Living urgently

Have you ever experienced an urgency in your life? Yes – probably so! I experience an urgency on a regular basis as I’m one of those people who utterly despise being late to places. I’m always 5 – 10 minutes ahead, or I’m making myself miserable! So whether there’s urgency in getting the kids to school, or getting the sermon finished, there’s always a deadline that can’t be negotiated!

Last night I had the blessing of hearing my father preach down in Summerdale again. I love dad’s sermons, but I always have particularly enjoyed his topics of end-time and prophecy – Revelation, Thessalonians, Daniel, Matthew (and he touched on all of these passages last night).

Dad preaching last night in Summerdale

Every time I hear a good sermon on the end time, it is like something quickens within my spirit and begins to tell me, “He is coming back SOON! There’s no time to waste!” And my heart begins beating faster, and with a little more excitement, and I realize just how close to the end of this age I believe we are. We are one good situation away from the world barreling straight into the last set of prophecies, and every time I read the news, I ask myself, “Will this be the way in which we are propelled toward the end?”

I remember growing up, being so mindful of the return of the Lord, that I was actually believing even as a young person that I would never live to the age I am now. I believed the Lord would come back before now (see the 1 Thess verse later on in this post for a description of that day).

This morning, I read Philippians, the second chapter. A packed chapter – full of doctrine, and encouragement, and advice. There’s quite a few recognizable verses in Phil 2. Among them is verse 12 – “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And when I read that this morning, it sparked in me a reminder of how I felt as I was listening to the sermon on the end-times last night.

So often, there is no fear and trembling in our walk. As serious as we are about life, jobs, education, and relationships, it is tragic that we can be the most casual about the one thing with the greatest joy or greatest devastation in our life – our relationship with our Creator. In many instances, people just have a casual relationship with a “guy upstairs,” and there’s no urgency for their walk with Christ and no brokenness for those around them who are lost without Him.

Between last night and this morning, I had already lost that urgency. And it is very possible that I may lose it again before the day is up. Though, I pray that to not be the case.

But to live a life without some knowledge or regards to what God says will still yet happen is to read a book without worrying about the end – is to go to school without worrying about graduation – is about getting a degree with no regards to eventual employment, is to do anything without cognizance of the intended end result. Except, it is on a much greater, and potentially terrifying scale.

I closed my eyes and imagined what it will be like up there. Most of you reading this can probably quote some of or part of the song, “I can only imagine.” And it is a song that gives comfort and happiness. It talks about a place with no pain or suffering.

Revelation 21:4 says,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And yet, many of us are relying on false promises to attain that glorious end one day.

But do we know the “He” of Revelation 21:4? We can’t know Him based on our own system of knowing someone. We can’t know Him based on our own qualifications for knowing Him. We have to know Him based on what He says about knowing Him. And that involves trusting Him, believing Him, accepting His death for our sins, and living a life of surrender and submission for Him, as His grace helps us to grow in Him.

Some of us try to be a good person, and we end up being a good person. But when you compare our goodness, as good as it can be, to the “Goodness” of God, we fall miserably short, and thus, we can’t experience eternal joy nor a relationship with Christ simply by being a good person. 

Some of us believe that there are many roads to attain that eternal joy, and by having some sort of a spiritual journey or adventure, we will find ourselves “taken care of one day.” However, that is completely contradictory to Scripture. In order to spend time in God’s presence for eternity, we must recall the words of Jesus Christ in John 14:6 –

 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

It is comforting to think about the place that heaven is, but only if I’m sure I’m going to actually be there one day. Of much less comfort should be the condition and worry of one who doesn’t know how they are going to get there, and considers how close to heaven’s opening we may be.

I know many good people, whom I love and respect. Yesterday, we showed a video in church. And one of the statements went like this – “I know of know greater love one could show to his fellow man than to share the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”

Don’t try to “good” yourself into heaven. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. I couldn’t do it anymore than you can.

Time is urgent. It is short. I don’t know when I’ll go to heaven – whether my death will send me, or whether I will experience 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

If you believe in God, then that verse probably has one of two effects on you. It either fills you with hope, or fills you with an uncertain dread. One of the greatest experiences the human can have is, I believe, to be experiencing the fulfillment of being caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And one of the most terrifying, desperate experiences we could ever imagine is to watch as others experience that, but we don’t.

I actually believe I’ll experience 1 Thessalonians in my lifetime. I still do not believe I’ll live to be an old man. But regardless, may we live with such urgency that we’ll have no regrets when the end comes, no matter which form it takes – whether we are taken through death, or through this experience – verse 18 of 1 Thessalonians says, 

“Therefore encourage one another with these words.”Image

If you are not encouraged by those words – if you are confused, afraid, or even oblivious, I’d love to talk to you and share with you. I’ll listen. I’ll do my best to answer any questions. But, especially if you are a friend or family member of mine, the greatest love I can ever show you, despite my imperfections, is to show you how to begin your life as a true disciple of Jesus Christ. It would be my greatest honor to do so. And we can grow together.

God knows I’m nowhere close to perfect. Don’t base your Christianity on Christians. Base it on Christ. I’m not your standard – He is. Without Him, we are lost eternally.

So, call, email, or message me!

A Testimony of 8 Years

Now that I’m finally on the other side of a major transition, I’d like to briefly describe it. The transition I’m about to describe is the reason I haven’t written much in a while. We decided to take a hiatus from certain activities until the dust settled.

