Wednesday, August 26, 2020

IS ANYTHING TOO HARD FOR THE LORD?

 

And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” Genesis 18:13-14



"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" What a great question. In times of personal crisis, national confusion, and societal chaos, you and I might be tempted to believe that problems of today are too much for our God to handle. Beloved friend, cast that kind of thinking as far away from your mind as possible, as nothing is too hard for the Lord. Let's think about it...

Abraham had already begun his great faith journey, whereby he was called a friend of God. He began this walk of faith at the age of seventy-five as revealed in Genesis 12:1-4. Here is man who had passed the prime of life being told that his offspring would become a great nation. When the Lord appeared to him in Genesis 15 some ten years later, he and his wife still had no children. Yet the plan and promise of God had not changed with the changing circumstances of natural aging. By the time you reach our focus text in Genesis 18, another fifteen years had passed. He was now ninety-nine years of age, and she was ninety. Surely the promise of God would prove null and void considering their ages, as she had long lost the ability to conceive and bare children. No wonder she laughed at the prospect of God's promise becoming an actual reality for them. But, here's that hard, pressing question: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

Now you might be wondering what this has to do with the photograph of an aging vehicle. Let me explain. In 2001, Tammy and I encountered the Lord's leadership to trust Him in providing us a home to call our very own. This was a very daunting proposition for us, and at times I nearly baled out of following His leadership when I could not see how we could make our financial ends meet while operating a faith ministry. The following year, as we were praying earnestly about trusting Him for our Faith House, it became apparent that we needed new transportation. As is our habit, we partnered together in prayer for the Lord to lead and direct us concerning this need. God worked as only He could in making our paths cross with a car dealer who sought to minister to ministers. We had come to the understanding that we were to look for and purchase a Chevrolet Trailblazer with a third row seat and room to seat seven passengers. When we arrived at the lot to meet this gentleman, he had only one of the Trailblazer extended versions available, and it was brought in from another dealership at the request of a potential buyer. We gave it a test drive, sat down with him to talk about pricing and financing, and told him that we would let him know of any decision that we made should that vehicle still be available at a later date. Even with a very generous discounted price and an extremely low interest rate, we knew the payments would be just over $500 per month. To us, sending that amount to GMAC every month for five years seemed utterly impossible. But, is anything too hard for the Lord?

We knew that we would be returning to his area of Mississippi in a couple of weeks, so we prayed that if we were to trust God for that SUV, that one, not another one, then it would be on this man's lot when we returned. When we arrived on August 20, 2002, that same Trailblazer was still sitting on the lot at Ackerman Chevrolet, and we left that afternoon with the very first brand new vehicle that we had ever purchased in our years of marriage. We put the first 100,000 miles on it in three and a half years, and it hit 200,000 sometime in 2010. It's now been a part of our family and ministry for eighteen years. It doesn't get used as much as it once did, but this morning the odometer reached 368,000 miles. By the grace of God, we never missed a payment. By the grace of God, everything still works on it. And by the grace of God, it even survived being Laurie's beach buggy for a couple of years when she lived in Pensacola (but that's another story, LOL!).

Friend, why do I share this with you? Because it's so very easy to be overwhelmed by current circumstances of life and lose sight of the faithfulness of God. Not only was He faithful to us in the purchase and financial obligation of the Trailblazer, but He maintained our vision for our Faith House as well. Have you ever heard the old cliché: "Where God guides, He provides"? Well, IT'S TRUE! Before we bought this vehicle, we were living debt free in my hometown of the Mississippi Delta, paying $200 a month rent to the Duncan Baptist Church to live in their parsonage, which was a very nice, three bedroom/two bath, ranch style, brick home. But now we had entered into a financial obligation to General Motors while preparing to undertake the responsibility of relocating and building our new home. We agonized in prayer over all of this, and moved forward in obedience. When we completed our Faith House in 2004, we had a $950 monthly note on a thirty year mortgage, as well as the Trailblazer payments, and neither of us had what is considered to be gainful employment with a guaranteed income. How we even qualified for extremely low interest loans is another testimony of God's grace working in our lives. When the Trailblazer was paid off, home interest rates were on a lowering trend, so we refinanced to a fifteen year mortgage with a $1,200 monthly obligation to hasten our payoff. And as only our gracious God could do, He worked to have our goal of once again living debt free a reality, as we just paid off our Faith House mortgage six years early. Thank you JESUS!!

The journey has not been easy, and many questions circling our lives remain unanswered. Yet through it all, God has been faithful. When we step outside and see the Trailblazer, it constantly reminds us that God can make a way, when there seems to be no way. Amen! In fact, there are three other automobiles parked outside of our home, and the Trailblazer is the only one that we paid for. All of the others were given to us! The Lord makes sure that I remember this whenever I want to camp out in a place of despair and wonder how He can possibly supply our many needs. NOTHING IS TOO HARD FOR THE LORD!

Abraham's wife, Sarah, was going to soon learn this great principle. In Genesis 21:1-3, the Bible says: "And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac." Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Being Still

“Be still, and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46 is an incredible passage that speaks peace and confidence into a very troubling experience. There is no clear evidence that reveals the secondary author of this Psalm, but we certainly know the primary author is the Spirit of God. We could look at the life of David and realize that he could have been moved to write these verses, as he was very well acquainted with difficult circumstances in his life. Likewise, Moses could have been the human instrument to pen this testimony of faith rising victoriously over fear. I was moved several years ago to appreciate the possibility that perhaps Isaiah wrote this brief, yet powerful Psalm. Great men of the word like John Stott, Warren Wiersbe and John Phillips have researched and written that this testimony might be about the experience that King Hezekiah and Isaiah shared when the king of Assyria sent his army of 185,000 soldiers to surround, capture and destroy Jerusalem. This time of terror resulted in the Lord sending His angel to put to death this entire army in one fateful night. (For an in-depth look at the faithful life and gracious reign of Hezekiah, you can read 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 29-31) Beloved, there will be experiences in our lives that will remind us that we are helpless and powerless to overcome personal challenges in our own limited and frail strength. Just as Hezekiah poured out himself to the Lord in humility and sincerity as this invading and intimidating army came up against him and his people, we need to have the same mindset as we face challenges, problems, and events that upset us and overwhelm us.

