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Easter 2017

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Monday, January 15th 2018

12:29 AM

We are standing on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us…

"We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours." - John of Salisbury

Anybody who has heard my story would be familiar with preachers named Paul Carrier, Tom Morgart, and Keith Davenport.

Paul Carrier was the preacher who baptized me when I was 12, gave me my first experiences with taking notes from the sermons and he showed me how to feed a congregation through Biblically based sermons every week. He also led a Men's retreat at my church in Mountain City GA before he passed away. I was able to visit him towards the end of his life and he encouraged me to keep going and told me that he was proud of how I turned out.

Tom Morgart was very much like Paul Carrier with the Biblically based sermons, and he showed me how to involve every member of the family as part of the ministry of the church. He also showed tough love at a time when I was not willing to listen. Now I realize that if I paid attention to his counsel, I would have avoided a very dark period in my life.

Paul Carrier was there at the beginning of my spiritual journey and Tom Morgart was there during the second half of my high school years. They were both special in my life, but Keith Davenport became the family minister after my parents joined his church.

Keith Davenport showed me how to be a great shepherd by building relationships with the people. He was there for me during the years after high school and he was there when I returned after my dark period that I call the Jonah/Prodigal Son years.

Those three ministers are familiar for those who know my story, but there is a fourth minister who was there for a season, and his name is Mike Portwood.

Mike Portwood recently transitioned, and he is now enjoying his reward for being a good and faithful servant. This event brought me back to the few years I attended Snellville Christian Church.

The years I spent at Snellville Christian Church were short, but they made a lasting impact thanks to Mike Portwood.

At that point in my life, I was arrogant, full of myself, and mad at the world because nobody wanted me to be a youth minister. Of course, I never actually applied for a position with the church and I didn't have any formal education, but I just knew that none of that stuff mattered, and my limited experience with youth ministry was enough for me to be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time) of youth ministry.

Looking back on that period in my life makes me laugh, but it also embarrasses me because my attitude was so poor and my ego was huge.

I decided that since the churches were not taking me seriously, I was going to "Go rogue" and create my own ministry to help the youth groups of the church. Yeah, as ridiculous as it sounds, my view was that distorted. I actually thought that even though churches would not hire me as their youth minister, they would allow me to help their youth groups through my own ministry to the churches.

I sent out a letter with several big names because I knew that the churches would take me seriously if I showed them how well connected I was with their favorite preachers. I was oozing with arrogance and that was when I received the wakeup call that saved my place in the ministry.

A few weeks after mailing the letters, I got a call from Mike Portwood who wanted to spend some time with me during the week. Since I was singing in the choir, I thought it may have had something to do with a recent conversation I had with the music minister who was looking to use me for some specials during the service. However, that was not the reason for the visit.

That one conversation I had with Mike Portwood in his office changed my course and my life was finally back on track.

I sat down on the other side of his desk, and he pulls out the letter I mailed to him. My heart sunk because I knew I got caught. He told me that he called the people in my letter to verify the references, and he had some interesting conversations. At this point, I was ready to walk out because I did not want to hear the lecture about lying to churches and ultimately to God.

Mike Portwood could have ripped me apart and destroy my chances of entering the ministry full-time, but he saw something in me that he knew was worth saving.

He was like a loving father helping his son learn the correct way to accomplish his goals, but I was like the rebellious teenager who knew more about life than any adult who tried to teach me. The conversation continued, and I was preparing for the punch in the gut, but instead, I got the hand on my shoulder and a word of encouragement.

I was told that if I became a youth minister, I would probably have about 2 years' worth of good material, and then the well would dry up. If I went to Bible college and earned a degree, I would deepen the well so there would be plenty of the Living Water to keep my youth group hydrated. That phrase "Deepen the well" became part of my vocabulary anytime I lead a Bible Study today.

After thinking about going to college when my friends have already spent most of their years attending classes, I was frustrated because they would be graduating while I would be getting started. It was not fair that I would have to suffer through college when I was old enough to work in churches. At least, that was what I told myself, and that was why I was sitting in the office watching my hopes and dreams break apart.

I decided to express my true feelings to Mike Portwood and told him that I felt like the train was leaving the station, and I was running to catch it. I just knew that he would be understanding and he would tell me to keep running because one day, I would catch that train and live happily ever after. Of course, that was not what he said because that was not what I needed to hear.

After telling him that I felt like I was trying to catch the train before it left the station, he said, "It already left. You have to wait for the next train and get on."

That was the wakeup call I needed. After a couple of weeks of sulking, I took his advice and signed up for a couple of classes at Atlanta Christian College. Eventually, I ended up transferring to Florida Christian College and then attending the seminary at Cincinnati Christian University. Now I have an MDIV and a great church where I am living out the upward call of Christ!

Thank you Mike Portwood for telling me exactly what I needed to hear at a time when I was not willing to listen. I heard you and eventually took your advice. When I make it to heaven, I will shake your hand and tell you what I never told you while you were still here on earth. Thanks for helping me become a full-time minister!

