What’s Your Faith Story?

We all have a faith story.  Some of your faith stories may be more elaborate, and some of them may be pretty vanilla.  But your faith story consists of more than just the day you became a Christian.

Someone taught you.  Someone showed you.  Someone helped you.

And your faith story may just help someone see Jesus.

One of the easiest ways to be a disciple is to live out your faith daily.

What is keeping you from sharing your story of faith?

When God Slams the Door In Your Face

Stick - Slam Door

Mid South Youth Camp was my home away from home for 4 straight summers during college.  There were 6 guys and 7 gals serving as counselors at the camp each week.  We each had our own cabin we dealt with, and a different group of kids came in each and every week.

The counselors had a special place to “live” which was located on a screened-in porch.  Each of these porches was the main entryway into the cabin.  The only way into the cabin was a wooden screened door.

Each and every week, my first rule when I shared the cabin rules on Sunday night was this:  DO NOT LET THE DOOR SLAM WHEN YOU ENTER AND EXIT.  I know it sounds silly, but spend 9 weeks in a row listening to a door slam next to your face, and you’d make it a rule too!

Its a simple rule, but hard to to follow for 8-18 year old guys.  So, needless to say, I would constantly  hear the door slam as the guys would come and go.  The boys would run out of the cabin in a rush, and about 4 seconds later – WHAM!!  Pictures would fall off the wall of the porch, my ears would ring for a few seconds, and this happened countless times each day.

This rule, when broken, had consequences.  If you let the door slam, you had to come back, open and shut the door gently and quietly 20 times.  It was great fun watching these guys run out, forgetting the rule, hearing it slam, and hanging their head as they had to come back to open and shut the door 20 times quietly.

I hated that sound.  I never could understand why they couldn’t grasp the idea of not letting the door slam.

You know what else I don’t understand?  Why does it seem like God allows doors to slam in our face as well?  Have you ever felt like God opened up a door for you to walk through, only to have it slammed in your face?  A wonderful opportunity comes up, everything looks awesome, and WHAM!!!  The door is slammed in your face.

Why does this happen?  Could it be that maybe we conjure up our own idea of what God’s will should be, and when it doesn’t happen we are disappointed?  Maybe upset?

What I’ve learned is that when we feel like God slams a door in our face – He calls us back to assess the situation, and as we look back, we realize that God has put us where we need to be instead of where we want to be.  If we let Him, God will lead us where HE wants us to go, and will keep us out of the places we need to pass by.

Today – maybe we should praise God for slamming doors.

(I wrote this “article” for the church bulletin in Ashland City, TN, where I had my first Youth Ministry job.  It was printed on April 18, 2004.  My mom found a copy of it in a closet at home with some old pictures.)

What Are you Leaving Behind?


Tomorrow at the Granny White Pike Church of Christ, my lesson will be on what we are leaving behind for future generations.  I will be using this poem at the end of my lesson – entitled “The Sculptor” – author unknown.

I took a piece of plastic clay
And idly fashioned it one day
And as my fingers pressed it still, 
It moved and yielded to my will

I came again when days were passed
The bit of clay was hard at last
The form I gave it, it still bore, 
But I could change the form no more.

I took a piece of living clay
And gently formed it day by day,
And molded with my power and art
A young child’s soft and yielding heart

I came again when years were gone
It was a man I looked upon;
He still that early impress wore
And I could change him nevermore.


Guideposts – An Introduction

Guidepost Intro Pic John 14-6

Last night, we started a new series at GW for the summer, entitled “Guideposts on The Way” for our evening worship time.  I am so excited about presenting this series, and hope you’ll join us for it on Sunday nights at 6pm in our Fellowship Hall.

What verses do you think of when you think of core, foundational, strongholds of our faith?  What verses do you think of when you need the strength to hold on?  What verses do you think of when you’re lost and need to find your way?

I love watching signs on the interstate.  I especially like the signs that tell me how far away I am from a certain destination.  I grew to appreciate interstate and road signs even more when I lived in Houston.  Its easy to get turned around and lost in a big city.

However, road signs don’t always mean a lot to us – especially when we can’t understand them!  Imagine, being an American driving on the streets in Shanghai without a modern day GPS to get us from place to place, and all you had were the road signs.  By the time you matched up all the characters in their language – it would take you hours to get anywhere!

I like it when I can understand the signs.  I like it when they mean something to me, and guide me like they are meant to do.  That’s why I like Jesus.  He’s my guidepost.  He’s not only shown us the way, HE IS THE WAY!

In John 14:6, Jesus tells us “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Our ultimate journey is taking us toward Heaven, and Jesus is guiding us on the way.

We get pulled in a lot of different directions, and its easy to get distracted.  But, we have a Savior who has shown us a reliable, well worn path, and many have gone down that path of faith.  I invite you to check back every so often to see a new “Guidepost” and read about passages that can show us the way.

None of these will be overly complicated.  None of these will lead you on a treacherous journey.  These verses will simply guide us.

Model Christianity or True Christianity?

