“Jesus said to him, 'Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.' And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” Mark 14:30, 72.
One of the things I enjoy seeing when traveling is what sits (or doesn't sit) atop church steeples. Usually, I discover a variety of crosses, but every now and then, I see something different that catches my eye. When we think of unique steeples in our area, our minds immediately go to First Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson, MS that has the golden hand with the index finger pointing up to heaven. The golden hand is a reminder of where our true home is: eternity. Have you ever wondered why churches have crosses on their steeples? Most of us think, “Well, yeah, it’s a holy place, so the Cross of Jesus Christ makes sense.” However, there are no laws that require churches to put anything on their steeples, let alone crosses. Some churches in bigger towns even have their steeples serve multiple purposes: reminding citizens they are a house of worship, plus, inconspicuously helping the local cell-phone company serve as a cell-tower in the area (two churches in the Jackson MS area come to mind). Why have anything on a church steeple?
Back in the 9th century, something interesting happened in Europe that came to America without us even realizing the significance. Pope Nicholas I decreed that all churches (whether they liked it or not) must display a rooster atop their steeples or domes as a symbol of Christianity. The symbol captured Peter the Apostle’s faith during the events surrounding the Crucifixion of Jesus. The rooster “weather vane” would serve as a religious icon, reminding believers of their commitment to Christ in times of conflict, while hoping to stir curiosity among unbelievers, leading more people to Christ.
As centuries went by, the rather strict and profound rule about roosters being a requirement atop of church steeples ended. However, many roosters remained, functioning as weather vanes. Originally, people tied strings or cloth atop of buildings, eventually turning into banners or pennants. The Old English word for “banner” or “flag” was originally pronounced “vane”. One of the most well-known weather vanes in the world was created during the times of Pope Nicholas’ decree. A copper rooster weather vane known as the “Gallo di Ramperto” once sat atop of the San Faustino church bell tower in Brescia, Italy. With the end of the decree of Pope Nicholas, many European settlers still carried on the tradition. They even brought it to the New World where early churches, farms, and houses displayed the rooster weather vane proudly, reminding Christians about the strength and commitment to their faith. Centuries later, the rooster weather vane still sits proudly across the nation, even while many are unaware of the remarkable origin story to such a common work of art and culture.
The story doesn’t stop there. Peter thought he had blown it for good the night he denied Jesus. He didn’t deserve to be an Apostle anymore, especially since before his denial he told Jesus directly that he would DIE for him (Mark 14:29, 31). After Jesus’ resurrection, when the women came to the tomb and found it empty, the angels guarding the tomb told the women something very comforting: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See this place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples AND Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:6-7). You and I can be notorious for remembering people for their faults. The rooster is a remarkable symbol for Christianity and our faith – NOT because of Peter denying the Lord, but because the Lord welcomed him back in once He rose from the grave. Jesus still called Peter his family, his brother, his Apostle, and his servant for advancing the kingdom of God!
The rooster decree and weather vane are a great reminder of staying true to Christ in all seasons of life, no matter how easy or how difficult they can be. The Lord is molding us and shaping us into better servants every day. Even though we might be aging externally, internally, God is renewing us if we allow Him to work in us through His Holy Spirit! What kind of witness are you to others for Christ? The one labeled by Peter’s final moments with the rooster, or the one who: "...would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
"Jesus said, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32
When I was a child, my father owned a hardware store in Pearl, MS. I have all sorts of fond memories growing up in that store, especially the blue scooter I zoomed up and down the aisles on every day, supposedly “helping customers.” As a young boy, who had just recently started Kindergarten, I was always looking for ways to impress my friends. After school one day, as I was riding around the store on my blue scooter, I thought: “How can I impress my friends? Maybe I could bring them something to win them over even more?” I started searching the aisles for trinkets I could take to my “best” friends – friends worthy of daily prizes from the “coolest” friend they’d ever known.
I turned onto the next aisle when something spectacular caught my eye: the nuts and bolts aisle! Being in kindergarten, I had no idea what nuts and bolts were used for! I hopped off my scooter and started examining the variety of selections, picking the worthy pieces and stuffing them into my blue-jean overall pockets. The next day at school, I instantly became KING! I was handing out nuts and bolts left and right to my worthy peasants. I had become the class warlord by the time my mother picked me up that day. From there, the madness continued every day: me stuffing more nuts and bolts in my pockets than the day before. A few days later, my teachers began noticing nuts and bolts falling out of student’s pockets, stuffed in our cubbies, and lying on the bathroom floor. Eventually, their detective work found me out, which in return, they snitched to my mother, a teacher at the same school!