The past several weeks have been unlike anything that I have ever experienced before. I confess that I am still trying to process what exactly is going on as we face conflicting stories concerning this virus, total death statistics, and a nearly complete shut-down of our society and it's economic engine. I sincerely believe that this pandemic has been altered by the prayers of God's people, in that the vast majority of our nation has not seen hospitals overwhelmed by a rush of COVID-19 patients. I personally know some people who were hospitalized for extended periods with the virus, and it was a terrifying experience. At the same time, I have heard testimonies of those who tested positive for the virus that had no symptoms and no knowledge that they were sick at all. The power of prayer, coupled with the swift action of governmental leaders in closing schools, canceling sporting events, limiting travel and the size of public gatherings of any kind, should be applauded in altering the spread of this disease. I also firmly believe that some politicians are using this virus to push an agenda to ruin our booming economy while ushering in a socialistic society. They are motivated by their desire to unseat our current president in the upcoming election, and will do anything and everything to accomplish their selfish political goals. With that being said about our present circumstances, what is God teaching me? He has been using these past few weeks to remind me of the priority and power of BEING STILL.

I have always been a man of action. I like to have an agenda of what needs to be done, and do it. This attitude was placed into me at an early age. Growing up on a farm in the Mississippi Delta meant working from can to can't when precious days of ideal weather gave us a limited window of opportunity to accomplish needed tasks. Many vital activities on the farm could not be rolled over to another day. Whether it was planting, harvesting, or anything in between, we had to work long and hard to insure agricultural success. Many of these developed attitudes followed me into the ministry. Whatever needed to be done for the glory of God in the body of Christ, I was willing to do it. I despised lackluster attempts at serving the Lord when a job needed to be done while the souls of men were at stake. Dead services, boring sermons, dull music, and pathetic prayers were to be avoided at all costs. As a pastor, I desired and demanded personal excellence in all that I tried to do, and I expected the same attitude from my church leaders. Anything less was unacceptable to me and would not be tolerated. More than once I boldly told people that if they wanted to attend a lifeless church where God never showed up, I would gladly name a few where they could go and be happy in the dead atmosphere of a godless vacuum. In that season of my life, I distinctly remember being approached by one of my church members who was very concerned for my physical, mental and emotional well being. She was a pastor's daughter, and had witnessed her dad suffer a debilitating breakdown that cost him his ministry, and nearly his life. She challenged me to keep a record of my ministry hours per week, and she promised to find out what I discovered at a later time. I assured her that I would fulfill her request, and to no surprise I discovered that I was logging an average of  90-110 hours per week in ministry. During that time I was preparing sermons and preaching a minimum of eight times a week; visiting our local shut-ins and members in area nursing homes; traveling to local hospitals in Booneville, Corinth, New Albany and Tupelo, as well as to those hospitalized in Jackson, Memphis, and Birmingham; maintaining evangelistic outreach in our church community; reaching out to those members who were not being faithful in attendance; and participating in preaching opportunities at other churches in the surrounding area of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. It was during those days that I considered golfing or fishing pastors to be slackers. After all, how could a true man of God take a day off when the Devil was constantly on the prowl? When she finally asked me for a report, tears fell from her eyes as she silently turned and walked away after hearing my testimony. I readily admit that being still in that day for me, did not equate to having a greater, personal knowledge of the Person of God.

It was not long after this encounter, that He began to open my eyes to some incredible truth. In John chapter six, Jesus was asked an important question: "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" His answer was unique: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." In other words, those around Christ wanted to know the secret, or the formula, for doing the work of God. The miracles of Jesus were capturing the attention of everyone. He was doing only what God could possibly do. Therefore, they sincerely wanted to know what they must do in order to perform or accomplish the work or activity of God. But Jesus did not give them a formula, nor share with them a secret. Rather, He told them the truth: FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD IS THE ONLY REQUIREMENT IN FULFILLING THE WORK OF GOD!

What does this mean? It means that only God can perform or accomplish the work or activity of God. It is absolutely ludicrous to assume that any humanistic endeavor, no matter how sincere, can accomplish the work of God. He showed me that I, in and of myself, would never be anything but an absolute failure in life and ministry. I cannot save anyone. I cannot change anyone. I cannot sanctify anyone. I cannot grow a church numerically, nor spiritually. I cannot create, manufacture, nor sustain a revival experience. I cannot do anything that has any eternal value. Only God can do these kinds of things, and Jesus did them because He was God, and He can do them now because He is still God today! Our focus and responsibility, therefore, is to trust and obey His voice, because He is the one who will accomplish the work of God through His people as we yield ourselves to Him! Now do me a favor, re-read the previous paragraph, and this one as well, then go somewhere and shout HALLELUJAH!

The Lord also reminded me of the dilemma of the early church when a dispute arose over some of the members being neglected. Instead of doubling and tripling their efforts to minister to everyone, the pastors instituted the deacon body to come along side and assist them. They said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Imagine this scenario, the church is multiplying, and a dispute arises that threatens the harmony and unity of the body of Christ. Yet in the midst of this upsetting reality, they recognize that being still in His presence must be their priority in order to rightly divide and teach the word of God. And what was the result? God began doing only what He can do. "Then the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith."

