We May Not Need A Revival! We May Need An Awakening!

Yesterday, at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Alexander City, Alabama where the Lord has allowed me to pastor, we began our revival services. It was a great time as the Lord blessed our congregation through our guest preacher Rev. Jason Brown. By God’s grace we even saw one person profess Christ as their Lord and Savior and he will be baptized later this week. Sunday was truly a time of rejoicing and we pray the Lord will continue to drawl people to repentance. After all we can hold a revival service at anytime, but revival only happens through the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as a congregation it is essential we seek the Lord through so He will move in the hearts of people to bring glory to Himself.

So since revival is dependent on the Lord, is revival the only thing needed? No, because too often Christians pray for revival when we need to pray for an awakening of one’s soul, and I believe there is a difference between the two. The issue in some church is that some Christians may not actually be saved and if this is the case then revival does not apply to them. Scripturally, Ephesians 2:1-10 helps distinguish between a revival and an awakening. Specifically, Ephesians 2:5 says,

“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”

Simply put, a dead person cannot revive himself or herself; it takes the intervention of another and this usually occurs when one is not really dead. However, in Ephesians 2:1-10 and in verse five we clearly see that “we were dead in our trespasses.” In other words, we did not need reviving; we needed an awakening. This can only come from the atoning work of Jesus who calls people to repentance, which means one believes in faith, that Christ is God’s good news to redeem fallen humanity. For anyone who comes from a revivalist tradition this is important because often people say “we want revival in our land,” meaning, we want to see people saved through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But, revival can only apply to current Christians who repent of a current sinful lifestyle. As a result, Christians should pray for revival among other Christians AND WE SHOULD ALSO pray for an awakening within those who have not been saved by the grace of God through faith and in Christ, those who are not Christians.

The difference between a revival in one’s life and an awakening is important because it affects how we view the Gospel. By simply praying for revival we infer that we are good people who simply need a spiritual pick-me-up. However, Romans 3:10-12 says different,

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

 We are not good people who need a spiritual makeover. To say otherwise is to speak of Christ’s death in vain. No, we are wretches that need an awakening from Christ because we have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Jesus is the gospel good news that we can never be and as the good news Jesus is able to supernaturally initiate both Christians and non-Christians towards repentance that then involves a persons believing through faith. It is only the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that can awaken or revive our souls in His daily transformation of our lives that can then give all the glory to God.

So there is a difference between revival and an awakening. The question is, which do you need? If you are not a Christian repent and accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and redemption for your life today. If you are a Christian repent of any sinful lifestyle you may now occupy. Regardless of where you are spiritually, Jesus is lovingly willing to welcome you home into His arms when you are ready to turn away from your sin and embrace His hope that is far greater than anything your current life offers. Now is your time! 

7 & Ways to End Isolation and Loneliness: Part 2

Connection

Today I want to close the post I began on Wednesday on how to end isolation and loneliness. If you did not get the chance to read the first part of this two-part blog post then feel free to read the post before reading the tips below. In my earlier post I mentioned that I believe connecting with others is important. This is because when we know how to connect with others we can also share Christ with those we love and meet. Learning how to connect with others also helps us diminish our loneliness and isolation, which can result in great sadness. Therefore, with these outcomes possible I want to give you my last tips.

5. Continue to Ask Questions

In my last post, I mentioned an interpersonal relationship skill I learned from my Father-in-law. Another tactic I believe he uses is that he asks questions about the others. For years, I have noticed that he attempts to connect with people by showing a genuine interest in them. As a result, when people know he cares they open up and have long conversations with him. They even love answering questions about themselves and when they do my Father-in-law is able to connect with them in multiple ways because he knows more about them. The more he knows the better he is able to connect with them because he is continually learning about them. Over time, he impresses me with how many people love to approach him simply because he connected with them by showing interest in them.

6. You Will Not Always Connect

One of my favorite movie quotes is from Batman Begins when Thomas Wayne tells his son Bruce Wayne, “Why do we learn to fall? So that we can pick ourselves back up.” Face it, you and I are going to fail and its alright. No one is perfect in anything and connecting with people is no different. So, go ahead and admit that you will fail at times, but rejoice when you do succeed. In fact, the only way you are going to get better at connecting with others for the future, is to practice in the present. Remember when we fail its a great opportunity to learn from out mistakes so we can better succeed in the future. You are going to fail and it is all right.

