Christian Virtue and Society

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote a column, so I thought I’d start back with the first of a series of articles on what the Bible calls the “Fruit of the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:22-23, the Apostle Paul lists nine virtues that should define all good and upright people’s lives. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines virtue as “a particular moral excellence,” which is an academic way of saying that a virtue is a standard by which we determine good and acceptable behavior. We use virtue to govern our own personal lives as well as that of our community. We have personal standards that we set for ourselves, and we have collectively agreed upon norms for the way interact with one another. Both are necessary for a healthy society. 

Author C.S. Lewis used an example of a fleet of ships sailing in formation to explain the importance of virtue and moral rules “for running the human machine.” He wrote: 

“The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order…You cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions, they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order, they will not be able to avoid collisions.” 

In short, Lewis’s argument is simple. For human society to function properly, we all must be concerned with the general purpose of human life, the way we are to live in harmony with one another, and the presence of consistent behavior within each of us individually. If any of these three is missing long-term, societal collapse is inevitable. 

As a Christian, I am convinced that the Bible gives the most comprehensive and cohesive plan for us to use as we chart the human course. There is a unified purpose for all of us – to glorify our Creator by loving him more than we love anything or anyone else (Matthew 22:37-38). There is an overarching principle that governs our interactions with one another – to love each other as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39) – as well specific applications of this principle in our daily lives. And there is a path for us to follow to ensure that we keep ourselves in good working order by living morally consistent lives – die to ourselves so that we can live for Jesus (Matthew 16:24-25). 

I plan to discuss this plan in more detail in the coming weeks by highlighting the nine virtues of Galatians 5:22-23. Until then, let me ask you a question. If the God of the Bible created the world and us in good, shouldn’t we, at least, consider applying his wisdom to our personal and collective lives? 

Thankful for Faithful Pastors

I can’t help but note that All Saints Day (Nov. 1) follows after Pastors Appreciation Month. (Yes, I realize that the two special occasions are not historically related.) All Saints Day is an ancient tradition within many denominations when Christians pause to thank God for the rich and goodly heritage they have inherited from those faithful men and women who have gone to be with the Lord and now rest from their labors. These faithful ones are a part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who’s testimony of God’s grace strengthens us as we walk with Christ. And, Pastor’s Appreciation Month is a modern invention meant to give an occasion to appreciate those who’ve pastored and helped us in our Christian journey. It’s the connection between these two occasions, intentional or not, that has led me to write. 

Our congregation (Chester ARP Church) has had ten pastors before me. God has used all of them —from R.W. Brice to Dwight Pearson — to testify to his great grace, glory, and goodness. They have preached memorable sermons, prayed fervent prayers, pursued lost sheep, offered a helping hand or kind word. They have been constant presences in our daily lives. Their kind rebukes, challenging messages, and words of wisdom have come at just the right time in our lives, as well as that of our congregation. And, perhaps most amazingly, they’ve stood in the gap for us and kept believing in God on our behalf when we couldn’t bring ourselves to exercise our faith because the times were too tough. Regarding these pastors, one of our congregation’s historians, Esther Strong, once wrote, “Throughout the one hundred years of our church’s history, our pastors and officers have consistently sought to put the chief mission of the church at the core of its program and to translate their faith into Christian living.”

And so, I write to remind us of God’s blessed provision of faithful pastors and to give us reason to praise him for their good service to our congregation. I thank God for these men who’ve been stalwarts of biblical religion and who’ve led us well as we’ve followed after Christ. Nine of them have already received their eternal reward, and the tenth is sure to be richly blessed with his crown of righteousness in the future. Join me in thanking God for them. 

