The Difference of Five Years…

The Difference of Five Years…

Five years ago, October 17, 2012, to be exact, Jodi and I faced one of those milestone moments in our marriage that you’d never ask for, hardly plan for, but would take nothing for it. After a few tests related to some minor but nagging health questions, I found myself relying on a surgeon’s training while trusting in a sovereign God as I underwent open heart surgery.

Just hours before, Jodi and I sat in the “cath lab” and got the news that I had a 95% blockage in the lower anterior artery to my heart. My cardiologist was prepared to put in a stint but the artery would not allow it. So, a 42-year-old man would not leave the hospital until meeting the surgeon.

Crisis points give you an opportunity that you may not consider otherwise, an opportunity to examine your faith, assess your life, and choose to walk together into the unknown…which is what faith actually is.

James 1:2 tells us to not look at our difficulties as punitive or destructive, but to think of them as God’s work at perfecting us. We believe that. So, together, we prayed, talked, prepared, and walked forward. God helped us with peace. He helped us with friends and church family who served us and prayed for us. He helped us with families that cared and served us. Mostly, God helped us by forcing us to walk through the difficulties.

Today, we have a stronger and more dynamic relationship with each other and with the Lord than we could ever have had otherwise. This was not our first test and will not likely be the last time our faith is challenged. But our faith is stronger, our testimony is broader and our peace is deeper than we could ever imagine.

Why tell you all this…today? Simply stated, days after the 2012 surgery, we asked a friend, Janey Frost, to shoot some pics for us to remember the season by.

A couple of weeks ago, we asked Janey to update those…five years later.

The pictures show the joy that we experience as a couple together…but they represent more than that for us. To Jodi and I, these pictures are like memorial stones erected beyond our Jordan to remind us of the unmerited faithfulness and goodness of God.

Thanks Janey for helping us stack stones.

Thank you @jodiaiken for walking through the fire with me. You make me better. You make me happy. You make me smile. I love you.

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My Top 9 and a bonus Takeaway from the FBC Annual Meeting

At the risk of missing someone else’s favorite quote, let me say that I did not write down everything. In fact, I was in such awe at Dr. Robert Smith (for instance) that I don’t remember one single note I wrote down.

Still, these quotes resonated with me…in no particular order of importance:

  1. “Don’t try to run someone else’s race.” Rocky Purvis
  2. When things are tough for a prolonged time…”Sometimes you want to quit or coast…but it’s not how you begin the race or even where you are at the halfway point. It’s how you finish.” Rocky Purvis
  3. “Prayer moves the hand of God.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  4. The heavens aren’t opened until someone prays.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  5. “Faithfulness will always lead to fruitfulness.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  6. “A servant who never serves is by definition, not a servant.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  7. The gospel must first change us before it can change the world- H.B. Charles Jr.
  8. “The gospel is for those who believe, not those who behave.” -H.B. Charles Jr.
  9. “If your hope is tied to things you can lose, you will eventually lose hope.” Dr. Rick Blackwood
  10. Georgia will probably still be #1, since they beat Notre Dame.” (What time does Georgia play?) Tim Coleman.

A Veteran’s Day Reflection

013923fce5d7501d412e51b996f17f8f050b0b80b6The Armistice, or cease-fire, of World War I was initiated on November 11, 1918. The “war to end all wars” had taken a heavy toll on America. “In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: ‘To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…’ .” (va.gov).

So, Veteran’s day exists to recognize the bravery and selfless service of servicemembers that risked life and sacrificed freedom, comfort, and security in pursuit of a higher ideal.

I see the day as a remembrance of something else as well…the beauty of peace and the high cost paid to secure it. The early celebrations of this day evoked pride from a nation. It was a pride in our strength but also pride in our ideals. In a real and tangible way, whether through observing a parade (which was the common observance in the early years) or listening to the stories of those who grew to love peace more while risking their lives to secure it, our nation came to believe the best of itself.

DSCN0155Today, parades are sparsely attended, even in military communities like mine. The celebration of freedom and honoring of sacrifice are often subordinated behind politicized agendas. Some even use the day to lecture those who’ve served on the dangers of military might to a peaceful world. Still others offer respectful greetings and kind words to those who have worn the uniform of our nation.

I hope that the day perpetually reminds us of a couple of valuable lessons, that if forgotten, may do great damage to the heart and soul of a nation. Remember that those we honor are worthy of honor…not because they gave their lives in battle, but because they committed their lives to the protection of liberty. Veteran’s day provides a necessary pause for a nation to simply say thank you as it enjoys the freedom that endures, not secured by the politician’s promise, or the press’s pen, but from the soldier’s service. I hope the day reminds us to prioritize gratitude and to weigh the worth of a free society. Finally, I hope the day serves as an example…as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen demonstrate a unity of purpose that transcends, branch of service, race, creed, religion, and socio-economic realities. Our nation is not perfect, but on this day we encounter a glimmer of hope of what is possible.

