Thankful For What We Know

Good morning friends, 

Earlier this morning, I watched a video from Rev. Donald MacDonald, minister of the Portree Free Church Congregation on the Isle of Skye and current Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. In it, he spoke about all the things we don’t know right now as we continue to live in this pandemic. We don’t know: 

  • How long this pandemic will last. 
  • How effective the vaccine will be. 
  • What the lasting impact of the pandemic be on our health, our society, other people, and our churches. 

We have no idea about any of these things and countless others facing us at the moment. However, we do know some very important things. Rev. MacDonald pointed out four things we know, in particular. 

  1. We know how a virus behaves. — A virus spreads from person to person and some viruses get really good at it. This coronavirus is one of them. 
  2. We know how people behave. — We like to get together and we like to have personal and physical contact. We don’t like rules and restrictions either. 
  3. We know that our God is sovereign. — This pandemic hasn’t caused a crisis for him nor has it led him to panic as it has some of us. He sovereignly rules over it as he does everything else. 
  4. We know that God knows what we need. — He knows our situation intimately. He knows our fears, our struggles with our health, our emotional (in)stability, our mental health needs, our financial concerns, and our spiritual needs. He also abundantly meets everyone of those needs in ways that you and I will never fully understand. 

So, in the months ahead, let’s resolve to focus on the things we do know and be thankful for the ways in which God has, is presently, and will continue to provide for us in his goodness and grace while continuing to practice proper social distancing to restrict our physical contact with one another. There is great peace in trusting our Lord to be the provider and lover of our souls that he has revealed himself to be. He will carry us through this whole thing in his perfect time. 

You guys have a great day! May God bless you richly in his grace. 

Here’s the link to Rev. MacDonald’s short video, if you’d like to watch it. 

https://youtu.be/OXqJ-3PrcGk

In Christ, 
Clint 

Pursue Excellence For God’s Glory

If you know anything about Coach Nick Saban’s leadership style, you are familiar with the two primary themes that he drills into his players. First, they are to “trust the process.” For Saban, the process is far more important than the outcome. Second, they are to do everything – even the smallest things – with excellence. I’ve heard numerous clips of Saan shouting, “You have to be excellent in everything! If you practice with excellence, you will play with excellence!”

Does it work? In college football, yes. The results speak for themselves. Saban’s team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, won their sixth National Championship in the last eleven years on Monday, January 11 in Miami. The win was the Saban’s seventh overall and the school’s eighteenth. These are remarkable accomplishments. 

Saban, like most other coaches, is quick to say that he is not simply concerned with winning football games. His goal is to develop young men to be productive citizens, good husbands and fathers, and valuable employees. He understands that life is more important than football and that the vast majority of his players will not make their way onto NFL rosters, and even those that do, need the life skills he can teach them. 

As a Christian, I think there is good wisdom in Saban’s twin emphases – trusting the process and being excellent. Now, I don’t know anything about his faith commitment or the source of his process-focused coaching and life philosophy, but I’m convinced they line up well with the wisdom for life we find in the Bible. 

The Bible’s authors repeatedly challenge us to live lives of excellence to the glory of God in the present as we wait for our eternal reward. Consider these examples from the New Testament. 

  • “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So, run that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24.
  • “So, whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31. 
  • “Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” Matthew 5:16.
  • “…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” Titus 3:8. 

The purpose of each of these statements is to encourage us to live lives of excellence because everything we do should be done to bring glory to the God of Heaven, the one who has guaranteed an eternal reward for all of those who place their faith in Jesus and walk with him. The outcome is secure; so, let’s pursue excellence in everything we do while undergoing to process to get to eternity. 

**This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, January 20, 2021edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

Third Wednesday Day of Prayer — January 20, 2021

Good morning! 

This year we have decided to designate the third Wednesday of each month as a day of prayer for our nation, our culture, our community, and our churches. The genesis of this decision came from a call to prayer from the Moderator of the General Synod of the ARP Church, Rob Roy McGregor, which he issued earlier this week in preparation for President-Elect Biden’s inauguration and in response to the tumultuous events that have shaken our society over the last year.

