Thursday, August 11, 2016

Do You Know Your Heart?

“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. (1 Chronicles 28:9a)

Whenever I’m praying through a desire that I have-- some opportunity, relationship, or task ahead of me, I often say something like, “Lord, you know my heart in this.” Then, I ask for wisdom, patience, clarity, or even a change of heart if that’s the case.

The Lord knows our hearts quite well. After all, He created them! He knows our desires and wishes. He knows our motives: good, bad, or mixed. It occurred to me the other day, “I know the Lord knows my heart, but do I know my heart?”

That is a point worth pondering. How often do you think you know what you want only to find out later that you were mistaken? Maybe it is an item, a trip, a promotion, a life-event, or something more interpersonal. Do you really know your own heart?

I know I don’t! I have been blessed quite often with the Lord not giving me my “heart’s desire.” He knew my heart better than I did. And that gets me thinking nowadays-- as I ask the Lord to know my heart, I also ask him to help me know it too.

“Lord, you know my heart, but do I? Give me wisdom and discernment to know myself as you know me, and to see through unhealthy motives and desires I’m not even aware of.”

In Him,

Pastor Brian

Monday, July 25, 2016

Yielding Unto God (William Still on Keeping Your Balance"

“...yield yourselves unto God” Romans 6:13 (KJV)

I was at Barnes and Noble, Iced Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew in hand, browsing the Spiritual life section. A remarkable number of books seemed to deal with discovering God’s Will, God’s Plan, God’s Desires, or God’s “Whatever” for my life. Some of the books were promising, but several were written by those who in my opinion might need to discover Jesus before advising me on discovering God!

All of this reminded me of a slender volume that Scottish pastor that William Still wrote back in 1966. His book is called The Work of the Pastor but his advice is easily adapted to any follower of Jesus Christ. He lists 5 key steps to “Keeping Your Balance” in life and ministry. They’re listed here with a few of his most poignant quotes:

  1. Know Christ: “Has Christ grown up in you, so that there is far more of Christ in you than the remnants of old Adam?”
  2. Be Sure of Your Call: “You must know or be seeking decisive assurance that you are called by Him to [business, homemaking, ministry, teaching, etc.]”
  3. Wait for His Will: “Some of the most fruitful…have had to wait years for their God-given appointments.”
  4. Die to Yourself: “Jesus died with all our badness to take it away, He had to die to all the good He could have been and could have done in a long earthly life, in order that He might die with our badness.”
  5. Don’t Go It Alone: “I believe no-one ever does any good...for Christ’s sake anywhere, without other Christians at some time and in some place having had a part in it. The church is one in her work.”

There’s plenty to read and write about in regard to God’s Will. But for today, isn’t it remarkable how William Still’s short advice holds true? By constantly “yielding” unto God in every aspect of life (Romans 6:13), there’s discovering some “secret” plan of His will.

Yielding allows us to abide day by day in whatever station or location He’s placed us.  What of these 5 steps can encourage you this week?

Pastor Brian

Monday, July 11, 2016

Giving All We Have; Receiving All We Need

Giving All We Have; Receiving All We Need

On a recent Sunday my family had arranged time away from our church after my wife’s knee surgery. We woke up a bit later than our normal Sunday time and I fixed breakfast before we read through a devotion for our worship time. We worshipped, prayed, and had a short “home-church” service in our pajamas. Our time was fruitful and even necessary, but it was not the same as being at Effingham ARP. We were missing a few ingredients.

Dr. Mark Ross writes that in a church body,

“We must give of ourselves all that we have to give in order to receive all that we need” (Associate Reformed Quarterly, Aug 2, 2015 p.27). 

The Body of Christ functions best when every single part is giving and receiving in a balanced ebb and flow. Some days we give more than we receive and other days we receive more than we give. We’re always giving and receiving together.

My family enjoyed our personalized church service over waffles, but we were separated from our normal routine of giving and receiving alongside other brothers and sisters in Christ. We weren’t filled up or flowing out to our full potential as part of a family of God. While this was fine for a little while, I know that our spiritual muscles would atrophy after too long in isolation.

As God’s Word reminds us, 

“The body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:14). 

There are times when illness or family needs prevent someone from giving and receiving along with other members of Christ’s Body. But on those days when we simply want to sleep a little longer or get an early start on the lake, perhaps we sense that there is something missing.

It is that longing of the Body, desiring to give all that is has so it can receive all that it needs.

In Him,
Pastor Brian


Monday, June 27, 2016

Heavenly Mansions (and Earthly Limos)

Heavenly Mansions and Earthly Limos

John 14:2 “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

My son’s school sponsored a competition in which the top winners would be escorted by limousine to lunch at a restaurant across town.  He won for his grade and we anticipated his luxurious treat.

When I was his age, I won a similar prize. I recall the dark tinted windows, crystal glasses of Coca-Cola, and a TV in the back. The seats were dark velvet and I felt like a superstar. I described all of this to my son as he anticipated his big day.

The day of the prize, I eagerly awaited the moment I’d hear about his “famous for a day” trip. I picked him up from school and he had a big smile with plenty to tell, but he said that the limo wasn’t everything he expected. I asked him question by question: “No tinted window? No crystal glasses of Coke? No TV? No living-room style seats?”

Sure enough, his limo didn’t sound like much of a limo. I was puzzled until he provided one final detail: the Limo had the name of a local funeral home on the front license plate. This was no hollywood ride, but the austere transport you normally see by a graveside. There were no Cokes or TVs, but plenty of tissues!

