Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Greatest Miracle

The Greatest Miracle from ebchurch on Vimeo.

I really enjoyed preaching this message.  I pray it's a blessing to you.

And this is the song I asked Rhon to sing...minus the white-man afro...and minus the pinky ring :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Death of My Friend and a Motorcycle in Haiti

Good night my friend.
I'll see you in the morning.
This afternoon, my friend and fellow church member Jerry Strickland went home to be with the Lord Jesus.  I take great comfort in that thought.  But there is another thought that is quite compelling.  This thought gripped my heart tonight as I preached in the PM service from Mark 3:13-19 on "12 Men that Changed the World."

I had just come from a bereavement call to Jerry's house to visit his precious family.  Flying into the parking lot on two wheels, I made it into the service with a few minutes to spare.  So Jerry's death was fresh on my mind as I preached a sermon on the characteristics of people God uses to change the world.

My body was in Blackshear at Emmanuel Baptist Church.  But for a flash, my mind was in Gonaives, Haiti on a 2010 mission trip with my dearly-departed friend.  Jerry and I were traveling in a little truck with a Haitian pastor named John and a missionary.  Pastor John was asking the missionary if he could possibly borrow his vehicle.

As we listened to this conversation it became obvious to Jerry and to me that Pastor John was trying to shepherd 2 Haitian congregations many, many miles apart.  He was spending a great deal of his life walking between his 2 churches.  For Pastor John, the cost of a motorcycle (the best means of travel there) was prohibitive.

"How much does a good used motorcycle cost here in Haiti...and can you even get one," I asked.

"Oh yes, we can get one in Port au Prince," the missionary replied.  "But a good reliable used one would be about $1200 US dollars."

From the back seat, Jerry and I commented on how surprised we were...and convicted at the relatively low cost.  $1200 for us was a good sum of money but not prohibitive.  What for us would be a family vacation could literally change Pastor John's life as he sought to change Haiti for Christ.

Back at the missionary's house, Jerry came to me privately and said, "I want us to buy Pastor John that motorcycle."  Jerry really wanted us to go ahead and buy that motorcycle.  I said, "Jerry I can't make that kind of commitment for our church although I agree we ought to do it."

Jerry appreciated my desire to not make a $1200 commitment on my own.  But he was not to be dissuaded.  "I will go ahead and commit to buy the whole thing myself if we can't get some others to chip in."  With that commitment I gave the go-ahead to the missionary to buy Pastor John a motorcycle with the understanding that we would wire the money when we returned to Georgia.

Landing in Jacksonville, Jerry rode with me and 2 others back to Blackshear.  We dropped the others off at their house and I took Jerry home.  At his house, Jerry went to a special place and retrieved 3 crisp $100 bills.  "Here's my part," he said.  "And if nobody else wants to get in on it, come back and I'll give you the rest."

I protested.  In nearly 20 years of vocational ministry I had never taken cash from a church member for any reason.  I saw no reason to change my policy.  It's just not smart.  "Just put it in the offering plate Sunday in a designated envelope, Jerry.  I do not handle cash!"

But again Jerry Strickland would not be dissuaded.

Shoving the generous offering into my hands he said, "If I can trust you to preach the Bible to me every Sunday I can trust you with $300!"  Seeing the tears in his eyes and hearing the crack in his voice I immediately discerned this occasion would be an exception to my rule.

"Brother Jerry, I will take this if you make me a promise.  Be sure to check your contribution record for a $300 love offering.  And if you don't see it you tell the church office and we will make it right."  He waved me off with a non-verbal gesture that clearly said, "I'll do no such thing!"

We did have some other funds contributed to help buy pastor John's motorcycle.  But Jerry's commitment to buy the whole thing if necessary is what made the transaction possible.  A few weeks later when our missions report included a picture of Pastor John grinning from ear-to-ear on his motorcycle, I looked back at Jerry.  He looked at the floor in a Divine mix of humility and gratitude to God.

So tonight as I grieve the death of my friend and consider the characteristics of people who "change the world," I am overjoyed with this reality.  Somewhere tonight in Haiti, a local pastor is going to bed a little more rested than he used to be on the Lord's Day.  And it's because a man like Jerry was willing to be used by God to change the world.

Jerry ministering in Jubilee Village
on the island of Haiti (Spring 2010)
Tonight as Wanda and her sweet family mourn the passing of a fine man, the gospel of Jesus is spreading across Haiti...carried in part on a $1200 motorcycle.

And the life of Jerry Strickland lives on.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What a View

A great pastor writes about a great view from a great mountain.  Praise God for occasional trips to "Mount Perspective."

