Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: October 2015

Does Grace Support a Presidential Candidate?

images-1Earlier this week, I voted for the very first time in the US.  It’s early voting for city council in Kinston, and I exercised my right to elect people whom I think will make the best decisions for us. In just over a year, I’ll be voting for the first time for presidential and congressional candidates.

Which brings me to the question a friend at church texted me: “does Grace support a presidential candidate?”

Last night saw the 3rd GOP debate, and we saw one Democratic Party debate a couple of weeks ago. There are still around 20 people in the race to move into the White House at the end of next year. Does Grace support one of these persons?

The short answer is “no, we don’t.” As an organized church, the IRS says that we can advocate on issues but not FOR individuals if we want to maintain our tax exempt status. I like this rule: Let me speak clearly on abortion, taxes, foreign policy, education policy, poverty… but keep me from saying, “everyone at Grace must vote for person X,Y or Z.”

Here’s what we do at Grace:

We ask everyone to consider carefully what policy positions reflect biblical standpoints. Before we look at candidates, look at Scripture. Measure military policy, marriage policy, tax policy, etc., etc., by the teaching of Scripture (and not “proof texting” one line of one verse, but taking the arc of Scripture’s gospel teaching seriously). Know what kind of country, state or city we are longing for.

We ask everyone to judge the character of individuals worth more than party affiliation or even any given position. It’s one of the most unfortunate truisms of the last 40 years that “we don’t care what you do on your private time, just do the job well.” There’s no distinction… who you are when no one is looking is who you are.

We ask everyone to consider public decisions and public statements. They mean things. To that end, google and research primary documents/primary interviews. Do not rely on 12 second sound-bites of someone that goes viral. Watch the whole 10 minute speech.  And for Pete’s sake, never, never, never believe the “storyline” that the news anchor is telling you; as if news organizations are immune to bias–this goes for conservative and liberal outlets.

Consider their competency and ability to get things done. They matter immensely. We currently have a president who is long on bold ideas, and short on executive experience. It shows. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, his actual administrating is really rather poor. The truth of the matter is that the presidency is one fo the most complex jobs in the world. It takes the ability to corral real opinions, delegate real authority, hold people to real accountability, and enforce real efficiency.  Who’s got executive experience? Who doesn’t? These things matter,

Now, this seems like a lot of work… especially when there are 20 potentials when you add both parties together. The fields will narrow. Then many of us will need to do these things. Sometime next Fall, Grace will make available some of this research–the voting records of all the candidates in our races for November 2016.

However, some of us are interested now and even called to be involved today in the political process. Help your friends learn more about the current candidates and the strategies. As believers, it is as much our right and responsibility to shape the field of candidates, as any other citizen. And as believers, it is our duty to love our neighbor, which to my mind includes bringing truth, justice, liberty and kindness not just in individual ways, but in systemic, organized, governing ways. Get involved, and help the rest of us figure things out!


Oct 25 Sermon Study Guide

Here is the study Guide that goes along with the sermon passage from today.

Study Guide 10.25.15

You can download this and work through it in your quiet times this week. It’s meant for several of our HouseChurches who are tracking with the sermons. But it’s helpful for anyone!

Sadie & The Kitchen Trash

imgresI’d pulled the trash can out from under the sink. It was after supper, and I wanted to scoop the table scraps into it easily. Sadie was “helping” with the dishes. I say “helping” because she’s our 18 month old puppy who “helps” every night… just in case something falls on the floor.

The one thing she knows is that she can’t have any of the food in the trash can. It’s trash. She can’t have it either because the food has gone bad (in case we’ve forgotten leftovers in the fridge) or because it won’t be good for her (two pieces of chocolate cake spell trouble). But it all just smells and looks so good. She can hardly stand it.

This particular night, I had thrown a few crusts on top of the other trash, at her eye level in the can. She knows she can’t eat it. But, she’s allowed to sniff, right? She pulls in close, taking long and longing drafts of the scent… until I shoo her away.

Next thing I know, she’s licking the bag. Not the trash itself, mind you, but the clean part of the bag. “That’s surely not wrong, is it dad?” she asks with her eyes. Once again, “Sadie, no!”

She slinks away for a moment, returning nonchalantly to lie down close to the trash can. She strains to look as innocent as a baby. Alternatively she looks studiously bored, communicating: “I can’t possibly be interested in anything in there… but I’ll lie here just the same. And anyways, don’t you have somewhere else to go, Dad?”