01b39a7bb66084d168221b57ccf0cc70823daa9cf2I am honored to be part of a line of men (my father and grandfather before me, a younger brother with me, as well as a son after me) who have strapped up through more than four generations of national service. Furthermore, I consider it a high privilege to call my fellow servicemembers across the branches my brothers and sisters. May we continue to live the example of the ideal that challenges the status quo and promotes pursuit of a higher calling. Freedom depends upon it. To all my brothers and sisters, Happy Veteran’s Day 2018.

Are You a… (part 2)

Church.Image1In the last post, I observed that many in the local church have lost the sense of what it means to be a member of a church. Partial responsibility rests on leaders who have failed to teach on this in an understandable way. To some degree, we may cast blame toward the culture which helps establish the norms of our lives. Still, some responsibility must rest on an audience that “tunes out” uncomfortable or contrary information…regardless of its source. Today I want to expand on the idea that having the different “classes/types” of people (Examiners, Consumers, Participants, and Partners) in the assembly of saints (the church) is actually helpful.

Perhaps you’re asking, “How can unbelievers amid the church be helpful?”

  • First, we must recognize that Paul observed the presence of unbelievers in the church and even argued that some consideration should be given to their presence (1 Corinthians 14). You don’t include such considerations unless their presence is a reality and somehow consistent with godly design. Part of the “helpfulness” is mission. When missionaries engage new people groups, they first seek to learn culture and then establish bridges between the gospel and the new culture so that the gospel can be communicated contextually. If unbelievers are present among the assembled church, a bridge has been identified that facilitates gospel communication.
  • Second, the presence of unbelievers serves to sharpen and equip believers in their missional skillset. Again, a bridge exists and if it is appropriately used, believers gain valuable insight and even empathy toward those who are far from God.
  • Third, the presence of unbelievers makes for a more natural engagement with a gospel witness. If an unbeliever is at a church service, it is not unusual to ask (or be asked) about spiritual condition. In fact, it is expected.

As for believers, having participants in the church is part of the discipleship process. There will be believers who grow in relationship and growth is a process, not an event. One doesn’t become a Christian and suddenly become a “Paul” or “Peter” type instantly. There must be “room” in the church for spiritual immaturity to grow toward maturity. As church planters, Jodi and I recognized years ago that we should engage new people quickly in the life of the church. Some were spiritually immature and others weren’t disciples, but how much spiritual growth is required to open a door, hand out a worship program, adjust sound levels, or set up chairs? Often, the “thin threads” of relationship were strengthened through service, paving the way for more depth of discipleship to occur. This last statement must be an intentional pursuit. It is wrong to reinforce that “you’re ok” to an immature believer or a lost person by giving them a place of service without challenging them to grow as disciples. How tragic it would be for a man to have confidence in his unchallenged spiritual condition simply because he fulfills a role in church life and assumes that since no one has challenged him to grow, he must be “ok.”

There are more “comfortable” scenarios than worshipping in a mixed-company room with unbelievers, the spiritually immature, and those who are growing in faith. What the church is called to though, is not comfort but a mission of making disciples. This is our ONE JOB.

One Day…and Lasting Impact

GCSONovember 5, 1995.

22 years ago yesterday. One of the significant milestone days in my life. I was working as a Deputy Sheriff on second shift when I was instructed to serve a warrant. I contacted backup, per department procedure, and proceeded to “set up” on the house where the man would be.

He was early.

Backup was delayed.

The situation unfolded rapidly, and I ended up in the fight of my life. There is little more arresting in life than hearing the “Officer Down” tones and knowing that you are the officer in peril. It was a life-changing day.

I learned through the experience how very little control I have in life. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, you still cannot control all the variables. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, someone will still question and critique what you did. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, you are still mortal.

I saw the face of evil. I saw the sacrifice of brothers and sisters in uniform that placed themselves in jeopardy for a fellow officer. I saw the need to take inventory of my life and examine priorities. What was it that I truly valued? How did I want my life story recorded? What did I need for my children and wife to know that only I could help them understand?

The events of that fateful day resulted in a suspect’s death. A parent lost a son. Siblings lost a brother. That day brought lawsuits and mandatory counseling, review boards and state police investigations, all of which cleared me and the other deputies involved of any wrongdoing, but it brought something else…

God used that day to cause a self-assured and self-sufficient young man to ask some important questions about faith. Within months, Jodi and I returned to church (from which I had complacently allowed…or maybe caused…our family to drift). I had a pastor teach me to read the Bible for myself. I had strong men invest in my life to disciple me…some formally and even more informally through their example and gracious truth-speaking into my life. Men like Sam League, Shane Alexander, Terry Wedgewood, George Wyatt, Greg Dixon, Steve Ellis, Johnny Condrey, Jack Givens, Michael Cloer, Don Dunavant, and countless other influences.