  • Rev. R.W. Brice (1869-1875) — As our founding minister, Rev. RW Brice served our congregation as a supply pastor by holding services every three weeks from July, 1869 until December, 1875, a total of six and one-half years. He came from his home on Great Falls road, probably on horseback, “through mud and dust, through heat and cold, and was regular and prompt. He dug deep and laid the foundation on which later pastors built.” Incredibly, he remained the pastor of our mother congregation, Hopewell ARP Church, the entire time he served ours.  
  • Rev. John Preston Marion (1876-1882) — Under Rev. Marion’s and the session’s leadership, our young church became involved in the programs of Presbytery and Synod and moved into the mainstream of civic and religious activities of our community. Very soon the church was taking its share of union services and of other cooperative activities in the town and country. He was our first full-time pastor and the overseer of the building of our first sanctuary, located at 132 Center Street. 
  • Rev. Mason Wiley Pressly (1882-1886) —For nearly four years the young pastor led our congregation energetically, and the church made real progress. Chief among this progress was the transition from “closed communion” to “open communion” during the congregation’s communion seasons, which began on a Thursday afternoon and finished on Sunday evening. This meant that baptized members of other, non-ARP congregations could enjoy the blessings of communion with the members of our congregation. 
  • Rev. James Strong Moffat (1887-1906) — By all accounts, Rev. Moffatt was one of the most loved ministers in our congregation’s history. He is most remembered for his evangelistic zeal and hard work as a pastor. Our church’s evangelistic zeal extended to all in need of the Gospel, from traveling men and cotton buyers in the hotel on the hill to employees of Catawba Mill. When Rev. Moffat failed to entice the traveling men in the hotel into the church on the Lord’s Day, he took the church to them. For some time, he held Sabbath (Sunday) afternoon services on the hill as the men sat in chairs in front of the hotel. 
  • Rev. Charles Edgar McDonald (1907-1909) —Rev. McDonald died while serving as our pastor. Though he was only able to give us two years as a full-time pastor, he was greatly loved by our congregation and had a tremendous impact on our congregational life. Between the pastorates of Revs. Marion and Pressly, he served as our supply preacher. He also ministered to our congregation multiple times through the 25 years between his first supply work in 1882 and his pastorate in 1907. He was greatly loved because he gave generously of himself, his time, and his many talents to the congregation and the community. 
  • Rev. David Gardner Philips (1909-1922) — Rev. Phillips cared deeply for our congregation and we, in turn, cared deeply for him. At the conclusion of his pastorate, the Session reportedly accepted his resignation with deep regret, for he was a “very excellent preacher and pastor and one with whom relations had been most pleasant.” During his tenure, evangelism in the Chester community was a constant priority for us as we participated in Synod’s evangelistic and kingdom advancing efforts while taking part in and hosting multiple evangelistic meetings/outreaches in Chester. Dr. Philipps was a “friend to everyone he met, high and low, rich and poor, white and black, and always had a word of cheer and inspiration.” 
  • Rev. Paul Adam Pressly (1923-1936) — In addition to theology, Rev. Pressly was interested in education, and his ministry proved it. He led our congregation in the expansion of our Christian Education ministry to include a space and curriculum for our children to receive specific instruction in biblical truths. Our current educational building, a monthly children’s sermon, and a children’s choir were all established during his pastorate. He was also in much demand as a preacher. One news report states, “He preached the unsearchable riches with splendor of utterance, gentleness of tongue, and spiritual interpretation which stood him out as a Saul, head and shoulders above his brethren.”
  • Rev. Joseph Lee Grier (1936-1949) — Rev. Grier led our congregation through the tumultuous days of the recovery from the Great Depression, the preparation for WWII, the war itself. It was a period of extensive and intensive activity, but Rev. Grier remained steadfast in his faith and quiet leadership. He maintained the evangelistic and Christian discipleship emphases that had come to define us in the early days of the 20th century. Regarding the Lord’s work through these emphases within our congregation, a visiting ARP minister once observed, “The influence of this church in moulding a life and determining a philosophy and forming a concept of what true Christianity is would be hard to overestimate.”
  • Rev. Arthur Murray Rogers (1950-1965) — Rev. Rogers was skilled in the gift of administration and guided our congregation to organize its various ministries more efficiently. Under his leadership, many of the discipleship ministries took the form that we know today. There was an active men’s and women’s ministry as well as a well-assembled Sabbath School program. Dr. Rogers also took great care to continue the Reformed tradition of preaching well-reasoned sermons. 
  • Rev. Dwight Lafayette Pearson (1965-2003) — There is no mistaking that Rev. Pearson is a pastor’s pastor. As such, he cared for our congregation extremely well from the pulpit and in our homes while serving us longer than any other pastor in our one hundred fifty-two year history. Under his thirty-eight years of leadership, our congregation continued its emphasis on Christian discipleship and reclaimed its mission of sharing the good news of Christ at home and abroad. Rev. Pearson guided us to remain faithful to the historical and evangelical religion of the Bible while also being loyal to one another, to our local congregation, to our presbytery, and to the Synod. 