If this pandemic shut-down has accomplished anything for me personally, it has been used by God to remind me of the importance of being still. Think about it, the great Apostle Paul accomplished more by being still than on his missionary journeys. What do I mean by this? It was after he was arrested and imprisoned that God used him to write most of the New Testament. His "prison epistles" are still being used today to grow churches and transform lives, long after Paul's death in Rome. It was the beloved disciple John who was banished to the Isle of Patmos as an aged warrior of the Gospel. Yet in this horrible environment, separated from family and friends, this man was being still in the presence of God. And what was the result? "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants-things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near." Yes, beloved, being still for John increased his knowledge and experience of God, and the result for us was the Book of Revelation. Another example would be the rugged Galilean and former fisherman, Peter. It was this outspoken, impetuous man who would be filled with the Holy Spirit to provide key leadership for the early church. And it was this man who would also be imprisoned in Rome before his execution that allowed him to be still and experience the inspiration of God in writing his two epistles. Though Peter's physical voice has been silent for centuries, his spiritual voice will reverberate throughout eternity as a human author of God's holy word.

In the book of Ephesians, the Bible says, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." The word redeem comes from the Greek word 'exagorazo' and has the root meaning of purchasing, buying or investing. Because the word for time can also be translated as season, this phrase conveys the idea of investing wisely to make the most of every opportunity, or taking advantage of opportunities that are given since they may never be available again. If you are like me, these past few weeks have truly been a different kind of season of life. Have you redeemed the time by making the most of this opportunity and practiced being still in the presence of God? Are you taking advantage of these quiet days of being required to stay at home by investing quality time praying, fasting, reading, meditating, and worshipping? And if you are a pastor, or serving in some kind of teaching capacity in your local church, I pray that you will understand that you cannot do the work of God, only He can perform His work. And that He empowers you to do both the impossible and the eternal as you learn to be still, and truly know that He is God. Amen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

FEAR or FAITH?


Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:6-7

I'm sick. No, I am not sick with the Wuhan virus, or COVID-19, or coronavirus, or whatever we're supposed to call it, I'M SICK OF IT! I'm sick of the constant chatter about it. I'm sick of the non-stop news coverage concerning it. I'm sick of the political posturing over it. And I'm sick of the unbelievable display of "stupidity panic" as a result of it!

Some are reporting this event as a doomsday catastrophe, which at times crosses the line from revealing basic facts to fear-mongering. Others are prophesying that this virus will usher in the final Great Awakening via Facebook technology before the return of Christ. (By the way, I didn't know that God needed social media to accomplish His work. And I also remind you that if an awakening does not take place, the Bible says in the Old Testament that we are to execute false prophets. Be very careful, preacher, what you say. And because of your lying tongue and deceitful words, be very thankful that we don't live in Old Testament days.) While even a few are challenging this whole scenario as a false scheme to manipulate the markets, destroy our prosperous economy, and cause a tidal wave of hatred towards our President in order to assure his defeat in our upcoming election.

In light of all this commotion around us, what are we to think? How should we respond? And what are we to do? Please read my observations with an open mind and an humble spirit, as I have prayerfully prepared to post my thoughts:
  • I do not believe the coronavirus is a false news narrative. I believe it is a real disease that should not be taken lightly. I do not know if it originated from someone eating a diseased bat purchased in an open market in Wuhan, China; or was an experiment gone bad in some kind of chemical/biological testing facility in that city; or was a man-made virus intentionally loosed in order to fulfill the desires of those with an extremely depraved heart. I do not know the exact origin, but I believe that it is real.
  • Like some, I question why this virus is getting such news coverage when other sicknesses and diseases cause much more death than the coronavirus. The latest report states that there are 186,707 confirmed cases and 7,471 deaths linked to this disease globally. As I stated in my MARCH MADNESS post last week, it is estimated that at least 100,000 have died in this same time period of the common strains of the flu. Hmm, that's an interesting comparison. Also, the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus is very minimal. China, where the virus originated, has a population of 1.4 billion, and has reported just under 81,000 cases with 3,226 deaths. Look at that again: 1,400,000,000 people, and only 81,000 cases. Italy, with a population of 62 million, has certainly been hit hard with the virus according to alarming reports. It has about 28,000 confirmed cases with 2,158 deaths. The United States has a population of 330 million. We currently have 4,743 confirmed cases resulting in 93 deaths. In the state of Mississippi, we have a total population of approximately 3 million, with 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and no deaths. What does all this mean? With a total population of 7.8 billion people on planet Earth, only 0.000024% has the virus. In the U.S. only 0.000014% of our citizens has the virus. And in my home state of Mississippi, only 0.000004% have the disease. If you were to double, or even triple the confirmed cases, it would still remain a very small, minute percentage of the entire population. Estimated figures tell us that so far this year, there have been 7,700 traffic fatalities in the United States compared to 93 coronavirus deaths. You are much more likely to be killed in a car crash in this country than to die from this virus.
  • One of the reasons for the concern over the coronavirus is the limited number of hospital beds and medical supplies. Our health care system is not made to handle large numbers of extremely ill members of our society. Just looking at Mississippi, there are a total of about 12,000 hospital beds throughout the state. With a population of 3 million people, it is easy to see that we are not able to house and care for a large number of our citizens should they get desperately ill. Since this is a new virus, we have no natural immunity to it. Therefore, medical professionals, researchers, and governmental leaders have the right to be alarmed and to put forth advice and recommendations to us concerning the desire to lessen the spread of this virus.
  • As upsetting as this situation is right now, our world will eventually return to a place of normalcy. For those who like to schedule everything, have all their plans and courses of action spelled out, and possess a sense of control over their lives and circumstances, you will have to adjust to the new normal for the next several weeks. I encourage you to consider others more than yourself. Check on the elderly and those with compromised immune systems who might be in your circle of influence. Look for those opportunities to share the gospel with those who do not posses the same hope that we have in Christ. And by all means, please lovingly encourage everyone to CHILL OUT concerning toilet paper!
                                                                                                  
Many of you probably know that for half of my ministry experience, I have been classified as bivocational. If this term is new to you, it simply means that I have been employed outside of my ministerial vocation to meet the needs of my family's financial burdens. Tammy and I both helped operate a family owned restaurant in Sturgis when our girls were younger and who also worked there with us. I worked at a local hospice company for several years as a chaplain, serving patients, caregivers, and my fellow employees as I ministered to people in the midst of very difficult circumstances. Since 2011, I have been involved in the transportation industry, driving ACR Coach charter buses, as well as Mississippi State University shuttle buses for a three year period in that time frame. During these nine years of meeting thousands of people and helping groups reach their travel destinations, I have sought to be a witness for Christ in a subtle yet straight forward way. I have purposely played Christian music on low volume via the radio or satellite TV on my buses, to which I have never heard one complaint. While working on campus, I engaged in numerous conversations with students who trusted me to give them sound, biblical advice concerning some of the issues that they were facing in life. And in the charter world, I have often quoted the above scripture from Philippians chapter four before purposely praying for our safety on the roadways before embarking on a trip.

