A New Year!

When the clock strikes midnight on 12/31, another year will pass and usher in the new. As one year closes, another opens. The passing of time, particularly at the New Year, allows for reflection and rejuvenation. I’m sure many of you will make resolutions physical, spiritual, and relational. I pray, right now, that God grants you the diligence and determination to keep them.

For me and my family particularly, this passing of 2018 into 2019 has invited a great season of thanksgiving for all God has done in our lives this year. He has moved us to a new place, a new ministry, and a renewed zeal to seek and serve Him.

I’m sure, though, for some, the passing year may be a godsend. Some reading this right now may be hoping that loss, trial, frustration, or difficulty may be passing too when the clock strikes midnight.

As I contemplate the spectrum of emotions that a New Year brings for many, I’m reminded that whether we come to this transition with thanks, regrets, or anxieties, God has a word for us.

13 Brothers…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Are you regretting a year of self-inflicted pains? Repent. And press on toward Christ.

Are you wishing that the changing clock will wash away the aching loss in your heart from life changes you couldn’t control? Hope. And press on toward Christ.

Are you anticipating the New Year with eagerness of all God will do? Look ahead. And press on toward Christ.

Are you awaiting with thankfulness a fulfilling year of God’s bounty and goodness? Praise. And press on toward Christ.

The recipe—indeed the resolution—for each of us is the same: press toward Christ. So whether you celebrate, sing, sit alone, or sleep in the turning to 2019, do so with Jesus as your focal point. And let’s see what He will do!

A Christmas Eve Sunrise

Few sites seem more calmly beautiful to me than a slowly creeping sunrise as the orange hues of light push away the blacks and blues of night. As I watch this morning’s sun rise on Christmas Eve, I can’t help but wonder about the sunrise for Mary and Joseph that day two thousand years ago. Was the first Christmas Eve rainy? Colder than normal? Hot and muggy? Was it dreary? Were they still traveling that morning or had they already arrived in Bethlehem? Were they awakened both by the creeping sun and the bustle of animals around the stable? Whatever the conditions of that morning before Jesus’ birth, their day must have been a conglomeration of anticipation and anxiousness. Dread and delight. Without family and close friends around and comforted only by a stable full of stranger’s animals, Joseph and Mary settled in for the birth that would change the world.

The sun rose that day. It also rose the next day, the first morning that our Savior breathed in air into his tiny lungs. The sun would follow suit bowing down each evening and rising up every morning throughout Jesus’ life. At the cross, the sun would hide its brilliance in Jesus’ sacrificial moments of death. But the sun would rise again.

Three days later, the Son and the sun would rise. Oh, my mind wonders yet again, what was that sunrise like on that day of resurrection? No matter. The same sovereign power that guides the sun every day brought up the Son of God from the grave.

The sun rises. It’s like clockwork. It’s Designer set it that way. Right now, through my window, I’m watching the hues brightening, turning the blackened silhouettes of the trees outside into their natural browns and grays. The sun will rise on Christmas Day tomorrow as well. There’s such hope in looking to the stabilizing routine of the Creator’s handiwork. His patterned control of the sun reminds me this morning that there’s not one single event happening in this world He created that’s not under His calm, guiding power. I’m pulled to the words describing Jesus, the one born in that bustling stable, from Colossians 1:15-17,

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The sun rises because Jesus holds all things together. The rain falls because Jesus holds all things together. Life twists and turns, but Jesus still holds all things together. The calming rhythm He’s set in motion to guide the sun also rules every single moment you will experience today…and tomorrow. Please don’t forget that. The sun rises. He’s made sure of it.

That’s one gift I’m certainly grateful for this Christmas!

Don’t Stop Short of Jesus this Christmas

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good- will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

On Christmas Eve, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words while still mourning his wife’s death and aiding with his son who had been wounded in the Civil War. These words ring of comfort, hope, and peace. To a war-torn audience from the already famous poet, Longfellow’s poem landed upon lives desperately needy of the hope echoed though each line.

Only, the peace Longfellow alludes to rings hollow. You see, he was not a believer in Jesus. His Unitarian beliefs did not grapple with a world fallen into the throws of great sin requiring a great Savior. He looked hopefully to the mountain side on the night of Jesus’ birth to grasp the powerful words, “Peace on earth, good will to men!” yet tragically stopped short in his own life to look further into the manger where the One bringing that peace was born. He stopped short of Jesus.

The shepherds who received good news of great joy that night on a quiet hillside didn’t stop short of Jesus. They heard every word the angels proclaimed that joyful night and rushed to the manger to find the King born in a lowly stable. The Wise Men who journeyed from a distant land didn’t stop short of Jesus. An arduous journey and a deceptive king did not keep them from finding and worshipping the King and Savior.