Those crusts are just too tempting for her.

This Sadie trash story speaks to us. We too are drawn to things we shouldn’t have (either they are unhealthy or unhelpful for us). We too can’t seem to stop. Often we don’t even want to. We sniff at it. We hang out close to it. We lie down next to it. Innocent as anything: “I’m just here, there’s no law against that.” But all the while, we are inching closer to giving in.

The unhealthy object can be anything: food, drink, screen-time, shopping, discontentment at my life or envy of yours, sexual appetites, financial increase. The problem is not the object itself; all things are to be received with thanksgiving… if we use them the way the Giver intends.

The problem is that we are prone to grab these things in a way the Giver hasn’t intended—either at the wrong time, or in the wrong amount, or without putting on brakes. Food is a gift; too much food is gluttony. Money is a gift; desiring it too much is greed that corrodes us. Shopping is a privilege; “retail therapy” masks our problem. Smartphones are great; being glued to them treads on the gift of the people in front of you (typically our closest friends and family).

The only remedy God gives us is to flee temptation. Quit lying down next to the trash can hoping you won’t succumb. Get outta there! Call a friend, go out for a walk, ask the Lord for help. And, take simple prudent steps: put your phone away at suppertime, don’t eat from the bag of chips… put a few in a dish. You get the idea.

God also promises that in temptation, he will always provide a way of escape, so that we are not doomed to fail! 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that: “when you are tempted, God is faithful and will provide a way of escape so that you can stand up under it.”

Sadie shows us that escape doesn’t include lying next to the trash and sniffing the bag. She’s really an obedient dog. Except when she’s focused on the trash.

Don’t you wish God would never have to say something like that about you?

[This appeared in the Kinston Free Press, October 24, 2015]

And God said, “Take Two!”

imgresGod is a God of the second chance. We’ve heard this a million times. It means, he will forgive. He will scoop us up and clean us up and set us off aright. You’ve tried something and failed… he’s the God of the second chance. You’ve walked away from him… he’s the God of the second chance. You’ve royally messed up, harming people you love… he’s the God of the second chance.  We rejoice in this and we revel in it.

But sometimes we forget what it looks like in daily life.  Well, how about this: someone at school mocks you: “you’re nothing but a Jesus-following sissy.” The crowd laughs riotously. “No I’m not,” you hear your own voice say. You’re heartbroken because you were afraid of the crowd, and ashamed of the Lord. You run out, horrified adn humiliated: “Lord, I’m so sorry… you know I love you, I’m so sorry.” He’s the God of the second chance.

At least he was for Peter, after whom that episode was modeled. He denied Christ not in the schoolyard, but in the courtyard, and at the lowest moment in Jesus’ life. But God doesn’t hold grudges. He forgives the penitent.

Think of Sarah–laughing at the news as it leaves God’s lips: “Will I really have a son in my old age!”  God didn’t say to her: “Fine, as you say… no son in your old age.” Nor did God, frankly, set Sarah aside when she tried to accomplish God’s purposes by giving Hagar to Abraham. Sarah got to bear and hold and nurse and raise the Son of Promise, Isaac. Why? Because God is the God of the second chance.

Or, Aaron. Israel’s first High Priest. The spokesman for Moses (the great lawgiver himself). And the brother. But, when Moses had been just too long on the mountain, Aaron organizes an orgy and fashions a stupid gold idol. Was Aaron set aside in God’s plans? No. Because God is the God of second chances.

All of this brings great hope to us: We rejoice knowing that we’re not doomed by our next failure. Mine is just around the corner! Not because I want to fail, but just because I know I’m a sinner. I get that the grace with which Christ has saved me includes being gracious to me in my failure.

In my case God is the God of the 222nd chance. I marvel at his grace. I give thanks for it. And, I want to please him more.

The fast track to God (well… the only track)

imgresOnce upon a time, a friend told me how he wasn’t understanding a lot of what his bible study group talked about. The lessons, the language, the concepts. “I guess I’m just not smart enough” was his conclusion.

Truth be told, he was brand new to investigating and following Jesus, and the bible study he had tracked in with was studying some really meaty stuff. Good stuff, and needed… but meaty.

