The Preacher

January 21, 2014 Leave a comment

paulWe received word last night of the passing of Paul Carrier. Bro. Paul was president of Atlanta Christian College (now Point University) for 2 of the 4 years I was a student there - he was also my teacher, my boss and my mentor. But to me, he was and always will be “The Preacher.” I learned to preach listening to him, and stayed at school during summer breaks to take the preaching classes he taught in summer school. I recall him saying, on the first day of one class, “Be sure to read the assigned textbook.” Then he set it aside and continued, “But what I plan to do is just show you how I really put together a sermon…” Best homiletics class I ever had!

I had the privilege to work for him at Kenwood Christian Church – where he generously allowed me and Chuck Baggett to preach from time to time. It was a little intimidating to preach with Bro. Paul in the audience, but when he shook your hand and said, “Good job,” you felt like a rookie quarterback being told by Bear Bryant that you had played a good game.

That’s not to say that Bro. Paul was more sentimental than honest… I was scheduled to preach the evening service at Kenwood one Sunday, but had been battling a severe cold all week. I wasn’t going to let an opportunity pass me by, so I dragged myself out of bed, loaded up on various meds, and went to preach. I will never forget what Bro. Paul said as he shook my hand after the service that night, “Your content was good, but delivery was another story. The next time you’re sick, do us all a favor and stay home.” He was right – although integrity forces me to admit I have ignored that sound, perfectly good advice more than once in my ministry.

Whenever I needed to be corrected or disciplined – which was often as a student and a student minister, Bro. Paul was firm without being mean or hateful, stern and gracious at the same time. I was disciplined once by the Dean of Students for some infraction, and had to rake leaves on the college campus. One afternoon while I did my community service, Bro. Paul came out of the Admin building, scowled and shook his finger at me – then smiled his biggest smile and waved goodbye as he got in his car and drove away.

One of my best memories of Bro. Paul is when he came to Chapel at ACC when I preached my senior sermon. Afterward, he shook my hand, gave me a quick wink, and said, “Proud of you!” It meant as much to me as any honor or recognition I have ever received.

After graduation and moving on into my first ministry, I got to see Bro. Paul at college functions, minister’s meetings, that sort of thing. Even though he treated me like a colleague, I still saw him very much as a teacher, counselor, and advisor. We fell out of touch for awhile as my young, growing family and I moved around the country – but we reconnected thanks to good ol’ Facebook a few years ago.

Much of what I am as a pastor and specifically as a preacher, I owe to the influence of this great man. One Sunday a couple of weeks ago, I used a phrase and made a gesture and immediately thought, “Oh my gosh – that WAS Paul Carrier…” I will miss him and will always remember him fondly, forever grateful for his life and example.

Categories: Uncategorized

Weather Cancels Church – Now What Do We Do?

January 4, 2014 3 comments

snowWhere I live, the weather is going to bite us several times a year, and some of those times will fall on weekends. The congregation I serve draws people from a wide area, and many of them live in rural areas on country roads that seldom see a snow plow. Consequently, whenever there is significant snow on a Saturday or early Sunday, we have to cancel our worship services.

When that happens, some family’s wonder what to do. Sure, they sleep in a little, but if the weather prevents getting out of the house Sunday can seem like a long day – and there are those rare people who say “It just doesn’t feel like Sunday if I don’t go to church…”

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So here are some helpful hints to help your weather those Sundays…

  • Make time for Worship. Put on some Christian music on the radio or computer. If you don’t have any on your mp3 player, K-Love is a great radio option, and Pandora, AllWorship, and IHeartRadio, are online options.
  • Get into the Word. Gather the family around and read from God’s Word, the Bible. If your children are younger, read from a Bible story book. If you’re looking for deeper teaching, find a preacher on TV. Discernment is key here, there’s a lot of weird and aberrant teaching on television. Look for Dr. Charles Stanley or his son Andy, James Merritt, Bill Purvis, Bob Coy, Greg Laurie, Ron Philips, or the late Adrian Rogers. Any of them will provide a biblical message with life application you can trust.
  • Remember to give. A church’s services may be cancelled, but the financial needs and obligations continue. Use your church’s online giving portal, or drop a check in the mail on Monday morning. At the very least, add this week’s giving to next week’s when church meets again.
  • Have some fun family time. Rather than everyone retreating to their own bedroom to stare at a screen of some sort, work a puzzle or play some board games. Watch some home movies or videos. Bake some cookies or brownies together. Roast some marshmallows in the fireplace or by the woodstove – you can even use an eye on the stove! (Adult supervision required and use caution!)
  • Tackle that project. This one is near the end on purpose, because it may seem like work to some people. But a Sunday without many other options might be a good time to clean out that closet, make those minor repairs, or even write a letter to a friend.

And sure, why not…

  • Take a nap. Knock out some of your sleep debt by catching some zzz’s.
Categories: Uncategorized

Football and Death Threats… just another Saturday down South

December 3, 2013 Leave a comment

football

Do you wonder how many “death threats” Alabama placekicker Cade Foster received on Twitter after Saturday’s loss? A dozen? A hundred? Thousands? Well the truth is, it’s hard to be completely accurate – his Twitter account was closed, scrubbed, and then re-opened. But, if Time Magazine and the Bleacher Report are correct, Foster received 2 death threats via Twitter.

