Service


In the Wild Card game between Cincinnati and Pittsburg, things changed for the big cats with less than two minutes to go. The Bengals (up by a score of 16-15) intercepted Pittsburg’s backup quarterback Landry Jones’ pass, and all but sealed the Steelers’ fate with just about 1:50 remaining. In fact, success was so sure (so they felt), some players ran into the tunnel towards the locker room as if it were a done-deal; like the game was actually over. And then, it happened!  With less than sixty seconds to go and their entire season on the line, dumb penalties literally took the breath out of the Bengal nation (on the field, on the sideline, and even in the stands). The would-be victors were noticeably stunned. A late hit and an unsportsmanlike conduct call ultimately imploded the Bengals’ hopes and dreams for a chance to go to Super Bowl 2016. They appallingly lost the game and left the stadium in shock, angry, visibly in tears, and utterly dismayed.

 

As Cincinnati’s commitment to discipline literally disintegrated before millions of viewers, it reminded us of some basic principles for encouraging success and winning. If you are reading this note, then perhaps it’s not too late. The game may not be over. With time left, every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (true believers) can surely learn from the Bengals’ errors.

 

First, we must always remain focused. Failure to remember the goal and objective can cause a bad decision or a brief distraction to completely derail the train. Believers need to stay focused at all times. The stakes are much higher and far greater than a Super Bowl appearance.

 

Second, we’ve got to maintain discipline. When you have been taught/trained (and professionals surely ought to know better), then you are supposed to do better. There’s no excuse for “losing your cool” on the field of play. It is the clearest signal that one lacks essential discipline and is likely (perhaps even literally) out of control.

 

Third, keep playing until the game has officially ended. If there is still time on the clock, then the contest is not over. All too often we have a tendency to get comfortable and relaxed (a sure hint that things may not end well) before the final horn sounds. This is a terrible miscalculation! And it is one that can literally cost you the game.

 

As the Apostle Paul drew nearer to the end of his ministry career, he wrote to encourage his son in ministry (Timothy). He touched on the matter of finishing well in Chapter 4 of the second epistle where he penned: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (verse 7). These are timeless and insightful words for a world that is recurrently messing up, making unnecessary mistakes, shamelessly losing their cools, engaging in deliberate unsportsmanlike (ungodly) activities, and all sorts of flagrant fouls (debaucheries) that are publically known and being constantly revisited via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

There’s one final take away we can gain from this instant NFL classic. In fact, a few games this season (and in years past) have reminded us of this same truth: “It ain’t over until it’s over!” For believers, it truly ain’t over until God says it’s over!” After all, He’s the One managing the clock! Stay the course, keep fighting, and be disciplined at all times! In the end, we win!!!

In August we held our annual back-to-school festival for the youth of our church and community in Memphis’ beautiful Martin Luther King Park.   Its exquisite landscape and rolling hills are a wonder to behold as it sits almost hidden off Interstate 55 in south Memphis.

 

Upon my arrival to join others from our church who had already made their way there, I observed the features associated with the glorious park scene as some of the youth (and adults) danced to music that was being played on a CD player.  There was a nice pavilion situated in the area we had selected with a nicely paved platform that served as its foundation and floor.  Picnic tables were positioned thereon for users to enjoy any food they might bring.  There were a number of convenient places to cook—barbeque pits—all around the pavilion area.  A picturesque fishing pond sat adjacent to the platform for the kids to cast their reels and poles.  We had a joyful time.

 

After a couple of hours that warm Saturday afternoon, I made my exit from the event to rest for the next day’s activities.  As I did, I became distracted by what sounded like an idling lawn mower that I failed to notice when first I came.  Moving toward the direction of the sound, I discovered a portable generator off the pavilion floor that was curiously purring away.  In that moment, I heard God speaking to me.  Amazingly, the engineers of this tremendously family-friendly venue designed the area with just about every amenity one could imagine to enjoy a normal outing with one exception—there was no electricity.  It was a profound revelation I will never forget; and about which I wish to share.  The lesson is simple:  Because of the way the land was designed, in order for there to be power IN the park, someone would have to bring power TO the park!”

 

Bless you, my dear readers!  There is no need crying about the fact that you live in a hell hole; work in a heathen environment, or routinely find yourself with or around some ungodly people.  That, my dear friends, may be the very reason your presence is needed there.  You may need to consider my discovery at the MLK Park in Memphis, Tennessee:  If there is to be power ON your job, IN you home, or AT those places you frequent and enjoy fellowship, then SOMEONE—more especially YOU—simply may need to bring that power TO the job, TO the home, or TO those places where God’s presence is needed to make a redemptive difference.