What could I remind my friend of to give him courage in his faith? And, then it hit me: thank God that he doesn’t relate to us based on our knowledge of him. He doesn’t require us to take 3 preliminary courses, read through the Old Testament and New, pass an exam, and then he’ll be found by us.

He doesn’t relate based on knowledge. Equally true is that God doesn’t relate to us based on our service of him. He doesn’t wait for us to do all sorts of deeds on his behalf, and help all sorts of people, and think only good thoughts… and then he’ll accept us.

No. Not knowledge. Not Service.

The great news is that you don’t have to be smart or strong… you just have to believe.

God relates to us based on our faith. If we have faith in him, he will be found by us. If we entrust ourselves to him, believe in him, trust him, then he will come near to us and forgive us in Christ, and grant us the desire of our hearts: to walk near to him.

The great thing about faith is it’s something everyone is wired with and everyone can exercise. As soon as you can understand your dad say to you: “jump kiddo! I’ll catch you” you can relate to God! You don’t have to know square roots or build picnic shelters… you just have to jump into God’s arms, and he’ll catch you. Faith, not knowing or doing is how we gain God.

The fun news is that after we jump into his waiting arms (i.e., exercise faith) we then get to learn and serve as he leads us. But, that’s from a position of acceptance, not probation.

The fast track to God is faith. And, it’s the only track to God. There’s no other way to know & experience him but to believe what he says and does and is. John wrote his gospel to that we readers could “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the by believing [we] may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

Seven Questions if your thought-life is just not holy

mountain1_2625884kEveryone struggles with what goes on inside their head. Whether you’ve walked with Christ for 50 years or 50 minutes, we still struggle of thinking like Christ. “Set your minds on things above” (Col 3:2) will always tussle with “I do what I do not want to do” (Rom 7:20)

The journey of this life is one of pursuing Jesus, fleeing temptation, standing firm against the devil, and taking remaining sin seriously all at the same time.

Sin starts in the mind. James says that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)

Our thought-life is the start of sin—what we choose to dwell on is what will lead us. We can’t choose what thoughts come into our head, but we can choose which of them stay there. Bitterness. Lust. Selfish Ambition. Worry. Envy. Unforgiveness. Greed. Pride & Conceit. Anger. All of these sins start in the mind.

None of us wants to continue in worry, bitterness, lust, etc. But why are there days when lust wins? Why does worry sometimes take over? Why can’t I be done with these and think godly thoughts all the time?!?!

Let me offer seven questions if your thought-life is just not holy.

1) What’s your first thought of the day?

When the alarm goes off, what’s your first thought? Of God, his grace, his commitment to you and power to accomplish it? Or, is your first thought of the things you have to do, the stress you are under, the concerns you have, etc., etc. Those thoughts are not sin in and of themselves. But instead of letting them have primacy, grab a 3*5 card (as you turn off the alarm), with a promise from Scripture on it? For example, Eph 2:10 or Psalm 138:8. If thought-life is the start of sin, what’s the start of your daily thought-life? Start with praise and promises.

2) What’s your plan for disciplining your thought-life?

To train for a marathon, grab a 16-week plan that gradually increases your stamina and ability to run 26.2 miles straight. What’s your 4 month plan for changing your thought patterns? Lay it out. Work the plan. “Exercise and eat right” in your mind. What redemptive words and truths are you feeding your mind on to build mind-muscle? What Scripture passage are you dwelling in today? What verse are you memorizing this week? What bible study are you moving through? What’s your plan? Without a plan, the fat, flabby and disoriented thought-life will never change.

3) What “fighter verses” do you have?

Grab a few “daggers” to jab at the enemy when he comes in close with temptation. He can’t stand up to God’s word. Leverage that. Quote, repeat, speak verses that you’ve tucked away in your mind. My favorite are the “Five Assurances” from the Navigators’ ministry. Click here to get all five of them.

Additionally, these two verses are worth memorizing to give you confidence.

  • 2 Cor 10:5 – “…we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ…” is a great promise that we CAN change our thought-life.
  • Eph 6:16 – “…take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one…” shows that the evil one can’t stand up to the faith we have in Christ.

4) How wired are you?

It seems to me that 80% (or more?) of our social media is at best “not helpful,” and at worst corrosive, to a holy thought-life. Not that 80% of the content is Satanic, but after a while, seeing all your friends’ Instagram pictures of their Mediterranean vacation breeds envy or discontentment; or going from one article to the next to the next on Facebook just loses you in random thinking. Not to mention the harmful stuff that is out there… and accessible with a click or two. A holy thought-life might be more attainable with parameters on your time in the virtual world: Not before ___ AM, and power down at ___ PM; no tech at certain times with your friends, kids, spouse (e.g., family supper). Give your mind space to breathe.