We know that the only hope we have to find peace in this world is the intentional movement of the Lord Jesus Christ to pour out his Holy Spirit on the hearts of men and women. We desperately need a fresh wave of revival in our land. He has done it before and he can do it again. Revival, however, MUST begin in the hearts and minds of the Lord’s people, his Church — those who call upon him for salvation and claim to follow him with their lives. 

For this week’s prayer guide, I have adapted one that I wrote and distributed to our congregation on Thursday, January 7, 2021. You will notice that I have added two principle request to the ones I mentioned then. They come directly out of 1 Timothy 2 and were drawn to my attention by Moderator McGregor’s email requesting that we set January 20 aside for prayer.

That said, here are the specific requests that we ask you to bring before the throne of glory.

  1. For revival in the hearts of the men, women, and children of God;
  2. For revival to start in Chester, SC and then sweep across this land;
  3. That the witness and mission of Christ’s Church and of those who call themselves Christians to be the same humble, compassionate, and loving witness and mission of Jesus and his apostles that we find in the New Testament; 
  4. For proper self-examination (1 Cor. 11), repentance of sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ;
  5. For peace in Washington, DC and across this land as civil authority is lawfully transferred from one administration to another ;
  6. For unity in Christ among Christians and national unity among all Americans;
  7. For the end of all injustice;
  8. For the governing authorities to govern in a way that enables all men, women, and children to live “peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way” (2 Timothy 2:2); and,
  9. For the protection of life and liberty so that men, women, and children may hear the good news of the gospel, place their faith in him, freely worship him, and witness to his goodness, glory, and grace.

Your prayer can be short or long, in private or in public. We simply ask that you stop what you are doing and unite with us in prayer at 11 am. We know our God hears and answers the pleas of his people. 

Also, we will be broadcast a short prayer service live online from our Sanctuary at 11 am. If you are available to pause your day at that time, please tune in. Here’s the link: https://livestream.com/chesterarp/events/9492963.

We hope you’ll join us in prayer today!

Prayer for Our Nation

Good morning!

We, at Chester ARP Church, ask you, wherever you are, to join us at 11 am today (January 7, 2021) as we pause to pray for our nation, our culture, our communities, and our churches. Americans are divided, and the shocking events of yesterday at the Capitol are sadly just another example of that division.

We know that the only hope we have to find peace in this world is the intentional movement of the Lord Jesus Christ to pour out his Holy Spirit on the hearts of men and women. We desperately need a fresh wave of revival in our land. He has done it before and he can do it again. Revival, however, MUST begin in the hearts and minds of the Lord’s people, his Church — those who call upon him for salvation and claim to follow him with their lives.

Psalm 85 gives us a guide to humble and contrite prayer for revival. It is posted below.

We ask that you specifically pray for:

  1. Revival in the hearts of the men, women, and children of God;
  2. Revival to start in Chester, SC and then sweep across this land;
  3. The witness and mission of Christ’s Church and of those who call themselves Christians to be the same humble, compassionate, and loving witness and mission of Jesus and his apostles that we find in the New Testament;
  4. Proper self-examination (1 Cor. 11), repentance of sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ;
  5. Peace in Washington, DC and across this land;
  6. Unity in Christ among Christians and national unity among all Americans;
  7. The end of all injustice.

Your prayer can be short or long, in private or in public. We simply ask that you stop what you are doing and unite with us in prayer at 11 am. We know our God hears and answers the pleas of his people.

Would you join us where you are at 11 am to pray for our nation, our culture, our community, and our churches?

Psalm 85

            [1] LORD, you were favorable to your land;

                        you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

            [2] You forgave the iniquity of your people;

                        you covered all their sin. Selah

            [3] You withdrew all your wrath;

                        you turned from your hot anger.

            [4] Restore us again, O God of our salvation,

                        and put away your indignation toward us!

            [5] Will you be angry with us forever?

                        Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

            [6] Will you not revive us again,

                        that your people may rejoice in you?

            [7] Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,

                        and grant us your salvation.

            [8] Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

                        for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;

                        but let them not turn back to folly.

            [9] Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

                        that glory may dwell in our land.

            [10] Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;

                        righteousness and peace kiss each other.

