“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Colossians 1:17-19
If I was given a dollar every time I read or heard this word over the past six weeks, I could probably buy my own beach house in the Cayman Islands by now. It’s a word that’s been strategically used to help mankind “cope” with the corona virus situation. It’s a word that’s been abused at every turn, causing society to use all sorts of reasons to put their lives on hold. Sometime this month, challenge yourself to see how many times in a day you hear the word, read it, or dare I say, you speak it!. You’d be surprised how contrary this particular word is to the Word of God!
Have you ever attempted reading the entire Book of Isaiah? It is quite a challenge! It’s one of the longest books in the Bible with 66 Chapters. Isaiah was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 740s BC before their deportation by Assyria in 722 BC. If someone were to ask you what the book of Isaiah is about, what would you say? As avid students of the Bible, it’s always rewarding to articulate our faith and beliefs in a few short words when people are curious. An easy answer to this question is: “Isaiah is about the sovereignty of God.” Isaiah the prophet does everything he can to remind God’s people of the kind of God they serve – there is no one else like God! The sovereignty of God is a doctrine absolutely crucial to our faith. Without believing in the sovereignty of God, everything else collapses. How can we DEFINE God’s sovereignty in a nutshell? It’s a topic we could spend years discussing and only begin to scratch the surface! Check out these verses from Isaiah 40:12-18 about God’s sovereignty:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket and are accounted as dust on the scales…all nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”
As soon as we say that GOD isn’t in control of something, or doesn’t have the infinite foreknowledge of EVERYTHING, then He is no longer completely sovereign. The world we live in is His universe – He makes the rules because He is the Creator of all things. Through His almighty providence, “He does uphold, direct, make willing, and govern all creatures, actions, and things – from the greatest to the least” (Westminster Catechism). Do we really believe this, friends? The word I spoke of earlier that should never be used in the same sentence as God is “UNCERTAIN”. NOTHING ever has been, is, or will be uncertain with God! Even before we existed, God knew us. As David reminds us in Psalm 139, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God knew us before we even knew ourselves.
As we continue to wait patiently for the all-clear to return to worship together, I encourage you this month to remove the word “uncertain” from your vocabulary. NOTHING is UNCERTAIN with God! The only thing uncertain about the corona virus is how humans respond to it with our finite brains. We can doubt, or we can continue to trust in our Creator who has a plan that’s far beyond our control and understanding, and yes, even for our good (Romans 8:28). I’m thankful it is up to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver us from this current, strange season of life and not myself! Because of Christ, we can have peace – whether we get the virus or not, peace is on both sides of life and death with Jesus. What did Jesus say when He saw His followers for the first time after His resurrection, most likely in the Upper Room? “Peace to you” (John 20:19). So, grab a pen and sticky note and write: “Nothing is uncertain with God!” Send this wonderful news out over text, email, Facebook, or whatever other platform you can think of to reassure yourself and others this month that God HAS NOT and WILL NEVER lose control of all His creation! “All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you” (Psalm 145:10).
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you,” Ephesians 4:32
Mississippi is known for being indecisive when it comes to weather. At the beginning of February, the weather decided to warm up to 75° one morning. With it being so nice, Roberta and I opened the screen windows and the back porch door while we ate lunch with Vivian. We enjoyed listening to the breeze and the birds chirping outside before a storm that was arriving the next day. After Vivian was finished eating, we let her out of her chair and let her play for a few minutes in the living room before nap time. At one point, I couldn’t see her and figured she was headed toward the porch. She loves running back and forth from the screened-in porch when the door is open.
Suddenly, the wind started to pick up. Fearful that the wind would slam the door while she was close by, I ran towards it. As I ran, I could see her little hand in between the spacing of the door frame and the wooden door. The door started to slam shut and in my panic, I ended up falling! My feet went out from under me like a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel. As I crashed, my foot bumped the door, causing it to shut on Vivian’s hand! Don’t worry, it didn’t slam shut – it wasn’t nearly as forceful as the wind would’ve been.
Vivian immediately let out terrible screams that I had never heard her make before. She’s a pretty tough kid and doesn’t react much to pain, so of course, my imagination got the best of me. As I was coming to my senses on the floor and before I could see her hand, I imagined her little fingers on the ground, while the Natchez Democrat would read the next day, “Local Pastor arrested for severing toddler’s fingers". Don’t worry! Vivian still has all her fingers! I reached for her hand to see the damage while she wailed. There was no blood, but her hand looked like it had been trapped in a beehive. It was massively swollen, hot to the touch, red and purple within seconds.