 

Let God use you

A young pastor and I were having a discussion about a text he was investigating for his sermon he would be preaching the upcoming Sunday morning. As he sat on the deck at the back of his newly constructed home, a disturbing scene unfolded before his eyes. A father (and neighbor) was cutting his grass two lots away. While pushing his lawnmower through the yard, the man’s six year old daughter thought it playful to run in front of the mower just ahead of her dad, and without being admonished. Before he knew it, my friend called it “an accident-just-waiting-to-happen.” He further blurted out while I was yet on the phone, “That’s exactly why I have got to hurry up and get my privacy fence put up.” Unaware of the developments since I was at my house and he was at his in another city and state, I asked what he meant. He described the scene and repeated his comment and added, “Because, I don’t want to be a witness to nothing!”

I laughed with him (at first), and then I thought to myself about this common malady and how tragically this position characterizes many a Christian. We have been called to be just that—witnesses. Our Lord said before He left, “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV). Yet, we seem to want to hide behind our preciously designed privacy fences and neglect to be and do what we have been called to be and to do. We prefer to hide behind the safe and comfortable privacy fence of a nice sanctuary, the fence of public worship, the privacy fence of a church building, the nice privacy fence of a tailored suit and a new dress on Sunday morning. But, as soon as worship ends and for the rest of the week, we seem content to hide behind these and other well-constructed privacy fences so we don’t have to be witnesses to no one and to no-thing—not anything.

Allow me to admonish you, dear brother or sister. Before it is everlasting too late, commit to come from behind these familiar barriers in your own life. Encourage others who may be hiding as well to do the same thing in their lives.

As darkness prevails in our world, every community needs the light of bold witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. We can no longer remain silent and unseen behind these spiritual privacy fences. Let your light shine! Be a witness to someone today, and share with them the gospel of salvation. The Lord will bless you for it, and you just might prevent a tragedy from happening!

Some time ago I sat in a familiar chair to have my shoes polished on my way to a funeral. As I sat there to negotiate this experience, I paid close attention as my shoes underwent a necessary transformation. The skilled craftsman quietly began by brushing away any loose dirt or debris, and followed with some saddle soap and water to thoroughly clean the leather. Afterwards, he took an old cloth to wipe away the excess moisture and dried the leather before applying the polish. He then took his crooked fingers and carefully patted the small can of Kiwi held in his left hand, and slowly started rubbing the wax solution onto the shoe’s surface. After brushing his application into the shoe, it left a simple flat black hue on my nice monk straps. Thankfully, he wasn’t finished. He then applied a second coat to ensure it was adequately absorbed within the leather and began brushing it into the shoe. Slowly, a faint luster began to emerge on the shoe’s surface. In patient form, the quiet gentleman took a soft finishing rag and began popping it across the ball of my shoe; around the sides and on the back of the heels. Eventually, a rich black glossy finish sparkled at my feet as he concluded his work by nicely dressing the soles.

Interestingly, when the shoe shine man started out, he was undaunted by the fact that my shoes were unclean; a bit scuffed, and clearly needed attention. Even as he went through his procedure for cleaning and buffing, he remained undeterred by his assignment though no major change occurred. He was determined to keep working and did not stop until the end he desired emerged. This keen man stuck with his task and was able to get a shine out of the shoe because he knew there was a shine “in the shoe.”

Our Lord, Jesus (our Shine Man), likewise would never have told us to allow our lives (lights) to “shine” had He not known there was “shine” potential and possibility already within us. He firmly said that you and I are the light of the world (Matthew 5: 16). And we are encouraged by the Lord to allow His light to shine through us so others may see our good works and give glory to the Father in heaven.

Today, why not make this your new commitment? In fact, you should sing it aloud:

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine;
Everywhere I go, I’m going to let it shine;
Jesus gave it to me; I’m going to let it shine;
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

The Apostle Paul wrote to his colleague and cohort, Timothy, and incorporated a familiar trans-generational analogy to illustrate his point. He told this young servant and friend to “…stir up…” the gift inside him (2 Timothy 1:6). A few modern translators relate he was to “…fan into flame…” the gift (NIV, NLT, etc.). We can only assume what Paul meant (exactly), but the metaphor offers key insights for us to gain a reasonable understanding of his admonition as we attempt to interpret these words.