That night, I was confronted by my parents. They asked me if I had been taking nuts and bolts from the store and giving them to my friends. Of course, I had no idea what they were talking about! They told me what the punishment would be if I were lying. I went back to my room and pulled out the hidden loot I had planned on dispersing the next day. I knew my parents were on to me, but I had already lied, so something sneaky had to be done to get out of this mess. A brilliant, light-bulb moment came: flush the nuts and bolts down the toilet! They’d never know! I took the bounty and poured them into the toilet, flushing them down over several rounds. Later that night, when I had to use the restroom for more than covering up evidence, the toilet began to overflow! Terrified, I ran into the living room and told my parents something was wrong.
More than 25 years later, I can still see my father leaning over the toilet with the plunger. I can still hear the subtle clinking of individual nuts and bolts returning from their demise. I can still hear my mother saying my name over and over in disbelief as another nut or bolt clinked from the pull of the plunger! After this fiasco, let’s just say that night and the rest of the week didn’t end well. The Kindergarten nut and bolt warlord had been defeated. The truth had come out, yet, it had set me free. Through discipline, humility, shame, and grace, I had learned a valuable lesson: the truth will always come out. My parents still laugh about that story whenever we talk about parenting or other challenges life brings us. I was honored to do Youth Ministry for close to eight years before coming to New Covenant. John 8:31-32 were always two verses I pounded into my students’ heads. It was always such a blessing to witness those who believed this truth in God’s Word. The truth might not be the greatest, the most fun, the most popular, or the most appealing answer to give or hear from someone else, but in the end, it sets us free because we have lived according to God’s Word. We have defeated our sinful natures once more, because lying can only get us so far. We have the greatest example of TRUTH itself in Jesus Christ, who affirms for us daily that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6. Pursue the truth this month and LEARN how it sets you free in all things!
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:9-11
There was a wealthy land investor traveling in Wyoming, deep within the pasture lands of the northern country. He was looking for skilled herders and shepherds that could manage large herds and large amounts of land with large amounts of patience. He was driving up Highway 25, and made a pit stop at a roadside diner outside the town of Kaycee. He ordered some food, not expecting good quality or good conversation. As he waited, a man sitting down the bar from him started some chit-chat. The investor told him he was on the hunt for the next great shepherd.
The man sitting down the bar smiled, suggesting he knew a man just right for the job. Intrigued by such a statement, the investor bagged his dinner and the two men hopped into their unnecessarily large trucks. The investor followed his new acquaintance 30 minutes down the road until he could see a large wooden sign made of knotty cypress posts that read, “Bezalel’s Ranch”. An interesting name, considering Bezalel was one of the Chief Architects of the Tabernacle in Exodus 31. They pulled up to the main lodge, got out of their trucks, and immediately hopped onto two 4-wheelers waiting on them. The man from the bar explained to the investor how much land was at stake, how times were tight with money, how they were always short-handed, and that a hard-working, loyal man was hard to find.
In Wyoming, there are all sorts of predators coming after sheep. Having a fortified holding pen at night was key to the survival of a flock. 45 minutes later, the men stopped in front of a very primitive-looking holding pen for sheep. It was square in shape, probably about 20 x 20 feet in all. Three sides were enclosed, while the fourth side had a narrow opening in the middle. The sides were made of cedar posts with four horizontal slats that ran the entire perimeter of the structure. The investor wasn’t impressed – the structure looked like it could collapse with one strong gust of wind!
“He’ll be here in a few minutes,” the man from the bar said. Moments later, an older man in his late 60s, came walking up from behind. His appearance was simple. He looked like he had worked the land all his life. He introduced himself as “Old-School”. The man from the diner explained why they were there and how the investor was interested in a skilled shepherd. Old-School explained how he roamed the open pasture lands with his sheep daily. He protected them, found fresh water and the healthiest grass for them. He knew the sheep better than anyone. The investor was impressed with everything he heard except for one thing: the sheepfold Old-School put his sheep in! The investor started asking questions: “Aren’t there wild animals out here? Won’t they try to get the sheep? Isn’t it dangerous for them? Couldn’t they get out?” Old-School answered“yes” to every question. The investor then asked, “So, how in the world are you going to protect them?” Old-School smiled and suddenly laid down on his side, blocking the narrow entrance to the primitive sheepfold and shouted, “I am the door!”
