.

If Hillary wins. I will be extremely disappointed. Her views on most everything I care about and the things I teach from the Bible, are wrong.  Although I didn’t support President Obama I never dreamed we would move so fast in the wrong direction over the past 8 years. The issues of Life, Liberty and Security have all been attacked at new levels under this administration. If Hillary wins we can expect the continued rapid descent away from truth and morality in our nation.   We can also expect stronger attacks on our freedoms as Christians. As a Pastor who has immutable conscientious views on morality I know my freedom to minister as called by God will be jeopardized.  So if she wins here is my plan.

  • I am going to know that I must rely more on God than ever before!
  • I am going to have to commit to praying more than ever before!
  • I am going to make a personal commitment to studying and following the scriptures.
  • I am going to realize that Washington is not capable of saving us and must make a renewed commitment to proclaiming the Gospel as the only hope for our nation and our world!
  • I am going to have to walk every day under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in my personal life. Making personal holiness and devotion to Jesus my highest priority.
  • I am going to have to provide a Christian world-view education to my children and the children of our community.
  • I am going to commit to making our church a house of prayer for all nations.
  • I am going to walk in confidence and faith and know that Jesus holds my future not the government!

If Trump wins. I will be happy. The reason is, is that the platform and positions he has embraced in this election align best with my own beliefs. In no way do I defend or condone his past behavior but I have only two options and must choose the one who says he will defend babies in the womb, appoint justices that will uphold the constitution, defend my rights to pastor as I feel called and will have a government made up of people who hold more traditional Judeo-Christian values. (Some of my own friends are being vetted to work in a conservative government) So I will be relieved and happy if Donald Trump wins. So if he wins here is my plan.

  • I am going to know that I must rely more on God than ever before!
  • I am going to have to commit to praying more than ever before!
  • I am going to make a personal commitment to studying and following the scriptures.
  • I am going to realize that Washington is not capable of saving us and must make a renewed commitment to proclaiming the Gospel as the only hope for our nation and our world.
  • I am going to have to walk every day under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in my personal life. Making personal holiness and devotion to Jesus my highest priority.
  • I am going to have to provide a Christian world-view education for my children and the children of our community.
  • I am going to commit to making our church a house of prayer for all nations.
  • I am going to walk in confidence and faith and know that Jesus holds my future not the government!

Would love to hear how you will respond to each one being elected!


10 Things you can do to Heal this Nation

broken-flag-2Recently I spoke to a family counselor who told me they are counseling people over the fear and anxiety produced by this election cycle. We are all dealing with some profound questions. How did we get to this point in our nation’s political process? Does my vote even matter?   What will happen to our country if ____________ gets elected? Perhaps the greatest question we are facing is; Is there anything I can do to help this nation? There is! Let me encourage you today that a nation is not great because they have the right president its greatness is always determined by righteous people.

So here are 10 things I suggest we can all do to heal this nation.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY PERSONALLY. We all need to realize the answer begins with us. I must first do what I desire others to do, be what I want others to be and live out the principles I desire to see in our world. I cannot expect others to do what I myself do not embrace.

UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM SPIRITUALLY. We live in a world where the spiritual battles are played out in the physical realm. As a Christian I understand that there is a force of evil that longs to kill, steal and destroy my life, my family and our nation. The scripture says we “wrestle not against flesh and blood”.   Failing to realize that there is a spiritual battle going on in the unseen world further distances me from a solution.

LIVE MORALLY. If I want a president, a governor or a neighbor that is moral I need to first model morality. Sadly in our nation we act appalled at the political scandals that recently have played out and yet pornography is a lucrative internet profit-maker. We feign outrage over a candidate that falls below a moral standard and yet buy 125 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey. We’re hypocrites if we have erotic material on our computers, phones and bookshelves and expect that our leaders will be different. Leaders reflect morality more than they direct it.

PRIORITIZE FAMILY. God has created society so that the strength of the family unit determines the strength of a nation. Today I can change this country by being loving and faithful to my wife, loving and modeling holiness to my children and taking full responsibility for their welfare.

PRAY EARNESTLY. In scripture we are told that God gets involved in the affairs of men in two ways. First, by raising up and taking down rulers and secondly, in answer to the prayers of his people. If God is involved in governments and He answers our prayers, now is the time to pray! Prayer does not change things, God changes things and prayer puts us in touch with the one who has the supernatural power to alter our national circumstance.

LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY We need a baptism of divine love in our world. Love is like a flame that melts the hardest steel. Not an explosion but a steady force of melting heat that softens even the coldest heart. I need to realize that I must love everyone regardless of whether they agree or disagree with me. Never let the sign in someone’s yard determine your treatment of them!

WORK DILIGENTLY In our effort to improve our world let us not “grow weary in well doing” (Gal 6). As a pastor I must love, serve, pray and shepherd my people faithfully. If you are involved in the political process work hard till election day.   Whatever your assignment is, make sure it is noble then don’t give up, don’t lose heart and don’t quit.

DISAGREE GRACIOUSLY. When you merge an election cycle with social media we bring out the very worst in all of us. “Let your conversation be seasoned with grace” Col. 4:6

THINK BIBLICALLY. Our nation was founded on a Judeo Christian value system.  If every person would once again embrace a world-view framed by scripture our life would improve, your family would be healthier and our nation would once again prosper.

VOTE CONSERVATIVELY. Either voting matters or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t matter who you vote for then vote because you CAN, It is a right that you should exercise. If voting makes even the slightest difference then vote because you SHOULD. We all agree there are no perfect options in this race. But the reality is that one of these candidates will take several thousand people to DC with them to run the government. These people will either be people with a conservative or liberal ideology. Voting on the issues of religious freedom, protection of the unborn, conservative economic policy and conserving our founding principles will make this country better, so vote conservatively.

As we debate about the issues remember that 3 weeks from now this will all be over,  you are going to still need friends and the world will still need Jesus! Embrace these principles and go change the world!