Can we really have Peace?

I’ve been thinking a lot about peace recently.  We are in the midst of Advent, a season of hope, of peace, of love, of joy.  It’s in this season when we proclaim the words of Isaiah 9:6-7:

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

peace11x14The Prince of Peace is born!  That’s what we say.  That’s what we believe.  Let me repeat that

That’s what we believe.  Seriously.  As Christians.  As the church, that’s what we believe. And in the world that we live in, that makes us look different.  Off.  Odd.

And you know what?  Good.  We are supposed to.  We aren’t supposed to be like the world.  We aren’t supposed to be like the culture.  We are supposed to be different.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:10 – we are fools for Christ.  We ARE supposed to look different.  Believe different.  Act different.  Have a different hope, joy, love, and peace.

As I tell folks, if you tell folks you are Christian, and they say, “really?”  That’s not a good sign.  We have to look/be different from the world.

Now, here’s the thing.  I’m not saying that there aren’t things to be afraid of.  I’m not saying that there aren’t things that can take our peace, take our joy, take our hope, take our love.

Of course, there are.  There are big, scary, worrisome things.  But hear me, please hear.

God is bigger.  He is stronger.  He is more might.  He is.

He is bigger than your fears.

He is.  And as Christians, we have to believe it.  We do.  It’s who we are.

And the world needs us to believe it.

Your peace will not come from an absence of conflict or absence of things that are you are afraid of.  Your peace will come from the trust and assurance of this truth:

No matter what you face, not matter what you are afraid of – God is bigger.

He is the prince of peace.  Yesterday.  Today.  Forever.  He is He is bigger.  He is our peace.


Some of my Thoughts on Ashley Madison

Writing is one of those things that I do to help my think through things.  Here are some thoughts that have been running through my head these past few days.  I hope they can help you process all unfolding in this age we live in.

Unless you’ve been under a rock recently, you’ve heard about the Ashley Madison hack. It’s something that affected many families, industries, even the military and churches.

There are lists floating around of who is on it, and there are the names. Open for anyone to see. Some spread the lists. Others were afraid to look for fear they knew someone. There it is, all out in the open. To mourn over. To pass along. All there, right there in the open for everyone to see.

So many lives, if not destroyed, forever changed. Right there for all us all to google, search and see, by name or zip code. So many families harmed. So much, right there in front of us.

And as I thought through this, several thoughts came to my mind. But first a word. This is in no way to defend Ashley Madison or those that were part of this site. One of my favorite quotes about sin is something that I read once by Max Lucado, “The reason God hates sin so much is because it destroys His children.” That’s what I see all around in this instance. Sin that destroys so, so, so many lives.

MANTEARSAs I have read and thought and prayed, besides the destructive power of sin, a few things have come to my mind.

First, is the notion of public shame. Those whose names are on the list, it’s right there, all out in the open. On the internet. For everyone to see. To laugh at. To mock. To gossip about it. Man, that’s heavy. It’s a heavy thing to have to wear your shame in public. We all make mistakes. But for most of us, our mistakes in private and unless they have harmed others, they are our stories to reveal when we feel necessary. Those caught up in this have lost that. And that is just sad.

Second, and this is something that we all need to know, karma is not a Christian concept. The mainstream idea of karma is this; we get what is coming to us. That’s not what we believe as Christians. It’s just not. All that any of us has coming to us is judgment. We haven’t earned anything other than that. One of my favorite Christian artists, Lecrae raps this in his song Boasting:

Every day that I lie, every moment I covet
I’m deserving to die, I’m just earning your judgment.
I, without the cross there’s only condemnation.
If Jesus wasn’t executed, there’s no celebration.

And later he raps:

God has never been obligated to give us life.
If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight.
Mere sinners owed nothing but a fierce hand.
We never loved him; we pushed away his pierced hands.
I rejected his love, grace, kindness, and mercy.
Dying of thirst, yet, willing to die thirsty.

