Tag Archives: Jesus

No Greater Love

I know I’ve already shared this song. I played it at church, yesterday, and then posted the video on Facebook this morning. However, I thought it would be good to re-post this piece, today, so that new readers might get the whole story.

Unfortunately, I learned just this week that Sgt. Sullivan’s grandmother (Brenda Sullivan, 70) passed away in June of last year, followed by his mother (Debbie Sullivan Beavers, 54) on July 5th.

First Fallen

john-michael-sullivanSeveral years ago, just after the second gulf conflict broke out, the town I was living in lost its first son. On December 30, 2006, Sgt. John Michael Sullivan was killed by a roadside bomb. Only 22, he left behind a wife and baby who was born the day after Sgt. Sullivan died.

I will never forget the visitation at the funeral home. Soldiers stood guard at each end of Sgt. Sullivan’s casket. One soldier was a West Point cadet. Every thirty minutes they would rotate out, similar to the way the guard is changed at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington. The honor and respect was palpable.

“Not Here”

Folks in the southern United States don’t take kindly to disrespect – especially at the funeral of a fallen soldier. Sgt. Sullivan died while taking a friend’s place on patrol, which made him a genuine hero. He was a local boy. So, when it was rumored that protesters from Westboro Baptist Church were going to be protesting, blood began to boil.

patriot guardStanding guard outside the funeral home, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, were motorcyclists (over 200 hundred of them) holding American flags. They lined the street and sidewalks as far as anyone could see. Each one, wearing leather vests,  seemed as tough as the Harleys they rode.

I won’t give names, but I heard a couple of high-ranking officials discussing the protesters. They knew Westboro’s hateful tactics and what typically went on at other funerals. So, in a whisper not meant to be overheard, one official said to another, “If those ———-‘s show up, just turn your back – let the guys outside handle them.”

Westboro never showed up. They must have gotten word.

More than Talk

Some people talk a big talk, but never walk the walk. Some people brag about what they would do in a given situation, such as combat, but never volunteer to prove it. But as Sgt. Sullivan lay there in his casket, no words were needed; his sacrifice proved his courage – and love.

Sgt. SullivanScripture says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Others may say they love their friends, but the silent soldier in front of me didn’t have to say a word.

As I paid my respects, it struck me how this young man had essentially given his life for me, a stranger. Like so many other men and women we remember on Memorial Day, Sgt. Sullivan willingly took another’s place. He did what we could not.

The emotion I felt that day led me to write a song in Sgt. Sullivan’s honor. But it also honors of the One who gave His life so that we could be eternally free.

Here is “No Greater Love” as sung by my daughter, Katie (we just recorded it on the iPhone, so forgive the low quality).

(Note: Unfortunately, when I wrote the song, I didn’t know Sgt. Sullivan was actually 22. However, his mother, after hearing the song, told me it was OK.).

Links

http://www.fallenheroesproject.org/united-states/john-michael-sullivan/
http://freedomremembered.com/index.php/sergeant-john-michael-sullivan/
http://www.stripes.com/news/unit-remembers-dedicated-soldier-who-was-killed-just-before-his-son-s-birth-1.58888

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If We Could Only Comprehend!

This morning my prayer for you (and myself) will be the same as what the apostle Paul prayed…

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19 CSB

Oh, that we might comprehend the width, the length, the height, and the depth of God’s love through Jesus Christ! If we could only even slightly comprehend the vast, expansive spread before us, mercy and grace for every need; the never-ending, eternal, infinite promise of his love and care; the heights to which we are raised, far above the lowly, humble truth of our natural condition and state; and the depths of Christ’s love – humble depths to which the love of God had to reach down in order to pluck us from the pit of sin… If we could only even slightly comprehend them!

Yet, through His strength (v. 16), and being rooted and grounded in His love (v. 17), it is possible! Hallelujah! Because He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us! (v. 20 NKJV)

This morning, and every morning, to God the Father be all glory in the church by Christ Jesus, to all generations, wherever they may be, forever and ever, “world without end” (v. 20).