Friday, May 13, 2011

In Everything Give Thanks

It was already promising to be a very busy weekend.  There was a Friday afternoon trip to Griffin, GA for a camp-out/birthday party for my nephew, time at the in-laws, a late Saturday evening wedding for my cousin in Macon, GA, preaching 2x Sunday morning, doing a Sunday afternoon wedding on St. Simon's for our nursery director, and an evening service back at EBC.

Feeling totally overwhelmed, I took Sarah to breakfast this morning for our weekly date.  When I got home about 9:45 I sat down to finalize Sunday morning's sermon.  Andrea had taken Sarah with her to go to the kids' field day at school.  I wanted to go but sermon prep was calling and Sunday was coming!

I had been sitting at the computer working on Mark 3 when I heard a noise.  It sounded like it had come from the back yard.  I was supposed to be home by myself so I got up to investigate.  That's when I heard the water running.  Had the sprinkler system come on by itself?

Walking into our new master closet (on the back corner of the house) I saw water running into the floor from underneath the wall.  When I ran outside to cut the water supply to that section of the house I saw water pouring out of the eaves of the house.

I immediately knew what had happened.  My long weekend had just gotten longer.

Last summer we added on a small bathroom and a master closet.  I had already discovered (several months ago) that one of the 2 plumbers we used on the project did NOT glue all the CPVC joints.  Just a simple oversight.  An honest mistake.  He'd obviously dry-fitted the plumbing and then gone back and glued the joints...well...most of them anyway.

One missed joint revealed itself when we first turned the water on back in September.  Today, about 8 months later, another unglued joint made its presence known.  This line ran overhead, in the ceiling above the new closet.  Why today?  I will never know.  And I doubt it will make my list of "top questions" to ask Jesus in eternity :)

As of this moment, I've pulled up the decking in the attic, glued (as opposed to re-glued) the joint, taken all the wet attic insulation into the back yard, taken the siding off the back corner of the house, removed that insulation, and offered a few prayers that the sheetrock dries before it starts buckling too badly.

In all this, I have a few things to be thankful for.

1.  I was home and heard the joint "pop."  A few more hours and we would have been gone for about 36 hours.  As bad as it was today, it would have been worse to find it at midnight Saturday night.  If 3-4 minutes made that much damage, I'd hate to see 1.5 days' worth.

2.  I know how to fix the stuff myself.  As a pastor, I can't afford to get into a debate with a local plumber.  It's just not a good testimony for me.  So we pastors kind of "take one for the team" on things like this.  Besides, it was just an honest mistake that could happen to anyone.  My insurance agent said my deductible was $1,000.  So...into the attic I go.

3.  It's a hot sunny day.  Really hot for ripping siding off your house or working in the attic...but a GREAT day to dry out insulation :)

4.  I did not get angry.  Several months ago when I preached a sermon called, "Taming the Temper" I confessed that God was dealing with me about getting frustrated too easily.  My anger is not typically one that shows itself.  It's the slow-burning internal kind.  Just as dangerous, mind you.  And just as sinful.

But I was about 2 hours into this project when it hit me...I've not gotten frustrated at all about this situation.  And believe me, this hectic weekend would have been the weekend to get really upset.  I cannot boast in my lack of anger.  It's just God's santifying grace in my life.  But I am so very thankful for it.

5.  In the last few hours I've been reminded how blessed I am.  For starters, this whole incident happened because of an ADDITION onto our house.  Secondly, I already have every tool and supply I need.  I could list them all but you get the idea.  We've got a lot of stuff.  This project is going to cost me about $5 for a new can of CPVC glue (and an awful lot of elbow grease!)

I've only stopped to take a break from the heat.  When the sun goes down I will start rebuilding the back corner of my house...a modest but nice home where 1 blessed pastor lives with his beautiful bride, his precious kids, and his grateful heart.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Prayer Request

My friend and church member, Jerry Strickland was placed under Hospice care today.  I got to know him best when we traveled together and bunked together on a mission trip to Gonaives, Haiti.  Tonight as I visit them before mid-week service, I am praying for a miracle...and trusting in Providence.

Monday, May 9, 2011

O Bless the Lord

O Bless The Lord from ebchurch on Vimeo.

From Christmas 2010.  I love this song and was blessed to solo along with my favorite choir and worship band.

The Best News...

Now Thats Good News from ebchurch on Vimeo.

I really enjoyed preaching this message on "Soul-Winning Commitment Sunday" back in January.  I pray it's a blessing to you.  And in case you're just stopping by and you are not a Christian, here is the good news:

1.  Jesus Christ can save anywhere.
2.  Jesus Christ can save anytime.
3.  Jesus Christ can save anybody.

Whew!  Now that's good news!

One Proud Daddy

"Before My Birthday" from ebchurch on Vimeo.

In case you haven't seen it, here's our 3 year-old singing on "Sanctity of Human Life Sunday" at EBC.  It has had about 4,000 unique views over on Vimeo.