Too many Christians talk about karma. That’s just not who we are. We are people of grace. I’ve heard it said, “they got what was coming to them.” Maybe. Sin has a way of coming forth. But don’t we all have what’s coming to us?

And instead of that, don’t we want grace? Yes. Yes, we do. We all deserve judgment. And we all desire grace. And grace is never, ever deserved. That’s why it’s grace.

Grace is always an undeserved, unearned gift. That’s why it’s grace. And it goes to the most undeserving.

And one last thought. We are all broken. All of us. I am. You are. Even the self-righteous broken are still broken. And Jesus died for them too.  Jesus died for the individuals on this list.  Jesus died even for the ones doing things that offend you and I.  That doesn’t mean we’ve got to agree with their actions or condone what they are doing.

But it does mean that we have to understand that Jesus died for all of us, even the most broken among us.

I was talking with some of team today at St. Matthew’s, talking about this and other things and I told them, when I err, I will always err on the side of grace.

So, tonight, pray for families that are broken. Pray for those affected by all of this hurt. And pray for grace to make the broken whole. That’s what God desires to do, heal the broken.

May He heal the brokenness within us, so we can help heal the brokenness of others.

Back to Normal

11039283_918053468233791_7323792872120992766_nThis Sunday at St. Matthew’s, we going are “back to normal.” We’ve had an amazing first few weeks here!  We had just a great crowd and spirit here on our first Sunday. And then the Choir and Orchestra were just terrific for our Patriotic Musical. And last week, with all of us being in Hart Hall, our original worship space, what a great time to remember who we are and where we’ve come from!

And this Sunday we are going back our regular schedule of three services.

Back to normal.

But, here’s the thing. I never want us to go back to normal. Not here at St. Matthew’s. Not in our lives. Not in our families. Not in our community. Not anywhere.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” So in other words, as believers, there is no “normal” anymore. We are a new creation. We alive with love and joy and peace and grace and mercy.

There is no normal anymore.

That’s what I want for us here at St. Matthew’s. Let’s never have a normal Sunday, ever again. Every time we gather for worship, the supernatural can happen. Lives can change, families can be healed, the dead can be brought back to life.

Let’s never be normal again. Let’s live every day with the expectation of the miraculous. Let’s live every day with that hope, that expectation, that promise.

Let’s never be normal again!

See you Sunday. And invite a friend to join us at 8:30 or 11 for our Traditional Worship Experiences in the Sanctuary or at 11 for our INTERSECTION Contemporary Experience in Hart Hall!

April 16 – Don’t Be Scared

Today is April 16.  Every year I write something in memory of my Mama Sarah and in honor of my mom, Maxine Stoddard.  On this day 37 years ago, my Mama Sarah was murdered by my biological father and at that point, many lives were forever changed.  She was murdered on my mom’s birthday (April 16) and buried on mine (April 18).  You can read all the details of this day and some of the effects it’s had on me and my family through the years in any of the above posts, but the thing I always cling to in this, and any tragedy, is the truth found in Genesis 50:20:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

And Romans 8:28:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

10341467_10154103134970043_8087444231830981622_nGod is at work in all things. And the power of God is not that He always stops bad things from happening.  The power of God is that He can (and will) bring good out of everything.

So, today, this is where my mind is going.  I think about the fear that must have been in my Mama Sarah’s heart as she walked out of the house with me in her arms before she was shot.  I think about the fear that must have been in hearts of Maxine and Connie Stoddard with the loss of their daughter and now the unknown future of adopting their 2-year-old grandson.

That fear that they faced could have paralyzed them.  It could have kept them from moving or doing anything.  It could have caused their world to crumble.

But you know what?  They looked the fear that they faced in that moment, they looked it in the face and did the right thing anyway.  They chose to not give into fear.  They chose to do the right thing in spite of the fear in their heart.  They trusted even in the darkness.

This is not to say that everyone in my story is perfect.  That’s far from true.  I’m not, Mama Sarah was not, my parents are not.  But I do know this.  In the midst of uncertainty and danger and fear, they chose not to give into the fear.  They chose to do the right thing, even when they were afraid.  They chose to trust that God had a plan, even in the midst of human brokenness.