With the news of this coronavirus inundating the airwaves of talk radio, news reports, social media, and everyday conversations everywhere, this verse is taking on a whole new meaning for me and my family. The charter bus industry is taking a direct hit in this time of crisis. With an announcement just yesterday of governmental officials suggesting that we do not gather in groups no larger that ten, who's going to plan to fill a bus with 50 passengers to go somewhere? In fact, over 80% of my trips in 2020 have been school or sports related, and now all of my upcoming trips for the next several weeks have been cancelled. Spring time is the "Christmas season" for those of us in this type of work. If we don't make it now, we won't make it at all. We have historically called the months of February, March and April our industry's March Madness because of the hectic schedule associated with this time of year. Now, however, everything has drastically changed.

Other businesses, like ours, are about to be thrown into the fires of financial uncertainty. I say all of this to let you know that I am not writing in an ivory tower, unconnected from the world of fear and concern. Though not physically, this virus is having a direct impact on me and my family. So what are we to do? We can either allow FEAR or FAITH to dominate our hearts, lives, thoughts, and actions. It cannot be both, it is an either/or reality. So we choose FAITH! What about you? Are you going to join forces with those who add to the chaos, or will you link up with the calmness of the redeemed? Jesus said, "In the world, you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world." Amen? So, my dear friend, I encourage you to KEEP CALM and FAITH ON!



Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Acute Pain of Personal Rejection


"And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.'"
1 Samuel 8:7

It was a tragic time in the life of the nation of Israel, as the elders of the land demanded an earthly king. They boldly declared that they wanted to be like all the other nations that surrounded them. It is truly a sad testimony whenever the people of faith have a desire to be like the people of the world. As Samuel tearfully brought this request to the Lord, he was told that this was not a reflection upon him as a prophet, nor as a judge, but was a clear statement of personal rejection rooted in a greater problem. The people had rejected the wisdom, counsel and leadership of Samuel, because the people had rejected God. Samuel was not the first to experience this pain, as Moses encountered the sting of rejection. David also knew about rejection, first from Saul, and later from within his own family. Likewise, Jeremiah and Amos, two Old Testament prophets, were rejected men. And, of course, Jesus knew the deep pain of this malicious reality. The Bible says, "He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him."

Rejection is an awful word that produces agonizing wounds. It carries with it a harsh stigma that is extremely difficult, and nearly impossible, to overcome. A child rejected by his or her parents. A wife rejected by her husband, or a husband rejected by his wife. An individual rejected by their community. A worker rejected by their peers. And within the body of Christ, we often realize that the acute pain of personal rejection is not limited to the testimonies of those whose lives are portrayed in the word of God.

In my thirty years of gospel ministry, I too have faced and experienced the pain of rejection. Memories surface from time to time that remind me that the path of obedience has not always been easy. As the Lord faithfully opened doors for me to proclaim His word, I soon discovered that others were working to spread malicious lies and unfounded rumors against my personal character, and my scriptural beliefs, in order to damage, or perhaps destroy, my ministry. I would often laugh at such foolishness, until I discovered that some friends were being swayed to believe these baseless attacks. At one time I was in an area of service that still had strong pockets of racial division and prejudice in the lives of people, politicians, and even pastors. Preaching a message that God's grace is mighty to save no matter the place nor the race of an individual, caused a label to be placed upon me that was less than ideal. I remember being in those places where pastors would foolishly share the latest "n----r" jokes in order to raise my ire and judge my reactions. One particular time an ugly racist joke was told IN THE PULPIT, and then the preacher looked down at me and said, "What do you think about that, Brother Charles?" I wanted to get up immediately and leave as I felt my face flushed with anger, but I had been invited to preach the primary message before lunch by the host pastor. I was nearly in shock by this sinful and horrible display of hate and stupidity. When we later had a short break, I quietly left without saying anything to anyone. I don't know what happened after my departure, but I was told that I was the invisible recipient of many crude comments. Up until then, I counted that very influential pastor of a large church as a good friend, but our relationship eroded to a nonexistent level after that unpleasant event.

At other times my boldness in the pulpit caused my peers to turn against me. I was labeled a pulpit agitator by some who disliked both my style and my substance. A beloved associational missionary told me of an interesting phone call that he received from our state convention concerning my future. Some statistical information had garnered their attention concerning our church's growth, and they had several questions to ask about me. He validated what they were hearing in the state office, but when they voiced concern that I was a man who "rocked the boat" and they wanted him to speak to me about becoming a bit more moderate and agreeable, he laughed and told them that they should look elsewhere for a man who could be moved and controlled by the convention. It was via this man's knowledge and experience that I learned many prominent churches would have pastors who were groomed and chosen by the power of convention politics rather than the divine working of the Spirit of God. Years later a pastor told me that he always avoided me personally and professionally after other pastors voiced negative comments about me in his presence. When I was privileged to preach at a state evangelism conference where he was in attendance, he approached me and apologized for listening to useless gossip rather than talking with me face to face concerning what he had heard.