We have indeed received a rich heritage and experienced God’s great blessing individually and as a congregation. What a gift these men are to Chester ARP! May God be praised. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Church Planting and the Future of the ARP Church

Between June 14-25, Christian Education Ministries hosted our denomination’s (ARPC) summer conferences for middle and high school students at Bonclarken (the ARP’s conference center). I understand those were two great weeks, and our Lord worked powerfully among the students. 

After the conferences were finished, Brad Anderson, the conferences’ director, sent a text to a group of ARP ministers, including me, that read: “We have the next generation of ARPs and need to work on holding on to them. The conferences go well because of everyone that attends and serves. They’re a bright spot in the denomination.” I immediately thanked God for his grace and for the good work of those who led, served, and oversaw the conferences when I received the text. 

I also thought about a conversation that Brad and I had with Chip Sherer during our Synod meeting in June. He told us that, as the President of Bonclarken, he believed that Bonclarken’s role in the growth and development of the ARP Church and her youth is a provide a place for inspiration and renewal where our children and youth can encounter the living God, build strong relationships with their peers across the denomination, and make lasting memories that will encourage them to join ARP congregations as they mature and move away from home. That’s a tremendous vision, and Bonclarken does a great job fulfilling it. 

As I’ve thought about those two conversations in conjunction with my own ministry context, I think the ARPC faces a singular obstacle, from a strategic perspective, when it comes to holding on to the next generation. There are few to no vibrant ARP congregations in the areas to which our young people move when they graduate high school or college.

The Challenge of Rural Communities

Historically, the ARPC has thrived in rural communities. Our congregations have a familial feel that is rooted in tradition and relationships. Hard-working, independent, God-fearing people living and worshipping together while maintaining the faith and the customs of their ancestors have provided the solid foundation upon which the denomination stands today. But things are changing.

A 2018 report from the United Nations anticipates that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban centers by the year 2050. That is a predicted growth of 13% over the next 30 years.[1] This global trend is also reflected in US population statistics. In 2018, the Pew Research Center published a study that reported a 13% population increase for urban centers and a 16% increase for suburban counties between the years 2000 and 2018. This same report confirmed that rural counties, across the nation, experienced a 3% increase in the same time frame. The reported statistics indicate that this 3% increase was due to migrant workers moving into agricultural communities and a relatively high birth rate among the residents of rural counties. However, this small population increase for rural counties will most likely be short-lived as birth rates across the nation continue to fall. 2019 marked the fifth straight year of decline in the nation’s birth rate. That year there were 58.3 births for every 1000 women aged 15 to 44, and preliminary reports indicate that the number of births in 2020 will be less than 55 births per 1000 women, meaning that there will be 8% fewer children born in the country this year.[2]

Additionally, 88% of rural counties across the nation have lost prime-age workers at an alarming rate since the year 2000. These workers are between the ages of 25 and 54 and when they leave, they take their families with them, leaving rural counties with fewer young children, school-aged children, young adults, and middle-aged adults than suburban and urban centers. Moreover, it means that rural communities have more rapidly aging populations, with 65+ year old men and women being the most prominent demographic. Pockets of concentrated poverty, where at least a fifth of the population is poor, and an unprecedented income gap are the byproducts of this population shift.[3]

These statistics paint a bleak picture for rural counties in the near future. The picture is grimmer for a Christian denomination that makes its home, almost exclusively, in these rural counties. As the prime-age workers and their families move to suburban communities and urban centers the vibrancy and long-term viability of the ARP congregations in these rural counties will be negatively affected. Less children, less young adults, and less wage-earning adults means fewer church members, fewer worshippers in attendance each week, and fewer resources in the offering plates. These effects necessarily have consequences for the denomination as a whole, and we’re already seeing them as the ARPC’s membership numbers and Denominational Ministry Fund receipts are in decline. 

The Future of the ARPC

So, what do we do? What do we do about our future as a denomination given this population shift? It’s simple: we have to plant churches where people are. 