As the month of May is upon us, take time to reflect on what Christ not only has DONE but continues TO DO for YOU. He is determined to guide us through life and pursue us with blessings, whether we see or understand them right away or not. Christ knows what we’re going through! He’s been tempted more greatly than we could ever imagine (Hebrews 2:18) because He became one of us and IS ONE OF US today, yet, without sin. Not only is He our brother, friend, and king – but He is also the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the True Vine, the Way, Truth, and Life; the Bread of Life, and the Light of the World! He has INVESTED in us more than anyone else ever would, therefore we are to, “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3)
“Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the LORD of hosts is His name.” Jeremiah 31:35
In January, after three months of raising funds for our new playground, the day had finally come for the equipment to be delivered. The forecast for the entire week was rain, every day, all day. The driver told me over the phone he would unload the equipment rain or shine at the church around 8:00 am.
The next day, the rain poured without interruption. The driver pulled around back in an 18-wheeler. Thankfully, Elder Tommy Ellett arranged for some workers with a fork-lift to come help unload the equipment in a sensible way. When 8:30 am rolled around, suddenly, there was a calm in the storm. The torrential rain storm became an annoying mist, but I’d take that any day compared to what it had been! As we began unloading 200+ pieces, I noticed some with a different color scheme than we had ordered. Our color scheme was a very vivid light green, yellow, and blue – while some of these pieces were more of a “John Deere” green. I asked the driver, "Do those pieces belong to us?" After checking the delivery, sure enough, there was another delivery on the same truck. So, we began loading the John Deere green pieces back onto the truck. Most of them were long poles covered in cardboard, so you could only see the ends of them sticking out about a few inches. With the mist, the cold, and an overwhelming amount of supplies and boxes, it was hard keeping track of what belonged to us and what needed to go.
Fast forward to March 11, the playground construction began. The installer was from northern Alabama and was anxious to get started. As I visited with him on the first day, he told me all about how he enjoyed putting together playgrounds for a living, but that he was his own worst enemy. I asked what he meant by that and he said he was always forgetting tools and supplies needed to complete the job! Not the greatest thing to hear from the man building your playground, but he looked professional enough!
Two days later, after he had built the main “fortress” portion of our playground, I walked outside to check on him and came upon an interesting sight. There he was, inside his small Bobcat forklift. On the forklift, he had attached a long, 10-foot John Deere green pole. The pole was instrumental in lifting the canopy of the playground fortress, so he could set it on top. After he did this, he jumped out of the Bobcat with a smile and said, “Man, am I glad I found this green pole! If I hadn’t had this, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the job on time! I left my extension gear at home, so I had to improvise.” At that moment, I said, “Isn’t God’s providence amazing?” He asked what that was, and from there, our conversation took flight.
I was truly amazed by God in that moment. Sure, it may seem coincidental or insignificant to some, but for me all I could do was smile and be in awe of God’s providence and the “fixed order” of this entire event. “It just so happened” that ONE green pole was left behind that day back in January when we were unloading. God knew the playground installer often forgot things. God knew he could use this out of place green pole to get the playground canopy properly installed, so the job could be finished on time! Sometimes in the Christian life, things feel out of place. Sometimes you and I might feel like the only green pole in the room, while everyone else is yellow, light green, and blue. Does that mean we give up and try to compromise with who we really are and how God has made us? Of course not! God has YOU exactly how and where YOU need to be at THIS MOMENT in your life! He WILL and CAN use US for mighty things. He has given us so many wonderful skills and gifts (1 Corinthians 12) that we’re called to use every day to glorify Him. If you’re tempted to feel out of place this month, know that you’re not, and you yourself might be the important piece God has provided to get the job done!
“That day they rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.