Today, our house went on the market.  We have lived in this house since April of 2009.  It has been a great home to us.  Josie learned how to do so many things here.  We’ll forever have memories of our lives on Coopers Post Lane.  The great thing about our home – its been lived in and loved.  When you walked into our house, you would see photos of family and friends, you would see Josie’s toys on the floor, you would see Christian verses on the wall, and you would smell something cooking in the oven.

So imagine if you would, how hard it has been the past few days getting ready to sell the home.  Since we have a bit of a time crunch on our hands, we decided to pay a little extra money and stage the home.  This is a common tactic and works very well.  Our realtor says she has much better results when a client will stage their home.  She recommended a lady, we hired her, and she came on Saturday to “stage” our home.  When she walked in the door, she was full of life, and told us in the most cheerful way “After I’m done today, you’ll hate me, but your home will sell if you let me do my job”…and it began.  She started taking pictures off the wall, moving things around, telling us that our home didn’t look like a “model” home.  She said buyers want to see it as a model home, not as a home that’s lived in.  That’s a challenge, because until we move, we still have to live there!

Our home now looks similar, but different than it has the past few years.  Josie can’t have toys out, I had to move my La-Z-Boy Recliner to the hall, we have to have place settings out all the time on the table so it looks like we’re always ready to have dinner, all in all…things are just not who we really are, but I have to tell you, it looks good.  When the photographer came to take the photos, I couldn’t believe it was our house.

The problem is that is not how we live.  Its a burden to always have everything looking “phony but real”.  For someone looking to buy a home, they will walk in and think it looks wonderful.  For someone living there, we sit there and think “this looks silly…no one would live like this”, and that’s the point.  No one would live like that, but the way it has been staged is set up to feature the best parts of our home and draw your eyes to those features.

I stop and think about how this works in our lives.  I try my hardest not to hide anything about who I am.  I am not perfect by any means, and if I tried to make people think I was perfect, that would take a lot more effort than its worthy.  How tiring would it be to always have to pretend to be someone you’re really not?  Its so much easier just to live your life truthfully to everyone, so they can always know who they get when they see you.  Don’t be one way in front of your church family, and a different way in front of your work family.  Eventually, the two sides may meet, and one of them is going to see your “fake” side.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to be true to yourself and to them all the time?

I don’t want people to see me and think, “I wonder if he’s being genuine, or if he’s just being that way to make me think he’s a Christian”.  True Christianity can’t be taken off.  It can’t be hidden, and it can’t be taken away.  Its who you are.  Its not a model home to show off, and once the people looking are gone you get back to living your normal life.  Its a 24/7 life that God has called us to live.  So which are you living?  A life of Model Christianity or True Christianity?

Just Add Water – A Look at Being a Christian

On June 10, 1992, I became a Christian.  There are many thoughts out there today as to how one becomes a Christian.  I believe the New Testament gives plenty of examples that the way to Christ and salvation eternal is through hearing the word of God, believing in what it says, changing your sinful ways, confessing that Jesus is Lord, and giving yourself over to him in immersion through baptism.  When you give yourself over to Jesus, you do it completely.

I remember the night I became a Christian.  My father baptized me after I walked down the aisle to the Church of Christ classic song, “Just As I Am”.  I remember making my confession before the 30 or so people at the Bethel Church of Christ that night, my father plunging me into the water, and re-emerging as a new creature buried in Christ, with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I told God that night that I wanted to give my life to Him, completely.  While I have not even come close to being perfect, I have tried my hardest, and am committed to raising my family in a Christian home.

Recently, Billy Graham’s son Franklin was asked if he believed that Barack Obama was a Christian.  He stated “He has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian? For him, going to church means he’s a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior. That’s the definition of a Christian. It’s not as to what church you are a member of. A membership doesn’t make you Christian.

A membership doesn’t make you Christian – there’s a lot of validity in that.  For a lot of us, we feel that just going to church makes you a Christian.  We believe that if our name is on the roll in a congregation of some sort, that we’re on God’s roll for entry into Heaven.

In an article challenging Franklin’s response of Obama’s Christianity, Roland Martin  a syndicated columnist for CNN and author of “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House.”, said “Any Christian will tell you: If a person verbally professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that person is considered saved. No ifs, ands or buts. That’s when the conversation should end.”

I can’t help but think its not that simple.  First of all, “any Christian” will not say that.  True Christians will say that there is more to following Christ than just saying Jesus is my Lord and Savior.  The apostles left their nets, their jobs, their families and their livelihood to follow Christ.  Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor so he could inherit eternal life.  Jesus never simply said “Believe in me, and that’s all”.  In Matthew 28, Jesus tells those of us who have given our lives over to him to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them everything I have commanded you.”

We see in the following years of the first Christians that they did this.  In Acts, we see that the Christians dedicated themselves to each other.  They helped each other out.  They committed to being together, in a “corporate” setting and in their own personal lives.  We can’t simply just add water to our spiritual lives and expect it to grow into a full, mature Christian.  We can’t expect to just add water, never commit to God’s church, and expect that he approves of it.

We’ve read of professional athletes being kicked off their teams, traded away, or even fired simply because they didn’t show up to practice.  Practice is an important part of being an athlete.  They can’t just show up to the games and expect to first of all be a team, but second of all, to be any good.  When you don’t practice together, you don’t know each other’s game, and therefore can’t be productive.  One or two people may be successful, but as a team you will not succeed.