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Tuesday, December 26th 2017

1:19 AM

There was only 1 Apostle Peter

As I look back at 2017, the year has been a good one. A full-time ministry position at a church in Florida, being selected to lead a major transition for a convention, accepting a lead preaching position at a mega church in Oklahoma, and being hired at a Christian University are all great accomplishments. And NONE of them were mine.

I am proud of my friends and what they have done, but some people wonder if I might be jealous. Am I jealous? I thought about it, and decided that it is probably best to leave the green eye monster out of this.

Even though our accomplishments may not be big when compared to others, we had a pretty good year for the Lord here in Greenwood SC.

Our church is in a good place, and we are moving forward to become even better as the new year approaches! We have many positive opportunities on the horizon, and I am excited to see where we will be this time next year! The Lord is good for us too, not just the popular churches.

Here is my point. There was only 1 Apostle Peter, none of us can be him. There was only 1 Apostle Paul, none of us can be him either. Somebody has to be the guy who speaks at Pentecost, but there also has to be those who work with the people on a less popular level. There are other Apostles who did something great, and the Lord was good for them too!

Check out Matthew 10:2-4: "[2] The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; [3] Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; [4] Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."

I wonder if Andrew felt slighted when he was never mentioned beyond the first chapter of Acts. After all, he is the one who brought his brother Peter to Jesus. He is forever known as the brother of Peter, but what about his accomplishments? Does God care about him too?

Andrew does get some credit since he was the one who brought people to Jesus, but poor Thaddaeus is like Rodney Dangerfield, he does not get any respect.

In the NFL draft, there is a name for the last person who was picked, he is called Mr. Irrelevant. This is not exactly a ringing endorsement for a player hoping to make the team in August. When looking at the Apostles, my heart goes out to their version of Mr. Irrelevant, Matthias. He was the one chosen to replace Judas, and he got upstaged by a former Pharisee turned Apostle named Paul! It was Matthias' time to shine and he never got a chance to be recognized after the lots were cast.

Mr. Irrelevant may not get respect, but at least he was chosen to be part of the NFL.

Can you imagine how the guy after the last guy picked felt on Draft Day? His dreams of becoming an NFL player may not be realized, or his path just got that much harder if he decided to keep trying. At least the last guy drafted had a better chance of making the team. The lesser known Apostles may not get the publicity, but they were still working for the Lord!

Preachers of lesser known churches may not get the publicity that the nationally known churches get, but the Lord still needs them, and the people who attend their churches can benefit from having them around. Never forget that it does not matter how you compare to others in a similar position as you. What matters is how you challenge yourself to become the best at what you do for the One who has given you the ability to do it!

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Saturday, December 23rd 2017

11:33 PM

The Many Parts of the Masterpiece

Last Sunday, I had the great privilege of being able to sing with the Chancel Choir at First Presbyterian for their Festiva Christmas Concert. Since we have no choir at our church, this is my chance to work out my Baritone voice and be part of a great group of singers who share my love for music.

For our concert, we had the children singing with us and the Emerald Bells along with others playing instruments. While we were at dress rehearsal, I was watching the Emerald Bells play, and I saw the sheet music being used. I have seen many different types of sheet music, and they are usually customized to the instrument being played. However, the hand bells had the same sheet of music for each part, so they had to circle their notes with red ink and watch for their moment to be heard.

The Emerald Bells had many different sounds, but they formed one song.

The part that impressed me the most was the way the bells worked together to create a beautiful song. With the director counting the beat, each bell would ring at the appointed time with the right amount of intensity to blend with the other bells. If one bell would have been louder than the others, the whole song would not sound right. The bell ringers must have been extremely patient and committed to the finished product in order to finish the required practices needed for the concert.

The director had to pull the entire group together so they could maintain unity throughout the entire song.

There were many different parts involved, but the finished product was one complete song, and this is not by accident. In the same way, the birth of Jesus was one complete event with many different parts involved.

When I think about the narratives describing the birth of Jesus, I can't help but admire the work of the master artist.  With each detail unfolding at just the right time with the right amount of intensity, every part of the Original Christmas Story worked in perfect harmony with the master plan, and the end result is the masterpiece we have in the Bible.

Can you imagine what would happen in one part of the Original Christmas Story clashed with the big picture?

Even the smallest detail would have created issues for the nativity scene if it was not part of the master plan. This is what makes the birth of Christ that much more amazing! God made the plan to come to earth at just the right time, into the right family, under the right conditions for maximum reach, with the right followers to carry on after the ascension, and now we are the ones who benefit from this masterpiece.

As we celebrate Christmas and the coming of the Christ child, we should remember that this did not happen by accident. There was a master plan created by the master artist who made a way for us to make it to heaven.

Merry Christmas!

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Friday, December 8th 2017

1:38 PM

We Focus on What’s Important… to Us

Phineas and Ferb is a fun cartoon to watch. I enjoy sitting down with the Wee Ones and eating breakfast as we watch the crazy antics of those boys while their sister tries desperately to bust them only to embarrass herself when everything magically disappears before their mom makes it to the backyard!