Now I do not want to paint an ugly picture over my thirty plus years of ministry. Time and space do not allow me to reflect upon the awesome adventure that I have had in following Christ. The trips to other countries to be involved in medical evangelism, revival conferences, pastor training, and missionary retreats have been wonderful encounters of His Spirit working in my life and in the lives of those in attendance. Numerous trips to Central and South American countries, as well as to European and Asian mega-cities, and those African adventures to both large cities and small villages will always be treasures stored in my memory. Preaching in elaborate chapels with huge windows to view the surrounding majestic mountains, as well as in mud huts with thatched roofs, were all privileges of grace. I remember being in a tiny Mexican village where an ongoing feud among two church families caused most folks to stay away. The congregation consisted of the missionary couple that we were with, my own family, two very aged women, about five little boys, and three dogs. The missionary led the music, the little boys took the offering, and I was preaching when the dogs decided to liven everything up with a good fight underneath the homemade pews! Dust was flying, teeth were biting, and the women started swinging whatever they could find at the dogs, as well as the boys, as they had joined the ruckus beneath the pews. When everyone guilty of fighting had been beaten out the door, they all went home. Looking at the missionary, I said, "What should we do now?" Replying with a smile, he said, "Let's give an invitation. After all that commotion, one of our wives might need to get saved!"

Funny experiences of life, coupled with those deeply moving times of Spiritual awakening and renewal, are also cemented in my mind. It has been an incredible adventure of faith that still continues today. I will be the first to admit that I have failed in numerous ways, yet the faithfulness of our Lord has been consistently present throughout the good times, as well as the not so good. As I look toward entering my thirty-first year of gospel ministry, I readily admit that where I am now was not a part of my long-range plan. Yet the past and current circumstances of my life have not dampened my faith, nor my zeal, for serving the Lord Jesus and seeking to be a positive influence through His name in whatever capacity is open for me.

If you are one of those servants of the Lord that has also experienced the acute pain of personal rejection, I encourage you to look away from those who would sidetrack you from your faith journey, and get a fresh glimpse of the Lord Jesus Christ. I remind you again that He is the ultimate example of rejection, yet He did not allow the God-haters of His day to interfere with His accomplishing His Father's will. In fact, the rejection was an important part of God's plan for the life, and the ultimate death, of His Son. And Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father, nor Me." Amen!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

15 - 30 - 35


"We walk by faith, not by sight."
2 Corinthians 5:7

The natural man has no understanding of this powerful statement. Those who are spiritually dead do not have the capacity to comprehend such rich truth. Although they exercise certain measures of faith each day, they do not know how to walk, or live, by the biblical principles of faith. Those who have no relationship with Christ must rely upon their own knowledge, understanding and experiences to make choices and decisions. Many times they will choose based upon a limited ability of humanistic reasoning. Using their five senses, coupled with the input of family or friends, they will decide upon a course of action that seems most pleasurable, attainable, desirable, profitable or manageable. In other words, natural man will select what he or she thinks, or feels, will give them the greatest measure of satisfaction or happiness. Such reasoning can often lead to personally disastrous and long-term, painful consequences. For those of us who have been saved, however, our choices and decisions in life must not be marked by humanistic reasoning, but by divine revelation. As we face crossroads in life, we must sincerely ask: "What is God saying to me?" Or, "How is the Holy Spirit leading me?"

It should come as no surprise that our lives, and the way we make choices and decisions in our lives, should be radically different than the non-believer. Everything about our lives should be marked by faith. In fact, the Bible says in Romans 14 that "whatever is not of faith is sin." As I have recently invested time in quiet reflection upon my life, my family, and my ministry, I realize that I am not writing from a place of personal and spiritual perfection. I have so much room to grow and mature in Christ, yet I am also so grateful for His grace, mercy and patience shown to me over and over again. During this past year, three important milestones were realized in my life that deserves recognition for His leadership, and praise for His faithfulness.

On March 4, 2019, Tammy and I celebrated fifteen years of being in our "Faith House" in the Craig Springs community near Sturgis, Mississippi. When we surrendered to the Lord's leadership in transitioning from a pastoral responsibility to an itinerant ministry of conducting church revivals, evangelistic crusades, and mission trips in 1997, we were uprooting our family and launching out into a sea of uncharted waters. We didn't have a place to live, but we did have a town to go to. God's Spirit had confirmed to us that we were to trust Him for a place to call home in my little, farming hometown in the Mississippi Delta. As we closed the door of ministry at the Thrasher Baptist Church, He opened the door for us to live in the parsonage of the Baptist church that I attended as a boy in Duncan, Mississippi. There was much for us to learn in this move of faith, and life was not always filled with warm sunshine, refreshing breezes, and beautiful flowers. Yet through it all, God was good.

We knew that we would not be in Duncan for a long time, but there was no revelation concerning any kind of move, so we sought to be content and wait on Him. Friends tried to convince us to move to the Lebanon, Tennessee area east of Nashville, others wanted us to relocate to Brandon, Mississippi near Jackson. Both of these were in places where I was preaching quite a bit in local churches, and very close to major airports that would make travel much easier. But as we prayed, there was no response from Heaven. We were learning that whenever He doesn't speak, we should remain focused on the task at hand, keep serving Him in faith, and realize that His silence either means no, or it might mean wait.

Returning home from a meeting in January of 2001, Tammy showed me an architectural drawing of a small house in a Southern Living magazine. Praying together about what she was believing God was showing her, gave us the overwhelming confirmation that we were to trust Him for the construction of this house.  As we prayed about the where, His revelation was almost instantaneous. The Lord showed us that we could trust Him for our "Faith House" in the community that Tammy called home. The process was slow, yet there was nothing that we could do to get things moving at a faster pace. I was traveling and preaching, often times in different countries around the world, and Tammy was busy home-schooling our girls.

