Category Archives: Grace

Take a Breather

Mark 6:30–32 NIV
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Have you ever had one of these days? You know, the days when, with every great intention, you set out to make a dent in your world or at least your inbox. You lay down a vision for your day and wake up ready to kick some tasks and take some notes but before you even sit down at your desk the phone rings…

and then someone walks in your office with a crisis that needs your input…

then something in your workspace or building breaks…

then your kid gets sick at school and you have to pick them up and take them to the doc and then to the pharmacy…

then… and then… and then…

We’ve all been there, right?

This is where Jesus’ ministry staff finds themselves on this particular day. The apostles were right in the thick of this kind of ministry whirlwind. They came to Jesus for a staff meeting to share with him all that they have been doing and to get a little encouragment and development. The problem is that ministry doesn’t stop. Not for staff meetings. Not for office hours. Not when you’re on vacation. Not in the minutes leading up to the beginning of the Sunday servoce. Not. Ever.

Mark reports that people and problems kept interupting this personnel meeting and was so consuming that the apostles looked around a few hours later and realized that they worked right through lunch.

That’s when Jesus says, “Let’s go. Get in the boat. We are taking a break.”

Jesus sensed what they needed was some space, some breathing room. In fact, Jesus himself was probably stretched thin and, no doubt, was still greiving over the execustion of his cousin, John the Baptist earlier in this chapter. In the midst of ministry still left to do, Jesus hit the pause button and had everyone head to the lake.

So Jesus and the staff climb into the boat, cast off, and for a moment… there is quiet. There is stillness. There is no one and no situation vying for their attention. For a moment.

Mark 6:33–37 NIV
But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

The people needing to see Jesus and needing a word or needing healing realized what was happening and ran around the Sea of Galilee to meet them on the other side.

When I visited this region we took a boat across the Sea of Galilee and it took us roughly 45 minutes to an hour.

I’m not sure how long it took Jesus and the apostles to make the trip but I know this: They only had a short break before they were thrown right back into the thick of ministry activity.

Maybe I’m looking to deeply into this story but it resonates with my heart. On the far side of the lake, the apostles were fading fast. They were hungry, bombarded, and seemingly overwhelmed. They get into the boat, receive a short repreive from their work, and then they are seemingly ready for the next wave of pastoral care. On top of that, Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook when it comes to continuing to meet the increased needs of the people they are serving.

“You give them something to eat.”

I hear Jesus saying, “I gave you a chance to rest. It was enough. I am enough. Let’s show them what The Father is capable of.”

Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Culturally this is a season where you might hear Jesus-people talking about how they are giving up ice cream or posting on Facebook about how they aren’t going to be posting on Facebook for a few weeks. The season runs for approximately 40 days leading up to Easter. In the grand scheme of the year and certainity for the totality of your life 40 days isn’t a very long time. I mean, by comparison, the MLB season is 182 days.

What if you looked at the next 40 days as a time of respite and preparation for what is coming next?

For most of us in ministry, Easter Sunday is… a pretty big deal. I know that ministry cannot and will not stop completely for this season but how can you push pause and get in the boat with Jesus for a brief RnR? Maybe you make room in your heart through refraining from an activity or giving up sweets or deactivating your social media platforms or… what ever that looks like for you. Let God breath into you for the next few weeks.

Not because it’s trendy or a tradition or tantalizing but because you need it.

You need to rest because on the other side of the lake, there are more poeple to serve.

On the other side of these 40 days, Jesus needs you to feed his people.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Thank You, Dr. Neller

There are a few things I will do today when I walk into my office and begin a week full of ministry.

At some point today, I will open God’s Word and beg God to speak to me, to change me, to guide me. There is a great difference in studying for life change and studying to help other people experience life change. The Word must speak to me before I speak it to others.

At some point today, I will thank God that he has put me at this place in His kingdom and worry very little about where I might one day be.

At some point today, I will be more concerned with pleasing God, glorifying Jesus, and living empowered by his Spirit than I will about critics, difficult days, and greener grass.

At some point today, I will connect with someone whom I can pray with, guide, speak Scripture over, and practically bring them the Good News and ministry. I may prepare for a baby blessing, a hospital visit, a funeral service, or a wedding ceremony. From life to death, I am tasked with helping people experience God’s presence in their day to day activities.

At some point today, I will use the Bible software program Accordance that enables me to have all my teaching and study materials all in one place.

At some point today, I will read a little Greek.

At some point today, I will attempt to navigate the waters of being a scholar pastor. I will try to learn much while loving people more.

I will do all these things today and every day because I had the opportunity to be profoundly influenced by Dr. Ken Neller.

Dr. Ken Neller, professor at Harding University and shepherd/minister at Downtown Church of Christ, passed away suddenly last Thursday. His memorial service was yesterday. I was unable to attend the service but, over the last few days, a few thoughts have bubbled to the surface and I would like to share them today as a tribute to his influence on me and many others.

