Just a brief break…

Moving

My STUFF finally arrived at our new house yesterday (Monday, 7/7). I’m going to be helping Edna unpack and so the daily devotion will take just a brief break this week. My problem now is trying to figure out how to fit 2450 square feet of stuff into a 1985 square feet house! I envision a YARD SALE in my future very soon.

God bless. I’ll see you soon.

Loving Each Other

“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:39)

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the GREATEST COMMANDMENT — to love God with all we are and all we have. Jesus went on to tell the inquisitive lawyer that the second commandment was to love others. In fact, Jesus went on to say, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:40)

I think that our love for others is the uniform we have been given that indicates to the world that we follow the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

“So, Pastor…what does that love look like in practical terms?”

Well, before I get to how we can demonstrate that love — let me squash a couple of myths about true Christian love.

True Christian love is NOT an amiable attitude without backbone. It is NOT an all-inclusive toleration which allows the distinctions of right and wrong to be violated.

“Wait a minute Pastor! The world I live in says that if I disagree with somebody I actually hate them.”

I know..and that is absolutely WRONG. Love does NOT simply dismiss morality and the ideas of right and wrong. The Bible is quite clear that God has set certain standards which we are not supposed to set aside in order to make sinners feel comfortable in their sin.

“Pastor, I have a feeling that if I do what you are suggesting — folks might not like me — and they might call me intolerant and bigoted.” 

You are probably right about that — but it doesn’t change the fact that we commandment to love others does NOT supersede the command to LOVE GOD. We love God and HIs law and His ways and that then transfers to our love for others.

The kind of love Jesus is talking about here is a different love than the world espouses. Christian love NEVER holds a grudge. Christian love displays an attitude of understanding and grace. Christian love is patient and pure. It is unselfish. In other words, the love we are to have for the world is entirely DIFFERENT than the love the world THINKS we are supposed to have.

“This is getting harder and harder as you go along Pastor.  I’m not even sure I want to know what this is going to look like practically!”

Too late my friend. As believers, part of our witness to the world is to demonstrate our love for God by the way we love others. If you want to understand what this looks like on a daily basis — read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-31.

True Christian love for others crosses racial barriers. It doesn’t matter what race or nationality a person is. It has always bothered me that we will take mission trips to different countries to share the Gospel — but we hesitate to share that same Gospel with the African-American at our work place. That makes no sense to me.

True Christian love for others ACTS. It is not enough to TALK about love — we must demonstrate it by our actions. That means we may suffer inconveniences — but we love anyway. It means we will be generous and good stewards of all the things God has placed in our care. They are tools which we are to use to demonstrate the love of God toward others.

True Christian love is courageous. It stands up even if it stands alone. Rather than trying to make our theology fit our actions — we make our actions fit the clear teaching of Scripture. That means we stand up for the rights of the unborn even when others don’t. It means that when the teaching of Scripture conflicts with the direction of our government — we stand with the Scripture — regardless the consequences. Too many pastors today are afraid they will lose their tax-exempt status and refuse to speak out against the evils of society. God told Joshua – “Be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 1:7).

In case you haven’t figured it out yet — people are hard to love. That means that true Christian love is something that goes above and beyond natural love. When I look at the cross and I see Christ dying for MY sins — I see the worth of man’s soul. Romans 5:5 says, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” People may be hard to love — but the Holy Spirit will give us the power to accomplish it. 

Remember this — we can’t love the whole world all at once — but we can demonstrate the love of Christ toward individuals we meet today. As the Holy Spirit leads us, let’s ask God to make us the channel through which His love touches the world — one person at a time.

Have a great day

YAY!!! I’ve Got BIG NEWS!

When I started preaching back in the dark ages — we had a cassette recorder on the pulpit where we recorded the sermon so someone could take the player, tape and all to the shut-ins and let them here the preaching from that past Sunday.

As time moved on, I served a church where we had a cassette duplicating machine. I could now make 3 tapes at a time and we didn’t have to share that one little tape. Sound equipment improved too and we moved from whatever we could pick up with the built-in mic on the tape recorder to a lapel mike! We had reached the big time.

Technology has progressed and we now have computers and CDs and the internet! Several years ago (while I was pastor at Good Hope Baptist Church in Cary, NC) — my messages began to be broadcast via the Good Hope Podcast available through iTunes.

Today (July 1, 2014) I am happy to introduce to you a BRAND NEW podcast called the 356 Podcast — also available through iTunes. Go to iTunes, search the podcasts for 356 Podcast and SUBSCRIBE. You will be able to hear the Sunday morning messages from here at Valley Grove Baptist Church in Knoxville, TN.