In His providence, I was reconnected with a pastor at a Starkville church (Meadowview Baptist) who invited me to return and preach to his people. That opportunity led to our meeting a building contractor in the church who met with us about our plans. It also provided us a place to stay in Starkville at no cost through the generosity of the church giving us the keys to their mission house. As everything was falling into place to finally get started, my phone began to ring almost non-stop from churches wanting me to talk with them concerning their need for a pastor. Nine different congregations from communities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee were convinced that I was to be their next pastor. (And this doesn't include the invitation to assume a staff position in Honolulu, Hawaii, but that's another story!) Praying about all of this gave us the assurance to politely turn down those opportunities, and trust Him for our new home.

The building process began in the spring of 2003, and we spent our first night in our country home on March 4, 2004. By the way, that following morning, I loaded up and left for a church revival in Iuka, Mississippi. We did all of this by divine guidance. The Lord gave us leadership to trust Him, and confirmed this move over and over again during the three years it took for the revelation to become a reality. Amen!

A second major milestone in my life occurred on March 26th of last year. That date marked my 30th anniversary of having surrendered to God's call to preach His gospel. It was on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1989 that I stood before the congregation of the Friendship Baptist Church and nervously told them of my calling. Tammy and I had no idea what all would happen in our future, but we were confident in the One who saved us and was calling us. We were eventually led to trust Him for a place to serve that would put us within driving distance of Memphis, Tennessee so that I could attend Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Without either of us trying to manipulate our circumstances, He allowed us to move a few miles south of Myrtle, Mississippi to the New Oak Grove Baptist Church as their pastor.

My ignorance was demoralizing, my lack of experience was numbing, and my school assignments were, at times, distressing. Yet in spite of it all, God was so good. Apryl had just turned one when we moved there in December of 1989, and Laurie was added to our family the following year. A growing family and a growing church were both extremely demanding, and a unique encounter with the Spirit of God in the summer of 1992 led me to believe that it was time to end my formal, educational training at Mid-America. 

Later that year, I once again was confronted by the Lord concerning a change. He was going to move me to Thrasher Baptist Church in Prentiss County, Mississippi. This church was well known in north Mississippi due to its rapid growth, and for its disheartening experience of losing their pastor following a long battle with cancer. I kept this revelation to myself, and prayed earnestly that His will would be done, in His way, and in His timing. There was no request for a resume. No political maneuvering of any kind. And no denominational friends were contacted to give words of affirmation on my behalf. I simply prayed, and waited. What God starts, God finishes, and in March of 1993, I became the pastor of that church. Three weeks later, the buildings burned. God was good in allowing us to rebuild, and to see Him work in the hearts of many precious people. It was also during this time that doors began to open for me to preach outside of my community. Eight revival campaigns a year grew to ten, then twelve, then sixteen, then twenty. I would normally preach to my folks during the Sunday services, then travel to the other churches for Monday thru Wednesday, or Friday, church revivals, then back to my pulpit the following Lord's Day.

As I have already stated, we transitioned in ministry when we moved to my Mississippi Delta hometown in 1997. We had no idea how we would make our financial obligations, no guaranteed income, and no real understanding of what we would be doing. Our only focus was to hear and obey Him as He led us according to His plans. The places to which I traveled and the people that I met were amazing experiences of His goodness. It is still hard to believe that a simple man with a simple message could have gone to all of the places to which I have journeyed. God has been so wonderful to us. Amen!

The final milestone for our family occurred on September 15, 2019, which marked the 35th anniversary of our marriage. When Tammy and I exchanged our vows so many years ago, only one year had passed since my conversion experience. The day after I cried out to Jesus to save me, I was waiting for Tammy to come to Carpenter Hall on the Mississippi State campus. It was there that I had my first encounter of God's voice outside of personal conviction of sin. He revealed to me that I would marry that beautiful girl, and by faith I believed Him! Many folks who knew my past, however, were certain that our marriage was doomed for failure. More than one individual who had attended Delta State University with me before I moved to Starkville, confided in me that the DSU community had labeled me a "crazy" man who would surely die at a young age, and possibly cause the death of others as well. Yes, the truth hurts, but the grace of God heals, and it does much more, it transforms!

I cannot even begin to understand how some people possess such a flippant and casual attitude towards marriage. Multiple partners, multiple marriages, multiple divorces, living together outside of marriage, etc. This is NOT the plan of God. By His grace, we have grown together, dreamed together, laughed together, wept together, argued together, and STAYED together. I have often told Tammy that in our relationship, I got a priceless treasure, and she got a gag-gift! We have not had a perfect marriage, for how can two imperfect people have a perfect anything? But we have had a very fulfilling marriage. By God's grace we will continue to love each other with His love; we will continue to serve each other with His humility; we will continue to forgive each other with His longsuffering; and we will continue to help each other with His strength. Amen! God is so wonderfully good, praise His name!

Our lives are a testimony of what He has done, what He is doing, and what He shall do. Our responsibility has been simple: hear and obey. Yet this should not be the experiences of just a few of the redeemed, it should be the norm for all of the redeemed. Amen! As you look back upon your life story, do you see experiences of faith being exercised in your journey? Do you make it a priority to hear and obey the voice of the Lord in making your personal and family decisions? This is the only way to insure that His will is being realized in your life. We are not to pattern ourselves after the world, making choices and decisions based upon humanistic reasoning. Instead, we need to experience divine revelation, for the Bible clearly says that we should "walk by faith, and not by sight."

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Seeking Him


“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, and He will abundantly pardon!”
Isaiah 55:6-7

"And you will seek Me and find Me, when you
search for Me with all your heart."
Jeremiah 29:13

It is a very humbling experience at times to publish a personal blog, or to post on social media some sort of journal chronicling one's walk of faith. As I work on this first post of 2019, my heart yearns to simply be silent about some of the details of the previous year, and to carefully guard myself against those who might misunderstand my motives, or who would desire to discover some kind of ammunition to use against me. Nevertheless, what I have experienced needs to be told, and what I am learning needs to be taught.

