Joy


Some time ago, I was driving through Nashville and heard an abnormal noise from the left rear side of my car.  Quickly, I decelerated (as safely as I could) and maneuvered to the right side of the interstate right past Exit 215; and turned on my flashers.  Sure enough, I had a flat, so I immediately dialed my insurance company as I was on my way to an engagement in eastern Tennessee.  They indicated they would dispatch a wrecker to come and repair the tire within an hour.  In a matter of minutes, a huge lime yellow truck pulled up behind me with the tag on the side which read, “Tennessee Highway Incident Response Unit.”  A rather tall gentleman exited the vehicle and came to greet me.  I concluded he was not sent from my insurer, and asked him how did he know I was there.  He calmly pointed to the overpass behind us over a half mile away, and said, “Our monitors saw you when you pulled over, and I was sent (radioed) to come and assist you.”  I strained my eyes to see, and in the distance, I noticed surveillance cameras strategically mounted on the interstate bridge that had us in view at that very moment.  I waved, and was amazed and grateful at the same time.

 

In an ancient culture and in quite a different world than the one in which we live, the Psalmist—without the advantages of technology and electronics—yet knew something very similar about God.  In the 46th Number, it was declared, “God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in the time of trouble…” (verse 1).  No matter where you are and what you may be going through, this reality remains indisputable.  Our God sees all, our God knows all, and ONLY our God is yet able to do ANYTHING; but fail.  If you’ll wait on Him, He’ll come see about you.  Sometimes He sends angels, sometimes He sends others (believers), and then sometimes, He just shows Himself!  Ain’t that good news!!!!!

 

You may not have had an “accident” or perhaps some other major “incident;” even if you’ve only had a flat, God can still fix it!!

 

It has been quite a few months (and even more some significant developments) since last I sat to compose an article.  Many, I am yet discovering, have no knowledge of the transition.  The not-so-new news is the Lord has reassigned me to the Springdale Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee. That’s right!  In July 2011, I received the invitation to serve as its new pastor, and by September, I was moving.  It is still overwhelming to me that I actually was summoned away from a people with whom I had been in relationship for precisely 22 years (since 1989).  Omaha, Nebraska, was home to me through a full generation—over two decades—of family ministry, changing seasons, rites of passage, personal experiences, and more.  I must admit it was one of the most difficult decisions with which I have ever been faced.  It continues to be difficult for me and them.  Yes, I am sure Memphis is where God (alone) sent me to serve, but I miss the kind people of Antioch dearly.  Pray for us!

 

Recently, I was extended an invitation to be a sky box guest in one of the suites at the FedEx Forum—the home court to the Memphis Grizzlies.  I would only need my ID to retrieve my tickets to be able to see the game that hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers.  A number of glitches occurred with this invitation; and not the least of which found me ticketless and outside the ticket window (and gate) for several minutes.  After making a phone call, two tickets were delivered to me, and we—me and my assistant—made our way into the Forum.  Upon locating the section of the arena that held our assigned seats, we made our way to the row and aisle, and proceeded to sit down before the game started.  In a matter of moments, I looked at him and he looked at me, and I said to him in a calm voice, “This can’t be the accommodations to which we were invited.  Something must be wrong.”  We got up and went back into the corridor and I registered another phone call and was told to just remain still until the host showed up.  Within minutes, my host arrived, apologized, and escorted us to some elevators that took us up to the concierge level to a suite where others were gathered to enjoy the evening’s event.  He left.

 

Quietly we sat inside the suite, until approximately 5 minutes later the host returned and told me (us) to gather our belongings and to follow him.  We got up and walked a good distance to a completely empty suite in which we would be occupants.  I was told these would be our accommodations and that no one else would be joining us.  We were shown the layout—the easy chair, the big screen TV, the stadium seats and the bar—and invited to enjoy some hot food that was at our disposal.  Once we got our plates, we sat down and relaxed; and gratefully enjoyed our meal and the game.  While eating, our eyes met as we sat at the counter, and we smiled.  I said to him, “Now this is more like it; I’m about to feel like this is why we came.”  He chuckled and agreed.  Incidentally, the Grizzlies won!