At present an estimated 82.5% of Americans live in city centers or suburban counties. That is a total of close to 275 million people. We have little to no gospel witness or congregational presence among those people even though 57 of the nation’s 200 largest cities are within the geographical bounds of our presbyteries. 28 of them are in Texas and Louisiana alone with 5 of those cities having a population of over 900,000. The other 29 cities are dispersed all around the eastern seaboard and the southeast. 22 of these urban centers have a population of over 200,000 people and comprise a total population of 29,266,000 Americans or 8.6% of the US population,[4] which means that we have a potentially fertile mission field already within our grasp as a result of the providence of God (chart listed 

If our young people and other members are moving to these urban centers and suburban counties for work and play, shouldn’t we? That’s what Paul did during his missionary journeys, isn’t it? He went to Antioch, Derbe, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, and Rome. He went to the population centers with the strategy of planting Christ-honoring and disciple-making congregations in those city centers because that’s where people lived, shopped, and recreated. As a result, those gospel congregations in the city centers influenced the surrounding communities. If there was a presence of Christ in those city centers, then the testimony of Christ made its way to the rural communities around them. 

But this isn’t just about keeping the next generation of ARPs or reclaiming those who’ve moved away. It’s about fulfilling the Great Commission. Christ told his Church to advance his kingdom on earth by going to all the nations and making disciples among all peoples. He has also chosen to concentrate the population of our great nation in city centers and suburban communities, affording us the opportunity to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all men, and teach them to obey all that Christ has taught us right where our presbyteries already are. 

Therefore, I call on our presbyteries to commit to developing and implementing a strategy to plant vibrant, disciple-making, confessional churches in the urban centers and suburban counties within their geographical bounds. I also call upon congregations in rural communities to contribute prayerfully and financially to this effort. 

May God bless us as we seek to advance his kingdom and plant biblical churches. 

22 Urban Cities and Their Populations

Existing Presbyteries – 29,266,000 people in these 22 of the 200 largest urban centers in US. 

New York – 8,600,000

Philadelphia – 1,500,000

Houston – 2,400,000

Dallas/Fort Worth – 1,942,000

San Antonio – 1,600,000

Washington DC/Arlington/Alexandria – 1,107,000

Austin – 1,000,000

Jacksonville – 930,000

Charlotte – 912,000

Raleigh/Durham/Cary – 728,000

Boston – 696,000

El Paso – 685,000

Nashville – 678,000

Memphis – 651,000

Atlanta/Sandy Springs – 635,000

Louisville – 616,000

Baltimore – 576,000

Virginia Beach – 405,000

Tampa – 405,000

Arlington – 400,000

Corpus Cristi – 327,000

Greensboro – 301,000

Pittsburgh – 300,000

Orlando – 291,000

Plano – 285,000

Laredo – 266,000

Lubbock – 264,000

Chesapeake – 250,000

Norfolk – 241,000

Irving – 237,000

Garland – 236,000

Frisco – 225,000

Baton Rouge – 216,000

Birmingham – 207,000

Huntsville – 205,000

Augusta – 200,000

Amarillo – 200,000



[3] Ibid. 


Communication Breakdown

I’ve been thinking a lot about communication recently, particularly with the regards to the irony that we are more connected than ever before and yet we are worse communicators than we’ve ever been. I’ve heard it argued that this is because we are too busy to actually take the time to think about what the best way is to communicate with other people. And I agree. However, I think there are several other reasons why we struggle to communicate despite having countless media in which to do it. 

First, I think most of us are overly consumed with ourselves and the lives of those we think are dependent upon us. We have unprecedented opportunities and choices before us every day. As a result, we have more responsibility than ever as we wade through these innumerable decisions. This necessarily causes us to spend the majority of our energy weighing all the options and making decisions that bygone generations either took for granted or didn’t have. 

Second, I think we are far more isolated than ever before. Because we have phones and computers and social media at our fingertips, we fall into the trap of thinking we are more relationally connected than we really are. Texting and scoping out someone’s Instagram or Facebook may give us plenty of information about them, but it doesn’t develop lasting, genuine connections with them. We are informed (by filtered information) about the happenings of others’ lives, but we don’t know them, nor do they know us. We are little islands in the stream of American life (Thanks Dolly and Kenny). 

Third, I think we are lulled into thinking that every event in the world has a bearing upon our daily lives. Certainly, staying informed about major global events is important, but the obsessive commentary on the most minute details of those events via online and cable new sources as well as social media browsing is overwhelming. We believe we have something to say or do about a tragic or wonderful event in a village located deep in the Himalaya mountains.