And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” Nehemiah 12:43
In 2013, my wife and I took our youth group on their first mission trip to another country: Haiti. Through an established Christian mission organization, we were there to help evangelize, teach the gospel, build houses and a church, teach the locals to learn English, and provide assistance in the medical clinic. The main job my youth students had was hosting a Vacation Bible School for the local children every day that week. The format was simple: act out an original Bible story skit, followed by a related craft. One of my favorites was Noah and the Ark. We taught how Noah’s faith in God’s promises saved him and his family, along with the animal kingdom, in a vessel of redemption known as the Ark. Of course, each skit was met with many challenges. The main challenge for the Noah skit was how to show God sending rain for the first time to flood the earth. As the children gathered that day, close to 40 kids in all, we still hadn’t figured out how we would make it “suddenly” rain.
As the students and translator began vividly acting out the skit for the children – over to my right, behind the courtyard fence where we were staying, a place known as The Hope Center, I saw a bright green garden hose. I had an "Ah ha" moment. I told one of the older students my plan; as soon as they got to the rain, give me some type of signal and I’ll shower all the children with the garden hose! I quickly ran to the other side of the fence. Thankfully, God had providentially placed a ladder up against the wall that wasn’t there before. I grabbed the ladder and the garden hose, climbed up the ladder, waited silently behind the fence for my cue.
Suddenly, the actors began screaming, running around in circles, looking up at the sky. This was my cue! Without hesitation, I unleashed the power of the garden hose and sprayed it directly on the mob of children. At first, they were scared (they didn’t know where the water was coming from), but as soon as they saw me, they immediately started laughing, jumping up and down with glee to play in the rain. Many of them even tilted their heads back, sticking out their tongues to take in as much “flood water” as they could – the very rain that was supposed to symbolize judgment and destruction! By this point, we had lost the main message of the story, but the joy of the children couldn’t be extinguished! Even my youth students and wife jumped into the rain storm, joyfully being “judged in the flood waters”. The rain storm must have lasted a good 10 minutes or more before the skit officially ended, escorting all the children over to the craft portion. There, we taught them the rest of the story: how God sent Noah and his family a rainbow as a promise that the Earth would never be flooded again.
The children couldn’t stop grinning, contagious for those of us who had the privilege to teach them. Something that started off small, a garden hose, brought gargantuan results: joy that could be heard from near and far the rest of the week. The children and my youth students talked about it every day after that, asking if there would be another “storm” coming that day. Sadly, God only flooded the earth once that week.
Friends and church members of New Covenant, what started off as a small "garden hose" idea, has become a wonderful project for God’s church here in Natchez with the expansion of our Nursery and building a playground, breaking ground March 11. Are you excited to hear the flood of joy? Are you excited to hear men, women, and children laugh and play together by the Lord’s provision of this wonderful facility at our church? I hope you are because I couldn’t have done it without YOU. Your support and excitement for bringing in younger families and children has been a beautiful and humbling thing to experience as your pastor! May we all relish over the joy that is coming friends. A joy that has been given to us by the LORD. Our calling as Christians is to be the most joyful people on the planet – WHY? Because through faith in Christ, we have been given a wonderful gift: eternal life that Jesus had immense joy in accomplishing for YOU (Hebrews 12:1-2). Let your joy provided by the Risen Lord be heard, seen, felt, and admired from near and far this month! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The news channel warned us a severe storm was on the way. We were still newlyweds and had only been in our first house for a year at this point. As the thunder, lightning, and rain ferociously bombarded our neighborhood that night, we were thankful that God had kept us safe, dry, and warm.
The next morning, I decided to walk around our house outside, checking for any roof damage. There were a few fallen limbs scattered throughout the yard, but other than that – everything seemed to be fine. Later that day, my wife noticed an odd discoloration on our kitchen ceiling directly over the stove vent. She suggested it might be a good idea to check all the other ceilings in the house. So, we started our scavenger hunt, hoping we wouldn’t find any more potential water leak sites from the storm. To our chagrin, this wouldn’t be the case! As we entered the bathroom, there it was before us: a water leak coming from the bathroom vent – a steady, monstrous drip. However, this wasn’t your ordinary leak. The water was dripping directly into the toilet below the vent! Talk about an easy clean up! No towels or buckets required!
After our discovery, I went up into the attic searching for any noticeable water damage. The only damage I found was a small opening around both the kitchen roof vent and the guest bathroom roof vent – both leaks flowing together seeping through the guest bathroom ceiling vent, dripping directly into the toilet – it was like a complicated maze you would find in a board game! The next day, after things had dried off, I plugged both openings in the attic with some caulk and called it a day. It’s the easiest leak I’ve ever had to fix to this day! Now let me ask you something: was I thankful “for” this leak in the attic, dripping down into the guest bathroom toilet? No – of course not. Did you notice Paul’s words in verse 18 above? “Give thanks in all circumstances”, not “Give thanks for all circumstances.” What’s the difference?