Still being rookie parents, we called the pediatrician (who just happens to be a church member) and he ordered us an X-ray for her hand. I loaded Vivian up in the van, who at this point had calmed down some, but was still groggy and crying. Once we got to the hospital and were called back to X-ray room, Vivian was fine UNTIL she saw the X-ray machine. Terror danced all through her body as she energetically flailed about while the X-ray tech and I held her down so they could take the picture. She had a look of betrayal on her face, as if I had taken her there to harvest her organs! About two hours later, the doctor called and said that everything was fine, nothing was broken, but that her hand would be sore for several days.
What a learning experience for a “newer” parent! The entire ordeal made me feel terrible. I was my own worst enemy. I was beating myself up left and right for doing that to my daughter. Roberta did a wonderful job making me feel better and now over 3 weeks later, does Vivian hold it against me? Not one bit. Does she love me any less? Nope. Has she forgiven me? Absolutely. In my sinful ways, I kept thinking: “What if she remembers this? What if she’s angry with me for a long time? I’m so stupid for falling down!” Now granted, I do have her age on my side. She's so young she’s already forgotten it happened. However, the biggest lesson I learned in this experience is that I need to forgive myself. We’re often guilty of not allowing ourselves to move on when we make mistakes. What did Ephesians 4 say above? “..as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is a beautiful and unnatural thing. Forgiveness doesn’t originate on our own. Forgiveness is a gift from God, a glimpse into eternity. Read Genesis 33 sometime this week if you don’t believe me and learn what Jacob says of his brother Esau who forgives him after they’ve been separated for 20 years.
If Christ has forgiven you, surely you can forgive yourself over the mistakes you’ve made, whether accidental or intentional. But we aren’t only called to be recipients of forgiveness, but also GIVERS of forgiveness. “For it is more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35. I know that Christ has forgiven me for all of my sins: past, present, and future. I know Vivian has forgiven me for the door incident. Therefore, I can forgive myself too. Who can you forgive this month? Start with yourself and thank Jesus Christ that He has forgiven YOU. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” 1 Corinthians 15:10.
“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” Mark 16:15
Last Spring, I was making some visits throughout town. There was a church member I hadn’t seen in a while, so I decided to check on her. With Bible in hand, I got out of my truck, walked up to the door and rang the doorbell. Seconds later, she opened it with a big smile. At first, she was confused. For the past few months, her memory had been declining. She didn’t recognize me. This wasn’t the first time, but I always tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t in my normal “element” – I wasn’t standing behind the pulpit in a suit preaching to her and others in our Sanctuary on a Sunday morning. When you only see the same person in the same place every week, sometimes it takes you a minute if you see them somewhere new!
Her face held a vexed demeanor until she saw my Bible. She began to smile again, asking for my name and why I was there. I told her I was a preacher and had come to read Scripture with her. Joy like I had never seen before danced all over her face when the announcement was made that I had come to read Scripture. Usually, people’s natural reactions are: “Is someone about to die?” or “I’m too busy for that today” or “Am I in trouble?” She urged me to come inside while she ran and grabbed her husband. Her husband recognized me instantly and from the look in his eyes, we both knew that we needed to play along with the scenario crafted in his wife’s head.
We gathered into the living room and settled on the couch. She began asking all sorts of questions: “Where did you come from? How far have you traveled today? What Scripture will you be reading to me? How long have you been on the road?” She began telling me all about “her minister” at her church and how she loved going there on Sundays. Her husband began to get upset, saying over and over, “This is our minister dear, he’s right here.” I comforted him and said it was fine. I opened to the Gospel of John and read her the story of Nicodemus approaching Jesus by night in John 3. Then I read her Psalm 139. The entire time I read, she grinned from ear to ear! She was so happy the “traveling preacher” had come to visit and read Scripture with her.
When I left that day, a plethora of emotions rattled around in my brain. First, I was sad for this church member. I was sad that her mind was quickly fading and sad for her husband, too. She was his second wife and I could feel his sadness and frustration, but he was also thankful for the companionship the Lord had provided. Second, I was happily encouraged by her contagious joy. I was genuinely shocked she was so excited about hearing God’s Word read to her! She was so comforted by it, so drawn to it and blessed by it. It was an honor reading it to her. I started to think, “When was the last time I got this excited about reading God’s Word? Is it something I look forward to doing, or is just another box to check off for the day?” She didn’t know it, but her reverence and elation towards God’s Word made an impact on me that day. She challenged me to find more joy in the freedom I have to freely open God’s Word anytime I want. As Americans, we’re spoiled. We’re spoiled that we have multiple copies of God’s Word in our homes, can find it online, or even listen to audio books of His Word – all without worrying about being persecuted, put in prison, or even killed for reading it!