Unfortunately, like Longfellow, many today stop short of Jesus each Christmas season. The commercialization of Christmas distracts too many from the true Gift born over 2000 years ago and laid into a humble manger. The woeful need for “peace on earth” when so much unrest exists discourages many others from looking for the One God promised to bring it. Still others, just like Longfellow, crave the promise of peace but refuse to see that Peace has a name–Jesus!

Please don’t stop short of Jesus this Christmas. Don’t miss the greatest Gift. Don’t settle for hollow hope. Don’t be satisfied with mere pieces of peace. Don’t hold to only morsels of the message. Listen to all of it.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

Luke 2:10-17

Peace has a name. Jesus. Don’t stop short of Him!

Lottie Moon: Pray, Give, Go!

On Christmas Eve, 1912, Lottie Moon passed from this world into her heavenly reward. As a missionary to China, she relentlessly and selflessly gave herself to God’s call on her life. Indeed, she died in part because she gave her rations to the starving children she felt so indebted to reach. Decades of loving the Chinese, teaching the gospel, and giving of herself for the people she loved culminated in the ultimate expression of sacrifice.

More than a century later, her life and influence still echo in the hearts of men and women responding to God’s call to overseas missions. Each Christmas, Southern Baptists turn their attention to her story for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. And while many Southern Baptists know of Lottie Moon, few may know the names of Martha Crawford, Edmonia Moon, and R.B. Headden. Yet, God used each one to help sound the call to China for Lottie.

    Martha Crawford had been working in China with a school that Lottie began to financially support shortly after she became a Christian.
    Lottie’s younger sister, Edmonia, had already gone to China as a missionary and corresponded with her pleadingly to come to China with her.
    Her pastor R.B. Headden preached a sermon one Sunday from John 4:35 on the fields ready to harvest. She would commit to go to China shortly afterward attributing this sermon as instrumental in God’s call upon her.
  • God use the influence of all three of these relationships to call Lottie Moon to a lifetime of service for him overseas.
  • I’m grateful that the annual Lottie Moon Christmas offering gives churches all across the Southern Baptist Convention the opportunity to again turn our gaze to missionary heroes like her and to give generously to support International Mission Board work all over the world. But it’s not just Lottie that we should reflect upon this time of year. We should also consider the important influence that R.B. Headden, Edmonia Moon, and Martha Crawford had upon her as well. Each one, in their unique way, has an eternal investment in the lingering influence of Lottie Moon more than 100 years later. They beckon us to see that it’s not only the missionaries who are important to God’s kingdom work, but the supporters and senders. They remind me that all can pray, most can give, and some can go.

    For my church family at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, we will receive our Lottie Moon Christmas offering on Sunday, December 9. I’m praying for a generous offering that Sunday. But I’m also praying that God would raise up another generation of senders, supporters, and goers. The kingdom work beckons, “Pray! Give! Go!” Will you?

    *If you or your church would like to give directly to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, you may do so here.

    Mpact—Honoring Pastor Michael Barrett

    Just a few months ago when Pleasant Garden Baptist Church called me to follow Mike Barrett as pastor, I couldn’t have imagined the impact he would have on me in such a short period of time. I have been blessed to be around and serve with many good and godly pastors along the way. Until July 2018, I had never been around one quite like Mike Barrett.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever been around any Christian with less pretense than him. He epitomizes Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” He has lived this way because he wants only Jesus honored. In fact, I paid him a public compliment not long after I arrived. He pulled me off a day later and whispered, “Please don’t do that. Just lift up Jesus.”

    I know I’ve never been around anyone with the energy and metabolism of Mike. Diet Mountain Dew, a couple pieces of chocolate, and a go-go-go energy has bounced all around Greensboro and the Pleasant Garden community and even worldwide on mission trips where he’s scattered Jesus’ love everywhere he’s been.

    I have loved being around someone with such a playful joy. I hadn’t even begun at the church officially when he welcomed me into the fraternity of “Robert, it’s your fault!” A table the staff was moving took out a rear truck window and with a smirk on his face and twinkle in his eye, he immediately blamed me. I wasn’t near it at the time, so I asked him, “Mike, how you figure it was my fault? I wasn’t anywhere around.” With playful glee he chuckled, “That’s why! If you’d been there, it wouldn’t have happened!”

    What I couldn’t have imagined when my family and I arrived was the quick, deep, and prayer-shaped friendship we would develop in only a few short months. Weekly, we’ve gathered to pray together, for each other, and for our respective ministry futures. He’s walked me through many of his approaches to ministry. He’s let me talk. He’s given encouragement and direction. He’s also done something that I respect tremendously and know must not have been easy. While we’ve overlapped, he’s taken steps back more and more to let me lead. For the pastor, shepherd, preacher, and leader of 31 years to step behind me while he’s led and served so faithfully and admirably has been perhaps his greatest gift to me. He’s set me up for such success. Why? Well, take a look back at that first trait—no pretense.