What Paul is saying in this passage and what we need to be reminded of with the holidays upon us, is that things could be a lot worse. We are what we are by the common and saving grace of God (1 Corinthians 15). The leak in my kitchen and bathroom both could have easily burst through the ceiling, causing serious damage, so, no, I wasn’t thankful FOR the water leak, but I was thankful IN the situation that God, in His boundless mercy, provided, blessing me and my wife. Spending time with family over the holidays can always be challenging. We all have our unwritten expectations, plans, and anxieties, but this year, put all that aside and be thankful for the situations and circumstances God has placed you in. You may not be thankful FOR them at this moment, but let God show you HOW and WHY you should be. We can “rejoice always” because the greatest gift to all those who believe in Jesus Christ is eternal life, and that friends, is what the holiday dinner conversations should be about – not only for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter – but every day of the year!
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” Mark 13:32-33
Ted Muholland, a well-liked man with a sincere heart, was the proud owner of eight new steel mills in southern Illinois. After hiring 400 employees, only four months later, Muholland had the most successful steel mill business in the area. One of the perks for working for Muholland was a local community built beside the mills, allowing employees to easily get to work and offering free family housing.
The steel mills operated 24/7, rain or shine. The goal was shipping as much steel up and down the Mississippi River as possible, in hopes of becoming the top steel salesman in all the Mid-West. Muholland even began exporting his steel, sending 80,000 tons to Ireland and Spain within the course of two years. Four years later, his steel empire had become king. Searching for a story, a local reporter decided to travel to Muholland’s steel mill empire, uncertain of what he’d find.
When he arrived, he was greeted cordially by employees and their families; he even had dinner with Mr. Muholland himself. However, the reporter was troubled. He couldn’t seem to jot down any notes for his story. He also developed a slight migraine. His lack of creativity troubled him. He’d never experienced this before. After dinner with Mr. Muholland, he stepped outside and started walking towards the guest house he’d be in for the night. There, in front of him, he found his answer: the steel mills! The constant pounding, drilling, and forging was killing his senses. He dreaded going to the guest house, anxious he wouldn’t get any sleep. That night, he tossed and turned, even cramming pencils in his ears at one point to block out all the sounds. Nothing worked, resulting in no sleep.
The next morning, sitting on the porch, he was speechless when he saw all the workers and their families going about their day, acting like nothing had kept them up. He ran over to a woman passing by, asking her if she had been kept awake by the steel mills. She replied, “Isn’t it lovely? It takes a while to get used to, but now, I don’t even hear it.” For the entire day, the reporter sluggishly moved around, trying to take some quality pictures and jot down any story ideas. After getting dinner on his own that night, he tried going to bed around 8:00pm, but the torturous sounds of the steel mills kept pounding close by.
Around 2:00am that night, suddenly, the unthinkable happened: the power in the whole town went out. The sound of the steel mills ceased. There was utter silence and serenity throughout the entire town. The reporter leapt for joy in his room, followed by quickly huddling under the covers so he could fall asleep. Moments later, he began hearing faint noises outside his window. He looked outside the window to discover all the townspeople walking around with lanterns and flashlights, wondering what had happened to the rhythmic pounding of steel. The townspeople were unable to sleep. They had gotten so used to the noise that once it was gone, they were flabbergasted with what to do next. The reporter on the other hand, slept like a baby. Aiming to hit the road by sunrise, he discovered that the power was still out, the steel machines lifeless, and the citizens in delirious panic.
You see friends, the world has heard the constant pounding and preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ for centuries, yet, it still sleeps soundly. Someday, the church and gospel will be gone with the RETURN of Jesus Christ. This will happen on a day you and I could never predict. We also should never pretend like we have any authority on the subject (Acts 1:7). Christ will return for His people, His Remnant. Are we ready? Are we excited? Or are we sleeping soundly because we’ve grown complacent? If we love Jesus, we must love His bride, the church. Join us at New Covenant Presbyterian each Sunday morning to be awakened by the gospel.