Our ancestors didn’t have to navigate these waters. Many of them lived in a small town or village and got their news once or twice a day from local newspapers and from the local community center gossip. I remember watching my grandmothers talk to the ladies at church before Sunday School and after “preaching” (worship) to catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives. They loved that fellowship because it was the time they could connect, share prayer concerns, and laugh with their beloved sisters in Christ. We were always the last to leave church because “nanny,” “maw maw,” and mom were always in deep conversation with their friends whom they hadn’t seen in a week. 

I must say that I miss those days. We would all be a lot better off if we would slow down, be less concerned with ourselves, limit our choices, intentionally connect with others in person, and focus our attention on the things that actually do impact our lives and our community. 

**This article was originally published in the Wednesday, May 19, 2021 edition of The Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

What is Faith?

Twenty-five years ago, my friend Brian asked me the pointed question, “What is faith?” I did not have an adequate answer even though I thought I did. I had been raised in a Christian home where we discussed faith often. We talked about our faith in God, our faith in one another, and our faith in the Bible. I had also participated in organized sports from the time I was old enough to join a team. Coaches had instilled in me the importance of faith in my teammates, faith in the game plan, faith in my coaches, and faith in my preparation. I knew a lot about faith as a result of these experiences, but I didn’t know what it was. Looking back on Brian’s question, I think that’s the reason he asked it. 

Brian was a staff member with the Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). He was specifically assigned to Cru’s ministry on NC State’s campus. His job was to ask hard questions of student leaders to help us grow in our understanding of the Christian Faith. He did his job well. 

As I have replayed our conversation in my mind over the years, I’ve been repeatedly struck by the simplicity with which he defined faith. He said, “Faith is trust in someone or something.” In the Christian context, it’s trust in the Triune God of the Bible that is expressed in a personal dependance upon the Lord Jesus Christ who is the perfect revelation of God in human flesh. In more general terms, faith is trust in someone or something that provides certainty for your life as a whole or in a particular aspect of your life. For instance, children inherently trust their parents and find security in that trust. 

Now, you may have noticed that in Brian’s definition as well as every other example I’ve referenced in this column, the little preposition “in” is central to defining faith. It’s trust IN someone or something. The reason for this is that faith must always have an object. We understand this implicitly. We do not have faith for faith’s sake. We have faith in someone or something. Think about it. Our modern society tells us to believe in ourselves. Coaches tell us to believe in the game plan or in our teammates. Public health officials tell to trust in the science of the vaccines. Faith is always placed in someone or something. 

So, the challenge for all of us is to determine what is the ultimate object of the faith upon which we build our lives. Is it someone or something that will stand the test of time and empower us to overcome the multitude of challenges we will face throughout our time on this earth? As a Christian, I am convinced there is only one who can do that as we sink the roots of our faith deep into him who is the eternal rock of our lives and creator of all things. Perhaps you would like to know more about him. If so, you can find him throughout the pages of the Bible. 

** This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, April 21, 2021 edition of the The Chester News and Reporter from Chester, SC.

Why The Resurrection is so Important for Christians

Happy Easter!  

On Sunday, some of us will join Christians around the world will gather together with family, friends, and their congregations (with proper precautions, no doubt) to celebrate Jesus’s physical, bodily resurrection, which is a pillar of the Christian faith. Some would argue that it is the central tenant of the faith because there would be no Christianity without it. Think about it with me. 

In First Corinthians 15:3-5, the Apostle Paul summarized the Christian gospel message in this way: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” He followed this summary statement with a list of appearances that Jesus made to a variety of groups after he rose from the dead. According to the list, he appeared to Peter, and to his disciples, and to 500 of his followers at one time, and lastly to Paul himself while Paul traveled on the road to Damascus. These eyewitnesses validate the reality of Jesus’s physical resurrection, which is a reality that is essentially important for Paul. Here’s why. 

Notice how Paul connected the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins to his burial and to his resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. For him, there is no good news about God’s forgiveness of our sins, there is no hope beyond this life, without a resurrection. He was well aware of the Bible’s message of salvation. He understood God’s great love for the world. He recognized the reality of Jesus’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. He was convinced that Jesus’s death was a substitution for his own life to satisfy God’s judgment on him for his personal sins. He knew that was the case for the Corinthians too, and it would be the case for all those who would read his words throughout the rest of time. 