 

Now some may say it seems somewhat ungrateful to have been dissatisfied with the original seats we found when first we arrived at the complex.  At least we were invited to the game.  I beg to differ!  We were extremely grateful, even though we were equally disappointed.  Yes, I said it, “Disappointed!”  And there’s a legitimate reason why.  We simply were not satisfied with the accommodations we were given, because we were promised something more!  Too many believers settle for less than God’s best.  We settle in relationships, we settle when it comes to jobs; we even settle when it comes to our expectations and performances at work and in our service to the Christ.  Well, I’m just a messenger from heaven who wishes to report that God has already promised us better, and we actually may be insulting Him when we settle for less.  After all, He has gone to great lengths to make sure things ready for your and my arrival.  Don’t settle!  There’s something better in store.  There’s something greater awaiting those of us who can trust Him.  There’s a whole lot more that is ours to enjoy; if we can choose no longer to settle, and believe God when He tells us that He’s got more!

 

One final note!  In one moment, we were standing at one location; experiencing life at a level with several others; when all of a sudden an escort came and took us to a higher elevation!  It soon will happen again, brothers and sisters!  God has more; and something better ahead for those of us who truly love Him.  Don’t settle!

 

God favored me in a most refreshing and remarkable way the other day. After years of searching (and simply refusing to give up), I was able to reconnect with a dear friend I met over 30 years ago while we both were serving as young officers in the United States Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. Reassigned to a new installation in 1981, I moved on and we simply lost contact. We had not spoken since.

Finding him was not easy. It took time and effort, and the closer I got (it seemed), the more challenging the search became. When finally we spoke, the excitement in our voices was both unmistakable and indescribable. We laughed and cried as we talked. I was especially moved as he told of his painful path over the years. Injuries, sickness, difficulties, and even the shadow of death were all a part of his peculiar journey. On several occasions he shared how he almost lost his life in a few accidents during overseas maneuvers. His story brought me to more tears, but I was (and am) so happy to discover he was alive and well.

Of all the things he shared, his voice was strongest when he told me about how God alone had kept him and had brought him safely through. Confidently, he reported he held faithful membership with Eastern Star Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Reverend Jeffrey Johnson serves as pastor. He cited their motto there is the church “Where Jesus is exalted and the Word is explained.” What he said next shook me to the core. He said, “Reg, you know I’m not a preacher and I may not be able to explain the word like many others; but I can assure you of one thing; can’t nobody beat me exalting Him. Believe that!” There was even more joy!

In His own mysterious way, God granted me another measure of His grace by allowing me to reunite with a dear friend and brother who I have not seen in three decades. Incredibly, and perhaps equally as long he was also looking for me.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m really excited about this reunion. I have only heard his voice, but I’m still glad about it. I have yet to see his face or even shake his hand, but I still have joy about it. Just the prospects of seeing him in the near future give me great encouragement, and each time I tell of this experience, my joy excites others.

I should tell you there is a Great reunion scheduled! In these days of economic challenge and personal difficulty, keep pursuing this Friend–the Lord—while He may be found. You, too, will find joy unspeakable and full of glory. In fact, you will be surprised to learn some good news in your search. This Friend has also been looking for you!

A few weeks ago I went to celebrate with a colleague at his 50th birthday event. We graduated from seminary together and have been friends for over a quarter of a century. This was no routine birthday party. It was a true celebration of his life after having survived major heart surgery in 2006. An aneurism on one of his heart valves had to be repaired which caused him to undergo a nine hour operation.

In commemorating this special time, he dared to think-outside–the-box and brought in the famous Dramatics all the way from his home town of Detroit, Michigan. Let me tell you, it was off-the-chain! They sang and did their “old school” twists and turns, and blew us away with a timeless genre of music that yet endures. Friends (near and far) along with members of his congregation showed up in a non-traditional setting and enjoyed some really good music and had a really great time. The next night we went to watch the Colts play the Ravens in the play-offs. The Colts, of course, won 20-3.

The entire weekend was liberating (to say the least) for me. Historically, I have been quite stoic and sought to conceal that “other side of me” which surfaces every now and then in my Christian journey. I discovered some valuable lessons and thought I’d share a few.

1. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a really good time.