7. Connecting Improves Our Faith

Practically, my advice is to help you reduce any loneliness you may face. Spiritually, this post can also help you become a better evangelist. Often Christians will tell me they don’t know whom they can share Christ with and my response is “THE WORLD!” Christ tells us in Matthew 28:19 that each person who claims Him as Lord and Savior is to

“Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

His command is not optional, but I believe Christians often fail to share Christ with anyone because we do not know how to connect with strangers, or even loved ones. Connecting with people is not difficult and I think we make it tougher than needed. Therefore, let me urge you to use these tips to improve your social skills and any loneliness you may feel. Also, use these tips to connect with people so that you can share Christ with anyone you meet. Should you not know how to share your faith then inform your pastor that you want to know how to share Christ and I am sure they will train you.

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, loneliness is a real issue, but we do not have to remain isolated from the world. We can remedy our loneliness and isolation by applying some simple tips in our lives. The tips may seem scary at first, even if you are an introvert, but over time they will become easier. You will become more successful. Let me urge you to start applying just one tip and grow from there. Remember, the goal is to become connected and sometimes people are waiting on you just as much as you are waiting on them. This is because connection with others has spiritual connections as we share Christ with people. As you share your faith you will feel like you have made a difference in another’s life by making a difference in your own life. Therefore let us embrace these tips so we can feel connected, so we can share our faith, and bless others.

 

7 & Ways to End Isolation and Loneliness: Part 1

Connection

There are times when we can feel really isolated and lonely. We can feel like that no one cares or listens. This could be because we may not know how to connect with others. Life should not be this way because we were not meant to spend our lives alone. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (HCSB) tells us,

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Connection with others is important, so by knowing how to connect with others we can share Christ with those we love and meet. Therefore, I want to share with you some simple ways to connect with others. Since there are seven points in this blog I have split this post into a two-part entry, which I will end on Friday.

1. Be Observant

You must know the opportunities available to you. Awareness can begin by watching the behavior of other people and seeing how you might fit in. It could also mean doing some research on community events that you might be interested in. You cannot connect with other people if you do not know what is available. So start by being observant and by paying attention.

2. Introduce Yourself

I have learned a lot from my Father-in-law about interpersonal communication. One of the first tips he intentionally shared with me was that when he meets someone whose name he does not remember, he simply introduces himself to each person. He believes this breaks down barriers and allows him to connect with others. I have used this technique and it is a very effective icebreaker, but this is not my only conversation starter.

3. Find Some Common Ground

Another icebreaker is to find something you have in common with others. This can work for strangers and those you are close with. For example, the other day I was in a gas station and noticed a gentleman with a “K” on his gym shorts. Promptly, I asked him if the “K” represented Kentucky or Kansas. He replied by saying it stood for Kentucky. This allowed me to mention how I was from Kentucky and we drummed up a lengthy conversation. It turned out we had both lived in the same town, we both enjoyed the same local restaurants, and it was a joyous connection between two strangers who shared a lot in common. All I needed was to ask him about something I observed to create our common ground.

4. Know Yourself

So what if the gentleman would have said his shorts stood for Kansas, what would I had done? I simply would have mentioned how I go to school in Kansas City. From there we would have let the conversation progress about Kansas. By being self-aware I was ready to answer Kansas over Kentucky. In other words, I kept in mind aspects of my life related to both places, which prepared me to connect with him. So be aware of whom you are, your background, and your interests because it will help you be able to think on your feet as you try to connect with others.

I will finish this blog post on Friday, but in the meantime I urge you to try these tips today. They have worked with for me and I pray they will benefit you.

Celebrating Independence Day With More Than Just Fireworks!

“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

“Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

Fireworks

Happy Independence Day! I pray that you are able to celebrate the freedoms we have as Americans just as you planned. I, however, am in store for a very wet and rainy Fourth of July. The weather forecast is calling for 100 percent chance of rain. As I tweeted last night, “100 percent chance is more like a certainty than possibility.” Therefore, my family and I may not get to see fireworks as usual this year. This means we are going to have to find a new tradition for celebrating the Fourth of July. After all there is more to Independence Day than fireworks. For example, we can reflect on our freedom and I like the phrase, “that all men were created equal” because every person is equal in America, and in the eyes of the Lord since we were all created in His image.