But, he also realized that the power of sin is death and that as long as death remined unconquered all hope for humanity would be lost. Our great enemy would always and finally win. And this is the reason why the resurrection is such great news! When Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave, he broke death’s stranglehold on men, women, and children. It has no more power over those who trust Jesus with their lives! They’ll live eternally with God in the remade heavens and earth. 

This is why Easter is so important to Christians around the world. It’s the very reason we have any hope in this life. 

Sunday is going to be a great day for our family and our congregation as we celebrate our Savior’s resurrection from the dead. We’d love for you to join us!

***This article was originally published in the March 31, 2021 edition of the Chester News and Reporter from Chester, SC.

Jesus, The Creative Genius

One of my favorite Bible stories is when Jesus healed a blind man in John 9. In it, Jesus and his disciples walked by a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus an important question for their day in age — “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered with, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” 

After this interaction, Jesus made some mud with his saliva, put in on the blind man’s eyes, and told him to go wash it off in a nearby pool. The man did as Jesus had told him. When he came out of the water, he could see for the first time in his life!

It’s a wonderful story of healing, of the power of the God of the Bible, of the love and grace of Jesus, and of the fullness of life being restored. It’s also a beautiful story God’s willingness to employ his creative genius to provide a solution to an impossible problem. 

You may be wondering how a story about Jesus healing a blind man is a story about the God’s ability to solve insurmountable problems creatively. If you are, you are asking a great question. Historic and biblically based Christian teaching answers that question for us in two ways. 

First, it tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh, meaning that he is both God and man – 100% God and 100% man – in the same person. He’s unique. There was no one like him before him and there will never be anyone like him again. Therefore, when Jesus fixes a problem, God fixes it. 

Second, biblical teaching is clear that God created all that there is. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins with the statement, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” John introduced his version of Jesus’s life story with a similar proclamation, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” God is a creator. He is, in fact, the creator of all things. 

So, when Jesus healed the blind man, he created a solution to an impossible problem. There was no hope for the man to receive his sight outside of the miraculous and creative work of Jesus. This is what Jesus does. He graciously fixes the world’s problems in his power to recreate all things in the same way he created them at the beginning. He does it in your life, and he does it in my life. The challenge for us is to trust him enough to allow him to do it. If we do, we will see the works of God displayed in us.  

** This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, March 3 edition of The Chester News and Reporter of Chester, SC.

How Do I Pray For Our Leaders?

As our political environment has gotten more and more charged over the past year, I have been asked multiple times how we are to pray for our political leaders. The place to which I often turn when answering this question is 1 Timothy 2 where Paul wrote the following to Timothy: 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV). 

In this passage, Paul gives great wisdom that is as helpful to us as it was to Timothy when it comes to praying for our leaders.

The first thing we are to do is: pray for them. Make it a habit to actually pray for your leaders, those at the local, state, and national levels. Sometimes we ask questions like, “How do I pray for my leaders?” because we know we are supposed to pray for them and feel bad because we aren’t actually doing it. There’s no shame in that, per se. It’s just our reality. We don’t pray for them because we don’t know how to do it. However, we can’t know how to pray for them until we actually do pray for them.

A second thing we are to do when praying for our leaders is pray that they’ll govern in a way that enables all men, women, and children to live “peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.” This is where Paul gets specific. We are to pray that our leaders will lead in a way to maintain the freedom we need to be able to live our lives in honor of our God, lives that are peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified.

The third and final thing that Paul tells us to pray for in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is for our leaders to provide clarity and protection so that we can live at peace and proclaim the message of the wonderful love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. There can be no peace without clarity or protection. When things are unclear and truth is determined by agendas chaos reigns (not to mention looney conspiracy theories), and chaos is the opposite of peace. Similarly, protection from our enemies and those things that harm us creates the environment in which we can enjoy our freedoms. Security produces peace.

So, I encourage you to pray for your leaders at the local, state, and federal level. Pray for them to govern in a way that enables all people to live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. Pray that they will govern with clarity and provide protection for all of us. 

May God be pleased to answer our prayers today and every day. 

**This post was written for the Wednesday, February 3, 2021 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC. It was also published on the blog.

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.

In Christ, 

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:

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 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.