This is going to have alot of “I” and “Me” and “We” in it. Not at all to try to make everything about us, but just wanting to describe the testimony from our vantage point as we ultimately remember Who is in charge and Who is sovereign.

On to the story…

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When I was serving as a worship pastor in Ohio, I attended a promise keeper’s rally in Columbus. This was about 8 years ago now. It was the only one I had ever attended; I haven’t attended one since (for no particular reason). But I do remember how amazing the worship was and how strong the Spirit moved. The Katina’s did what I consider the most God-reflecting music set I’ve ever seen or heard by a “major Christian artist.” And then a speaker got up to speak.

This speaker – and I couldn’t tell you his name, though I remember his face and his voice, which I shall not describe here – this speaker was the man through which I felt the call to pastor. Not just lead music, but pastor – get in peoples’ lives, declare the Word, under-shepherd the flock – pastor! This speaker weaved music into his message in a way that I had never seen before; it was as if God was telling me that music would be a part of who I was, not a limitation.

I sat down with my pastor at the time and shared my heart. Over the years that followed in Ohio, I was given plenty of chances to “train” in the pastorate. Sermons, weddings, funerals, hospital visits. I was able to attend deacon’s meetings, stewardship meetings, etc. It was a time in which I felt I was obviously being prepared to enter the senior pastoral ministry.

In 2009, God did something we didn’t expect. He pulled us out of that situation. I honestly expected to remain in Ohio for years, if not my career. But His ways are not ours. We were presented with an opportunity to go to Florida, and felt very strongly in our Spirit that this opportunity was afforded to us from above. Isaiah 55.

We spent just over 3 years in Florida. It was a very music-heavy position, when compared to my position on Ohio. I honestly at many points questioned whether I had really been called back at the promise keeper’s rally or not. I think the world of those folks in Florida. They were delightful people – they really were! My impact there was smaller than I was hoping for, at least in my field of vision. My job was music moreso than pastoring, even though I tried to figure out the balance between the two for the duration of my tenure there. Sometimes I felt that I wasn’t free to pursue my passion on a scale that I would’ve wished for – getting in the lives of people. I didn’t understand why God suddenly and seemingly put me on the sideline of where I thought I was going. Isaiah 55 again. In hindsight, we were learning lessons. We were just learning different lessons, in a different way.

In and around January of 2012, Sarah and I began fervently praying about where God was leading, and why did we seem tasked to be musicians when we felt called to be something different. We began asking people outside of our local church to pray with us in this regards.

We talked to a number of church planters, at the advice of some of those people. This would’ve been in the early spring of 2012. One church planter in particular seemed desperate for us to be a part of a work in the northern part of the country. We were invited to come up and look at possible locations for a church. We thought that was a possibility, but God made it pretty obvious that it wasn’t what he wanted.

Over the summer, I found a small group of pastors who began praying for me and giving me counsel from time to time – one in Ohio, one in Tennessee, two in Alabama, and one in Kentucky. These were in addition to the pastors in my family (both sides). These folks weren’t holding copies of a resume and trying to find something for me – they were just supporting with their encouragement and their kindness and their prayers.

Time continued to march on. The rift in my personal spirit became more pronounced. I felt like a person who speaks English in the middle of another country. I was a worship pastor, and doing my best to be one, but I also felt like I wasn’t in “my world” anymore. My soul and my life yearned to migrate towards what I felt God was calling me to do – to love on people as their pastor without a dual commitment that would prevent me from doing so (for example, being a music minister, and the hours required to be one).

We had much advice from many folks. Tears were shed, prayers were said, counsel was sought, scripture was read (oh, I just rhymed!).

Fast forward to October. I was contacted by a church in Robertsdale, Alabama of all places.

You see, I thought for sure the Lord would call us back up north – to a place where snow falls in abundance, and people speak funny. Where many people have never attended a church, unlike the south, when most Christians simply hops to or starts another church when someone upsets them. We loved it up there, and 2 of our children were born in Cinci. The north needs churches badly. Surely the Lord would bring us back, right? Isaiah 55.

But here I was, talking to a church in Robertsdale – mere minutes from my original hometown. In the south, where it is hot in the winter and mosquitos carry off small children in the summer. The 4 seasons are 1. hot, 2. still hot, 3. Christmas, and 4. about to get hot again. Where there are many churches, and many churches being started, sometimes because the churches that exist just can’t get along. And guess what.

On December 30, following a process in which God was in from beginning to end, Bethel Baptist Church of Robertsdale, Alabama recognized that God was calling us to be their senior pastor by a vote of the membership. Given the confirmation afforded to us by the vote and the inward confirmation of the Holy Spirit, we accepted this calling the same day and agreed to become the Pastor of this church.

So tomorrow, February 10, is my 2nd Sunday as pastor of the church and my first opportunity to preach in the morning service (we had a concert last week!). It has been a blessing and a blast so far, and these are wonderful people that we are just blessed to be able to serve and serve with. I look forward to growing with them and seeing my family grow with them.

Hindsight reveals God’s moving so much clearer than present-sight or foresight. He doesn’t promise a taxi ride to our destination. Sometimes it is a long process, filled with questions and struggles and tears. But now, at the end of one part of our journey and only at the beginning of the next part of it, we are filled with joy at his sovereignty, which has afforded us this season to reflect on it as we begin the new work at Bethel.

More tears will come again, and struggles, and questions, but also joy, and happiness, and reward.

None of us are even close to perfect, but consider the encouragement of Paul in the 3rd chapter of the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

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