Let me explain the idea behind 356 Podcast. My LIFE VERSE is Proverbs 3:5-6 so that’s where the 356 comes from. But there is even more symbolism behind this new adventure. If you notice there are 3 circles — representing the ministry of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — The Trinity. The colors used represent mercy, forgiveness and new beginnings!

Throughout my 30 plus years of ministry, I have sought to proclaim Biblical truth that points non-Christians to a saving relationship with Christ and also equips Christians to be more effective in sharing the great truths of the Scripture with their lost friends. I pray that 356 Podcast will continue in that tradition.

Finally, I’d like to give a very special THANK YOU to Keith Johnson and Chris Florio from Good Hope Baptist Church who have been so helpful over the last six years in helping me get the message out via the internet. And now I have Tony Cox here at Valley Grove Baptist Church in Knoxville who designed my logo and has been working to get this podcast up and running. THANK YOU GUYS for all your help and support!

I hope you will do several things for me…
1. PRAY for the ministry. PRAY that the messages will be used by the Holy Spirit to transform lives and bring lost people to Christ.

2. SUBSCRIBE! Go to iTunes and subscribe. If you don’t use iTunes, you can still listen to the Sunday morning services through our website (www.valleygrove.org) or you can listen in East Tennessee on the radio every Sunday at 1:00 PM and 11:00 PM to JOY62 (WRJZ 620 AM, Knoxvile — http://www.wrjz.com). If you still want to do it the old fashioned way — we no longer have cassette tapes, but we will gladly send you a CD copy of any message. Contact Kim Davis at Valley Grove (kim@valleygrove.org).

3. SHARE this with your friends and family. If these messages are a blessing in your life, I hope you will share them with others.

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement. I’m continually amazed that God has chosen to use a country boy from Potecasi, North Carolina in His service for these many years. I’m grateful for the way He continues to allow me to preach His Word every week.

God bless you. Have a great day.

God Loves ME?

“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37)

What is my primary duty to God? Jesus explains it in this verse for today. I am to love God with EVERYTHING I am and have. Jesus came and actually demonstrated for us the acceptable way in which to worship and serve God and others. Once we have repented of our sins and been saved through FAITH — we are encouraged to now be motivated by His LOVE. This is a distinguishing characteristic of our faith. Our relationship with God is built upon and expresses itself in terms of LOVE. That is unlike any other religion in the world. The very heart of the Gospel is that GOD LOVES MAN and has revealed His love in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that we love God BECAUSE He loved us first!

Solomon — the wisest man to live – understood our primary duty to God in terms of loving obedience. He wrote, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Micah, the Old Testament prophet defined our duty to God this way, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

When Jesus came to this earth, He actually defined the duty of man toward God in terms of LOVE. We are to “love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Our love is demonstrated in our obedience and our desire to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

It seems to me that many people today find it difficult to love God because they have not been taught that obedience actually is the most LOVING thing we can do. People have been told that God is a cosmic kill-joy and they are frightened of Him. God has been misrepresented. He is blamed (incorrectly) for misfortune and tragedy.

From the time of Adam and Eve in Genesis — it is the DEVIL who has been misrepresenting the character of God. He suggested to Eve that God was not a good God. He convinced her that God didn’t really LOVE her but instead He had deprived her and her husband. He told her that God was literally holding out on her. From that day until this, by every method at his disposal, the devil has implied that God is not worthy of our faith and our trust.

I also think that many people don’t understand God’s love because they misunderstand God’s commandments. When you don’t understand the nature and purpose of God, and when you don’t understand that His nature and purpose are motivated by His LOVE — you tend to look at the commandments of God as restrictive rather than freeing. John addressed this in I John 5:3 when he said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

When you and I finally come to understand that God truly LOVES US — then it will result in our sincere love toward God. We will love God supremely and steadfastly. When we understand that God truly LOVES US — it will elevate us to the highest possible life. We truly will have the “abundant life” promised to us by Jesus Christ. 

When the love of God for us (GOD REALLY DOES LOVE YOU) is understood — a response of love from us will be the natural response. And where do you see the love of God most visible? You see it at Calvary. II Corinthians 5:19 says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” And then Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). 

My friend — GOD LOVES YOU! HE ALWAYS HAS AND HE ALWAYS WILL. Your duty is to love Him with all your heart, soul and mind.

Have a great day.

What Happens When YOU Go to Church?

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others…” (Luke 18:9)

I encourage you to get your Bible and read the whole parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).

“I already know that story Pastor. I don’t need to read it.”