            [11] Faithfulness springs up from the ground,

                        and righteousness looks down from the sky.

            [12] Yes, the LORD will give what is good,

                        and our land will yield its increase.

            [13] Righteousness will go before him

                        and make his footsteps a way. (ESV)

Be Better This Year

It’s that time of year when everyone of us is making and desperately trying to keep our New Year’s Resolutions. Some of us will no doubt have more success than others because we most likely chose more realistic resolutions. 

I have four primary goals this year. They’re simple: read more, write more, enjoy good food and drink more, and laugh more. That’s it.

You know, I’ve tried developing more detailed and specific resolutions for the year. One year, I was going to read a book per month. Another year, I planned to lose 20 pounds. And then, there was the year I decided that I was going to play golf at Pebble Beach. 

Let me save you from the guessing game as to whether or not I accomplished them — I did not. I fell short. I made a good effort at reading a book per month in January but failed to complete one in February that year. I lost some weight the year I pledged to lose 20 pounds but put it back on between Thanksgiving and Christmas (which we all do, don’t we?). And playing golf at Pebble Beach? That dream died the second I found out that one round cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. 

By now, you are probably asking, “What is the point of this article?” Great question. 

I want to encourage you to think about 2021 in terms of getting better rather than completing a list of arbitrary and somewhat unrealistic resolutions. That’s the goal in life anyway, isn’t it? Be better today than you were yesterday. Be better this year than you were last year. Therefore, set some goals that will enable you to be better in 2021 than you were in 2020. 

Take my four goals for an example. Here’s how I think they will make me better. 

  1. Read More — Reading expands our minds. Reading takes us to places, times, and settings that we ordinarily would not know. Reading enlarges our vocabulary. Reading forces us to think critically and completely. 
  2. Write More — Writing is the best way to develop free-flowing thoughts and detailed arguments. Writing causes us to process our thoughts fully. Writing leaves an historical record of the events and ideas floating around our minds and lives. 
  3. Enjoy Good Food and Drink More — Good food and drink two of God’s greatest gifts to us. It’s pleasurable to sit at a table and to partake in a meal that was prepared with skill and care. Good food and drink also brings people together (and we could all use that after 2020). 
  4. Laugh More — Laughter is good for our souls. It is beneficial for our physical and emotional health. It also builds and strengthens relationships, making laugh-filled friendships essential to our lives. Who doesn’t want to be around someone who laughs with them?

And there is one final thing that all of these goals will make me do in 2021, and that is: slow down. Reading takes time. Writing takes meditation and time. Enjoying good food and drink requires that I set aside many of the distractions that occupy my mind. Laughing more demands that I give more attention to friends and family so that I can find the humor in their stories and actions.

So, I challenge you to leave your resolutions open-ended this year. Set the goal to be better in 2021 than you were in 2020. Expand your mind, record your thoughts, share some good meals, and be pleasant to be around. And, you’ll have a great year. 

Happy New Year!  

** This article originally appeared in the January 6, 2021 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

Remembering, Preparing, Waiting on Christ’s Return

In his first post of the new year on the seventeen82.com blog titled, “Growing as a Christian,” Pastor James McManus wrote about the importance of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ from 2 Peter 3. His post encouraged my heart and I trust that it will encourage yours should you read it. 

If you will allow it, I would like to jump on the James Train in this post and draw our attention to the beginning thirteen verses of 2 Peter 3 where Peter gives us a three-fold philosophy for living faithful lives in light of the impending return of Christ.

Let me set the stage. 

By the time we get to the beginning of 2 Peter 3, the Apostle has written (for the better part of two letters) to a group of congregations full of Christians and Christian families who have been “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). They were marginalized by their society, led astray by religious leaders they trusted, and exiled from their families for their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. They were in a tight spot. 

Knowing this (because he, himself, faced persecution in Rome), Peter sought to stir up their “sincere minds by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1). He reminded them first of the words and “predictions of the holy prophets” as well as “the commandments of the Lord and Savior through their apostles” (2 Peter 3:2), for they spoke God’s inspired word (2 Peter 1:21). He reminded them second that the prophets and apostles predicted that scoffers and false teachers would rise up in the last days following their own sinful desires and would try to convince others to follow them in their pursuit of godlessness (2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:3). He reminded them lastly that their only hope rests in the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel as it is revealed to them in the words of the apostles and prophets. 