     2…

Now, I 100% agree that’s 2 too many. No matter what the number, I am sorry that such happened to a fine young man, and I stand second to no one in believing that such behavior is reprehensible and inexcusable. The stupid, vile, probably drunk, people who sent those tweets need to be detained and questioned by law enforcement, and be permanently banned from Twitter, if not all social media. Heck, they don’t even need to have access to crayons and construction paper. They should also have to apologize to Foster face to face , and spend next season cleaning up corn dog droppings at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge…

Now, having said that, the media (and others) are using the brainless antics of a couple of idiots to paint an entire fan base. And that’s just not fair. I’ve met people from all over the eastern U.S. who have been to football and basketball games in Tuscaloosa, and almost all of them compliment Bama fans as being friendly, good sports in victory and defeat. And I have to say, I’ve been in quite a few SEC stadiums and coliseums where I was treated like a one-legged leper with pinkeye…

I know Bama has some knucklehead fans who make it hard for the rest of us – all teams do; just take a look at Facebook or any sports related forum or listen to, let’s say, 30 seconds of sports talk radio… Incivility and insensitivity is, sadly, near universal.

As fans, we can and should police our own selves. We can speak out against bad, unsportsmanlike conduct. They say you can’t fix stupid, but if we will stand together, we can clamp a dadgum muzzle on it. I’m fairly confident that in 15 minutes we could round up a posse from Walker County who could, umm, “deal with” the death tweeters and the Updykes of this world very effectively.

I share the outrage against the unkind things said to a young football player, but I also know those things do not reflect the hearts or the thoughts of the millions of Alabama fans who, though they were crushingly disappointed on one Saturday in November, love, honor and respect the Tide everyday of every year.

Roll Tide!

Categories: Uncategorized

Is There Grace for Miley Cyrus?

September 4, 2013 1 comment

Hannah-Montana-Forever-10I had decided I had waited too long to comment on Miley Cyrus’ appearance on the Video Music Awards a week or so ago. Then I saw a poll that had been conducted by a local newspaper:

How would you describe Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV Awards?

  1. 63% Disgusting
  2. 19% Should have been censored
  3. 0% Cry for help
  4. 10% What happened to that innocent Hannah Montana?
  5. 7% It was OK by me

I appreciate the fact that the paper tried to be somewhat objective, in phrasing the question so that it was about the performance and not the performer. We were not so fortunate when other people were commenting on the incident.

I had more people than I care to count tell me, not that the performance was “disgusting,” but that Miley was. She was also “nasty,” “totally untalented,” and surely “must be on drugs.” Too many followers of Christ, including myself, were willing to drag another human being through the mud based on what? Something that offended us and our sensibilities? Were the batteries dead in our remotes? Did our remote not have an on/off switch or a channel changer?

I seriously doubt it. We watched it, when it happened live or the jillions of times it was replayed on news channels, and we clucked our tongues and we thanked God we were “not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector [singer].”

Is there grace for Miley Cyrus?

I hope I would always say yes, yes, if she would just open her eyes and understand that God loves her, has always loved her and that he accepts her, and that she doesn’t have to expose her body or behave in sexually provocative ways to get affection and acceptance and significance…

But I’m not sure I always do say yes.

Miley is 20 years old. I thank God that the sinful mistakes I made at 20 were not broadcast on television or written up in the newspapers.  She is most likely surrounded by people who constantly say, “Yes Miley, whatever you think Miley, sounds like a great idea to me Miley…” There is probably nobody in her life who can put the brakes on, challenge her and encourage her to rethink. I’m afraid of what my own children would be like in those circumstances.

I guess the bottom line is “what can we do?” We can tone down the judgmental rhetoric. (How would you feel if your child made a huge, public mistake and people called them nasty and disgusting?) And we can pray – that the eyes of Miley and others would be opened to the reality of a God who stands ready to forgive, love, and accept. And we can offer to others the same grace, in the same measure, we would want for ourselves.

Yes, there’s grace for Miley Cyrus – and for all of us finger-pointing Pharisees too.

Categories: acceptance, brokenness, drama, grace, sin

Through…

July 29, 2013 3 comments

website_out_of_businessI’m through. Finished. Stick a fork in me, I’m done-zo… I’m done with anything other than the grace of God. Through with anything other, anything less than the grace based message of the gospel.

If you’re preaching/teaching/espousing keeping the Law, grace for salvation/performance for the Christian life, “being careful” with grace, or “balancing” grace and law, or if you like to use the phrases “hyper-grace” and “cheap grace” – if your focus is on what we do rather than what God has done – I’m not reading your books, listening to your messages or coming to your Bible studies anymore. I don’t dislike you or think I’m better than you – truth is, I love you now more than I ever have – but I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve got years of neglecting grace to make up for…

So I’m through judging and condemning people just because they don’t believe like I believe in every point of doctrine – or don’t do church, or worship, or dress, or vote like I do.