The phrase, “that all men were created equal” is recorded in the Declaration of Independence. This statement has been referred as the “immortal declaration” because it infers that human beings are created by an intelligent designer. Personally, I believe our creator is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the Old and New Testament who gave His Son Jesus Christ as a ransom for many. Therefore the phrase “that all men are created equal” is not a humanist proclamation but a synthesis of Genesis 1:26, which says, “Let us make man in our own image.” In other words, all human beings are created in the image of God. This makes all people of race, background, nationality, or otherwise equal in God’s eyes. As a result, on this Independence Day we can celebrate how God has shared His very essence with us. This in turn means we should equally respect one another, despite our differences, because when we look at each person we are looking at the image of God. But, our celebration doesn’t have to stop with how we are created. We can celebrate our Christian independence as we celebrate our American freedoms.

There is no better way to remember that we are free than to recognize that as a Christian we free indeed! Galatians 5:1 tells us, “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Christians stand before the Lord and the world as free creatures. We are free because we have place out faith in Christ Jesus by repenting and believing on Christ. Therefore, as Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Christians can celebrate that our independence is found in Christ dying for our sins on the Cross. We don’t have to live in the fear of being eternally separated from God the Father. Christ defeated death and sin. As a result, His liberation from sin and death is God’s redemptive plan for all of humanity and that is independence worth celebrating. In other words, we have many freedoms to celebrate today that are more than just fireworks.

So matter how you are celebrating Independence Day, let me encourage you to remember that God has given you His image. He has provided you with an opportunity for independence from your pain, sickness, sorrow, and death. All you need to do is to repent and believe that Jesus Christ is the sacrifice for your sin and make Him your Lord and Savior. By doing so you will have an independence and freedom for this life and for eternity, than just for our nation.

In conclusion, let’s celebrate our nations independence, but I encourage you to not stop there. Instead celebrate lavishly by having another reason to honor the Fourth of July. Celebrate by embracing Christ today, either again or for the first time, and celebrate the freedom that Jesus brings to our lives and forever more. Let (His) freedom ring!

Like Gulf-World, Train Yourself For Hope In God’s World!

“A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”        (Proverbs 15:1)

Last week, while on vacation, I had the chance to watch my little sister Sallie Cowen perform as a dolphin trainer at Gulf World in Panama City Beach, Florida. As Sallie and her fellow trainers encouraged the animals, they explained the process used to train both the dolphins and the sea lions. They call the process, positive reinforcement, which means whenever an animal does something good they give them a treat of some kind, usually it’s fish. Both Sallie and Tricia further explained that they NEVER scold the animals for what they DO NOT do. This is negative reinforcement and it diminishes the trust they have built with the animals. As Christians, I think there is a lesson to be learned from how Gulf World trains their animal performers.

Dolphins

1. Christians Should Strive to Not Be Fearful, Angry, and Defensive.

Some of my church experiences growing up involved negative examples. Often I would hear someone in the church talk more about what a Christian SHOULD NOT do than what a Christian SHOULD DO! This created some strange results in me as a young Christian. In fact, I can remember reading a John MacArthur book titled “For the Love of God” and thinking, “God doesn’t have love, that’s Jesus place because as Christians we must focus on not doing disobeying God. We don’t have time to love God.”  Sadly, I was confused about theology in so many ways as a young teenager, but this stemmed from the fact that I heard many Christians emphasizing anger than hope. The motivation was fear, which yields results, but usually the gains are only short-term.

Rather, Christians can learn a lot from Gulf World. For example, we must proclaim for the hope of our faith than just the fears and failures of our faith. I state this because in a world that is readily rejecting Christianity more by the year we must find ways to positively relate the hope of Christ to the culture. If we primarily focus on the negative, we are defensive and we further break our trust with society.