After stoking the fire of their memories, Peter focused on one particular promise they found in the Scriptures — Christ Jesus will return. 

Central to understanding Peter’s message to his beloved congregations is the concept of the last days. For him, the last days is the time between Jesus’s ascension into Heaven and his subsequent return when he will completely establish his eternal kingdom after the heavens and the earth have been made new. This means that the present era has a beginning (the Day of Pentecost) and an end (Christ’s return), and the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee (Eph. 1:13-14) that it will all come to be as he testifies to our spirits of the reality of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return. Specifically in 2 Peter 3, Peter grounds his confidence in Christ’s return in the fact that Jesus came, lived, died, rose, and ascended in the exact way the prophets had predicted. Therefore, he and his readers could be certain that the predictions of Christ’s return would in fact come true in due time. 

Armed with this faith-filled confidence, they could withstand the pressure of the scoffers and endure the hardships they faced from their persecutors. All they had to do was to wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill his promises, trust him with their lives, and prepare themselves to welcome him and his eternal kingdom. 

Now, at first sight this instruction from Peter appears too ethereal, but it is imminently practical. Patiently waiting on the Lord’s return gives purpose, meaning, and direction to our lives. If we know that there is a definite end with reward for those who remain faithful to Christ and punishment for those who do not, then the decisions we make and the actions we take are eternally consequential for us. The conviction that Christ will return shapes our lives as we prepare ourselves for his return, a return that will come like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10). Because of this reality, waiting patiently on the Lord, trusting him with our lives, and preparing ourselves for his return are the most practical things to which followers of Christ can devote themselves. 

As I conclude, I will draw your attention back to the opening paragraphs of this post where I said that Peter gives us a three-fold philosophy for living lives of faith in light of Christ’s return. Here is that philosophy, and I commend it to you.

  1. Remember the words and promises of God found in the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:1-2).
  2. Wait patiently on Christ’s return for it is sure to come in the Lord’s perfect time (2 Peter 3:8-10).
  3. Prepare yourselves for Christ’s return because it is imminent and could come at any moment (2 Peter 3:11-13). 

May God bless you richly in his grace as you pursue him and elevate others to his glory as you wait for his certain return. 

Keeping The Faith

My beloved NC State Wolfpack beat Wake Forest Saturday night in thrilling fashion. After the game, running back Ricky Person, Jr said, regarding his breakout performance, “I’m speechless, honestly. I’ve battled through a lot of injuries throughout my career. I just kept faith in God, my teammates encouraged me on a daily basis, everyone. It was a long time coming for this moment…”

In a similar vein, Sunday’s winner of the 2020 US Open Golf tournament, Bryson DeChambeau, recently explained his belief in his new training regimen which was designed to drastically increase his body mass in an interview published in Golf Digest.

Based on their words, both of these athletes properly understand the concept of faith. They both know that faith, by definition, always has an object. It is “in” something or someone. Person stated it directly Saturday night when he said that he “kept faith in God.” His faith is in God. It wasn’t his faith alone that carried him through the obstacles. It wasn’t his faith alone that overcame the injuries to his hamstring and Achilles tendon. It was God that did it. His faith attached him to God and enabled him to rest in God’s strength while working tirelessly to get back to the playing field. The same is true for DeChambeau, except his faith wasn’t in God but in his process and training. 

The Bible talks about faith in the exact same way. Biblical faith is grounded firmly in the Lord Jesus Christ, who famously told Martha, at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). He gave her hope in the midst of her grief. Later, the Apostle Paul claimed the same hope for himself through faith as he testified that he lived his life “by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20) 

In both of these instances, faith was the conduit through which God’s power and hope ran to the individuals. Let me use an example to explain. 

You have power at your house. You use it all the time. You heat water with it. You cook with it. You wash clothes with it. You turn lights on at night with it. You watch TV with it. You surf the internet because of it. You also know that the lines that bring that power to your house are not the power source. It comes from somewhere else. 

