Going Through the Motions

“Then she let him fall asleep on her lap and called a man to shave off the seven braids on his head. In this way, she made him helpless, and his strength left him. Then she cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are here!’ When he awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (Judges 16:19-20, Christian Standard Bible).

“But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” That may be one of the saddest statements in the entire Bible. Samson had come to trust in the gift– his hair– rather than the Giver. His hair wasn’t what made him strong. It was only a symbol of the command God had given him much earlier.

He had come to rely on his strength and not in the God who gave him that strength. In the end, God wasn’t even so much as an afterthought in Samson’s mind.

Sometimes, I wonder if this could ever apply to the Church.

We sometimes rely so much on high production values, musicianship, and charisma that we’ve left little to no room for the Holy Spirit to work and move. If God suddenly removed His Spirit from our worship services, would we even notice? Would it make any difference?

It’s one thing to be able to manipulate people’s emotions by overwhelming them through powerful songs and dramatic preaching, but that’s not always synonymous with the moving of God’s Spirit.

What if you took away the comfortable chairs and the modern facilities? What if you took away the professional lighting and sound system? What if there was no worship band or charismatic speaker?

Would God’s Word be enough? Could we still sense the Spirit moving without all the sensory overload?

The saddest testimony about the modern Church would be that the Spirit of God one day left and we went about our business as usual and didn’t even know it until it was far too late.


The Church as a Refuge

I’ve been thinking lately about the whole refugee crisis. I’ve also been putting some thought into what my pastor said about the church being a refuge. Who better than to show hope to refugees than people whom the Bible calls aliens and strangers in this world who await a coming Kingdom?

The body of believers should be a place where people can go to escape from the fallout from the lies that society tells people about finding inner peace and fulfillment through outward change.

It should be where people go to find God and find the hope of salvation offered in the person of Jesus Christ, not more condemnation for lifestyle choices. It should be where spiritual transformation happens and not mere behavior modification.

I noticed today that when Jesus talked to the woman at the well, He didn’t force her to change her lifestyle before He offered the living water to her. He didn’t make her go end her relationship with the man she was living with who was not her husband.

He simply offered her a gift that would change her life forever if she took it. After all, it’s the Gospel that changes people. It’s what changes peoples’ hearts, which in turn leads to changed lives.

The Church has been guilty of putting up barriers between people and the Gospel almost from the very beginning. The people who need Jesus and the Gospel most are often the ones who feel the least welcome inside our doors.

The Gospel is for everyone. Thus, the Church is for everyone.


Rinse and Repeat

“Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re sitting together in your home and when you’re walking together down the road. Make them the last thing you talk about before you go to bed and the first thing you talk about the next morning” (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7VOICE).

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s not always easy to come up with something creative and original when you write these blogs on a daily basis. And yes, I do write all of these myself. I’m the only writer for the Ragamuffin Gospel Fan blogs.

I find lately that I do tend to repeat myself quite a bit. Sometimes, it’s intentional. Sometimes, it’s just me being forgetful that I’ve already written on a particular topic.

I believe that a lot of faith is returning again and again to the basics until they change who you are fundamentally. It’s going back to the Gospel for the rest of your life, because that’s where your hope lies.

So, it’s 10:05 pm on a Saturday and I am at home and not out painting the town red or hitting up the clubs. I’m writing this on the fly, per usual. What you see is generally what I write on the first-take, with very little revisions or editing. That’s just the way I write these days.

I’ve heard that taking up photography changes the way you see things. You begin to look at people and scenes as if you’re composing a shot or looking through a lens.

I also think that writing changes the way you look at life. You start hearing conversations differently. Phrases will jump out at you. Lines from movies or TV shows will capture your attention. You see your world differently.

So what’s the theme of this blog? I guess if there is one, it’s this: the best kind of faith isn’t one where you know a little in a lot of areas about God and Jesus and the Church and other such matters. It’s where you keep going back to the well of the basics over and over until you’re absolutely sated with it and you know the Gospel backward and forward.

That’s it.


Four Days Left in 2015

Note: if you still have unfulfilled resolutions that you haven’t given up on for 2015, now’s the time to get crackin’. You have four days left. That’s all.

Four days.

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago I was bidding a fond farewell to 2014 and wondering what 2015 would look like.

Speedy. 2015 has looked and felt and gone by speedily. Much more so than 2014.

So what are you planning to do in 2016 to improve your life? What are your resolutions and goals for the new year?