We’ve had a good laugh about it and are still grateful for the school and the funeral home director who served as “chauffeur.” My son had a lot of fun, but the ride was not the bucket-list experience he expected.

We’ve all had experiences that didn’t turn out as expected. Thankfully, one area of future promise in our lives will not fall short, will not be a disappointment, and will certainly exceed our expectations. As Jesus describes to his disciples (and us) in John 14:2 “If it were not so, would I have told you…?”

Jesus’ promises of the past are (already) fulfilled and His promises of the future are (awaiting) fulfillment. He has much in store for us beyond even our human notion of rooms and mansions. If it wasn’t so, He wouldn’t have said it!

In Him,
Pastor Brian

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Prayer Guide for Racial Unity 1 Year After Emmanuel AME

On Sunday June 12, churches in Florence County are emphasizing racial unity among Christians. This desire to emphasize such a need arose out of a Pastor's prayer breakfast in which we discussed the challenges of a racially divided Body of Christ. Here is the prayer guide I wrote for that breakfast, posted here with a few edits for broader use.

Although racism is a social issue, it is not merely social. It is primarily a spiritual issue, one of many sinful attitudes we face each day. These sinful attitudes build barriers between us and Christ and us and others. Ephesians 2:14 reminds us that there is no true unity without Christ: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”

Praying for Fruit From Fallow Fields:
Prayers of Racial Unity within the Fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:2-23)
  1. Love: “We pray for love from one neighbor to another, beginning in this room and connecting in our churches…”
  2. Joy: “We pray for the joy of celebrating the ways we are alike, the ways we are different, and the ways we can see God’s certain work at uncertain times…”
  3. Peace: “We pray for peace in our communities: in our conversations, commerce, comings and goings…”
  4. Patience: “We pray for patience as we speak and listen, as we hear and share hard truths, as we look beyond preferences and seek unity in the Body of Christ and all who are created in His Image...”
  5. Kindness & Goodness: “We pray for kindness & goodness between old & young, every shade of skin, those in authority and those under authority…”
  6. Faithfulness: We pray for faithfulness as church members, leaders and pastors, to speak up and speak out against bigotry in our congregations and to help our church communities see the beauty of all brothers & sisters in Jesus Christ.”
  7. Gentleness: We pray for gentleness for our leaders, to be tender shepherds who guide our sheep along the way, speaking the truth in love but speaking the truth nonetheless.
  8. Self-Control: We pray for our own self-control, overcoming our past racial bias, distrust, and bad habits from sinful hearts. We can only lead our people forward when we confess sins of the past. We pray these as a Body of Christ and in the Name of Christ, without whom there is no peace. Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Servants' Hearts and "Obituary for Someone Else"

Servants’ Hearts
As the choir finished their opening song, I looked up at the lights and thought of the man who fixed them just a few days earlier. When we gathered for our congregational meal, I pictured the women who had prepared the fresh coffee and arranged the tables and welcoming decor. After our gathering, I saw that the trash had been emptied and the floor swept clean for our next meeting.

I’m grateful for each servant with whom the Lord has blessed our church. As we work together, we live out His desire that we present ourselves as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God...” (Romans 12:1b)

We’ve had a busy Spring. All of our wonderful servants’ hearts remind me of an illustration I once read and how grateful we should be that things don’t always fall on “Someone Else.” Here is the story in its entirety. Keep up the good work! Let us never grow weary in doing good! (Galatians 6:9)

Obituary for Someone Else
Our church was saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our most valued members, Someone Else.  

Someone's passing creates a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. Else has been with us for many years and for every one of those years, Someone did far more than a normal person's share of the work. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone's list, "Let Someone Else do it."

Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results; "Someone Else can work with that group."

Someone Else was among the most generous givers in our church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed Someone Else would make up the difference.

Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things Someone Else did?

When you are asked to help this year, remember -- we can't depend on Someone Else anymore.

In Him,

Pastor Brian

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Prayer for a Butterfly Garden

Pastors are asked to do a variety of things that don't quite fit into the standard definition of ministry: judging a chili cook-off, calling a football game, or driving in a parade come to mind. A while back, I was asked to offer an invocation at the dedication of a local butterfly garden at a county-owned park. 

I was glad to do it, but I wanted to be true to my prayer life as a Christian without drawing the ire of church & state rabble rousers. Also, I didn't see the need to get any of the county employees in trouble for asking me to lead in prayer. 

Some may criticize me for not being more Gospel-centered. After all, there's never a wrong time to share the message of Christ. I would not feel comfortable offering prayer at an interfaith event or sharing a platform with religious leaders who do not share my faith in Christ. But I felt good about my role in this simple event and have been blessed to maintain relationships with several others who attended.

Here is the prayer I offered:

Our Heavenly Father,
In Your promises, we’re given life.
With each morning Your mercies are new

As we gather here today in the sights
and sounds of life surrounding us,

We give thanks:

For the song of the sparrow
For the ripple of the river
For the imperceptible flutter of the butterfly’s wings.

After a quiet season in their cocoon
they emerge full of life.

After a quiet moment with them in our gaze
we emerge in life.

Thank you for those who have worked so hard
to provide a haven for these delicate creatures.

Thank you for today’s moment
of celebrating their tender beauty
and speak to our hearts.

As art reflects the artist
so let created reflect Creator.

We give You the Glory, Amen.

May 2012