Yet, for some people, they treat their eternal salvation, their identity with God, as a casual social club.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that if you fail to go to church services every time the doors are open, that you’ll be eternally condemned.  I’m not going to tell you that if you fail to meet with fellow Christians every day to encourage each other and to teach the lost, that God won’t have a place for you in eternity.

But I will say that you’re missing out on your full potential as a Christian.  This isn’t an argument for whether or not baptism is essential to salvation.  This isn’t an argument about what church you have to belong to in order to have eternal life.  Those discussions are for a different time and place.  This is a plea that we need to restore the community found in the New Testament church, so that we aren’t just Christians in name, but that we are Christians in every aspect of our lives.

A business person seeking to climb the ladder of success would never think of just phoning in their work each week.  They know that they have to live that life daily, as best as they can, so that they can succeed.  They are going to devote themselves to that company, so that the presidents and managers can see how much it means to them, and that they are committed to the cause.

Instant coffee is okay, but slow drip is better.  TV Dinners suffice, but are nothing compared to a meal someone prepared in love all day long.  When we commit to the Christian life,  instead of just pulling it all together once a week, or once a month, God will take note and reward our hard work, in this life and the next.  May God be praised as we all dedicate ourselves to Him.

Great Balls of Fire!

There are many narratives told throughout the Bible that are impossible to let go of.  From the beginning of the Bible to the end, many jump out as tall tales, fascinating adventures, or love stories.

–         Noah’s Ark and the Flood
–         The Captivity and Exile of the Israelites
–         The Walls of Jericho
–         The Herculean Samson
–         David and Goliath
–         Jonah and the Big Fish

Aside from the description and accounts of the Life and Death of Jesus, no other story sticks out in my head like the one of Shadrach Meshach, and Abednego.

I believe the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is so powerful, that I believe you could pull this one story out of the Bible and encapsulate every aspect of who God is, and every aspect of who we as Christians should be in our service to Him.

In a nutshell, King Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant statue and tells everyone that when the band plays, everyone of any race, creed, or color must bow down and worship the image.  If  you did not bow, you would be thrown into a fiery furnace to be destroyed.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, 3 Jewish men who were in Babylon due to the captivity of Israel, refuse.  These men have already been mentioned in the first chapter under different names, but they were promoted and honored in the land to positions of authority.

Nebuchadnezzar brings them in and asks them to bow down when the band plays.  He reveals his true egotistical self in the statement: “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand”.  Here, Nebuchadnezzar asserts his own power above all gods.   Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego give an answer at this point that reminds of the devotion that one would expect find in a great love story: “We don’t need to defend ourselves before you in this matter”, OR – Your threats mean nothing to us.

They then go on to show their true faith in their God.  They talk of if you throw us into the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from it, or anything else you throw at us.  BUT IF NOT, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O King.  We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship  your statue.  This obviously makes the King mad, and he orders the furnaces 7 times hotter, and the men thrown in to the blaze.  They were bound, wearing all of their clothing, and thrown in.  The men who threw them in were killed from the intensity of the heat.

The King looks up at the furnace and notices they are walking around, unbound, and there is a 4th person in the fire with them.  He recognizes this person as a son of the gods, later to recognize the person as God.

Here are 5 points I was able to pull from the story to apply to us today.

  1. The Love story here is reciprocal :  They love their God so much, they’re not willing to betray Him, and He loves his servants so much, he would never betray them
  2. There is power in companionship. Surround yourself with good friends.  Could they have done this alone?  The three men believed that God could save them from anything, but their loyalty was NOT contingent on their rescue.    This loyalty had to be easier to have when the loyalty comes with the companionship.  Surround yourself with believers, so you won’t be tempted to abandon God from time to time.
  3. We can’t let an emotional response to God rule our faith. Nebuchadnezzar had several “mountain of God” experiences, in previous chapters, but these emotional outbursts of his allegiance to the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were seemingly short lived.  Emotion is not a bad thing, and an emotional response to God is not a bad thing.  However, we can’t base our entire faith on the emotional responses to God.  It has to be rooted, like the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
  4. God saved the three men IN THE FIRE, not FROM THE FIRE. God could have extinguished the flames, but he did not.  This is interesting to note that God saves us the same way today.  He saves us IN the world, not FROM the world.
  5. God continues to confirm His promise to us as He did for Israel. This was an encouragement for Daniel’s Day.  Remember things are bad.  They’ve been in captivity, their land was devastated, their people were scattered, and the situation looked hopeless.  What an encouragement this could be in giving hope to the hopeless.  This story becomes a strong message to the people.   Jehovah is still on the throne.  God hasn’t forsaken us. He will one day fulfill His promises to His people

Interesting to note that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s names were originally something else: Hananiah is a Hebrew name that means “Yahweh who is gracious”. Misha’el means “Who is like Yahweh?” and it also means “to feed” or “to provide” as in how a husband provides for his family. The Hebrew name Azariah appropriately means “Yahweh has helped”.  God certainly did all of those things for these men in this challenging time.