After hearing Aaron Bryant’s sermon, I think my goal is the same as the prophetess Anna from Luke 2– to do whatever it takes to get to where I see the Redeemer in my life and that He becomes the focus of my single-minded devotion.

Also, I’d like to see the Tennessee Titans not look like the Bad News Bears of the NFL. It’s gotten embarrassing to watch the games.

I’d like to see people who profess the name of Jesus in Nashville being more visible (and I put myself in that category). A friend of mine posted on Facebook that 95% of the churches in Nashville are declining.

So much for Nashville being the belt buckle of the Bible belt. We have a lot of church buildings, but not nearly as many vibrant, biblical churches that are actively engaging in a Acts 2-type lifestyle of missional living and intentional community.

As I’ve mentioned before, maybe it’s time for most of us (me included) to stop merely going to church and start being the church. The difference is one hour on Sunday and one hour on Wednesday versus 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

So there we are. That’s what I hope to see in 2016. Maybe those Titans might even start being competitive if they can get decent front office leadership and ownership that actually cares about winning.

But that’s another blog for another day.


Today’s Word for the Day– Suffering

“There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter” (Phil. 1:29-30).

Imagine Mr. Fred Rogers in his sweater and sneakers saying something along these lines: Boys and girls, today’s word for the day is suffering.  Can you say suffering? Suh-fer-ring.

Most of the time, I am all about the suffering- avoidance mode. I likes my comfort. I don’t likes to suffer in the least.

I think that what drives most of the consumer market is comfort and convenience. That seems to be the American way, especially in American churches.

Still, the American comfortable middle-class Christianity is an anomaly. For most of the world, to proclaim Christ as Lord is to invite suffering. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

If I’m honest, when I read that suffering is a gift, my first thought is where to go to exchange it for something more comfortable and convenient.

But that’s where you and I find God. C. S. Lewis said that God speaks through our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain. Something about suffering clarifies our perspective and gives us better eyes to see God with.

Also, there is no better testimony than seeing someone willing to sacrifice for their faith. Anyone can believe in something that benefits them tangibly, but it’s quite another when you give up family, houses, and land for what you believe. Jesus Himself said that those people would be rewarded a thousand-times over for what they lose, but the loss is still very much present and real.

Christians all over the world are literally laying down their lives for the Gospel. I believe that the day is coming soon when believers in America will face the choice of denying Christ or death. Maybe not in my lifetime, but soon enough.

Will you and I choose suffering to advance the Gospel? Will we choose the painful path if it means that Jesus is glorified in us?

I pray our answer to both these questions is a resounding YES.


Hey Y’all, It’s Fall!

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! “(Romans 5:3-4, MSG)”

Today, September 23, is officially the first day of fall, or as those who prefer the pronunciation po-tah-to call it, “autumn.”

Whatever you call it, I love it. I love the brisk air and the leaves changing colors. I love bonfires, hayrides, and all things pumpkin spice.

Even more than that, I love that fall signifies change before winter comes. Change can be scary, but in God’s economy all change eventually leads to something good, due to the fact that He works all these things together for good for those who love Him.

I personally can’t wait to see what God will do next in my life.  I can’t wait to see what God will do next in the life of The Church at Avenue South. I can’t wait to see how He will stir up His Church all over the world to even greater deeds of love and sacrifice.

Even when the circumstances look as bleak as the tree limbs barren of leaves, we do not lose hope. We know that the same God who kept His promises throughout the history of the Bible and through the centuries won’t fail to keep them now. That’s a fact.

So bring on the mid-60’s temps. I’m ready. I’m also ready for flannel and jackets. I’m ready for hot dogs and s’mores over an open fire.

Bring it all on.


Up, In and Out

We had a guest speaker at Kairos tonight named Chris. Apparently, my ADD kicked in at some point because his last name escapes me. I remember that he is a pastor in a church at Tuscaloosa and a self-proclaimed introvert, but I can’t for the life of me recall any part of his last name.

He said that the Christian life basically needs three parts– up, in, and out.

Up is worship, in is community, and out is evangelism. Any two without the other third is an incomplete faith. You need all three.

Without worship, you cut yourself off from the power source. Without community, you become easy prey for temptation (like the gazelle that gets separated from the pack when chased by lions). Without evangelism, what you learn and accomplish dies with you.

You need all three. We all do. Yet every one of us is weak in one of these areas. Chris admitted that his area of weakness was evangelism. I can relate. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to go up to a  complete stranger and share your faith.

Still, all is not lost. You can always pray for those in your circle of influence who don’t know Jesus. That’s a place to start. That’s where I am.