I’m praying every day for Christ to live in me, as me, through me, and to help me love and give and serve others – to make me a dispenser as well as a receiver of his grace – to make me a curator of the grace mojo for a world in need.

I know it won’t be easy. Doing the right thing seldom is. I’m sure I will have to get up, dust off my hands and knees and start again many, many times. But that’s the beauty of grace – there’s always a do over, always another chance, and always the assurance that my imperfect obedience is not a deal breaker.

I plan to spend the rest of my years in ministry proclaiming versions of the theme, “God loves you and wants you to be with him.”

I invite you to join me on this journey into the heart of God. Let’s do the grace walk together and illustrate for the world what biblical words like “love,” “forgiveness,” “acceptance,” “mercy,” and “kindness,” really mean.

Categories: grace, ministry

A Ragamuffin Goes Home

April 13, 2013 2 comments

Manning-PopupI heard this morning about the passing yesterday of Brennan Manning, the author, former priest, speaker, theologian, and outspoken advocate of God’s unconditional love and grace. His book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel” has had as much influence on me – and shaped my ministry – as much as anything I have ever read besides the Bible. I remember reading the Introduction to “Ragamuffin,” hot tears filling my eyes and spilling onto the page as I prayed that God would let my ministry become one that could be described by the words written there…

The Ragamuffin Gospel was written with a specific reading audience in mind: This book is not for the super-spiritual. It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne and not Jesus their hero. It is not for academicians who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis. It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion. It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion. It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation. It is not for the fearless and the tearless. It is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the gospels: ‘All these commandments I have kept from my youth.’ It is not for the complacent, hoisting over their shoulder a tote-bag of honors, diplomas, and good works actually believing they have it made. It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.

“If anyone is still reading along, The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out. It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other. It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it altogether and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents. It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay. It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God. It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags. The Ragamuffin Gospel is a book I wrote for myself and anyone who has grown weary along the Way.”

Rest in peace, good brother, and enjoy forever The One whose Love you so eloquently, passionately described to those of us you leave behind.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ray Lewis Sacked My Theology

January 21, 2013 18 comments

Wild Card Playoffs - Indianapolis Colts v Baltimore RavensI hated Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Ok, that’s probably too strong… I intensely disliked Ray Lewis.

Why?

Because I thought he got away with murder.

If you’re not familiar with the story – after leaving a Super Bowl party in January of 2000, Lewis’ entourage got in a fight with another group of people as both groups were leaving an Atlanta nightclub. Two men were stabbed to death in the fight. Lewis and two of his companions were indicted for murder – but Lewis cut a deal: in exchange for his testimony against his companions, he was allowed to plead guilty to “obstructing justice,” a misdemeanor. Lewis received 12 months probation and was fined by the NFL. Like I said, he got away with murder – or at least being an accessory to murder.

I was outraged – and isn’t it funny (or perhaps, pathetic) how we will get so emotionally involved in events that don’t really have anything to do with us or anyone we know and love? As the years passed, my anger cooled, but not completely. Whenever I heard or read anything about Lewis, whenever I watched the Ravens play, I was filled with contempt and disgust.  And when I read a few years back about Lewis becoming a Christian, I scoffed, ridiculing and rejecting his conversion as “a public relations move…”

As recently as two weeks ago, after the Ravens beat the Colts in the first round of the AFC playoffs, I stated publicly and repeatedly that I would not be pulling for the Ravens because of one Ray Lewis and the events of 12 years ago.

And then God tapped me on the shoulder…

He reminded me that I too had been guilty of murder – or at least I had hated others, and Jesus said that was the same thing… Honestly, according to Jesus, I was an adulterer, a thief, and a liar. In short I was a sinner.

Just like you. Just like Ray Lewis.

I stand in front of people and preach the Good News – that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… That none of us had really gotten away with anything – Jesus paid for every sin with his precious blood… Because of his sacrifice, we who have placed our faith in Christ and called on the name of the Lord do not have to pay the penalty for our sins – Jesus paid it for us and in doing so made it possible for God to give us the gift of eternal life.

I tell those who listen that our sins are gone, obliterated, drowned in the Sea of God’s Forgetfulness, as far from us as the east is from the west… With great joy I share with others that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. I preach grace and freedom from condemnation to some pretty messed up people – myself included.

But to my shame, I have failed to take off my judge’s robe and my executioner’s hood when it came to Ray Lewis. In practical terms, I have applied the blessings and benefits of following Jesus to every other believer I knew, myself included – but I have denied them to Ray Lewis.

I was so inconsistent, and so wrong. And realizing that makes me sorrowful and repentant – and makes me thank God again for the forgiveness I do not – cannot – ever deserve. Obviously, I am still way too capable of having a “grace for me, none for thee” attitude. Obviously, I have much more to learn, much more road to travel in my understanding and living out of God’s outrageous, incredible, life-saving grace.

Thank God for his love, his mercy, his grace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness – freely given to a stumbling screw-up like me. And thank God for Ray Lewis, a fellow sinner, saved by the grace of God and my brother in Christ.

Categories: grace Tags: , , ,
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