And all the people said… “AMEN!!” 

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Easter 2020 at Bethlehem Baptist (COVID-19 edition)

If you didn’t get a chance to attend a Resurrection Sunday (Easter) service this morning, we made a video just for you!

I would love to hear from you after you watch and participate in worship – yes, we want you to worship with us!

Christ is risen!

 

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Filed under Bethlehem Baptist Church, Christianity, Church, Easter, Preaching, worship

What Was It Like, The Night Before?

Wells Branch Community Church: Austin, TX > Despair and the Key ...

 

Just imagine … the night before the resurrection.

Tomorrow is Easter, the day that we celebrate the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. But here it is the night before, the night before the celebrations, and few of us have any idea of the sense of total despair the followers of Jesus must have been experiencing on this night – the night before.

For three and a half years his disciples had followed Him around, listening to His stories, His parables, and His prayers. They had witnessed miracle after miracle which should have confirmed to them His claims to be the Messiah. Yet, just two days ago they witnessed the supposed Son of God, the “resurrection and the life” (that’s what he told Mary and Martha, you know, on the day He raised Lazarus from the dead), betrayed, beaten, falsely convicted, and tortuously crucified.

Then, after his tormentors had done all they could do, Jesus died. It was pretty obvious to all who were present.

It grew dark and the earth shook violently, as to add insult to injury, for even creation sensed the tragedy of it all.

They saw Him buried.

Some ran…some huddled as they hid…would they be next?

What of the “Kingdom” the Jesus had spoken of?

What good were the words “he that believeth on me shall not die, but have everlasting life” if the one saying it could be unjustly convicted, abandoned by heaven, and left to die in the most disgraceful and painful way? How could HE make such a promise if HE could die?

It was the night before, just like tonight, yet there was no anticipation of worship services or egg hunts – only the expectation of another sunrise without the Son.

They were afraid…broken…discouraged…faithless…confused…angry…directionless…without hope…

They were totally unprepared for what was about to happen, because the last thing they were thinking of was that this was…

the night before.

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“In the Cross” – A Sermon Outline

Today is Good Friday. The following is the outline I shared this afternoon on Facebook Live. It is based on the song “In the Cross” by Fanny Crosby. The idea is to be a question: How near are we to the cross?


“In the Cross” – A Sermon

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:17-18

1. Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.

What do you see when you are near the cross? To begin with, you’ll see BLOOD.

But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: – 1 Peter 1:19

Christianity is a “bloody religion” because it takes sin seriously and sin requires a penalty – the death penalty.

Hebrews 9:22 – And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

Hebrews 10:18 – Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. (It is finished! Hallelujah!)

2. Near the cross, a trembling soul, [fear, repentance, humility]
Love and mercy found me; [this is a testimony]
There the Bright and Morning Star
Shed His beams around me.  (…I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. – Revelation 22:16)

“Unless you see yourself standing there with the shrieking crowd, full of hostility and hatred for the holy and innocent Lamb of God, you don’t really understand the nature and depth of your sin or the necessity of the cross.”
― C.J. Mahaney

“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
― John R.W. Stott

3. Near the cross! O lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day
With its shadow o’er me.

The Scenes: Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19

The sheen of the golden pendent disguises horror of the mechanism.

More than a Shadow – It Must Be Carried

Matthew 16:24 – Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Luke 9:23 – And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Luke 14:27 – And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

4. Near the cross! I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever;

Till I reach the golden strand,
Just beyond the river.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2

Refrain:
In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever,
Till my ransomed (raptured) soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…- Galatians 6:14a

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. – Colossians 2:13-15

Conclusion:

Can you see His outstretched arms? Can you see the blood flowing down? Can you see His eyes looking down? Does it affect you?

How near ARE you to the cross?

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The Light Beckons

Image may contain: indoor

As I was walking through the darkened auditorium of our church, I saw the light beaming in through the stained glass. I couldn’t help but be impacted by the profound truth I was seeing, that there was no light inside these walls; the light was outside.