Underneath my mother's heart waiting for nativity
I never was so tiny but what God's eyes
And long before my ears could hear
He called me by my name
In the darkness He watched me grow
He watched His creation

For long before my birthday
God was celebrating me
He knows the very moment
That my life came to be
And from the time He gave me life
He watched my tenderly
For long before my birthday
God was loving me.

My Favorite Choir

You Are Worthy from ebchurch on Vimeo.

My favorite choir sings a tremendous song.  It is great on video but nothing takes the place of sitting on the front row and hearing it "live."  I dearly love these folks!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Morning Sunshine

In light of Wednesday's post on "Redeeming the Time" I thought I'd share these two pictures.  I've been taking my little Sarah Sunshine to breakfast every Friday morning since just before her second birthday.  There's been a lot of Huddle House eaten in the last few years.

There are 2 pictures at the right.  The top one is from Easter Sunday, 2011.  The other is from our first weekly "Daddy/Daughter Date" back in August of 2009. the time is flying.  Time is like a nearly-expired coupon.  Better go redeem it while there's still time!

Well...gotta go.  It's Friday morning and I've got a hot date waiting on me :)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Parent/Baby Dedication

One of the great joys of pastoring a growing church is officiating parent/baby dedication.  With a vibrant and young congregation it is a regular occurrence.  In fact, I am told something is in the water at EBC :)

On Monday of this week I had the blessing to visit in the home of one of our members who informed me that he and his wife were expecting.  On Tuesday I was in the home of another couple as they welcomed their new-born son home from the hospital.  After preaching mid-week service on Wednesday, I saw another couple on the church playground with their 2 kids.  They had the same joy-filled announcement!

And to think, none of that even counts the 13 children we will dedicate to the Lord this Sunday evening as part of our day-long celebration of motherhood.  We know this ceremony is not salvific in any way.  But it is a glorious picture of a time when Mom and Dad commit themselves to raise their child in the nurture and admonition of our Lord.

The cameras will be flashing and the camcorders will be rolling (do digital cameras actually "roll?") as we have a blessed time in the Lord's house this Sunday night.  And it will be a delight of all delights to "officially" begin my time serving as pastor to the newest members of our extended EBC family.  Emmanuel, I've told you many times.  My great delight is to be my wife's husband, my kids' Daddy, and a pastor to God's people. 

Bring an open Bible and a warm handshake Sunday night.  We are going to have a great time in Jesus along with a house full of guests!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Redeeming the Time

Tonight I preached in Ephesians 5 and the text dealt with "redeeming the time for the days are evil."  It was, at its core, a call to make the most of life in light of the swift-moving pace of time.
Job said, "My days are passing faster than a weaver's shuttle."

James said, "Life is like a vapor."

I say, "Wow!  When did my little girl get that big?!?!"

In preparation for tonight's message on the fleeting nature of life I was reminded that I've been at Emmanuel Baptist 14 1/2 years.  In a few weeks, Lord willing, I'll have my 9th anniversary as senior pastor.  And if the Lord tarries and lets me live, I should become EBC's longest-serving pastor in church history within the next several months.  The only reason that's important in this context is that it seems like we moved to Blackshear...well...yesterday.

So I've spent several days contemplating my ministry and recommitting myself to doing whatever would please God and bring Him maximum pleasure and glory.

After preaching on this subject I spent all of a late Wednesday evening supper time staring at my 8 year old and wondering where the time went.  She's becoming a beautiful little lady.  Even though she's finishing up the 2nd grade in a few weeks it seems like she was born...well...yesterday.

After supper I went upstairs and found some old pictures.  That's when I found the emotional final straw. 

There were some old high school photos. (1980's)

There were some little league ball photos. (1970's)

Then there was this picture.  It's a photo of my paternal grandparents (Hollis and Juanita Stone) celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  This picture was made years ago (1/9/90) and they are both deceased now.  But it still seems like...well...yesterday.

Then it hit me.  If 20 years ago (for example) seems like yesterday, then 20 years from now may seem as if it is here as soon as tomorrow.  And the remainder of my life may seem like just a few more days.  And then my yet-to-be-born grandchildren may be looking at a picture of me thinking, "He sure does look old!"

Let me be clear.  My thoughts haven't been of the morbid "mid-life crisis" variety at all.  It's been invigorating, challenging, and motivating.  I am ready to take the world by the tail and make this day count.  And tomorrow.  And the next day.

Since I only have a limited number of days, I want them all to matter in the light of eternity.  So I'm getting up in the morning ready to be a disciple, a husband, a father, and a pastor.  I want this day to be a day that I help declare the glory of my God to the ends of the earth.

After all...the days are fleeting.  I need to redeem the time.