Now before some people claim I’m over emphasizing positive thinking, or prosperity only Christianity, please hear me out I’m not  ignoring sin. Instead, I want to make certain that Christians are proclaiming the hope of Christ, His good news, since we are condemned anyway. Non-Christians know about fear, anger, and they like us are defensive. They are very aware of what Christians deem as sin and one can easily acknowledge it before proclaiming the hope of Gospel. So to contrast hyper-fear, hyper-anger, and hyper-defensiveness lets positively proclaim the full hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are negative creatures in rebellion to God, but we need the hope of Christ because faith in Jesus leads to freedom, gentleness, and hope. After all we get more with vinegar than with honey!

2. Christians Should Strive to Be Free, Gentle and Hopeful.

Not only does freedom, gentleness, and hope help Christians display the hope of the Gospel, but such positive reinforcement helps Christians live a more joyous life. For example, gentleness is one of the fruits of the spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22. Earlier in Galatians 5, Paul writes about the ability that because we are in Christ we are set free from our sin. We no longer have to be slaves to fear, anger, and other such defensive postures. In other words, Christians have the greatest hope of all and it is time we start living like we do. Imagine the influence we could have on our culture if we offer a hopeful demeanor than a paranoid demeanor that minimizes the blessings found in life!

Also, Christians are called to reject anger and wrath in order to embrace gentleness. Proverbs 15:1, reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”  As Christians we would do well to appear to sound more hopeful than hurtful. This reminds me of what Willie Robertson wrote about his dad Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame in the book The Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty. In the book Willie talks about how his Dad, Phil who rarely ever discouraged his kids from any of their dreams. In fact, he would often encourage them to achieve their goals. This is because Phil believed they would figure out on their own if the dream would work or not. He felt his kids didn’t need his discouragement because it may prevent them from pursuing a more realistic dream in the future. Simply put, he positively reinforced his boys. He encouraged them with a gentle answer than a harsh word as Proverbs tell us. As a result, I think it’s hard to argue their business and Christians success today.

Conclusion

Positive reinforcement is engrained in the animals at Gulf World and if it works for them, positive reinforcement may work for humans, especially Christians who already have the hope Jesus brings. Therefore, I believe that if Christians offer hope and stop sounding like sauerkraut Christians that we will turn heads more than just emphasizing hell, fire, and brimstone. Otherwise we will be nothing but a bunch of weenies.

Weenies

This is because positive reinforcement is Christian reality and ideal, and one that does not have to diminish the reality of sin just like they should not over-emphasize sin. Our sin is negative enough and we don’t need to help make it any worse. Rather Christians should simply acknowledge sin as one proclaims the full Gospel of Christ so one knows what to repent from and who to repent towards, which is Christ. So let’s focus on positive reinforcement. Let’s encourage people with what they are doing well as we share the Gospel hope of Christ, which seeks to heal us from the negativity of our sin when we repent and believe on Jesus.

 

 

 

Facing Fear & Embracing God’s Unknown Opportunities!

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.” (Ephesians 4:9-10)

Over three (3) years ago I attended and completed the Army Chaplain School or officially known as Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course, or CH-BOLC for short. This experience was one of the most intense and difficult experiences of my life. It was thirteen (13) weeks of long days that consisted of many physical, emotional, mental, and even social challenges. One of the social challenges was being able to relate to approximately 120 other classmates from other Christian and religious backgrounds. Obviously since there were so many classmates it was impossible to know all of them on a personal level. Even those that I did not interact with much during CH-BOLC we share a common bond. As a result, in the three (3) years since my CH-BOLC graduation I have ran into various classmates in many different situations and settings, and each time we meet there is camaraderie because we know what we went through together. In this past few months God has shown me this with the development of my friendship with Scott Speight.

Scott and I were in completely different platoons during CH-BOLC. I was in platoon one (1) and he was in platoon four (4), which meant we rarely interacted with one another. However, through Facebook and God’s providence in recent months we have connected and the Lord has developed a strong bond (Chaplains, no pun intended) with one another. This bond began as I wanted to pursue Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) for myself and Scott is a CPE supervisor. He is also the CEO of Spiritual Care Center, which is a Christian coaching firm that you should check out at www.spiritualcarecenter.org. As Scott and I began exploring a professional partnership with one another a personal friendship has blossom. This would not have happened if it were not for our CH-BOLC experience, which provided the foundation and the camaraderie needed for us to have a mutual basis of respect and credibility for the other. As a result, I’ve been grateful to get some CPE experience, but I’ve also been elated to begin a friendship with Scott on a foundational experience that was laid three (3) years ago.