I’m sure you are familiar with this parable, but I would suggest that we are actually TOO FAMILIAR with it. We read this parable and we disassociate ourselves from either the Pharisee or the publican. In other words — I’m afraid we miss the point of this parable because we think we already KNOW the story.

For example…

Have you stopped to think about the parallels in this parable?

Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector wanted to stand before God.

Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector went to church (the temple).

Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector approached God through prayer.

Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector believed they were examining their hearts seriously.

Let me explain this a bit. And pay careful attention. Both these men attended church with you yesterday (and every Sunday). In fact, YOU are one of these men!

It appears that both these men had some kind of knowledge of themselves. They both used a system to measure themselves in order to determine their relationship to God.

The Pharisee measured himself by looking at others. Instead of looking to God — he looked at himself on a horizontal level and measured himself by comparing himself to everybody else. He looked DOWN at the Tax Collector and therefore allowed the Tax Collector to become the standard for his measurement.

The result? PRIDE — COMPLACENCY — and SPIRITUAL STAGNATION.

On the other hand, the Tax Collector didn’t compare himself to everybody else. He looked up to God as the divine standard. When he compared himself to THAT standard, he had a completely different experience.

The result? He was AWARE of his sin. He CONFESSED his guilt. He made a PLEA for mercy.

The Pharisee went away from church that day UNCHANGED. He made no decisions that brought him any closer to the Lord. He had no excitement for reaching people. He was simply more detached and isolated in his complacency. As a matter of fact — going to church for this guy was a total waste of time. His experience was all about ME, ME, ME.

“I’m better than everybody here. I don’t even know why I bothered to come. They aren’t excited to see me. They didn’t sing songs I like. They didn’t recognize me for all the wonderful things I do and have done for this church. I may as well have stayed home if they aren’t going to pay any more attention than that to me!”

The Tax Collector had an entirely different experience. Jesus said in verse 14 that the Tax Collector “went down to his house justified rather than the other.” That is a legal term that declares that his prayer was hard and that his plea was granted. His sin was forgiven. He was accepted by God. He entered into a relationship with God in which he would be treated as if he had never sinned.

“Going to church was such a wonderful experience for me today. We sang some new song about the love and mercy of God. The Holy Spirit spoke to me through that message and I saw my need to confess a sin I had harbored for far too long. Immediately, I knew God had forgiven me through His Son Jesus Christ. What a marvelous day! I LOVE going to worship at church. GOD IS GOOD.”

Here’s my question for YOU. What happens when YOU go to church? Do you look around and congratulate yourself because you are so much better than everybody sitting around you? Do you sit in your pew or chair all swelled up with pride because you are outwardly perfect? If so — you are wasting your time. You are looking in the wrong direction.

When I go to church, I thank God that I am able to bow my head and my heart, confess my sin and have the complete assurance that the God of mercy and grace hears me and forgives me. I am then able to be an encouragement to others and I go home singing and shouting because I belong to God!

How was YOUR church experience yesterday?

Have a great day.

Simply Sowing the Seed

“Behold, there went out a sower to sow…” (Mark 4:3)

Jesus made use of parables to get across some of His greatest and most important lessons. I’ve been reading the Parable of the Sower this week and God has spoken to my heart through this passage in a very convicting way. Let me share some of my observations with you. I pray you will be convicted and encouraged as I continue to be.

I grew up in rural northeastern North Carolina. While I was not engaged in farming as a vocation — I was around it enough to know certain things about being a successful farmer. My daddy had a big garden every year, many of my neighbors were farmers and I remember that when it came time to plant (sow) seed — the ground was prepared to receive the seed. It was a beautiful thing — long straight rows, carefully prepared to receive the corn or beans or whatever we were planting.

Do you notice that in this parable, it says NOTHING about the preparation of the soil? It just says, “Behold, there went out a sower to sow…” I”ll come back to this — but hang on — this is more important than I even realized.

Next, I noticed that in this parable Jesus gave four possible outcomes regarding this sown seed. And when you look at the possible outcomes — three of them are BAD! Look at what Matthew 13 says about the soil…

“Some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:4-8)

Notice the seed fell “by the wayside” (BAD), “on stony places” (BAD), and “among thorns” (BAD). 

“Well, Pastor — I KNOW why that happened. If the sower had just taken the time to minimize his risks and he had prepared the soil, he wouldn’t have had such limited success. Any good farmer knows that.”

You know — that’s what I thought too. I was more interested in the results and the methods than I should have been. I thought if this sower had simply made straight rows and cleaned out the weeds and put up a scarecrow — he would have received a much better result. But what I have learned is this — I MISSED THE POINT!

