James

At the end of the sermon and invitation song he walked down the middle aisle with head held low. It was the kind of moment that you realize that the dynamics of the past hour were about to change dramatically, and there’s no way to tell just how it’s going to turn out. Obviously in need of a shower, he humbly approached me without making eye contact. His white tee-shirt was marked with smudges of dirt, and the rest of his clothing betrayed his homeless status. He stood very close to me at the front of the aisle, facing the communion table, unable to turn and face the people in the pews. He must have felt every eye in the place on him. Even though he tried, he could not speak.

I asked this young black man what his name was. He said, “It’s James, you know me.” I didn’t recognize him, but the reason for that is that I had only spoken with him and prayed with him over the phone. Only a few weeks ago he called me and wanted me to give him fifty dollars to pay a debt to someone who was looking for him. I do not, and we (as a church) do not give money. Not long after that he solicited some money in the neighborhood, claiming to be from the Central Church of Christ. Unfortunately for him, Kathy has been very involved in hurricane relief and attending our church. She knew he was attempting to defraud others in the name of the church, and she strongly encouraged him to cease this behavior. The story even ended up in the local paper.

And now here he is standing with his back to the congregation, tears streaming down his face. In this situation that is very unusual for us, not a sound was to be heard. Even the children were rivited by this sight. All he could whisper were things like “It’s so hard” and “I need God to be in this.” I tried to be helpful and suggest that he simply apologize and we would pray, letting him know that he would be treated kindly. He was not about to let himself off the hook that easily. He turned around and faced an auditorium full of strangers.

Then it came pouring out. A heart that was broken in it’s own sin was exposed with a rare frankness. He pulled four dollars out of his pocket. He had asked a man for some money for food and received that four dollars. He went straight to the drug-infested FEMA trailer park near him and looked for even a small amount of the drug that gave him escape from his shame – and increased his shame. I doubt that many in the room could hear him, but I didn’t dare offer him a microphone. This was an expulsion of demons long held in. When he couldn’t find any drugs, he wandered into a nearby church. The smell that comes along with homelessness, and his attire, and his own guilt made him feel uncomfortable there. He offered a man his four dollars to drive him to Central Church of Christ.

James expressed his repentence, his desire to follow God, his hope to escape addiction, and his heart for helping others who are in his same situation. He pointed out Kathy, who had confronted him about the fraud. He told us that she was not ‘nasty’ with him, though he deserved it. Kathy stood up and said something like, “I’m very proud of you for your courage. You did the right thing and I pray that God will give you the strength you need.” It was an amazing moment of grace. Kathy and her husband, Bud, are faithful blog readers who encourage me often. I’m proud of her.

Though it seemed hours, it was only about fifteen minutes. To him, I’m sure, it felt like days. Some got up and left. Most couldn’t hear him. But God’s attention was surely focused upon a broken man exposing his sin-sick heart to a redeemed people. Our prayer was for James to have the strength to break the bondage that has such a strong hold in his life. We were able to feed James, let him get a shower, have a place for a night, some new clothes, and tomorrow we will talk about some more permanent solutions. 

Look at my heart again, look at the mess I’ve got it in.

I’m trying to trust in You, To know that you’ll see me through. 

— The Space In Between Us, Building 429

You Take Me Back

This is a message I always long to hear from my Father God, presented musically by Jeremy Camp. I pray that your Sunday is filled with the good news of God’s grace. He is the One who puts lives back together again.

 

Retreat, Rest, Renovate, Recharge, Renew

I have returned home from Blue Ridge, Georgia where a friend put together a retreat for the week. It was a great week in every way. I have about a hundred pictures up on my picture page, located HERE. My big big ‘thanks’ to Gary Kirkendall for dreaming up the idea, securing the place, planning the format, inviting the resource speaker, and for acting as gracious host. We spent a good bit of time talking about our individual ministries, and also hearing some information and inspiration from our speaker. The above picture is the view from the second level deck of our cabin just out of Blue Ridge along the Ocoee river (is that right, Gary?).

Brian Magnuson, of the Westgate Church of Christ in Dothan, AL was our guest speaker. I knew Brian many years ago through our association with Sardis Lake Christian Camp in North Mississippi. He was the youth minister of the Senatobia Church of Christ. It has been eleven years since I last saw Brian, and I am so grateful for the renewed friendship. I am concerned, though, that he does not have a blog!