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,
called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
both their Lord and ours.” 1 Corinthians 1:2
I was so close to getting up and causing a scene. But then I thought, “Well…would it make any difference?” I envisioned being recorded by several people’s cellphones, the video clip sent in to the local news with the tagline reading, “Unknown man creates mayhem at church!”. After I restrained myself for the third time, I decided to go for a walk. Unfortunately, there were speakers in the hallways and even the restrooms! There was no escape from what I was hearing.
The church I visited was huge – it had everything you could ask for: a choir, a plethora of musicians to enhance the worship experience, vacation Bible school, tons of activities for people of all ages – but one crucial thing was missing: the name of Jesus. The guest preacher approached the pulpit, pacing back and forth, non-verbally bragging about his lack of using notes. He flashed a verse up on all three screens from Hebrews 10. He quickly read through it and that was the last we saw or heard of it. From there, he told stories about eating some good home cooking in Louisiana, the joys of doing yard work, zooming all over the place except for the Scripture he had read. 37 minutes later, I was stunned. Not ONCE did he say: gospel, atonement, redemption, faith, justification, or SALVATION found in JESUS alone. This, friends, is not preaching.
I don’t know what to call his speech. Granted, he was somewhat entertaining, like-able, sharp in his appearance – but he didn’t offer me or anyone else in that congregation of 700+ people any assurances of salvation found in Jesus Christ alone. Here’s what I’m NOT saying: this church I attended didn’t love Jesus, wasn’t a Godly church, or should be shut down immediately – who am I to question the work of God (Mark 9:38-41)? Maybe when the regular preacher was there it was more gospel-centered? From the outside looking in, it mirrored “while the cat’s away, the mice will play.” When we take Jesus OUT of the church, we are NO LONGER a church. The building has simply become a meeting place, an entertainment session, a gathering of people with a few shared interests. If we do not acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior, especially in what we claim to be His church, then what are we doing there?
The church is not only a physical building, but consists of believers in Christ coming together to worship His name, His infallible Word, and rejoice in the bond that communion with Christ brings together as believers. I tell my congregation often to be in awe of the friendships we have together; all because of grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone we are eternally saved. Otherwise, I would never cross paths with 90% or more of church participants that I see on a weekly basis! What brings us together is the love of God through Jesus Christ. Notice how Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1, “to the church of God that is in Corinth.” The church “of God.” Not “my church” or “our church” or “their church” – BUT God’s church, because with God fully and biblically in it, it’s a true church.
I challenge us this next month to NEVER BE ASHAMED of the Gospel only found in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16, Titus 3:4-7)! When we honor Christ, as Paul said, we are called to be “saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” An often forgotten, yet theologically rich hymn, At the Name of Jesus, by Caroline Noel about Jesus puts it this way: “Humbled for a season to receive a name, from the lips of sinners unto whom He came, faithfully He bore it spotless to the last, brought it back victorious, when from death He passed.”
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand…
this is God, our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever.”
Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 48:14
Recently my wife and I went to an Astros game in Houston, TX. We both were nervous about our 9-month old daughter being with us. Yes, we have become those “crazy” parents that tote our child around everywhere. There were all sorts of unknowns and “what-if’s” about the day game: what if she gets too hot? What if the retractable stadium roof is open? Or closed? What if the screaming fans are too loud? What if someone spills their popcorn or beer on her? What if she disrupts someone’s ball game experience? The list was endless!
After arriving at the stadium, we began shuffling through the large crowds of people to find our seats. We were sitting in Section 327, Row 1. As we approached our section, we passed by an interesting side-room to our left that read Mother’s Room. My wife paused for a moment to read about this Mother’s Room. Turns out, it was for nursing mothers at the stadium. The rules were simple: check in, walk through the lobby-like entrance and head into a smaller room that contained a couch and chairs for mothers who needed to nurse or take care of any other baby-related matters during the game.
It was a relief to have the option, but we figured there wouldn’t be a need to visit the room until close to the end of the game. We got some “healthy” ball-park food, found our seats, STOOD for the National Anthem and were off to a great day at Minute Maid Park! Our daughter was enjoying the game, the retractable roof was closed, the temperature was enjoyable, everything was purring right along UNTIL – the 4th inning: the Astros hit a single-home run barely over the back wall (good news). From where we were sitting, we thought it was a double (bad news). All the sudden, BOOM! The Astros homerun cannon erupted and the entire stadium shook from the enormous explosion! The fans burst into cheers, while our daughter immediately burst into tears, screaming for her life!