The same is true for faith. Faith functions as the power lines do in that it is the way you and I receive the power, hope, blessing, grace, and mercy of God in our lives. God is the source of all things and he gives them to us by faith. 

So, let me encourage you to exercise your faith in the good and gracious God of the Bible so you may receive his life and his power each and every day. 

This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, September 23, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter of Chester, SC.

Just Work it out

During a recent interview, Georgia Bulldog great Herschel Walker described his morning workout. It is simply amazing! Get this. 

Every morning Herschel does between 1500 and 2000 pushups, between 3500 and 5000 sit ups, and over 500 dips. 

What? Are you kidding me? That’s simply an unbelievable workout regimen. 

The crazy thing is that this has been Herschel’s normal workout routine for years. It has become part of his identity. It has helped train his mindset, enabling him to achieve great things on the football field and in life. 

The best part of Herschel’s interview, though, was when he made the following statement: “The problem with most people I talk to is that they are not willing to put in the necessary work to be better people.” I could not agree more. 

When I think about my own life, I see this reality and you probably do as well. We want to be better people. We want to be better parents and grandparents. We want to be better employees and employers. We want to be better citizens. And, if you are a Christian, you want to be a better Christian. All of this takes work. 

Paul directed the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Being a faithful Christian – a faithful follower of Jesus – takes work. But, God has given us everything we need in order to be faithful to him. Paul goes on to say that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).  

This means that God not only commands us to do good deeds that bring him glory while working out our salvation, he gives us what we need to do it! Through his Spirit and in his grace, he gives us the desire as well as the ability to be more faithful men and women. 

Paul had a specific good work in mind when he wrote these verses as well. Philippians 2:14 reads, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Paul’s intent here was to show the difference between a life of quiet endurance and one of discontented grumbling. Continual complaining and disputing stunts spiritual and personal growth as it focuses on the problems we face, our limitations, and our discomforts instead of the solutions. Paul is clear that our focus should always be on the solution because our eyes are locked on the target of our faith, the Lord God himself who has the power to do anything. 

So, don’t walk around grumbling about everything that isn’t going your way. Don’t start an argument with everybody about everything. Don’t be afraid to put in the work to be better. Don’t quit when you confront adversity. Stay strong in your faith and let your light shine before all men and women remembering that God is always with you and strengthening you. 

**This article originally appeared in the August 12, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

Just Hug a Tree

One of the popular movements of the 60’s and 70’s was to be more environmentally minded. “We need to save mother nature!” was the cry. Protests, rallies, and concerts joined the chorus. Nature must be preserved. Today, this movement has become political. Various candidates all proposing different plans to save the earth and to protect our world. Often, the most vehement defenders of nature have drastically conflicting world views from Christians. What should a Christian think about all of this? Should we be conservationally minded? Does the bible have anything to say about this topic? All of these are important questions.

Throughout Scripture, we find numerous references to God’s creation. From the very beginning, God places the stars and planets in the sky, the trees and flowers on the earth, the mountains and hills rising against the skyline, and the waves crashing on the shore. Time and again, the Scriptures talk about God’s creation and how it all brings glory to Him. In Psalm 8, David says of the creation, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Or, in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that all men know of God because He is made known through His creation. 

Christian author and apologist, C.S. Lewis explained that the creation is like a mirror. When someone looks at a beautiful flower or an intricate spiders web, they are seeing a mere reflection of God’s greater beauty and intricacy. All of creation serves this same purpose – namely, to reflect God’s attributes and to bring Him glory. In this way, every single piece of nature is significant. 

What should we take away from all of this? First, we, as Christians, should care about nature. We should desire the preservation and protection of the trees and plants. We care about them because they ultimately point us (and all who see them) back to the one who made them. Second, we should use nature as a talking point. John 1 tells us that Christ is the one who made all things. The next time you see a beautiful flower, you have a reason to talk about Jesus! Finally, take time during your day to enjoy God’s creation. Look at flowers, marvel at the work of the tiny ants, or even go and hug a tree. God made it all, so enjoy it, and praise Him for it!