The verses above from Isaiah and Jeremiah have always rebuked me when I have been too busy to spend adequate time in the Lord's presence. And they have also reminded me that His promises to restore my position of fellowship, renew my passion for worship, and reinstate my power for ministry are hinged upon my simple acts of faith, repentance, and surrender. Faith is necessary to seek, call, and return to the One who says that He can abundantly pardon. Repentance is required in order to forsake our ways and our thoughts as we complete our u-turn towards Him. And surrender is revealed in that this can only be accomplished by those who long for new experiences of His divine grace and delightful mercy with all of their hearts. To seek Him in such a fashion means that you must be all in. This promise is not for the worldly minded, fence-straddling, carnal hypocrites that can so often dominate a local church. This promise is reserved for those who long to see God work in mighty power, even if it costs them absolutely EVERYTHING!

I believe that God is showing me and calling me to a deeper level of intercession in this new year. I hate to admit it, but my commitment to a strong prayer ministry has often been diminished by the demands of a more visible ministry. If you are a pastor, you know very well what I mean. Hospital and shut-in visitation, families in bereavement, couples needing counseling, sermon preparation, community outreach, youth and children events, committee meetings, and the list can go on and on. These are good, necessary, and important areas of ministry in a church, but if we are not careful, they rob us of the most pressing issue of life: SEEKING HIM!

Changes have taken place that have been both emotionally upsetting and personally challenging for me and my family during the past year. My ministry assignment in our home church was terminated in September, a decision that was very disturbing. This is not what I envisioned as the year unfolded, nor is it an experience that I would wish upon anyone. As a result, I was forced to return to my previous employment of driving charter buses for ACR Coach. God has used this scenario to show me that I may not currently have a ministry opportunity that occupies a great amount of my time, but I can now invest more time in intercessory prayer for needs around the world. Those hours that I would normally invest in meeting the needs of hurting people, can be spent praying for pastors, denominational workers, missionaries, evangelists, seminary professors, etc. (I can also spend time praying for the owners, staff, and the many drivers that I have learned to love and enjoy working with at ACR. Which should be a reminder to all of us that are gainfully employed outside of a church field or home business: we are on the mission field wherever we might be at all times.)

I recently observed from a distance as a friend was named President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. As Paul Chitwood undertakes this new assignment, my heart aches over the challenges that he will face, the decisions that he must make, and the pressure that he will endure in this strategic role of ministry. What can I do for this brother? I can pray for him! And I can pray for you, and I can pray for the biblically focused churches of our land, and I can pray for the Spirit of God to work wonderfully in and thru all of our lives for His glory around the world.

If you have encountered changes in your life that has caused you to rearrange your normal routines and activities, I implore you to use the added time that you might have to become a prayer warrior. We desperately need to experience seasons of refreshing from the hand of the Lord, and no one can close Heaven's door to you, but you! "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near...And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." AMEN!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

My Last Drink

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging.
Whoever is deceived by it, is not wise!"
Proverbs 20:1

The two most popular articles that I have posted have been those about with my personal conversion ("1983") and my thoughts concerning the use of alcoholic beverages ("Don't be Stupid!"). Realizing that we still face the reality of deception concerning the use and abuse of alcohol, I felt moved to expand my experience of God's merciful deliverance in my own spiritual journey. So many differences began to take place in my life when I trusted Jesus Christ, that many people who knew me well were confused and concerned at my transformation. This does not mean that I was instantaneously delivered from the power of sin, for that is an ongoing process that continues today through what the Bible calls sanctification. Yet even in my baby steps of faith, I began to display a love for what I once hated, and a hatred for what I once loved. Friends and family may have been shocked at what was happening in my life, but God was not surprised at all, for this was His plan from the beginning of time as we know it. The Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-10

When I came to a saving knowledge of God's grace available through repentance and faith in His Son, I had no idea what a strong noose had been wrapped around my life by alcohol. Drinking was not just a casual pastime or occasional habit, it was a controlling lifestyle. As a new born babe in Christ desiring the pure milk of His word, I was immediately convicted by His indwelling Spirit that I should separate myself from all temptations to consume alcoholic beverages in any type of setting. This was quite a challenge while living on a college campus, and I'm sure I often failed to be as strong in Him as I could have been. When I eventually moved into my own apartment the following year to prepare for my upcoming wedding plans, victory was easier to experience. After all, I could barely afford the rent and utilities, so groceries were sometimes unaffordable. With that being the case, the holy desire for bread would easily overcome the unholy desire for beer!

After Tammy and I pledged our vows to each other, the inner struggle to loosen and remove this noose began to be further realized. Yet even then I found it difficult to disconnect totally and completely from this monstrous destroyer. When we gathered with some of my old friends where alcoholic beverages were available, I would seek to blend in and have a few drinks. Tammy never fussed or berated me in any way, but I knew her strong stance on complete abstinence, and I certainly did not want to upset nor disappoint her. Another problem during this critical time of spiritual development in my life came from some within our own church family. Whenever our pastor mentioned the poison of alcohol in a scathing way from the pulpit, I would hear some men, who were very influential in my life, standing outside together after the service and saying something like this: "I don't care what the preacher says, I can keep it and drink it in my house if I want to." Another would say, "I agree, beer in my refrigerator is not going to send me to Hell." Listening to statements like these that came from the lips of church deacons and Sunday School teachers, softened my resistance. I still refused the temptation to have these beverages in my home, but I decided that the occasional use of alcohol in certain settings must be okay. After all, that's what I heard these church leaders saying, and I knew that they would not say or do anything wrong.

I was still growing in the Lord during this time, so I was certainly not actively looking for a party to attend or a gathering of some kind that might help me drink socially. In fact, I was assuming more and more responsibilities in our church family, and was even getting invitations to speak at other events in some of the local churches in our area. It was also during this time that I accepted the job of assistant manager at the Oktibbeha County Co-op, a local farm and ranch supply store. Our manager, Gerald Jackson, was a great guy and a wonderful mentor to me in this new endeavor. Another man of great influence was a regional salesman who called on us several times a month. He was a lay speaker in the Methodist church and very active in the Gideon ministry. I never remember a time that I saw him that he did not have a Gideon New Testament in his shirt pocket. These men, as well as numerous others, were about to have a profound impact upon my life in a way that I could never imagine.