***********

For so long we’ve known it, we’ve taught and preached it, but where God wants his Light to be seen is outside, in the world, where Hope is needed. Yet, it took an “act of God” to get us out of our hallowed walls and out where we’ve been needed.

So, for now, the lights inside are off and the pews are empty. God, the Great Teacher, has taken us on a field trip. He’s causing us to regain or acquire a better perspective and understanding of what matters, what is needed, and what it truly means to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Because, if you haven’t noticed, we’re all in this together.

Will the real Church now stand up and walk in the Light, as He is in the light?


Image may contain: sky, tree, house, outdoor and text

 

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We Preach Jesus! (Revival In Africa)

This week I was supposed to be in Jamaica preaching in revival services. Of course, as you are aware, nobody is going anywhere for a while because of COVID-19 and closed borders.

So, since some of you may have not read this, here is the story of my trip to Zimbabwe. Be sure to listen to the sermon at the end!


Revival

It has been four years since I went to Zimbabwe. I went there to preach in a series of revival services in two different Baptist churches, both of which were started along with several others by Chinhoyi Baptist in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe. Of course, preaching wasn’t all I did; I went with different pastors into various villages, visiting and praying with Christians, evangelizing those who’d never heard the gospel.

The other reason I went to Zimbabwe was to get revived myself. I needed this trip! And, praise be to God, it was life-changing!

Here are some photos from different services.

People starting to show up for church. River of Life met in a tent in a member's front yard.

People starting to show up for church. River of Life met in a tent in a member’s front yard.

image

Worshiping Sunday morning at Dolomite Baptist.

Worshiping Sunday morning at Dolomite Baptist.

Lively and energetic African worship at Chinhoyi Baptist.

Lively and energetic African worship at Chinhoyi Baptist.

Being introduced at Chinhoyi Baptist.

Being introduced at Chinhoyi Baptist.

The Final Service

The final service in which I preached was at Chinhoyi Baptist Church. It was a celebratory farewell service where all of the churches which had hosted our team of three (Dr. Eddy Rushing, Marshall Kellett, and myself) came together as one. And man, was it a service!

The honor was mine to be selected to preach the final service, and what an honor it was. Dr. Rushing and Bro. Kellett were responsible for personally leading scores of people to Christ during this trip, so who was I to be the one to preach? Nevertheless, they asked me, and I jumped at it!

The beginning of the service was full of extremely lively music and dancing – not something the average Baptist in America is used to 😉 When all of that was over, the music shifted to hymns. Dr. Rushing and Bro. Kellett both gave stirring testimonies before the final hymn “Higher Ground” (sung in the native language of Shona) set the tone for the sermon to follow.

Oh, Rev. Luckmann Chiasaru was my interpreter for this service, and man was he good! He even sang with me! Awesome!

Chinhoyi Baptist Church in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe. This congregation hopes to plant a total of 50 new churches in 10 years. They're well on their way!

Chinhoyi Baptist Church in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe. This congregation hopes to plant a total of 50 new churches in 10 years. They’re well on their way!

The following was recorded on an iPhone 6s, then edited on Audacity. I wish it could have been a better recording, but it was all I had. I pray it is a blessing 🙂

CLICK HERE for link to the audio of “We Preach Jesus!”

 

 

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Hope In Death

Let’s get right to the point –

Today, I watched a man die, and I’m happy.

At this point you’re thinking: “Who in his right mind would admit to being happy he saw a man die?” Well, without the proper context, only a sick man, that’s for sure!

But here’s the context: I was with a family from my church as a 51 year-old son, father, brother, and grandfather breathed his last breath, and I was able to rejoice with them in the hope of Jesus Christ.

Meeting Joey: the 1st Time

Joey and his dog, Willie

Several months ago, I was able to talk with Joey Armor for the first time. He was sitting on the tailgate of his truck, taking a break from welding. As we got to talking, he apologized for not coming to church more often, but he appreciated that I was the new pastor, and he hoped to become more regular. He also told me how sick he was.