By the way, his name is Chris Brooks. I cheated and looked up @kairosnashville and saw where he was tagged in one of their posts. Thanks again, social media, for helping me appear smarter than I really am. That and google are my friends.

My takeaway is that you will never outgrow your need of spending time with God (worship), spending time with other believers (community), and sharing your faith with non-believers (evangelism). The best news of all is that God has already given you everything you need to succeed in all three areas. He’s given you Himself.

So basically, as long as you realize you will never outgrow your complete and total dependence on Jesus, you will be fine.


One Year Ago (Almost)

It was a year ago that we officially launched The Church at Avenue South. Well, technically, it was a year ago tomorrow (if you want to be all nit-picky and exact). On September 7, 2015, a group of 115 stepped out in faith based on a vision they had of reaching those in the Berry Hill/Melrose area.

In some ways, it seems like only yesterday, yet at the same time, it seems much longer. So much has happened since then in the life of this growing congregation. We’ve seen both kids and adults give their lives to Christ. It’s been an amazing ride so far.

We’ve run into a good problem. We’re running out of space (again). It looks like at some point we may have to add a third service.

I don’t know why, but I’m still amazed at what God can do with mustard-sized faith. Even with the tiniest amount of consent, God can move those mountains of stone and turn those hearts of stone into hearts of flesh that beat in synchronicity with His own heartbeat.

Who knows what the next five years will bring? Or the next ten?

I’m grateful that I’ve been a part of it from the (almost) very beginning. I saw the building when it was a gutted shell. I look around now and I see a fully-functioning church building that serves the community and becomes a place where God takes on human hands and feet to serve those in need.

I keep thinking about what Jesus said in John 14. After all His ministry and miracles, He said that whoever believed in Him would not only do these works that He did but even greater ones. That seriously boggles my mind.

I’m not sure I completely understand what He meant by that, but I do know that we only limit ourselves by limiting God. God is more able to do incredible things than we are to believe that He can do these things.

I for one can’t wait to see what the next 12 months will bring to The Church at Avenue South.


Better Together


So many of the famous musical groups were better than the sum of their parts.

Take Simon and Garfunkel, for instance. To me, what they did together is better than what Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel have done since.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Kodachrome or Still Crazy After All These Years, but it’s just not up to the level of Sound of Silence or The Boxer.

I truly believe that the old Chicago lineup was way better than what Peter Cetera and the remaining members of Chicago have done since.

So many groups have either split up or seen their lead singer move on to a solo career. Sometimes it works out for the best,  but most of the time, the end result is that what each does separately can never compare to what they did together.

That’s a lot like being a part of the Church. We’re better together. In fact, we’re much more than the sum of our parts when we’re living in fellowship, sharing a common life together.

In Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon the believers and anointed the body of believers to go out and spread the Kingdom message. The results of them being better together are evident in Acts 2 where many thousands of people believed in their message and were added to the Church.

The present age tells you that you don’t need anybody and that you are best on your own. You are actually more vulnerable and prone to temptation when you’re alone, apart from other believers.

That’s why the local church is so important. Not because they’re the perfect group of people. Definitely not because your salvation depends on going to church.

It’s because we can do life together way better than we ever could apart. It’s where you are strong in areas where I am weak, and visa versa.

We are truly better together.

Motownphilly Back Again

I don’t know about you, but there are certain songs and albums that take me back to a specific time and place.

For me, one example is Boyz II Men’s Motownphilly, which takes me back to my freshman year at the Deusner 7 (or maybe it was 5) dorm room at Union University in the fine city of Jackson, Tennessee, where (I might add) you can’t go 50 feet without running into either a college or a church.

I’m not the world’s biggest hip-hop fan as a general rule. Not that I have anything against that genre. I just never really have gotten into it.

But there’s something about hearing songs like “End of the Road” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” that make me nostalgic.

Sadly, that dorm building is no longer there. It got taken out by the tornadoes that swept through the campus back in 2008. In fact, the last time I was there, I didn’t recognize most of the campus (or the people).

I do remember the first time I set foot on the campus of Union, it was like God was telling me, “This is where I want you. This is your place for the next four years.” It felt like home and the peace I felt was undeniable.

There were some scary and stressful moments when I thought I wouldn’t be able to stay due to finances, but thanks to Stafford loans I managed to graduate four years later.

I made some great friends and great memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Sometimes, I think I’d like to get together with some fellow Unionites and reminisce about those days and catch up with what everybody’s doing these days.

I think that should happen soon, preferably in the Nashville area. I might even bring my Boyz II Men CD with me.