5) What friends do you have on the journey?

My friend says, “what’s conceived in the dark, and kept in the dark has a hold on you until you bring it to light.” Bring a friend into your desire for a holy thought-life and your struggle in it. Don’t bear this burden alone. Let Christ minister to you through his body. Agree in prayer together (Mt 18:19) & set goals for holiness (see #2).

6) Do you know your low points?

When do you most often dwell on the unholy thoughts? When you are tired? Lonely? After work? Are you filled more with self-pity at certain points in the week or month? (like Friday night when “everybody else” has plans). Are you more likely to indulge lust if you are alone and awake after midnight? Know your low points, and then guard them: get a friend to call you, put a “fighter verse” near your TV, etc. Keep track of your patterns, and when you sense you are thinking least godly thoughts… and then address those specific moments.

7) Do you know that God is for you and His Spirit is in you?

  • Romans 8:31-32 – “Since God is for us, who can be against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 – “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”

These verses give us the confidence on two levels: first of all, God WANTS us to have a holy thought-life; he’s rooting for us to grow. Second, he’s given us the power to do it by living inside of us. The more I ask the Spirit to lead my thoughts, the more he will.


Seven questions if your thought life is just not holy. You’re not alone, but you are also not doomed. Where do you need to start? Leave a comment or a tip that has helped you.

Muslims, Abraham and The Gospel

imgresThe annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca finished last month. Did you know that it culminates with a feast to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to lay down his son on the altar? The Feast of Sacrifice (Eid-al-Adha) is the holiest day of the Muslim Calendar!

Read the following from Trevor Castor, who teaches at Columbia International University. As you read, don’t miss that God has planted seeds of the gospel all over the place, even in Islam’s holiest holiday!

Muslims Celebrate how God Ransomed Abraham’s Son with a Sacrifice

Many Christians are unaware that Muslims have an annual celebration that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s merciful provision of a substitute ram in his place. The celebration is called Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The celebration takes place at the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage. Everyone who is financially able purchases an animal to sacrifice. The animal must be killed in accordance with Islamic law in order to be considered Halal or permissible. This entails a short prayer of blessing while slitting the animal’s throat, giving careful attention to drain all the blood. The meat is then shared with family, friends and the poor. The celebration happens all over the Muslim world but it is certainly not limited to Muslim countries. Here in the United States I have seen goats and even a cow sacrificed to celebrate Eid. It is always a treat to see the interaction of my Muslim friends with rural South Carolina farmers negotiating the purchase price of an animal.

Several years ago, I memorized the story of Abraham and Isaac so that I could go to the Mosque and share it with my Muslim friends during this celebration. As I entered the mosque my friends greeted me with excitement, “Eid Mubarik” or “happy Eid!” The atmosphere reminded me of Christmas celebrations. The food was abundant. Everyone had on new clothes. The mood was genuinely joyous. I sat down with a small group of guys I knew fairly well from previous mosque visits. I told them how I had memorized the story concerning Abraham and his son and asked if they would like to hear the story. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed and so I began: “God told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son…” but before I could continue, a young man interrupted, saying, “I have heard this story, it’s about Abraham and his son Ishmael.” Someone else in the group replied, “no, the story is not about Ishmael, it’s about Isaac.” Within seconds people began taking sides. My friends looked to me and said, “Well, which is it?”

Before going to the mosque I had already decided I wasn’t going to make the name of the child a stumbling block for my Muslim friends. I was simply going to refer to him as Abraham’s son. I never expected my Muslim friends to begin arguing among themselves about this issue. I immediately prayed and asked for wisdom, and this is what came out: “The Qur’an doesn’t actually say and not all Muslims agree.” Someone recommended calling the Imam to sort it out for us and another suggested we get the Qur’an and look for ourselves. We chose the latter, and when reading in Surah 37 that the boy is not named, they began laughing and heckling one another.