They chose trust and obedience over fear.

So must we today.  I have no idea what you are facing today.  You may be very, very afraid.  The future may be unknown.  There may be great pain in your life.  There may be things in your life that you have no control over.  Things that make you very, very afraid.

It’s ok.  We all are afraid at times.  We are.  But don’t give into it.  Don’t.  Faith is bigger than fear.  Trust in the fact that there is a God bigger and smarter and wiser than you.  That has a plan.  Trust.  God will bring something good out of it, even if you don’t understand what.

He will.  That’s what He does.

Don’t be scared.  No matter what you face.  One of my favorite quotes from my favorite the shows, Doctor Who is this.  The main character, The Doctor says, “Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.” 

Yes, you may be afraid today.  Believe me, I understand.  I learned at very young age everything I hold precious could be taken from me.  Relationships can be ended.  Harm can come.  I always have that fear in my belly.  Always.

But I can’t give into it.  I have to (by God’s grace) be strong and lean on God’s grace.  I have to, and we have to, have faith, not fear.  Because fear never wins.  And faith does.  It always does.

So, today, don’t be scared.  Have faith.  God has a plan.  Trust.  Obey.  Move.  And don’t give into the fear. All things will work for our God and His glory.  I believe and know that.

Don’t be scared.  It’s going to be ok.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones, and you thought our app, you can now watch our worship services from Asbury too!

Pinterest Perfect

unnamedI’ve had a couple of people ask me if I would write a post about my sermon I preached this past Sunday at Asbury about marriage. If you missed it, you can listen to the podcast here. I called this message Pinterest Perfect.

There are studies that show the more time we spend on social media, the sadder and more depressed we become. Why? Because we measure measuring what we deem to be our imperfect lives against the pictures, status, tweets, and pins of other’s lives. Our lives don’t measure up to others Pinterest Perfection. By the way, take some time to enjoy “Pinterest Fails” You’ll be entertained for hours.

We do the same thing with marriage. We try to Photoshop it. We try to make it appear to be perfect, when it isn’t. Marriage is never, ever perfect. It just isn’t. It’s the union of two imperfect, broken people. We pretend our marriages are perfect and amazing and strong because, as Christians, that’s what we have to do, right? We can’t have problems or failings or weakness. We say we put Christ in the center of our marriage, but we don’t understand what that means. To have Christ in the center of our marriage doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. We will still face temptations and fights and tough, tough times. But it does mean that we have something to stand upon and hold on to when tough times come.

Most of what we get about marriage we don’t get from the Bible, we get from culture. The notion of perfection. Or fair tales. Of happily ever after. That doesn’t actually happen in the real world, nor in the Bible. So, what does the Bible say about marriage?

First, it says that marriage is the first institution created. Before the church. Before government. Before anything else, marriage came first. And because of this, for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. This means that the relationship between husband and wife must come first before all other relationships. Before parents, children, friends, everything. Not that those relationships are bad, they aren’t. They are good. But the marriage relationship has to be our primary one.

But here’s the other thing. Culture has taught us that our marriage is about happiness and fulfillment. It’s not. Your spouse will never make you happy. Hear me again. Your spouse will never make you happy. They will never fulfill you; they will never complete you. They can’t. They are broken and human like you. The only person that will make you happy, complete, and content is Jesus.

So, the key to marriage, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5: 22-33 is not seeking our will and own way, but in a mutual submission. Wives submitting to husbands, husbands laying down their life for their wife. That passage is not about one “side” being in control, but about both sides, husband, and wife, valuing the other more than ourselves.

Every problem in marriage is solved by us honestly and completely putting our spouse ahead of ourselves.

That type of marriage is not Pinterest perfect. But it is authentically real. And that’s what the world needs. Not Christians being pretend perfect. But real, broken and chasing after Jesus.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones, and you thought our app, you can now watch our worship services from Asbury too!