In the chill and challenge of those Eastern mornings or the brisk cold of many a night in Rome, we get the sense (a mental picture) that Paul may have been responsible to manage the fire pits used to warm and comfort prisoners and soldiers. He portrays how a well lit fire (whether in a fire place, a fire pit, or even a grill) unattended can soon become dormant and lose its ability to give heat. He knew that live coals left alone will eventually smolder and become ashen. Born of his experience (or perhaps his careful observation), the Apostle seizes an opportunity to convey to Timothy a truth we all need to learn. To avoid your fire going out, all one needs do is “stir up the gift.” What does that mean in modern language, and how do we appropriate such a strategy for our own lives? Let’s consider the following:

1. PAY ATTENTION TO IT! As in the small matter of our given dexterity, each of us (as infants) began to favor a particular hand which others saw and knew was to be our dominant appendage. In fact, they would be careful to encourage use of the same by placing the crayon or pencil into that hand in the establishment of proficiency. The same is the case when it comes to spiritual gifting. God has factored dexterity into our developmental reality. One sure way to discern it or to discover it is by simply paying attention to it. Notice your strengths and propensities. Others will, too!
2. PRAY ABOUT IT! As curiosity becomes calm, be sure to seek God about the conclusions you may be reaching. Ask Him (God), “Lord, is this your will?” Ask, “Am I headed in the right direction for my life?” I am confident we would each more easily and much more quickly fair better about our gifts and callings if we would spend more time praying about it.
3. PLAN FOR IT! When you are serious, there may be areas of your life that need serious adjustment and personal modification—like debt, education, special training, etc. Begin to position yourself and your circumstances for full-time devotion to “fulfilling your calling.” In that God has invested in you, then you should invest in you, too!
4. PURSUE IT! At some point, plans must eventually be executed and put to the test. Go for it! You have to start heading in that direction. You will never make it to DC if you don’t leave Atlanta. You’ll never become a physician if you don’t attend medical school. If you want to become a lawyer, you first must pass the LSAT. Move definitively in that direction. Pursue it.
5. PRESENT IT (or PUT IT INTO PRACTICE)! Strangely, the world feels gifts are to be received. I beg to differ. Gifts are called gifts because they are designed to be given (presented). Let God use you to be a blessing to someone else’s life so they can be transformed by the love of God in you. Allow your gift to express itself in the lives of other people.

These may not be all that Paul meant, but they surely offer some practical insights into how we can approach the notion of “gift stirring” he mentioned. In all actuality, Timothy’s gift was already in his DNA as it was evident in both his mother and his grandmother. He was spiritually “wired” for service. God did His part (by giving the gift), but it was Timothy’s job to do his part—stir it up!

Think about this in your life’s journey. If others are not being warmed, comforted, enlightened, transformed, attracted, even charmed (benefiting) from the gift of God resident within you (these are all things a flaming fire will do), then that’s a good indication your fire is out. And if yours is out, don’t be alarmed or discouraged about it. Just do what Paul told Timothy! “Stir that thang up!”

Football is perhaps my favorite of all organized sports. Routinely I enjoy a game on television, and will even catch a few highlights on a sports channel. While relaxing at home recently, a game caught my eye. The offense was executing their play as the ball was snapped, and wide receivers ran up the field hoping to get open. The quarterback unleashed a long pass toward the goal line (and near the sideline) as one receiver ran a post pattern toward the pylon—the end zone/out-of-bounds marker. Near the two or three yard line, the player inadvertently stepped-out-of-bounds, but reentered the field of play in pursuit of the descending ball. It was a remarkable catch! The referee signaled a touchdown. The stadium erupted as the crowd went ballistic. The defenders objected and I stood up in utter amazement at the acrobatic reception!

Instinctively, the scoring team’s field goal unit ran onto the field to line up for the ensuing extra point when all-of-a-sudden the game was halted. The play was being reviewed by those in the replay booth. After a short delay, the umpire repositioned himself on the field and reported, “After further review, the call on the field is confirmed; it is a touchdown!”

It is no secret we are often sidelined and knocked out-of-bounds—e. g. mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, weariness, fatigue, etc.—by the opposition (our adversary) while attempting to execute our Lord’s play (God’s will for our lives). In fact, to go “out-of-bounds” (in the eyes of many) actually renders one ineligible to continue or even further to touch the ball. This new rule in professional and collegiate football is affording us some valuable insights into spiritual truths I felt worthy of sharing.

Here they are:

(1) The goal of the enemy is to render us disqualified and totally ineligible to continue in ministry. His strategy is to cause us to “cross of the line” or “step out-of-bounds” through any number of discomforting means—mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, etc. So be aware of his schemes and ward him off at every juncture!

(2) No matter what happens, keep running the route! Had the receiver stopped his course (even though he was clearly pushed out), he never would have caught the ball and certainly would not have scored. Get back onto the playing field as quickly and as responsibly as you can, and continue with the route you have been given! After all, the ball is already in the air.