Joey had battled with a lot of health issues over the last few years, and at that point he was not doing bad enough to keep him in bed. As a matter of fact, he was the type of person that not only avoided pain medication as long as possible; he never wanted to stop being active doing something, even if only a little welding here and there. The day I first talked with him, he was having a hard time breathing, but he was happy to be doing something he enjoyed.

Faith, Assurance, and Hope

The next few times I saw Joey Armor was in the hospital. It seemed that his body all of a sudden decided to give up, even though he was not willing to. The doctors had hope that he would recover, and for a little while it looked like he would, but it wasn’t long before things began to look dire.

The last few times I saw Brother Joey was when he was at home, a couple of times sitting in his recliner, a couple of times in his bed. On one occasion, I felt compelled to lead Joey through the plan of salvation. Because I had never seen him make a profession of faith, and since I could tell he was nervous about dying, I had to make sure he had an opportunity to accept Christ as his Savior.

Come to find out, Joey had indeed put his faith in Jesus, but he had come to the point where he was scared of what was to come. He had made some mistakes, not been perfect, and now he was facing death head-on. He needed to be reassured God did indeed love him and was faithful, as He always is, even when we are not.

Another time I took a communion kit, and with a deacon from our church I shared with him the elements and together rejoiced in the goodness of our Savior! We talked about Christ’s body and His blood, how each was given for us, and how by taking part in communion we proclaim his death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:24). Even though he could barely swallow anything (he even had a feeding tube inserted into his abdomen), he took the little piece of matzoh and the tiny cup of grape juice and consumed them both. It was a special moment, indeed.

Talking About Home

The last time I saw him before today, the Holy Spirit had placed in my heart the urgent desire to go talk with him about Heaven. Joey new he was going, and he knew it wouldn’t be that long. So, I wanted to go by and encourage him with the facts about the place he was about to see. He asked for his large-print Bible so he could read along with me.

First, I turned to John chapter fourteen:

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] ye may be also.” – John 14:1-3

These verses deserved a little amplification, and I knew Joey would appreciate it. I focused on the words “mansions” and “place.” Jesus wasn’t telling Peter he would have a four-story house of gold in Heaven; Jesus was telling him not to worry, for even though he’d mess up by soon denying Him, there was already a place in His Father’s house prepared – a room of his own! Compared to here, that room might be a mansion. But how much more wonderful is the promise that God wants us to live in HIS house with HIM forever??

And when it came to the word “place” (τόπος tópos), heaven is more than spirits floating on clouds; it is more than a feeling; it is more than being absorbed into the infinite: Jesus said it is a PLACE! I said, “Just like Chicago or Atlanta, Heaven is a place just like any place on a map down here. It is a place, and you are going there!” 

Next, I turned – we turned – to Revelation 21 and 22. There, within the verses of those chapters we read of a holy city, a heavenly city, that God has prepared for those whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Joey listen as I read, awake, but with his eyes closed, resting.

I said, “Well, Joey, I guess it’s about time we get out of here and let you rest.” He nodded.

Then, with weak voice and a slight smile, Joey said,

“I’m looking forward to seeing what my Father has for me.”

Today, around 12 p.m., my brother in Christ, Joey Armor, exhaled one last time, only to inhale for the very first time the celestial air of his new home.

I am glad his family was able to be there. I’m glad I got to see him off.

He’s seeing what his Father has prepared for him, and even more importantly, he’s hugging Jesus.

I’m happy for him!

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

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Filed under Christianity, Faith, Family, General Observations, Life/Death, salvation

I Love to Tell THE Story (w/Benny Berry)

It was 2012

Back in 2012, I was the pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Lookout Valley, TN. I was there from August of 2008 to October of 2016.

It was a mixed bag of good, bad, joyful, and tragic. During that year I was neck-deep in finishing my master’s degree, driving a school bus, preaching 3 different sermons a week, and dealing with a sick wife. What’s more, things were happening underneath the radar that would nearly destroy my family and cost my youngest daughter her life.

