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.


John 3:16

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).

Anybody remember that guy with the rainbow colored afro who used to hold up the John 3:16 signs at sporting events? I do.

Some of you reading this may not be old enough to remember him, but you’re at least familiar with the verse. Perhaps too familiar. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve heard these words so many times that you’ve almost stopped listening to them.

I think I heard them in a fresh new way today at Room in the Inn when the guest speaker chose that as the theme of his message to the homeless men.

“For God . . .” Every great story begins with God. Every story of hope and redemption, every story where good overcomes evil, begins with God.

“For God loved . . .” If your God is known more for what He hates and what He is against rather than what He loves and what He is for, perhaps you’re serving a god instead of God. The defining verse about the God of the bible starts out with “For God so loved . . .”

“For God loved the world . . .” God doesn’t just love white Republicans. God doesn’t just love Americans. God doesn’t just love religious people. God doesn’t just love “successful” people with the perfect resumes and perfect lives.

“For God loved the world  so much that He gave . . .” True love always involves sacrifice. The epitome and the ultimate example of sacrificial love is God giving us Jesus both to live and to die for us.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone . . .” Salvation is for everyone. Not just a select few. Not just for some. Not for those who deserve it (because none of us do). It’s for anyone who asks for it. It’s for you and me.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes . . .” Sometimes, faith gets overcomplicated. Sometimes faith gets reduced to pithy bumper sticker slogans. Faith is simple yet profound. It costs nothing yet it is priceless. Faith means believing not just with your heart or your mind but with your whole life.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

That’s it. You don’t have to perish. You have the choice of eternal life. Not just a future pie in the sky by and by kind of life, but real and robust life to the full right here and now. God will always respect the decision you make, whether for Him or not.

The choice is yours. What will you do with it?


The Love of God: December Edition

“Love is the effort and desire to make someone else everything they were created to be (Timothy Keller).

Advent is all about love made visible. Specifically, it centers around how God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to be born in a feeding trough in the back room of a home where the animals usually were kept.

He gave His one and only Son to pitch His tent and live among us and walk beside us and go through all our experiences and temptations, and to emerge unscathed and sinless.

He gave His one and only Son to choose Calvary and to be the ultimate sacrifice, dying the death of a common criminal, for us who had willfully rebelled against the God of the Universe.

He gave His one and only Son to be the first and only one in history to make His tomb a temporary residence and to rise from the grave after three days, forever defeating death and hell and sin.

He gave His one and only Son so that no one should ever have to perish, to go through this life alone, to live in failure and shame, or to spend eternity apart from God.

God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for you.

“For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Still the Same

“You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message” (Colossians 1:21-23, The Message).

It’s the same Gospel message that still saves anyone who comes to God in faith.

It’s the same Gospel message that saved a wretch like me.

It’s the same Gospel message that has the power to transform and liberate.

It’s still the same.


Since this morning’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South from Aaron Bryant, I’ve been thinking about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament a lot today. More specifically, my thoughts have been centered on Joseph’s brothers.

I’ve always wondered why it was that when his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during the famine that Joseph recognized them but none of them knew who he was.

I realize that he was probably dressed in Egyptian garb and would  have had his hair and beard styled in the Egyptian fashions of that time.

I wonder if one of the reasons he was able to spot them was that they were still stuck in that moment when they made the horrible decision to sell him into slavery over 13 years ago.

Some of you reading this are still stuck in the past. You’re frozen in time in the moment when a relative hurt you or a friend betrayed you or a spouse deserted you. You haven’t been able to move past that moment in time.

Joseph had moved on, both literally and figuratively. By the time his brothers showed up, he had been though slavery, false accusations, imprisonment, and later exaltation. He had seen how God was with him through it all.

He was able to see at the end how God used what his brothers had meant for evil and turned it into something good. In fact, God used what was done to Joseph to set up the salvation of an entire nation in the making.

You come to the place where you release the hurt and pain done to you when you realize how God has redeemed it. When you’re able to forgive those who wounded you, you open the door to the prison and find out that it’s you that you’re setting free.

God still works all things together for good– even the bad and hard things– and that includes your story. That doesn’t excuse what people have done to you and it doesn’t lessen the pain, but it does mean that your wounds and scars are not the end of the story. God has a way of redeeming and restoring what was taken from you and giving you something so much better in return.