My wife and I panicked – How would we calm her down? Then, we both looked at each other and said, “The Mother’s Room!” My wife quickly scurried away with our daughter while understanding and sympathetic fans let her pass by. Two innings later, she returned with our daughter grinning from ear to ear. She then told me something that immediately made us give thanks to God: there was only ONE Mother’s Room in the entire stadium and it“just so happened” to be in the exact same section I had picked tickets for almost two months earlier. I had no idea the Mother’s Room even existed. But you know who did? GOD. God knew that we as “newbie” parents wouldn’t know anything about the Astros home-run cannon and how we would need the Mother’s Room we both took for granted as we passed by only four innings ago!
God is the Master Planner. The words “chance, coincidence, random, or luck” shouldn’t exist in your vocabulary, because they surely DO NOT exist in God’s. Never take for granted how things pan out for you this month, whether it goes the way you expected or not. God has a plan for your life and He’s asking that you trust Him to lead you in all things. He’s the only one who knows when you’ll need the next Mother’s Room in your own life – and if you allow Him to lead you, the results are far greater than you could ever imagine (Romans 8:37-39).
"For creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself would be set free from its bondage to corruption and
obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Romans 8:20-21
The challenge was easy - or so I thought. My youth group students had been begging for the last three months to go camping. After finding a campsite for us, we set a date, held a fundraiser, and were all set to have a great weekend back in the fall of 2015.
Ironically, the day of the trip, all the boys scheduled to come backed out. I found myself in a situation I never saw coming: a camping trip with FOUR teenage girls, my wife, and me. To say I needed prayer was an understatement! As the girls arrived at the church before we hit the road, all they did was play on their cellphones, their eyes silently fixated on the screen, their thumbs lazily scrolling up and down. After packing up the last bit of luggage, I gathered the girls together and presented them with a simple challenge: if the girls agreed to leave their cellphones in the van ALL WEEKEND (a whopping 48 hours), Roberta and I would give them an ancient piece of technology known as a disposable camera that could take 24 pictures of our trip (we even had to show them what the wheel did on the top to wind the next picture). If they accepted the challenge, at the end of the trip, they could turn in their cameras and I would develop their pictures for FREE!
Once the terms of the challenge were declared, there was a long pause of hesitation and silence. Finally, one of the girls chipped in, "I'll do it!" Her response led to the other three girls following suit. I took their phones, turned them off, and locked them up for the weekend (after letting their parents know they could contact me). We started driving, and listening to their conversations was amusing at first: "This is so cool... I've never done anything like this!" "What are we supposed to do all weekend?" "I guess my boyfriend will be worried about me..." and so forth. However, by the end of the first night, the youth girls began to plot mutiny.
To say the weekend was emotionally painful is being polite. The complaining was endless. All they could think about was getting their phones back. They even began counting down the hours to when that would be. On the way back home, I found myself frustrated. The girls had missed the entire point of the challenge and the campout: LOOK PAST YOURSELF! They had missed all the exciting things to see at Rodney, the Windsor Ruins, Emerald Mound, Natchez, and more. When we returned to the church and unpacked, they were like salivating dogs waiting for their photos developed was eclipsed by the love of their phones.
Do they remember this camping trip years later? Maybe, maybe not. Did anything good come from it? I believe so, but at times, it's challenging to see what good exactly. My former youth students were casualties of a new phobia coined by scientists by Iowa State University known as nomophobia, meaning "no mobile phone phobia". It's the fear of not having your cellphone. Scientists have also discovered that we remember significant life events more without our phones.
The challenge, I think, is easy for you this month: put your phone down and spend time with God, the family and friends He has given you, and so on. Get outside (even when it's 90 degrees by 11:00 am) and spend time in His creation. Look past your Facebook wall, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, because at the end of the day, you're not as important as you think. God is important as you think. God is important, and He longs to have a meaningful, genuine, more than one hour a week relationship with YOU. Let Him. We are called to be so much more and give so much more to Him than our culture tell us. God calls us His "ambassadors of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Does your life mirror that title and the challenge to serve? Are you the latest victim in denial of nomophobia? How many times did you pick up your phone while attempting to read this? Look beyond yourself this month and serve the Lord in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.