I cannot recount everything that happened at the retreat, but we began by watching a movie together called “The Second Chance“. I want to recommend that everyone watch this movie. It has a great message about service and seeking the heart of Jesus in a world that is in bondage to sin. This movie resonates with me in such a big way due to the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, although it takes place far from the Gulf Coast. The soundtrack is packed with great Christian music, I would guess under the direction of Michael W. Smith. Smith takes the lead role in the movie, and although at times his acting skills are stretched, he reasonably portrays the dilemma in which many American Christians find themselves. Are we satisfied to throw money at benevolent programs or are we willing to get our hands dirty in the willingness to help others? This movie is rated PG-13, though the mild profanity and brief gang-related violence cannot merit that rating. I have ordered my own copy of this movie and will watch it again along with our elders. I hope to share it with many people … including you. I think you can pick this movie up at your local Christian bookstore or any of the usual websites that sell DVDs. There are some discussion questions and film clips on the movie’s website, if you choose to use this with teen classes – which I highly recommend. One facet of the movie that will be of particular interest to church leaders is the sub-plot involving the Board of a large church’s decision making process, and how big a player money can be in the life of a church. The inner city church used in the movie is a church of Christ in Nashville, TN. I’m guessing that they imported the piano.

It’s good to be home. We have “Cruising on the Coast” in Pascagoula this weekend. All of the classic car owners will be parked along our streets to allow people to take pictures and view their restored hot rods. There was a free Charlie Daniels Band concert at Beach Park tonight. Plus there is the Z=onta crafts festival which is always a lot of fun. Maggy says that tomorrow night we are going to see the long anticipated movie, The Guardian. I’ll let you know how it goes.

We have groups arriving this week and next week from Sarasota, FL, Sturgis, KY, Florence, AL, Tullahoma, TN, and Franklin, TN to do some volunteering.  These are the first volunteers we have had in several weeks. We are so thankful for their lovely spirit that sends them down our way. We realize that this is quite a sacrifice, and not everyone can do it. Thank God for those who can! If you cannot personally come to help, please pray that God will send workers. That is a way that all of our blog readers can participate in the ministry here.

At the risk of putting too much ‘stuff’ on this post, I want to share with you Third Day’s awesome song, Cry Out To Jesus. If you haven’t heard it, just let the words touch your heart as you listen. I think it is possibly the best contemporary Christian song ever. Really.

 

 

Blogless Week?

We had a good Sunday at Central and enjoyed a wonderful fellowship meal together. We had first-time community visitors with us and we hope that they will want to come back and worship with us again soon. I spent some time with Robbie this afternoon and he did some work around the church building.

 It was great to have my friend and elder Jim Ingram back from his month-long trip to New Zealand and Australia. I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him today, but he obviously enjoyed his trip. His big smile was a happy sight to see today.

I have a speaking appointment in the Atlanta area at the end of the month on a Sunday morning and would enjoy speaking at another congregation on Sunday night. Also I have an appointment in East Tennessee the next Sunday morning and would enjoy speaking at another congregation that Sunday night. The Wednesday in between is open. So… if anyone within driving distance of those areas would like a hurricane relief presentation, get in touch with me asap.

This week I will be attending a retreat for preachers. If I have an opportunity to post anything, i will do so. I am sorry that this comes in the middle of my posts on KINGDOM COME. I will have my book with me, though, and if I can post another chapter, I will. I just ask your patience if I cannot.

Well, It’s getting late and I have a lot to do before my trip. I hope you all have a great week. It could be a blogless week here, but go ahead and check every now and then … you never know when I might syphoon off a wireless signal and sneak in a post!

Weekend

Well, it’s the weekend and there really isn’t much to blog about. I’ve spent the week trying to stay off of my leg as much as possible. It is much better, thanks for the prayers. My family has been in North Mississippi celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday. I stayed to be here on Sunday and because I’m going to be gone all next week (more on that later). Needless to say it’s been very quiet at my house this weekend and I have enjoyed it. About right now it’s getting just a little TOO quiet, but that will change rapidly tomorrow afternoon when the family gets back home. A prayer for their safety would be appreciated.

I was having some trouble getting settled on my sermon for tomorrow. The selected text is Acts 11. It qualifies as “selected” because it’s after Acts 10 and Before Acts 12. What I do sometimes when I’m kinda stuck is go over to Sermon Central dot com and see what other preachers have done with it. I confess that this seldom helps, but sometimes I get a good story or a one-liner or something from the sermons I look at there. I figured out while reading those from Acts 11 that most of the other preachers were in the same situation I was … not knowing what to do with it. Anyhoo, you can hear mine on the podcast once I get it uploaded and see how it goes.