Here’s what I know about this story — the SEED that is sown is the Word of God — see Matthew 13:19. And the sower was apparently given just one job — SOW THE SEED. Scatter that seed EVERYWHERE. The fact that some of the seed falls in places where it produced no fruit does not diminish the power of the seed. There were certain things the sower just didn’t know and couldn’t know. But again — his job was simply SOW THE SEED.

The same is true for me and you as Christians. I don’t know and often CAN’T know the condition of people’s hearts. But that’s ok — my job is simply to SOW THE SEED. Some will fall in places where it produces no visible, tangible and lasting results — BUT some WILL fall on ground prepared NOT BY ME — but by the HOLY SPIRIT of God. The seed that I sow that falls on prepared soil WILL germinate and it WILL grow and it WILL produce MUCH FRUIT.

So, stop trying to develop BETTER SEED — we don’t need it.

Stop trying to PREPARE BETTER SOIL — it’s not your job.

You are just a SOWER and you have ONE JOB — SOW THE SEED! Let’s get busy. Scatter that seed EVERYWHERE. Pray for the Holy Spirit to do HIS JOB and give God the glory for whatever harvest HE PROVIDES.

Have a great day.

What Is God Like?

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

According to the Bible — only a FOOL would say, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). 

When David looked around and saw all the glories and beauties of the universe, he said that God’s glory is declared in all that has been created. Psalm 19 tells us that God has revealed Himself both in the WORLD and in the WORD. He is the God of creation and He is the God of revelation.

Dr. John Phillips, writing about Psalm 19 said, “David wrote this psalm. But when? Did he write it as a shepherd boy on the Judean hills, lying on his back on a dark night and staring up into the star-spangled splendor of the sky? Or did he write it as a fugitive with Saul’s bloodhounds baying on the distant hills? Or was it when he fled from Absalom to seek refuge in the wile wastes of the mountains? Or was it at some quieter moment when, pacing the roof of his palace, he once again lifted his eyes from the darkened streets of the slumbering city to the blazing pinpoints of light that studded the black velvet sky?”

I love to hear what children think of God. Often they will reveal more about His character in their simple explanations than any theologian can describe in many books. Here are some of my favorites…

“God has big hands because the song say, ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands.” (Kalen, age 9)

“God is very loving. I imagine he is very tall. I love Him.” (Lauren, age 9)

God is like a never-ending story that you want to read again and again. When I hear about Him, I want to know more. Although I can’t see Him, I feel Him. He is perfect and pure. I know He has felt pain and suffered greatly to take away my sins.” (Ashley, age 10)

I grew up in a time when preachers preached on the assumption that the majority of people actually believed there was a God who has existed from timeless past and will continue to exist through all eternity. Those preachers had not been tainted by liberal theology that taught us to question the very existence of God. Those old preachers believed the Bible and they believed it when it said, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). 

They made no attempt to PROVE God’s existence — they accepted it because of all they saw and experienced. They, like David understood that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”

In today’s world, people want to require God to PROVE His existence. The element of faith has been greatly diminished. And yet, people operate ON FAITH every day — all day long. When you got up this morning — you put toothpaste on your toothbrush and brushed your teeth. At any time during that process, did you stop and wonder if someone at CREST poisoned the toothpaste in your tube? No — you didn’t. You had FAITH that what you were using was actual toothpaste. 

You got in your car and put the key in the ignition. Did you stop and wonder if anybody at FORD MOTOR COMPANY had done something to sabotage your car so that when you started it — it would blow up? Nope — you didn’t. You had FAITH that the folks at FORD had made a safe car.

God gives us far more proof for His existence than we have for any of the myriad of things that we use every day ON FAITH. The Bible reveals God, His person, His power, and His purpose in the world. The Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation. Through the ages He has revealed Himself to us. The patriarchs, the psalmists, and the prophets were given insights which were recorded for the benefit of all of us.

The supreme and FINAL revelation of God came to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 1:18; 14:9; Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus Christ was the eternal God clothed in human flesh, who visited this earth in order that you and I might know what God is truly like (John 1:14). 

Through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, God has promised to come in and dwell with you and offer forgiveness and salvation. The Bible is the record of God’s continuous efforts to rescue us from the consequences of our own unbelief and rebellion. Through Christ, God provides forgiveness and eternal life to ALL who repent and believe.

Today, stop and notice how the trees and flowers, the birds and animals all declare the glory of God by their very existence. Then make sure that YOU declare the existence of God. Not only should the heavens declare God’s glory — I should do it as well!

Have a great day.