** Post was written by Ethan McConnell, Pastoral Intern of Chester ARP Church

PAtience is always required

It’s summertime and that means that many of us are using our grills regularly to cook food for our family and friends. There’s not much better than a hot, juicy cheeseburger grilled to perfection, is there? 

In his cookbook, Boy Meets Grill, celebrity chef Bobby Flay defined grilling as a means of “cooking food quickly over a very hot fire,” which gives the food a “seared, flavorful crust and a juicy interior.” That’s what makes it so good! 

In many ways, I think our contemporary society can be defined as a grilling culture, and it’s not just because of the fun, the casual fellowship, and the relaxation that comes from gathering around the grill. It’s because we love things to come at us hot and fast. It suits our appetite. 

We want our internet instantly, with its movies on demand and our news in small, manageable, fast-paced portions. We want immediate economic and political solutions to our greatest problems. We want systems changed overnight. We want educational options and medical advancements without delay. 

This is all well and good until we confront the absolute impossibilities of our demands. It takes time to develop vaccines and effective treatments for unknown viruses. It takes time to recover from severe economic recessions. It takes time to create acceptable options from which parents, children, and educators can choose their preferred method of education. It takes time to address our greatest social dilemmas. 

God knew this as he inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you…” (Colossians 3:12-13). This brief instruction challenges us to be kind, compassionate, meek, patient, and forgiving. Every one of these qualities is necessary for the development, maintenance, and growth of a good and profitable society. That really doesn’t need any further explanation, does it? It is self-evident.

As I conclude, I’ll revisit the introduction of Bobby Flay’s cookbook where he made the distinction between grilling and barbequing. Barbecuing, he wrote, “is slow cooking over a low flame and is suitable for less tender food.” The low heat over a long time breaks down the connective tissue and makes the tough meat delicate and delicious!

Friends, most of our personal and societal problems aren’t tender and suitable for grilling. They’re tough, and they would be far better smoked. And, smoking takes patience. So, let us put on compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience as we bear one another’s burdens, working together to make this world a better place. 

** The above article originally appeared in the Wednesday, July 29, 2020 edition of the The Chester News and Reporter.

What Has Happened to Grace?

What ever happened to grace? 

Have you been wondering that lately? 

I have. 

It seems as if almost everyone has forgotten this little five letter word that author Philip Yancey has called our “last best word.” In fact, our experiences when interacting with one another both on social media and interpersonally often reflect the opposite of grace – harshness. 

Now, I know that there are still plenty of displays of grace all around us, especially in our local community. But, would you not also agree that our society is becoming less and less characterized by grace, politeness, and good manners? 

We jockey with one another for position. We tear each other down in order to elevate ourselves. We withhold forgiveness from those who have offended us. We hold others to impossible standards of behavior that we have no intention of meeting ourselves. We create fear in others to prevent our imperfections from being exposed. We do it all in some attempt to make ourselves feel better about our weaknesses and our failures. 

This is what makes grace such an amazing word!

Grace is, in a biblical sense, the unmerited favor of God. It says that God loves and accepts you and me regardless of who we are, where we have been, what we have done, what we have not done, or where we are from. God loves us, provides salvation for us in Jesus Christ, and pours forth immeasurable blessings upon us. 

John Newton wrote the most famous song about grace – Amazing Grace. Interestingly, his story of redemption began as the captain of a slave ship. His heart was arrested by the love, mercy, and grace of God and his life was transformed. After converting to Christianity, he renounced his former trade and worked tirelessly for the abolition of the slave trade. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “I’m a great sinner, but Christ is an even great Savior.” 

God’s powerful and transformative grace enables us to be gracious to one another. Think about it. If you’re accepted by God, then you don’t need to elevate yourself over other people. Why? Because your identity is no longer found in relation to them; rather, it is rooted squarely in what God says about you. Therefore, you are free to be gracious, loving, polite, and forgiving to those you see daily. 

Newton was right. Grace is truly amazing. We are much better off when we live in grace and extend it to others, for our world thirsts for it in ways it does not even recognize. 