Tomorrow is ‘Friends and Family Fellowship Day’ (I’m the only one that calls it that). We will have lots of food, laughs, hugs, tears, and food. If you’re local, come on over.

The recent school shootings have made it difficult to watch the news. How do we explain a generation of young people who, when faced with a difficult problem, choose to kill someone rather than work it out? One of the school shootings wasn’t a young person. I have more questions than answers but I can’t help but wonder why our youth are so desensitized to the realities of life and death that these killings mean nothing to them. Perhaps it is the messages of killing, rape, and violence that is piped through their headphones and directly into their brains. Or maybe it is the gigantic visual images of explosions, torture, and revenge projected onto a screen.  It could even be the nightly news. Easy targets, I know. Still, the message is coming from somewhere that this is a way to solve problems.

Speaking of the silver screen, one theater owner refused to show the number one movie in the nation: Jackass 2. I haven’t ever watched the television show, and I didn’t watch the first movie, so I’m surely not going to see #2. This is the number one movie in the Unites States of America, folks. There are other appealing movies out. This tells us who is driving the box office, and why we will see a Jackass 3. The next movie I plan on seeing is Open Season, preferably in IMAX.

Well, my little tracker says that many of you are still going through the old Hope Remains site to get here. Look, just bookmark the current version. Why are you putting it off? It’s so easy and you will save time and thereby save money. I’m trying to help you out here! OK, I really don’t care what you do but one day you may try to go to that site and it may not be there…then what will you do? If you poke your eye out trying to get to this blog, don’t call me.

Commander’s Palace returns to New Orleans. Why hasn’t my mother ever taken me there?

Mississippi has received 9.1 Billion dollars in aid for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Don’t touch ANYTHING! When you’re pushing that cart at the grocery store, do you ever wonder who just touched that cart…and whether or not they were sick?

Everyone keeps asking me what I think about T. O.’s episode last weekend. OK, so no one has asked. But I think it was all a publicity stunt. There. I said it.

 

 

KINGDOM COME: CHAPTER THREE

God Still Works: Trusting God’s Providence is the title of the third chapter of Kingdom Come.  You can purchase the book HERE. Chapter three begins with two striking quotes, one from Lipscomb and one from Harding, that establish the theme of the chapter. Very interesting life details of both men set the tone for the focus on the chapter, which is how the apocalytic vision of Lipscomb and Harding affects their view of God’s activity among men. Both of them suffered significant losses and lived during extremely trying times. These facts are essential for grasping the seriousness with which they embraced the special providence of God. 

What is written about providence here is in relation to pain and suffering. “Everything that happens, according to Harding, serves God’s purposes. ‘He loves us and he allows no pain, no sorrow, no disappiontment to come to us except it be for our own good’” (p. 45) Two divergent views of providence characterized disciples of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One view has God only working through natural law without any personal action in the lives of people. The other view is that God is deeply involved in our lives. This was a core belief, according to Harding, and Anything less than God’s active invlovement would be considered “unbelief” (p. 46).

Suffering and difficulties in life are viewed by Lipscomb and Harding as leading us through stages of development, remaking us into the image of Christ. Everything that happens is leading toward the end that God desires.  “God is constantly ‘in some way incomprehsible to mortal men…causing all things to work together for their good’” (p. 48). Three text that were especially important to Harding are Psalm 37, Matthew 6:33, and Romans 8:28.

God Ruleth Over Everything is an excellent section of this chapter that all would do well to study. It presents a theological basis for special providence. The next section begins with a bold and pertinent assertion. “Our response to God’s sovereignty is faith rather than pride; dependence rather than self-reliance. This child-like trust does not understand everything” (p. 52). If God is going to allow suffering, then how shall we continue in faith in Him? Because of Jesus and his demonstrations of love. Jesus demonstrates the loving care of God. Jesus reveals the compassionate Father. Jesus demonstrates the soveriegn power of God. (p. 53)

H & V conclude, “We know we cannot interpret God’s acts in the world. We know we do not have all the answers to the difficult questions which love and sovereignty create for our myopic minds. Nevertheless, we trust” (p. 55). Of course there is much more in the chapter than we can summarize. And I’m sure H & V would agree that the subject of providence is bigger than one chapter in any book. However, their aim is to show how the life experiences of Lipscomb and Harding did not shape their theology, but rather they lived by faith in the God that He really would work all things to our good.

What was something that meant a lot to you in this chapter?

Do you think this puts all suffering in the hands of God? Or only that He works through the suffering that exists?

Thanks for reading along with me.