Not long after the rush of the spring season at the Co-op had passed, Mr. Jackson informed me that we would be going to a manager's conference at the co-operative headquarters near Jackson, Miss. Leaders from all over the state, along with some from Louisiana, would be in attendance. I was very impressed when we pulled up to the multi-storied glass and steel structure, and was even more in awe of the building when we stepped inside to a beautiful vestibule with a remarkable water feature. We made our way to a very large, theater styled conference room, filled with tables and leather chairs, that gave every attendee a good view of the podium and platform. When our CEO called the meeting to order with a few opening remarks and announcements, he called on our Methodist/Gideon friend to come forward to lead us in prayer. I thought, "Wow! We're coming together as a secular company and will start this meeting with prayer! I like this!"

After the meeting, we were instructed to move to the dining hall for a wonderfully catered meal, complete with an entertaining speaker from Louisiana who was extremely funny. His performance was wholesome and family friendly, a Cajun version of the late, great Jerry Clower. Our CEO returned to close the evening by inviting everyone to take advantage of the long evenings of summer by staying and enjoying a time of refreshments outside. When we exited the building, I discovered that refreshments meant alcoholic beverages. Several kegs of beer were available, as well as a couple of bartenders to serve mixed drinks. Immediately I felt uncomfortable, but I lost sight of Mr. Jackson among the 200 or so men who were mingling and talking. I finally spotted our Methodist/Gideon friend from behind, and was approaching to ask him about Mr. Jackson, when he turned around and I saw him drinking a beer from a plastic cup. He had a beer in his hand, and a Bible in his pocket. Immediately I heard the sound of other church member's voices saying, "It's okay to drink socially and moderately, it's not going to hurt anybody." Seeing what I saw, and hearing what I heard, I walked to the bar.

It had been quite a long time since I enjoyed the taste of an ice cold brew. One cup led to two. Two cups led to three. Three cups led to four. I then decided Coke and Jack would be good, so I began to drink several mixed drinks. As the sun began to set and the bar was about to close, some of the guys decided to confiscate the open liquor bottles and the remaining kegs of beer and take them to our motel to continue the party. I helped them load up everything we wanted, then unloaded it and carried it all up to one of the guest rooms. Several guys left and returned with a large amounts of snack foods for everyone as we continued drinking. Another group eventually left, then returned as well, carrying several paper sacks. As they began to empty their bags and throw pornographic magazines to everyone still in the room, an inner voice began to say to me, "Get out, get out!" When the last two men walked into the room, one had a VCR player that they had rented, and the other had a box full of x-rated movies. The guy with the VCR saw that I didn't have a magazine in my hand, so he instructed me to turn the television around and help him set up the video player. As my hands touched the TV set, that inner voice began to scream, "GET OUT! GET OUT!" Needless to say, I left immediately.

When Mr. Jackson and I arrived for additional meetings that next morning, I was still contemplating all that had transpired the night before. He went into the dining hall for breakfast, while I sat down near the water feature in deep thought. After a few minutes, a very tall man walked up to me, extended his hand, and said, "Brother Charles, I want to meet you." This greeting startled me, for it was the very first time that anyone had used the endearing term "Brother" in front of my name. Those of us with a Southern heritage realize this title is one that shows respect to those who serve in some capacity of ministry. Helping me to my feet, he then said, "The reason I wanted to meet you, is that I'm from (and he named a town that I cannot remember, but I do know that he mentioned a place in south Mississippi) and heard that you are preaching when you have the opportunity and sharing your testimony of what God has done in your life. I think that's wonderful, Brother Charles, God bless you."

I stood there speechless as he walked away, and sensed myself shrinking from nearly six feet tall to about two inches. Mr. Jackson returned in just a few minutes and I told him about this encounter. I described the man's facial features, his unusual height, and where he said he was from, and Mr. Jackson said that he didn't know anyone like that, and that he knew everyone associated with the Co-op. "I watched him walk into our meeting room," I said. "I'll show him to you." But when we walked into the room, which was about half full at the time, he was no where to be found.

"I don't see him, Mr. Jackson."

"Well, I don't either, and he couldn't go out that exit door without setting the alarm off. I'm not sure who you met, Charles, because I've never met a man like you just described to me."

During all of the subsequent meetings, my mind was on two things: my foolish actions the night before, and this stranger that had spoken to me that morning. Riding with Mr. Jackson back home, he talked the entire time, yet my mind was still occupied with my stupidity and sinfulness. As he talked, I prayed. I finally remember praying something like this: "God, I have often prayed that I might be delivered from the evils of alcohol. I have asked you to do this in the past because I know that it is not good for me. But now, Lord, I realize that it's not about me, it's about You. Oh, Jesus, alcohol is not good for You. It robs You of Your glory. It destroys Your testimony. It's about You. Please Lord, deliver me from this deceptive evil not because of the harm that it can cause me, but because of the harm it causes You!" Tears streamed down my face as I looked out Mr. Jackson's truck window that day. He had no idea that I was involved in a moment of intense spiritual warfare. Nor was he aware of the great victory that God gave me that day in his pick-up truck. For that prayer, coupled with God's amazing grace, broke the chains of alcohol over my life once and for all. I had consumed my last drink.

Years later as my mind remembered this experience, I began to consider Hebrews 13:2, where the Bible says, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." I have often wondered: Did God send an angel to intercept me that day before I reached a point of no return? I really do not know the answer to that question. But I do know the reality of the experience. The Lord so touched my heart through the words of this man, or angel (if that's the case), that it forever changed my life. As the hymn writer said, "To God be the glory; great things He hath done!"