This article was originally written for and published in the Wednesday, June 24, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

Dealing with a Crisis According to Jesus

From the beginning of March, we have been living in a continual crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of social distancing policies. All of our students missed out on the last three months of their school year while our graduating seniors missed out on many of the rites of passage that they had anticipated over the last 3-4 years. And, the events of the last two weeks with the death of George Floyd and it’s repercussions have increased our senses of uncertainty, confusion, and frustration. Each of these realities would have been challenging in and of themselves, but when combined they have created a cultural pressure cooker, which has caused me to consider the proper attitude to possess while dealing with crises. 

As a Christian, my first inclination was to study the life of Jesus to examine how he dealt with crises. When I did, I found six attitudes in his life that I think we would do well to adopt when we face our own crises or walk with others through them. Here they are. 

  • Be Prayerful – Jesus was prayerful at all times. He never did anything without consulting his Heavenly Father. He knew that prayer always gets the attention of the God who can actually do something about the situation. 
  • Be Willing to Listen and Learn – When Jesus encountered someone in crisis, he always took the time to listen to the person and learn about what was really going on in the person’s situation. He didn’t make assumptions. 
  • Be Compassionate – Jesus always felt the person’s pain and sought to do something to help alleviate it. That is what makes compassion such a special quality. It motivates us to do something to alleviate the burdens of other people. 
  • Be Gracious – Jesus embodied grace. He always treated folks with grace and dignity, often giving them what they didn’t deserve. He simply responded to their pain. 
  • Be Righteous – Jesus never did anything that was not right. He was perfect. He did not use the situation to justify actions that did not meet God’s holy standard. No amount of pain or frustration absolves us of the responsibility to do and think what is right. 
  • Be Wise – Jesus embodied wisdom as he always properly applied the truth to daily life. He never misapplied it. 

I’m convinced that a prayerful, listening, compassionate, gracious, righteous, and wise person is well suited to confront the challenges that this world presents. Attitude matters. It determines how we respond, the words we say, and the character we exhibit throughout our lives. Let us follow Jesus’s lead while walking through these current crises as well as those that are sure to come throughout the balance of our lives. 

This post was originally written for the Wednesday, June 10 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

Listening to the right voices

Man, our world is noisy, isn’t it! Everywhere you turn someone, or some institution is speaking to — no, yelling at — you to get your attention.

It seems that we all are like my friend Greg was when he froze in the middle of a youth league basketball game because he didn’t know which of the many voices giving him instructions was the one to which he was supposed to listen. Was it his teammates? Was it his coach? Was it his dad? Was it one of the other parents in the stands? He didn’t know. So, he just froze and stood in the middle of the court holding the basketball.

Greg told me that his parents gave him some great advice after that incident, which was that he needed to learn how to discern which voices to listen to and which ones to disregard. They also taught him how to do that by using the teachings of the Apostle John in the Bible. They knew this lesson was far greater than basketball.

In chapter 4 of his first epistle, John tells us to “test the spirits” of those vying for our attention and seeking to lead us. He identified three different tests to use.

First, we are to test for the spirit of truth (1 John 4:2-3). Is what the person saying true? For John truth begins with the person’s belief about the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Does this person’s belief about Jesus match up with the Bible’s testimony? More broadly, John was concerned that we evaluate the trustworthiness and claims of those determining to speak into our lives.

Second, we are to test for the spirit of integrity (1 John 1:6-7). Does this person’s life exhibit the evidence of integrity? Does he or she firmly adhere to an acceptable moral code, while fulfilling a responsible social contract with us? We cannot give top billing to someone whose daily life does not reflect good character.

Third, we are to test for the spirit of love (1 John 4:7-10). Does this person exhibit self-sacrificing love? This is perhaps the tale-tell question of discernment. Here’s why: a person who is committed to the truth, particularly biblical truth, and is disciplined enough to live a life of integrity is going to be a person that will humbly consider and advance others before himself or herself. They know it’s about more than themselves.

These are the people to whom we should give top billing in our lives. We are to listen to them before we listen to anyone else. So, take the time to test the spirits of those incessantly bombarding you with their voices. Pay attention to the ones who pass the test and ignore the rest.

**This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, August 25, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.