2. We (believers) should always—at all times—have balance and exercise Christian moderation.

3. When done with dignity and good taste, you can do it without guilt or having any regrets.

Some may feel this composition crosses-the-line and may be a bit on-the-edge; because they feel there is no place for secular socializing as believers. Let me remind you, Jesus had no problem with a party. As a matter of fact, while we know He attended a wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, few of us highlight the fact He stayed for the “after set.” The wedding was over and our Lord and Savior remained for the ensuing reception. In fact, He stayed so long until the host’s wine supply ran out. No problem for Christ! He simply made some new (more) wine; and it was so good many commented it was better than the first batch.

Here is a final observation. If exercising your Christian liberty becomes a problem for others’ maturity, then don’t exercise your liberty. Conversely, if your Christian maturity is bothered by another’s liberty, you may want to take a look at your maturity. Decency and orderliness are always appropriate!

Believers can’t afford to become “party animals,” but there’s nothing wrong with having a good time. Enjoy your life!

Los Angeles area residents awakened Friday morning to see their local newspaper headlines stating, “They Finally Showed Up.” It reflected the series-long wait of many a Lakers’ fan who had watched their home team struggle against Denver for five grueling games during the Western Conference Finals. When game six was done, LA came through in a convincing manner and defeated the Nuggets by nearly a 30-point margin. They, at last, executed like they were able—with both confidence and competenceto bring their team to victory. For the players, it was a major sigh of relief.

I suspect the failure of Christians to demonstratively overcome evil in our world keeps unbelievers wondering in a similar fashion, “When will the church show up?” Think about it. We claim to know and love Jesus Christ! We say our lives have been miraculously changed! We even build huge monuments (churches) and create grand gatherings as evidence of our true devotion to Him! We assemble weekly to meet with others, receive a bulletin; may even recite a litany, and listen to some songs and a sermon; yet, often we fail to take part in those opportunities excitedly to signify we are truly grateful for having experienced the grace and mercy of God.


I am convinced it’s time for the church to show up! For when the church shows up, miracles happen! When the church shows up, lives are significantly changed! When the church shows up, something unmistakable takes place that clearly reveals that God is at work; and His people will be blessed! There are certainly other examples, but when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi (after having been beaten and bound and left bleeding in jail), the Bible says they “…sang and prayed.” In a real sense, the church “showed up,” and new souls were added to their fellowship (read Acts 16:25-31).


Two battered, bruised, and abused men brought their A-game! They authentically worshiped and praised God even under duress. Plainly, the lives of a first-century government employee and his entire family (and household) were never again the same. All this occurred because “the church showed up!”


Next time you gather with the saints, don’t neglect to do your part to makes sure the church shows up! Bring your A-game; truly worship and watch God work a miracle!  You talk about real joy!!!!!

It’s been nearly two weeks since my rotator cuff surgery to repair the tear.  I don’t recall any more challenging days than the ones I just negotiated.  Little do many of us realize the instinctive (automatic) reflex responses to everyday occurrences!  It takes tremendous energy to suppress your body’s natural tendency to react to something as simple as dropping a pen.  I’m still working at it.  The first week was really tough.  My orthopedist instructed me stay out of the shower to avoid getting the site wet, and to only take a sink bath.  So, I had to learn to bathe with one arm (and from a basin) for seven days.  Keeping the injured shoulder immobile made the entire exercise quite the chore.  Thankfully, I made it through.

 

At my one-week appointment the doctor told me I could resume showering.  It was music to my ears.  As I entered the flowing water the very next morning, I thanked God aloud for the privilege of bathing.  Few of us hardly think about it.  The fact that daily we become contaminated is not even a thought, because we have a remedy called a bath or a shower.

 

What a tragic existence the unrepentant world lives!  Remarkably, there remains a great aggregation who continue to live soiled, dirty lives; and with apparent content.  Oh, if they only knew!  No one has to remain unclean.  None are constrained to live out of the basin of filth.  We have at our disposal a Shower!  One dark Friday, a cleansing flood opened to all, and became readily available to whosoever would come.  For it, we should equally thank God!

 

William Cowper put it like this:

 

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.

And sinners plunge beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains;

 

I never thought about the simple privilege of taking a shower until I couldn’t.  When once again I could, I discovered a new found joy.  You, too, can experience this joy if you would only take the plunge.

 

The Lord awaits your arrival.  Do it today!