The results of that day, looking back on 22 years…is that I have two sons that love and serve God. I have a precious wife whom God uses to equip and encourage women in the faith. I have a ministry of shepherding people, some of whom I have seen God do amazing things in and through. I have an appreciation for life, faith, and God’s sovereign care for rebellious young men that I don’t think would be true apart from the drama of that fateful day. I have a passion for men who “strap up” every day and stand a post between evil and its potential victims.

Today I am grateful for God who gloriously works to recall rebels and restores them to service for His glory.

Grateful.

Grateful.

Don’t despise what you do not fully understand. Put your faith in God who never is caught off-guard and never is found lacking in ability or compassionate concern. The moment you question that…return to the cross and see how far He has gone to rescue you and choose to trust Him.

Are you a… (part 1)

Church.Image1.jpgI have observed for some time now that many believers, even many of those close to me as part of the church I serve, have misunderstood or are ignoring the fundamental nature of the church. Sure…the discussion of “going to church,” “being” the church, or “joining” the church has caused many tempers to flare…but what is the church?

Theologically (and therefore practically) the church is AT LEAST the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the image of Christ. This means that the church was sought and purchased by our gracious Lord (Acts 20:28) and that it functions as the physical instrument for fulfilling the mission/mandate of Christ. As we do that, we manifest in a measurable way how the Kingdom of Christ works.

Stated a little differently, the church is the place where people become like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as the Word and the Body/community work together to fulfill a specific mission. Therefore, there should be observable change, growth, and glory among the saints.

What I have observed is that many don’t “get” the fundamental nature of the church, so they fail to find and fulfill their role in it. Many of these people have bought into the line that the church is an organization or a service provider…a commodity for consideration and consumption. This view has led to an individualistic perspective on church and sometimes…individualism within the scope of the larger Body itself.

It seems to me (while others may use different designations for the classes I am identifying here) that there are four groups/classes of people participating in a local church setting on any given Sunday:

  • Examiners. These people are not part of the church and are “examining” the claims of Christ as they measure them against what they observe as the outworking of those claims through the local expression of Christianity through the church. Some call these seekers.
  • Consumers. These folks evaluate church based on a narrow definition of individualistic intent and primarily choose participation if there is a real or anticipated benefit to themselves. They may or may not be believers. For these folks, the first and primary concern is “what does this experience do for me?”
  • Participants. These are people who are part of the church (so they must be believers) and choose to serve in elements of church but have not embraced the church’s mission as their own. They are not evil or against the mission; but, they are also not owners. They are at different stages of Christian development and are growing as they serve (which is the distinction between participants and consumers).
  • Partners. These people get it. They are believers who are growing in grace and sanctification in Christ and understand the mission of the church. Further, they embrace it. It is their mission.

In part 2, I will unpack some of the implications of these classifications and examine them for biblical warrant…but based on what you see:

Where would you fit?

Do you know your church’s mission?

Do you see yourself as somewhat responsible for that mission?

If the church failed to fulfill that mission, would you feel as if you personally failed as well?

Across the Aisle…

Handshake ImageThere have been several key figures in my life and development as a man and as a follower of Christ. Each one has his own story, but this is the story of a man named George Wyatt.

He stepped across the aisle. Back in that day, we were a church of hundreds. I was a 20-something cop. He was an engineer. I was a high school graduate. He wore a ring from Clemson. Jodi and I were new in the church with a small kid. He had been in the church for a while and was connected, serving, and demonstrating a genuine, fruitful existence. And, he stepped across the aisle.

My new friend, George, invited Jodi and me to join him and his wife, as well as some friends for a new bible study at his house. It was a study on parenting. It was a good study by the way, but the real value of the invite in my life was leadership and love. George and I became friends. His family became special to us. Perhaps most significant…because George took the initiative, I BECAME a better man. He invested in me. Told me tough things while we stood shoulder to shoulder working on a project. He invited me into his world and gave me the “Barnabas gift,” meaning that he affirmed me to his sphere of influence so that I could join in.

George believed in me when I was still trying to figure out who I was. He helped me get into politics. He invited me to join the school board with him for the Christian school our kids attended. He talked about his own life struggles in a transparent manner so I would know that he wasn’t perfect. He made me part of his life. When I sensed the calling to plant a church, he helped us. When I was discouraged, he spoke tough encouragement.

Why do I tell you this? Because there was no manual. No training program. No curriculum. But there was discipleship. George helped me become a disciple, by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by inviting me into his world.

As I read the Scriptures and grow in my understanding of the purpose Christ has for his people…this is a big part of what making disciples is all about.

So, look around…

Who is across the aisle from you?

Who is on the outside of your circle of healthy Christian relationships that you can bring in?

Who has God placed in your path to love and lead…to invest in and serve…to speak to and speak for?

Thanks, George. Jodi and I love you, Karen, and your precious girls. Most significantly…I love Jesus more because of you stepping across the aisle.

If you are a George to someone…keep going. Obedience to Christ’s command pays off. If there’s a kid across the aisle…don’t just be available…be intentional. It matters.