(3) Remember, lastly, the ultimate decision is not your call to make (nor anyone else’s)! There is another Person (God)—Power, Authority—who sits aptly in the replay booth; and He alone is the Official who determines whether you are “in” or “out!”

Work hard to avoid being side-tracked or side-lined, my brothers and sisters! Let the Lord use you TODAY. If you have been knocked down or in some way pushed out, get back up (or back in) and keep running your route. There’s an entire team (believers) and a stadium full of fans (Hebrews calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” [12:1]) who are counting on you! They (We) need you to score!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

Peter’s experience with Jesus in Luke 5 teaches us some valuable lessons about fishing and failing. Perhaps (like Peter) your gift is failing you (at the moment), and not yielding the kind of results you feel (or even know) it should or could produce. Ponder these thoughts as you pray further about your situation:

1. Just because you have failed doesn’t make you a failure.
2. It may not be a fault as much as it is fate.
3. The problem may not be with your casting; it could just be your catching.
4. If the fish are not where you are, then perhaps you should go where they are.
5. Your failure can become favor, when you let Christ into your crisis.

I know these are brief and to-the-point, but I trust they will cause you to re-think your circumstance and feel better about your difficulty as you anticipate “catching some fish” with and for our Lord Jesus Christ.

After you have finished making the necessary repairs and critical re-adjustments, get back into the boat and do what you need to do. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again!

God bless you as you do!

I needed a quick bite to eat prior to Prayer Meeting and Bible Study, but wanted to be certain to get something healthy. I went to a nearby deli and got a salad and a cup of soup to boot. The manager, a friend of mine, came over from the register to talk and then went into the back room. As customers continued down the line to check out, an amazing thing happened. The store manager was attending customers when first I came in. Unavailable (for the moment), the operation did not fail to miss a beat. A different person arose from a booth nearby and graciously received payment for each patron’s items; and there was no interruption. Business went on as usual and the customers were met with satisfaction.

I could not help but think about the church. Why does the church often experience such a huge lag in its operation when someone is out-of-pocket or unable to function? If a teacher or ministry leader is absent, many times there is a tremendous glitch because few seem to ever step-up-to-the-plate and in turn handle-the-business. The church must do better!

God deserves and desires just as much excellence (if not more) as does the corporate sector! He is an excellent God, and He prefers excellent service. The sooner the church realizes this it may be we could reach more people who subsequently would see we mean business, and that our love for God and commitment to serve God is real.

Can I get a witness?

How long do I have to go through this? When will my “ship come in?” Will trouble ever cease? When is it going to be my turn? Will my dreams come true? Will things ever get better? These are the universal and unrelenting concerns of so many true believers. They pray, they fast, they seek the loving intercession of others, even labor before the Lord for hours on end; and yet it seems like nothing happens. Things don’t improve or get any different, and the waiting is wearisome to endure. Here’s a real question for you? What if change doesn’t come or things don’t get better? And what if they get worse? Plainly frustrated by waiting, what is one supposed to do? How does one manage in the meantime and beyond this likely possibility?

If God does not discernibly change things for you or improve your circumstances to your delight, and obviously you can’t change them, here are some options:

1. You can start by changing YOU. There’s no need to keep beating-your-head-up-against-the-wall in frustration and disappointment. Arriving at this crucial growth position does not mean you’re happy with or appreciate your situation; instead it means you are learning to accept it. It doesn’t mean you like it; it just means you have decided to live WITH and “to live” IN SPITE of it. Sometimes things just won’t change. “It-is-what-it-is,” and there is nothing we can do to fix it. Don’t become bitter! Get better! Try hard to work on you!

2. Get involved in some area of kingdom service. One of the best ways to avoid depression and overcome the tendency to be overwhelmed by your own plight is to find eager (helpful and encouraging) involvement in another’s struggle. Ask God to reveal to you His opportunities where you can be a real and meaningful blessing to someone else who may be having a hard time. Trust me! You won’t have to look long, you won’t have to look hard, and you certainly won’t have to look far!

3. Listen and learn from both. Someone asked me recently from where I find all my stories? I told them I actually don’t have stories; all I have are experiences. And from these experiences, I am able to joyfully discover stories. How then does that happen? All I do is take the time to reflect on my experiences and process them from every possible angle. When they have “marinated” for a while, I seek God about the lesson He wants me to gain in every one of them. Some believers see life as full of obstacles; I try to see life’s obstacles as learning opportunities. Don’t miss the lesson you are supposed to learn; and don’t rest until you find it. It’s in there!

You can actually turn your negative experiences into positive energy! You can move from frustration to favor. Just ask God to help you, and before you know it you will have stumbled upon a new joy that will give you the strength you need to go on!

Confident He will still help you through it, I remain…

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