She challenged me that day to act more like a traveling preacher, to go out and share God’s Word without anyone I could. I pray that more people will be eager to listen. Take some time this month to PAUSE and READ God’s Word. Let it soak you deep into your bones and change you for the better. Find the JOY it contains! In response, be a traveling preacher this month and share God’s Word! “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples,” (Psalm 96:3)!
“And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place
where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Matthew 2:9-10
Almost six months after my wife and I got married in 2013, I surprised her with a three-day trip to Perdido Beach, Florida. We did all sorts of things together, like deep-sea fishing, shopping, trying lots of local food, and many hours enjoying God’s creation where sand and ocean meet. On the last night, we grilled some fresh catch from the deep sea-fishing adventure and relished the ocean views by the poolside grill. As we enjoyed each other’s company, we began hearing faint shouting to the left of us. Our curiosity growing, we looked over and saw 10-15 people celebrating at a private beach house. They were shouting and applauding, but we couldn’t determine why they were celebrating.
After a few moments of inquisitive observing, we discovered the reason for their joy: sky lanterns! Sky lanterns are of Chinese origin, often used to celebrate. Whatever their reason to party was, they continued lighting countless lanterns. The lanterns would ignite and slowly float upward into the star-spotted sky. They seemed to follow the same invisible trail, occasionally one going berserk. We noticed that the result was always the same: the lanterns would soar to maybe 500+ feet or more, then flicker out, falling to their watery demise, some even bursting into bigger flames! Regardless of how these lanterns were extinguished, the jovial gathering still cheered and acted as if nothing were wrong.
We stopped counting after 100, but the lanterns kept coming. Then of course, we started thinking about how much these lanterns cost and why someone would spend so much money on the same result in a 100+ different ways? Over 6 years later, I can still see the those lanterns flickering away in the night sky, while the people kept shouting . Where was the hope in a situation like this? Those sky lanterns are reminiscent of the idols we put in place of Jesus. We can chase after having a nice car, a big house, our own personal chef that makes all our meals, being the highest paid employee in our office, having the greatest retirement package, a month long paid vacation – the list is endless! There are so many distractions, but if Christ isn’t leading the way, every light we chase always goes out , always bringing the same result, just as those sky lanterns did.
In Matthew’s Gospel, there’s an interesting account of the wise men who came from the east to seek the REAL king, the REAL Light, Jesus Christ. They confront Herod, one of the most feared men of all time, asking where to find him. Intimidated by their presence (because there were more than three wise men), Herod’s scholars discover that Christ was born in Bethlehem. The wise men had seen a star unlike any other two years before their arrival. When they leave Jerusalem and head to Bethlehem, Scripture says, “the star that they had seen” reappears and leads them the rest of the way to find Jesus, the divine king, a child over two years old at this point! Once they find him, they bow down and worship! Their lives were never the same because they believed in Christ and followed HIS star, a star unlike any other, a radiant light that changed the world forever. Jesus Himself would later say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” John 8:12.
The New Year is here! What star are you chasing? What sky lantern are you following that will always bring the same result: floating lifeless on the ocean surface. The idols in our lives that replace Jesus will only bring temporary, misguided joy. In the end, the only thing that can truly change us and cause us to live more vibrantly than we ever have before is living for Jesus, the Light of the World, a light that empowers, never goes out, and will never lead us astray.
My wife and I recently watched the 2016 film “Risen”, directed by Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld, The Count of Monte Christo) starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, and Cliff Curtis. The film starts with a group of Roman soldiers relentlessly battling an insurrection of angry Jews, led by a man famously known as Barabbas. The leader of the Roman cohort is a tribune named Clavius, who is summoned by Pontius Pilate, and commanded to deal with a new situation surrounding a man called Yeshua, who states he is the Messiah and will rise again in three days after his gruesome death. Clavius is given the task to contain this “Messiah”, assuring Pilate and the Empire that this Messiah will NOT rise and stay dead once and for all.
Of course, Yeshua’s body doesn’t stay in the tomb on the morning of the third day. For the remainder of the film, a skeptical Clavius and his men are determined to find a body matching Jesus’ description in only a few days before decay makes it impossible to identify. All they find in the tomb is the supposed “Shroud of Turin”. Clavius doesn’t simply want theories of what could have happened to Jesus’ body, but he wants the facts and truth from the entire experience. He wants to SEE for himself what happened to the body of Jesus, while keeping his cynicism and jadedness at bay.