In today's episode, there was a machine that created an alternate universe with duplicate characters, and it carried us through until the end when the machine was revealed. Up until then, we had no idea that we were not watching the present reality. To help clarify that it was an alternate universe, Ferb tells us that the duplicate Phineas was wearing a shirt with 4 white stripes while the real Phineas was wearing a shirt with only 3 white stripes!

This blew our minds because we never noticed it. With the magic of the DVR, I had to rewind just to see if that was really what happened. We went back in the episode and sure enough, the duplicate Phineas was wearing a shirt with 4 white stripes! This little detail was there the whole time, but we missed it. How could we miss something so obvious?

We never noticed the shirt with the 4 white stripes because that detail was not important to us.

In life, there are details that escape us for that reason. This is not good or bad, this is just the way it is. If it is important to us, there is no way we would ever miss it, but if it does not matter to us, we don't really care about it. My guess is that this is why we often have different versions of stories from the past. When you hear a different version, you tend to not believe it really happened that way because you don't remember it that way. Perhaps there were some details that escaped you because those details weren't really that important to you.

In relationships, there are many details that may not be important to you, but they could be critical for maintaining peace.

I'm sure that we have all had moments when we have been attacked for something we did not realize we were guilty of. In our world, it could have been a minor offense but in that other person's world, you might as well be the one who ordered the launch of a nuclear missile aimed at the heart of the relationship. Did the person overreact or did you underreact? I guess it depends on which side you are on.

If the detail is not important to you, but it is important to somebody else, you have a choice to make.

In our relationships, no matter what kind of relationship it is, there will be moments when you are at odds with each other, and part of the reason could be the fact that you are placing different levels of importance on certain details. Once you realize this, you need to make a decision about how you will react.

Are you going to act like it was no big deal and demand that the other person "get over it," or will you try to figure out a way to make up for this oversight? If you are the person who was offended, will you demand that the other person apologize and correct the problem, or will you try to see that there is a middle ground that can be reached? This is one of those situations where we need to remember that compromise is not a "4 letter word."

In life, there are many details that are important to some but could be considered optional for others.

As we continue living together on this earth as flawed humans, we need to remember that we are all unique, and that means we will have different opinions about which details are important. Remembering this important detail will help us become a little more flexible with our demands and a little more patient when the other person does not see why you are so upset.

"Blessed are the flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape." (SECC Beatitude)

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Wednesday, November 8th 2017

1:13 AM

My Wounds Are More Important than Your Pain

Our annual trip to Florida in November has come and gone. We spent a couple of days at the beach and then spent a couple of days in Orlando. Just like any other vacation, it wasn’t long enough and waiting until next year seems too far away to even think about it. Perhaps we can figure out a way to see our Florida Peeps every few months instead of once per year, but I digress.

When we swam in the ocean, I experienced something I never experienced before, a sharp pain in my foot as I set it on the ocean floor.

One of my favorite activities in the water is to jump up as the waves hit me so I can keep my head above the water. If a wave is strong enough, it will push me towards the shore. This time, I landed on something that will remain a mystery. Whatever it was decided to bite my foot, and it caused me to jump on top of the water while I ran to the shore. Did I mention that New Smyrna Beach is known for shark bites?

After much discussion and Michael taking a picture of my foot which is now on her Facebook wall, we came to the conclusion that it was a baby shark. And as I tell the story in different settings, that baby shark will grow into a Great White Shark who happens to be the grandson of Jaws! The bite was scary and painful when it happened, but it was not as bad as it could have been so I’m not going to whine about it.

My shark bite was not a big deal, but I will get offended if somebody tries to upstage my moment.

I get to play the victim because I have been bitten by a shark, and I will not allow anybody to steal my thunder with something petty like a real life struggle of not having enough food to eat or money to pay the rent, or emotional pain from a broken relationship. How dare people try to rain on my pity parade with nonsense like hurting from their own trials!

I hope you can pick up on the sarcasm and that you understand I am totally not like that… But isn’t this how “church people” act when something bad happens to them?

Sometimes, we can get a little too wrapped up in our own lives that we forget that there are people out there who are hurting worse than we are.

For this reason, I would like to challenge us to take a moment and think about how we are viewed by those who are not part of the church. Do they see real compassion flowing from our hearts, or do they see stubborn, self-centered, easily offended hypocrites who could care less about anybody who does not show up for worship?

I could give some examples, but I will leave that for you to decide. Take a look around Facebook and I am sure you will find plenty of “church people” acting like heathens and heathens acting more like Christians. It is a sad day when the faithful followers are the ones who are guilty of what we accuse others of doing.

Let’s take some time to evaluate how we treat others especially when we are having a bad day. Perhaps our day is not as bad as we think, and somebody else could use our help to make their day better. And by making somebody else’s day better, our day gets better too!

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