Down from the Mountain

“You see, all have sinned, and all their futile attempts to reach God in His glory fail. Yet they are now saved and set right by His free gift of grace through the redemption available only in Jesus the Anointed” (Romans 3:23-24VOICE).

So many see Christianity as another option, just one road among the many that lead up the mountain to God. They say that all paths get to the destination but in different ways.

How about this? There may be several roads that lead up that mountain, but none of us will get to God that way. None of us are strong enough or brave enough or stedfast enough to make it all the way up.

How about this? God didn’t wait patiently for someone to find a way up to Him. He came down from the mountain to us to help us get to Him. He didn’t merely show the way or even offer to walk before us up the path. He became the way.

Jesus is our way up the mountain. Not by chanting and meditation. Not by praying five times a day. Not by sin management and moralism. Not by keeping a set of rule. Not by any amount of sacrifices or religious rites.

How then?

By simply believing that Jesus is Who He says He is and He did what He set out to do. It’s by trusting that Jesus took on our imperfections and sins and failures and death, instead giving us perfection and righteousness and new life.

If it had been up to me and my own efforts, I’d still be at the foot of the mountain looking up in despair. But thanks to God, I’m on my way up and guaranteed to reach the top. And my victory song will be that Jesus led me all the way there.

Revisiting Habakkuk 3

“Even if the fig tree does not blossom
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
If the olive trees fail to give fruit
    and the fields produce no food,
If the flocks die far from the fold
    and there are no cattle in the stalls;
Then I will still rejoice in the Eternal!
    I will rejoice in the God who saves me!
The Eternal Lord is my strength!
    He has made my feet like the feet of a deer;
He allows me to walk on high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, The Voice).

You can read a verse or verses from the Bible over and over and still miss it. You can hear a familiar passage of Scripture read over a number of years and still not get it.

Habakkuk is speaking here about the purest form of worship. It’s one thing to be able to sing praise songs when your bank account is fat and happy and you have a thriving family and your life is in perfect order.

It’s quite another to raise your hands after being handed a pink slip from your employer. It’s another story to live out a worshipful lifestyle when your checking account is deep in the red.

Worship is simply about God. More than any gifts or blessings from God, we celebrate God for Who He is. Period. God deserves worship on the basis of being God.

If God never chose to do one more blessed thing for me, if God simply let me be and never spoke to me again, He’d still be worthy of my worship. If all God ever did for me was to save my soul on that day many years ago, that would be more than enough reason to spend all the rest of the days of my eternity thanking Him.

Some of the most beautiful worship comes out of dark places and broken hearts. The most powerful testimony is still “Yet though He slay me, still will I trust in Him.”

God deserves worship because God is God. Because God is enough. Because God alone is my deepest desire and need.



Busted Brackets

I did my civic duty tonight. No, I didn’t vote. I filled out my NCAA basketball tournament brackets (nine in all).

Some of them I played straight. I picked all the #1 seeds to win. On some others, I just went plain crazy. I picked just about every game to be an upset.

It hit me as I was filling in these brackets. As you know, no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Ever.

There have been a few #15 seeds upset the #2 seeds and a few more #14 seeds pull a shocker over their 3 seed counterpart, but no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams back in the 80’s.

What hit me was this: what God did for me in saving me was the equivalent of a #16 seed winning the whole enchilada. Or if you will, the 64th best team (think Austin Peay) winning the national championship.

I’m definitely not saying that God’s the underdog in this story. I am. On my own, I had absolutely no shot of making it out of the first round. I was the equivalent of a team of corpses.

But God made me alive in Christ. He raised me up with supernatural power. in Jesus, I have become more than a conqueror. My salvation story is akin to that Austin Peay team reaching the finals and beating those mighty Kansas Jayhawks in the national championship game.

A pipe dream? Maybe. But I know that in God what seems impossible to me and you is possible for God. In fact, it’s not even remotely difficult for God (thanks again to Pete Wilson for that one).

I have a feeling that most of my brackets will be busted and broken by the Sweet Sixteen. I know that spiritually speaking, my life in God will never ever be busted and broken because I serve a God who knows the way out of hell and the grave.

The end.