For starters, the movie is definitely thought-provoking. There were many scenes my wife and I paused so we could discuss further about the film’s interpretation – whether they got it right, pretty close, or way off. The film does an exemplary job at creating an outsider perspective of the final days of Jesus’ pre-crucifixion life and post-crucifixion resurrected glory and mystery. There are many Biblical references included in Risen that other Jesus movies leave out completely. For example, one of my favorite scenes showed Joseph of Arimathea coming to claim the body of Jesus with Nicodemus, immediately after Jesus breathed his last. We don’t know much about Joseph of Arimathea from Scripture. In fact, he’s only mentioned in the final chapters of all four gospels for purchasing a tomb to place Jesus in. After that, he’s never heard of again. Many Jesus-centered films skip over him, assuming he wasn’t that “crucial” to the story. Risen covers Joseph of Arimathea, Scripture being fulfilled where Jesus’ legs aren’t broken on the cross, the Roman centurion being convicted that day, Thomas feeling Jesus’ wounds, and Jesus’ Ascension. Joseph Fiennes (Clavius) does a excellent job acting bewildered and confused throughout the movie, especially when he encounters Jesus and his disciples for the first time after Jesus has been risen, while they hide in what appears to be the “upper room”. Seeing Jesus risen turns his entire belief system upside-down.
This isn’t saying much these days, but for a PG-13 rated film, Risen is graphic and violent. I commend the film for reminding viewers how brutal life could be back then, specifically in the crucifixion scene and afterwards (which is within the first 10 minutes). Jesus and the other two men are shown hanging on crosses, being held up by nails, Jesus’ side being pierced is shown, while later, the other two men are shown having the nails pulled out from their bodies to be hastily drug into an uncovered pit full of decaying bodies from other crucifixions. The scenes depicted are true and accurate, but still caught me off-guard from its PG-13 rating, especially if one compares it to Mel Gibson’s R-rated The Passion (2004). Other scenes are surprisingly graphic, such as the Roman soldiers digging up bodies in a Hebrew cemetery just to see if it is Jesus’ body that was “stolen”.
Another common misconception was Risen’s interpretation of Mary Magdalene. Risen depicts her as being a “woman of the street”, although the Bible never labels her this way. The Bible only describes her as a sinner, which is what we all are (Luke 18:13, Romans 3:23). The Bible paints her as a faithful follower, servant and friend of Jesus, nothing more. She was once known for having seven demons (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2), but never a woman who slept with multiple men. The way she speaks in the film is contrary to this lifestyle as well, almost casting her as a woman with a sinful lifestyle. In one scene, Clavius is trying to find Mary, who later goes into a brothel of sorts. He asks a group of men if they “know” Mary in the Biblical sense of the word, and all 10 or more men raise their hands, implying they had sexual interactions with her. Way too many liberties with Mary Magdalene were taken. Risen also had a strange depiction of Barnabas, almost as if he were border-line crazy. Barnabas was known as the “son of encouragement” – so granted, most likely he was always in a good mood, with encouragement being his gift, but encouragement doesn’t bring about borderline insanity or saying odd things like “our only weapon is love” and the Apostles are “everywhere”, then laughing suspiciously.
My least favorite scene was how they depicted the Ascension of Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus remains on the earth for 40 days before his Ascension (Acts 1:3), where in the movie, it was only 4-5 days. When it comes time for Jesus to ascend, he doesn’t go up into the sky, being later blocked by clouds. Instead, he walks toward a sunrise and vanishes, causing a shockwave of wind to burst forth, almost knocking down all the Apostles. The movie also leaves out the two angels that arrive to encourage the Apostles and ask them why they’re standing around looking up at the sky (Acts 1:10-11), which was a scene I was looking forward to seeing!
Overall, I award “Risen” a 7/10. The film does a wonderful job at reminding believers what they easily take for granted in the history we have of Jesus in the Gospels. From an outsider-looking-in, Risen asks the question, “Why wouldn’t you believe?” after seeing everything Clavius did. The film is centered around him telling a man everything he experienced. He tells the man very plainly, “I can never be the same.” Words of genuine conversion and repentance, a decision he could have never come to on his own. If anything, Risen does a remarkable job at showing us how blessed we are to be in Christ and how VALID the testimony of Christianity is for mankind. Christianity is the only religion where hundreds and thousands of people saw the same risen Messiah, and vouched for that testimony at all costs, even suffering gruesome deaths under many Roman emperors. As John the Apostle would later state about Jesus’ resurrection, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” 1 John 1:1-4.
“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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.