Dr. Neller was one of the best professors at Harding and I was privileged to have his New Testament Survey, Greek 3, Christian Ministry and Christian Worship Classes. My freshman year, the powers that be decided to place all the Bible majors into the same Old Testament Class and New Testament class. As far as I am concerned, that was the greatest thing the University could have done for us. It created a group of men and women who could rely on one another as they navigated the experience of learning to love God and love others. We became a close knit group of majors. So much so, that in the Spring semester we organized a “field trip” to the old fairgrounds in Little Rock for a Bible Majors Night at the Hockey Game. We invited our OT professor, Dr Dale Manor, and Dr. Neller came along with us as well. I have so many fond memories from that night and that entire semester. It was a year in which I experienced, without a shadow of a doubt, confidence in God’s call on my life for ministry.

As time went on, I had Dr. Neller for Christian Ministry. This was a class that covered the practical, day to day flow of life as a full-time minister. We visited hospitals and funeral homes. We visited retirement centers and served within our community of Searcy. His insight and leadership from that one class has had a profound impact on the way I approach ministry to this day.

I grew up in a very large congregation (1700+) deep in the heart (clap, clap, clap) of the Bible Belt. To me this was normal and so, of course when I graduated, my first ministry position would be in a similar congregation. That’s just how it works. I wasn’t delusional I was simply naive. Dr. Neller stopped class one day out of the blue and said, “Gentlemen, realize this. The average church in America is less than 100 people. The vast majority of you will not end up at large churches in Dallas or Nashville.” My immediate reaction was to push back and argue. Instead, because of his genuine care and concern for us that was on display every day, I let his statement wash over me. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me. I knew that he was right. From that day forward, I never once looked for a position or a church that was big. I have instead tried to find where God was leading me. Some big congregations have looked at me, interviewed me, passed on me, or offered me a job. A minister can go crazy trying to jump through the hoops, worrying about image and disappointment, moving from job to job in an effort to climb the ministry ladder. Instead, I know that my God is faithful and will place me where he wants me, when he wants me there, and for as long as he wants me there.

After Sandy and I were married, we were invited into the Neller’s home on a weekly basis for a Young Marrieds’ Bible Study. We were with two other future ministry couples and two other great couples who were incredible influences on us. These weekly Bible Studies were an opportunity for us to grow in so many ways and I will never forget the times we spent with the Nellers, the Stockstills, and the Fryes. Their dedication to God, one other, us, and ministry was on full display for us to glean from. Many nights, I think back to those evenings gathered together with God’s Word, good friends, and incredible mentors.

I was shocked to hear about Dr. Neller’s death. It hit me and the rest of the Harding community hard. The outpouring of love and support toward Barbra, his wife, his sons and their families is proof that the Neller’s live lives that impact others to the glory of Jesus Christ.

I’m not nearly as articulate as some others who have expressed their tributes and memorials this past weekend on blogs and social media.

All I can say is that I loved Dr. Neller and knew that he loved me and my family in return. I am a better Disciple, Husband, Father, and Minister because I was able to be impacted by a great man of God.

Thank you, Dr. Neller.

Grace > Your Sin

I could spend the rest of my life reading about and studying the subject of Grace. I am obsessed with understanding just exactly what it is and what it means for my life. I could spend every waking minute of the rest my life dedicated to understanding Grace but I’m convinced that I would never even scratch the surface of understanding what Grace is or why God gives me that which I don’t deserve.

Today I came across another example of just how big God’s love and grace is for his children.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve choose to believe the lies of Satan over the promises of God. They were experiencing God’s grace and love in the form of unbroken relationship and care. When they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree their “eyes were open” and for the first time they experienced shame and fear. Realizing that they were naked they fashion for themselves a covering made from fig leaves. The Hebrew word here (chagorah) means something along the lines of a belt. They made underwear from leaves and grass. Not the greatest effort to cover their shame but it was the best that they could do. It was all they were capable of.

In Genesis 3:21, after God has caught his children in their sin, after he has pronounced judgement over mankind, and after removing Adam and Eve from the garden (God’s tangible representation of his relationship and care for his children) God does something, to me, that’s incredible. God once again demonstrated his grace and love even in the face of those who openly reject and ignore his instruction.

“The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

Did you catch that? God made garments and clothed them. Kuttoneth is defined as a tunic or a robe. God completely covered Adam and Eve after their sin and disobedience. God did for Adam and Eve what they couldn’t do for themselves. What they could NEVER do for themselves.

Adam and Eve covered themselves (just barely) with some twigs and leaves.

Even though their sin had removed them from God’s garden, even though their sin separated and destroyed the intimate relationship they enjoyed with God, their sin couldn’t separate them from God’s grace. God gave them more than they deserved. God’s grace covered them completely.

We are a lot like Adam and Eve. Try as we might, we will never be able to adequately cover up the shame of our sin on our own. Instead of animal skins, God’s grace covers us completely by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Trade in your fig leaf briefs. God’s grace is greater and more complete than anything you can do on your own.