Tom Brady and the Gospel

“So never forget how you used to be. Those of you born as outsiders to Israel were outcasts, branded “the uncircumcised” by those who bore the sign of the covenant in their flesh, a sign made with human hands. 12 You had absolutely no connection to the Anointed; you were strangers, separated from God’s people. You were aliens to the covenant they had with God; you were hopelessly stranded without God in a fracturedworld. 13 But now, because of Jesus the Anointed and His sacrifice, all of that has changed. God gathered you who were so far away and brought you near to Him by the royal blood of the Anointed, our Liberating King” (Ephesians 2:11-14, The Voice).

I should probably preface this by making this disclaimer: I am not now nor have I ever been a New England Patriots fan.

That said, I am amazed at how people who profess faith in Jesus and will loudly sing about His grace are so quick to post hateful and unChristlike comments and statuses about Tom Brady and the Patriots.

I’m not defending whether or not they cheated. I don’t know. I don’t know Tom Brady personally, so I can’t say anything about his character or behavior.

I do know this. I’d hate to be scrutinized and judged the way he’s been judged. The Bible I read seems to tell us not to judge and condemn, yet I see believers rushing to cast judgmental and condemning posts his way.

I also read that Jesus defended a woman caught in the very act of adultery. He told her accusers that he who is without sin should be the one to cast the first stone. Apparently, there are a lot of sinless people out there casting stones at Mr. Brady.

I don’t know the condition of Tom Brady’s soul. I can’t vouch either way on his salvation. No one but Tom Brady and God can.

I can say that I’d hate for someone who professes to be a follower of Jesus to be a stumbling block to Mr. Brady finding that salvation through comments that serve no other purpose but to judge and condemn.

My God is a God of grace. My God is a God who reaches out to the least of these, to those who deserve anything but a second chance.

I know that I’d hate people to dredge up my past failures and use them against me. I know some of you really wouldn’t want that.

I’m not by any means saying to root for the Patriots. I’m not saying to go out and buy a Tom Brady jersey. I’m merely suggesting that we show him the same mercy that we’ve been shown by God though Christ Jesus.

No one really wants what they deserve. If we got that, we’d all be in a lot of trouble. An eternity’s worth of trouble.

So maybe instead of bashing Mr. Brady, try praying for him instead. Maybe extend a little grace. Remember that you once needed someone to extend grace to you and you will more than likely need it again at some point in your life.

If your love of sports can allow you to be mean and hateful to the opposing teams and players, perhaps it has become an idol in your heart. Perhaps it has come to be something more than the entertainment it was always meant to be.

These are just the thoughts of one ragamuffin who knows what he deserves and is forever thankful and grateful that through the grace of God he will never get it.


All Those Miles

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts.

We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts.

But especially with gifts.

You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child.

All the stockings are filled — all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up.

The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let each put in his share.

Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance.

All the shining gifts that make peace on earth” (from The Bishop’s Wife).

On my way home from work, I hit a milestone. My Jeep crossed over 295,000 miles. For those who aren’t too familiar with cars and all things automotive, that’s a lot of miles. Even I know that.

So, basically, I have a 15-year old cat and an 18-year old car. Most of my shoes are old enough to be in grade school. Just about everything I own is old.

The older I get, the more I realize that what’s important, what truly matters, isn’t anything that can be bought or sold. It doesn’t come with a price tag. In fact, the most important things in life are free (or more accurately, they’re priceless).

Relationships matter. Time spent with family and friends matters. Integrity and character matter. Compassion matters.

All those things that you will never see advertised (or maybe used to motivate you to buy a product).

This Christmas, maybe instead of another gift that will end up in some Goodwill, how about spending more time with those you love? Maybe, give someone a call or send a text.

The most important gift of all won’t be found under any Christmas tree. It was found in a stable, wrapped snugly in an old blanket and laid in a feeding trough. But what was in that small stable was bigger than our whole world (to borrow a quote from Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia).

Advent is all about celebrating the waiting for the Messiah. It’s preparing room in our hearts to once again receive the Infant King who became Savior of the World. It’s knowing that in the heart of Jesus is enough room for you and me and all who seek Immanuel, God with us.

That, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about. That is what the best part of life is all about– your life after salvation is one extended thank you to Jesus for making that salvation possible, for actually saving you. Your lifestyle of gratitude and thanksgiving will make other people want the Jesus you have.

That’s the best kind of gift.