I continued the story, drawing attention to what I consider to be the most important detail–a point of agreement between the Bible and Qur’an—that Abraham’s son was ransomed by God with a substitute sacrifice. The Qur’an says he was ransomed with a “momentous sacrifice” (37:107). I then went on to explain how in the Genesis account God provided a ram to take the place of Abraham’s son. My next question to Muslim friends was simply this, “Why did God provide a sacrificial lamb in the place of Abraham’s son?” Couldn’t he have just told Abraham, “Stop, don’t do it”?

Though Muslims believe in much of the Old Testament, the sacrificial system is virtually absent. For that reason, our discussion surrounding the role of sacrifice and forgiveness was quite lively. I told them how John the Baptist (Yahya in the Qur’an) called Jesus the “Lamb of God” who takes away the sin of the world and that this was a reference to God’s provision for Abraham. The conversation shifted to whether or not God required sacrifice to forgive sin. The Qur’an says it is not the blood of sacrifices which reach Allah but rather the piety of a man’s heart (22:37). I partially agree with my Muslim friends on this point. God is interested in the heart of the one presenting a sacrifice. He condemns careless and vain sacrifices. He calls them an abomination and a burden that He is weary of bearing (Isaiah 1:10-20). Yet, the author of Hebrews is clear—“without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (9:22). May our Muslim friends recognize that just as God ransomed Abraham and his son He has also provided a ransom for us. He has provided us with a momentous sacrifice in Christ, our Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed for us (1Cor. 5:7). He is a lamb without blemish and capable of washing us white as snow (1Pet.1:19).

[You can click here to go to the original article on the website of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at CIU.]

God changes a community when we’re on our knees

imgresHow does God change a community? On our knees! 

For 12 years, October has been pray-for-Lenoir-County-month. Below are the requests we are asking God boldly for this year.  Will you join in praying for 31 days?  Even if you don’t live in Lenoir County, you can pray for us… or spend the month praying specifically for your community. “Deep knee bends” rank as one of the gym’s best exercises.  Also one of your spiritual life’s!

31 Days of Prayer for Lenoir County – October 1-31, 2015

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-3)

When we pray we come to the highest authority, the greatest power, the only God. We come with thanksgiving for all that he is, and all that he has done for us, and all that he will yet do. So we come with requests and needs, because, he is LOVING and GOOD. Pray with gratitude, reverence and holy boldness: asking for miracles, and trusting him to outperform everything we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20-21).

For 31 days, let us lift up our community – our whole county… every street, home, business, school, store and office… and ask God to guard, guide, and grow Lenoir County. Pray through this list several times over the 31 days. YOU are going to change lives on our streets, as you bring them to the throne of grace. Start by giving thanks for all that God has done in these past years!

Ask God boldly and reverently for the following needs:

  • That our spiritual hunger as people would be filled with Christ alone.
  • That God would pour out his Spirit on our county bringing many thousands to Christ!
  • That God would convict his people and bring to the church a new spirit of humility and repentance. Revival.
  • For the rash of violence in the summer: Ask the Lord to change hearts, equip the police & community leaders, and bring peace.
  • For the School year: Ask the Lord to grant a spirit of peace on our campuses, and growth in academics and character for every young person. For energy, compassion and creativity for our teachers who give their all.
  • For members of public safety who step in to harm’s way on our behalf. Ask the Lord to protect them as they serve.
  • For city, county & school board administrators, public servants, law courts. Ask for wisdom and unity to prevail as each body tackles the challenges before it. May Lenoir County be known for right decisions and prudent governing.
  • Pray by name for Mayor BJ Murphy, the City Council, City Manager Tony Sears, County Manager Mike Jarman, the County Commissioners, Chief Bill Johnson, Sheriff Ronnie Ingram, Dr. Steve Mazingo (and Brent Williams) at the school board, and for our judges and magistrates. Also, give thanks for folks willing to serve us all in these roles which are often thankless.
  • For businesses: ask for righteous employers/practices, for industrious and honest employees, for more jobs (ask for 3000 new jobs this year!), for more businesses to relocate here /start here. Give thanks for the changes we’ve seen in the last 10 years!
  • That the numbers of people receiving social assistance would drop dramatically, as folks get jobs. What a joy to see folks grow in providing for themselves, and opportunities abound to do so.
  • Pray for homes: children are deeply formed by the environment they grow up in. Pray that God would give parents and guardians a renewed love for their children, and real wisdom in caring for them. Ask God that the next generation would be strong in the things that are right.
  • Pray that 10,000 new people would move to Lenoir County!

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