    In our celebration of his tenure, we outlined our service with the acronym, “Mpact,” calling attention to the mark he’s left on countless people through “missions,” “prayer,” “action,” “compassion,” and “truth” in his pastorate at Pleasant Garden. I know this. He’s made and indelible mpact on me. If, 30 plus years from now, I have had half the influence of Michael Barrett, I’ll have considered myself immeasurably successful in ministry.

    As he transitions from Pleasant Garden Baptist this week to a new season as our local missions strategist, I’m looking forward to watching his future ministry grow even more. I know this: wherever he serves, he will leave an mpact. And a slew of chocolate wrappers, an empty Diet Mountain Dew bottle or two, and a string of people who’ve come to know Jesus because of his work.

    Thanks Mike for your mpact!

    Switching Seats

    As a kid, I rarely, if ever gave much thought to driving. I just knew we would climb into our family van and go. But as a teen, something switched. Like many teenage boys, I began to appreciate my dad’s aggressive driving habits and tense as my mom creeped along the road. Like my dad, when I thought of driving myself, I knew I wanted to fly.

    Then driver’s ed happened. The rules of the road were pounded into a full room of eager, juvenile, immature soon-to-be drivers. Our instructor did his best, but he certainly had his work cut out for him. I read about one driver’s ed student who, when told to put the car in “passing gear” by the instructor, shifted up to the big “P” slamming the car to a hard stop. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the experience surely turned into an excellent teaching moment for the instructor moving forward! While nothing quite that exciting happened in our class, rookie drivers may just bring such dramatic, and traumatizing, possibilities.

    I can still recall those first few times switching seats. Exhilaration. Nervousness. An exceptionally heavy foot. (Wait. That last one didn’t happen until AFTER I passed the class.)

    The perspective’s different in the driver’s seat. So is the responsibility.

    In late June, I accepted the call to Pleasant Garden Baptist Church and began serving there with the outgoing Sr. Pastor, Michael Barrett in mid-July. I moved from an Associate Pastor’s role to a Sr. Pastor’s position.

    I switched seats. The perspective’s different and so is the responsibility.

    But here’s the best thing. The Instructor is better than any driving teacher I’ve ever had. God says to those who look to Him for guidance and direction,

    I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

    Psalm 32:8

    I’m glad I switched seats. I’m enjoying the change in perspective and responsibilities. But oh, how grateful I am for the wise, faithful, diligent, guidance of the Instructor. Without Him, I’d be more clueless and lost than that teen who thought the “P” on the steering column meant “pass.” Just like when I began driving, I’m sure to make a mistake or two (or ten) along the way. But with God guiding our way with His watchful eye, I’m hopeful we’re more likely to avoid running red lights, crashing on the brakes, or other such “rookie” mistakes in the driver’s seat.

    What Can You See?

    “Can you read that lowest line for me?” My eye doctor had just adjusted the lens correction for my new contact prescription.

    E D F C Z P

    I could read every one. Prescription updated. Vision check success.

    My optometrist has each and every necessary tool to look into my eyes and check them. Lights. Some red. Som white. Lenses. Drops. All this specialized equipment to give me a vision check.

    That recent appointment has had me thinking, “What can I see spiritually?” And as I did, I realized, the One who created our eyes has placed tools before us to check our spiritual vision.

    2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one[a] on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

    Mark 9:2-8

    These verses are overflowing with truth for us, but for our purposes here, I only want to highlight two key tools God uses to give us spiritual vision check. First, he sometimes breaks our routine so we see Jesus more clearly. Jesus took his three closest disciples with him on the mountain to include them in reveal they needed to see. This Transfiguration was all about Jesus’ identity. His power. His glory. His preeminence. His authority. His lordship. His might. Are You in an unusual place? Is life a bit unsettled now? Have some unexpected trials come your way? Is your routine out of kilter? Look. Pay attention. God’s quite possibly trying to show you a fresh glimpse of Jesus.

    Second, when you do begin to see what God’s doing around you, don’t miss the Savior for the salve. Don’t mistake the miracle for the Miracle worker. Don’t be distracted by the grand expression of God’s involvement in your life that you miss God altogether. Standing right there. In front of you.

    That was Peter’s mistake. He saw Jesus. And Moses and Elijah. He saw Jesus transfigured and two heroes with him. In the shock and grandness of God’s power, he made a mistake we are prone to as well. He took his attention and allegiance off of Jesus for the briefest of moments. So God gently corrected him. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

    Back to the eye doc. After I read each of those letters, the thought never crossed my mind to thank the large, metal lens contraption she had just removed from in front of my face. I did not—even one time—consider thanking the bright, white light she had just used to peer into my eyes only a minute before. Nor did I contemplate thanking the letters on the wall for being bright and visible. But I did thank her. The doc. The expert who used each tool to help me see each letter deserved my appreciation.

    It’s not the tools we thank. It’s the Doc. How’s your vision? Do you need a eye check? What can you see? When you finish the exam, remember, it matters most if you see Jesus. And when you do, thank him for it.