Ephesians 4:9-10 reminds us “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.” I don’t know what the future holds for me and Scott’s and friendship, but I do know it never would have happened if we had not allowed God to place us in the same difficult experience. Therefore, our “good reward” has allowed us to “lift the other up” and as Proverbs 27:17 indicates, we have sharpened each other’s iron for God’s glory.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me encourage you to embrace the experiences that God provides you with, even if you are afraid of them. I had plenty of fear going into to CH-BOLC because I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn’t let the fear get the best of me. Rather I trusted the Lord and believed there would be lifelong benefits from CH-BOLC, plus it was better than doing nothing with my life. Therefore, we must remember that our experiences become a platform of opportunity for our lives, but we have to put ourselves in the position to experience them.

So let me encourage you to ask yourself; what can you do with your life today? What is God calling you towards in your life? You may not be able to go join the military or other endeavors, but I’m willing to guess that you have more opportunities than you may want to admit. Be encouraged, open your eyes and find God’s opportunity for you today. Remember, these opportunities may be scary, but by experiencing them they and the Lord provide us with even more opportunities and blessings in the future, no matter how big or small. It begins with your obedience to God’s leading in your life!

Remember it’s not about what you CANNOT do; it is about what you CAN DO!

NBA FINALS: The Rare Told Story of LeBron James & The Heat

Ok, I’m trying to put this post out real quick, so quick that I want to put it out before the end of the NBA Finals. So if the grammar and such is not the best please forgive me.

This said, I know a lot of people are rooting AGAINST the Heat as they have been for the past few years. The constant source of angst is because a lot of people do not like how LeBron James announced publicly he was going to the Miami Heat three (3) years ago. I know this is not the only reason, but it is a reason I find most common with people, even if this is not why people cheer against them now, many can trace their disdain for the Heat back to that moment. In response to that I will say, on surface level it seemed that the way LeBron handled his move to Miami from the Cleveland Cavaliers was insensitive to the Cavs and tasteless. One could say he was showboating a bit, but isn’t that what professional sports is all about? Isn’t the NBA and other pro-sports about entertainment? So why is LeBron the bad guy for trying to play up angle of him going to the Heat? Ok, I know that logic is flawed and can be debated quickly so let me tell you the rest of the story about why LeBron announced his departure from the Cavs to the Heat. Let me tell you about his famous interview with Jim Gray called “The Decision” that is rarely told or emphasized enough.

The rest of the story is that LeBron did this because sportscaster Jim Gray asked him to do the interview. LeBron also gave 2.5 million dollars to the Boys and Girls Club. In addition to the Boys and Girls club receiving 2.5 million dollars, an additional 3.5 million dollars was given to other charities. This all was made possible because LeBron decided to take Jim Gray up on his offer. LeBron did the decision to help raise 6 million dollars for charities and not for himself. Now please know I think he should have let the Cavs know in a better way than how he did in 2010, but when we are quick to hate on the Heat lets make certain we know the full story.

Therefore, if we are going to paint LeBron as a bad guy because of The Decision, lets make certain we take into account the noble deeds because of this interview. Lets be fair and realize that LeBron is not such a bad guy as we want him to be, but he’s actually a guy that put a lot of kids and charities ahead of himself for one night. So before you are quick to hate on the Heat and root against them because of LeBron, please realize he’s not the stigma that sports fans have made him out to be in reality.

In conclusion, it’s sad, Lebron has been made to be a villain for one nights decision he made three (3) years ago when in reality he was trying to be a hero. But, hey, this is not the first time in history this has happened, so can you now cheer for the Heat? 🙂

By the way, I am a Heat fan and was a Heat fan before Lebron came to Miami. So to be fair I do write this with a little bit of bias, but bias based on facts as you can reference for yourself below.

http://www.cleveland.com/ohio-sports-blog/index.ssf/2010/07/lebron_james_decision_generate.html