I don’t know why I am telling you this right now, because it has very little to do with what I wanted to do when I sat down. Actually, all I wanted to do was give a little context to a video I was going to link. However, it just seems like the words I’m typing are being guided. Maybe they’re just what’s on my heart and I need to get them off. I don’t know.

While I was pastor at Riverside, some very bad things happened (hopefully, one day, I’ll have the freedom to share more details). But one of the most painful aspects was finding out – at least being accused – that if I had not been spending so much time studying and working I might have been a better and more attentive father… The one making that accusation was evil and simply trying to make excuses for his own actions.

Yet, in some ways, it was true, which is what makes it painful. I was focused on trying to do things FOR the family and missed some critical times WITH the family. Since then, there has been forgiveness, but scars remain. Thankfully, I serve a God who can even work miracles with scars. He has some too, you know.

Like I said, I didn’t plan on writing this, but somebody evidently needs to read it. Your #1 ministry is your family, not your community, your job, or your church. There is no success in life, whether it be earning millions or having the largest congregation, that is worth losing your children to the enemy. Let me help you put things in order:

  1. God (your personal relationship with Jesus and your obedience to the will of God)
  2. Family
    1. Your spouse
    2. Your children
  3. Providing for your family (i.e., career, vocational ministry, etc.)

If you’ll look carefully, there’s a lot NOT on that list. What about hobbies? What about community service? What about politics? What about friends?

Oh, you can have those things, but if they break the above hierarchy of priorities, you’ll one day find yourself face-down in a pillow wet with regret.

But what if you’ve already made mistakes you can’t correct? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Delight thyself also in the LORD, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him, and he shall bring [it] to pass. – Psalm 37:4-5

Today is a new day and the first day of the rest of your life. The race is not over, so finish well.

His grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9).

Here’s the video I was going to share. It’s still my theme.

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Don’t Get Angry, It’s Just a Comparison

The following was written in 2012, but still very applicable. But before you get mad at me for what you are about to read, it’s only a comparison, not a dogmatic definition of right or wrong. …But I might be more right than wrong.

In Line

Every Tuesday my wife and girls go to Precept Ministries (Kay Arthur) in Chattanooga for Bible study. On some days I go with them and use the time to study. It’s a nice place to study, believe me. However, I am writing this on a computer at Precept while Kay Arthur is talking to someone a few feet away. She is distracting me.

Then, there are other days when my wife and I leave the girls and sneak out to get a biscuit. Today we had to sit in line forever. For jelly biscuits.

Jelly Biscuit – May I insert just one question at this juncture? Why is it you always have to ask for jelly when you order a jelly biscuit? What is it about “jelly biscuit” that confuses people? If I ordered a plain biscuit, I would not expect jelly. But when I order a jelly biscuit, why don’t they assume I want jelly? Why do I always have to ask for it?! Good Grief!

I Hear a Song

It was while we were sitting in line that I heard a song on Christian radio (J103). The song caught my attention because of the lyrics. May I share with you the words from the chorus?

You make me happy…Uhhh
You make me feel the way I do…
You make me happy, Yeah!
I wish the whole world knew you, too! (and then the song ends with a bunch of “la-la-la’s.”)

I started to laugh. Honestly. Was I supposed to be blessed? Encouraged? Uplifted? Edified? Happy?

I know, I know, I know…I know that there are plenty of great, contemporary songs out there. Chris Tomlin, for one, has more than a few. I love several songs from Building 429, Avalon, and the Newsboys. But seriously, why can’t more of them take the subject matter at hand a little more seriously?

I Hear the Past

Some lines from the past need to be heard more often, especially if the best we can come with today is “uhh” and “yeah.”

  • My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righeousness.
  • A mighty fortress is our God, a bullwark never failing.
  • Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?
  • I will cherish the old rugged cross.
  • Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always; be thou and thou only first in my heart; High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

Dear Christian song writers, you can do better than “uhh’s” and “yeah’s” and “la la la la.”

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