Nevertheless

I will admit, I always wished I had a better vocabulary. I have often been impressed by people who seemed to come up with a creative way of expressing themselves, and to be honest I have envied their ability to craft a phrase. And it’s not always “big” words that make those who spoke them sound intelligent. Sometimes it’s knowing how you use just the right term in the right way.
One such word that I wish I said more is nevertheless. It’s an adverb, which means “in spite of, or notwithstanding.” It sometimes sounds a little strange in our modern vernacular, and can be awkward to work into a sentence. We may be more inclined to say, “but,” or “however,” or “yet,” or “still.” But nevertheless does say it so well. And there are so many good ways to say it.
Nevertheless is a term about contrast, and about choices. The circumstances may not be what I would have asked for; nevertheless I will make the best of what I have.
So, I don’t feel so good today. Nevertheless, I’m going to get up and get going. Even if my progress is slow, I’m going to move forward.
I’m offended by what they said to me. Nevertheless, I will choose to forgive, and refuse to become bitter. God’s done too much for me to stay stuck on this.
Nobody seems to appreciate what I’m doing right now. Nevertheless, I’m going to serve God wholeheartedly. My reward comes from the Lord, and he sees, and He knows, and that’s enough.
Just think of all the opportunities you and I have to use that word today, as we make decisions to not allow our circumstances to dictate our attitude or our actions. And, for whatever it’s worth, the Bible is filled with nevertheless statements. Here are a few examples:
God loves His children with a nevertheless love:
Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” (Ezekiel 16:60)
Jesus calls us to follow Him with a nevertheless obedience:
“But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:5)
In Christ, we are called to a nevertheless faith:
“I have been crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Let me encourage you to choose nevertheless faith and nevertheless obedience today, as you experience the nevertheless love of our Heavenly Father. I will be praying for you, as I hope you will for me, and I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.

Too Busy (Not) to Pray

This Sunday will be a busy and exciting day at Shelby Crossings. In addition to what promises to be another inspiring time of worship among God’s people, we will be sending off some of our own in prayer for their mission trip to Africa. We will also be recognizing and honoring our graduates from the Class of 2017, and later that afternoon our Shelby Crossings Christian School will have its own graduation. Sunday evening, several members of the TCASC family will join together to prepare and serve dinner to “the least of these” at a homeless shelter in Birmingham. And, others from our church body will gather in our worship center for the purpose of prayer. A busy day indeed.
It was Martin Luther who once said, “I have so much to do that I must spend the first three hours of each day in prayer.” I  was reminded of that quote again this week, in the midst of our busy weekend, as we prepare for our church wide Prayer Gathering on Sunday evening.
Our elders, desiring to lead our church body into a deeper commitment to prayer, are calling the church to join us for this “prayer meeting” on Sunday night. Often, such a call to prayer is precipitated by a crisis–a time of brokenness and repentance from sin; a need for direction in a time of decision; or crying out for God’s provision in a time of great need. Quite frankly, there is no great crisis, sin, decision or need that motivates this call to prayer. We just want to seek the Lord, in good times and bad, and make sure we stay on our face before Him, humble and open to His will.
We desire for prayer to be a priority in our church. But the truth is, often it is not. It is so easy to get distracted by the busy-ness of life’s business, even in doing Biblical ministry, that we forget to spend focused time in prayer, both individually or corporately. So many of us live our lives that way every day–spinning our wheels, working hard, even planning diligently, but “too busy” to pray. We would all do well to listen to Luther’s words and understand that in fact most of us are too busy NOT to pray.
If you are like me, you probably feel like your life is always lived on a deadline, and usually in a hurry. When that happens, God often gets the leftovers of our time. As Samuel Chadwick once said, “Hurry is the death of prayer.”
So…this Sunday night, we stop. To pray. If only for an hour (or as long as the Spirit leads), we will gather together in one place to pray. There is much Biblical precedent for the people of God coming together to seek Him together, and so many of the great moves of God throughout the centuries–from Biblical times to church history–have been borne out of God’s people pulling themselves from their routine, taking time away from their distracted lives, and seeking His face.

That will be the agenda for Sunday night.

I hope you can be with us on Sunday night for this special time in the life of our church. I’m praying for you, and look forward to seeing you this Sunday.

Promised Presence

Do you know what the central promise in all the Bible is? I’ll give you a few hints. It is not “I will love you,” though God does that for sure. Neither is it “I will forgive you,” though we know that Scripture is ultimately a record of God’s work redeeming sinful humanity by His mercy and grace, through His Son Jesus. It is not even the promise of life after death, though I am certainly glad that we have that blessed assurance as well.
The most frequent promise in the Bible, made by God to His people, is:  “I will be with you.”
Before Adam and Eve ever sinned or needed forgiveness, they were promised God’s presence. He would walk with them in the cool of the day. The promise came to Enoch, who “walked with God.” It was made to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David and Amos and Mary and Paul and too many others to list.
It is the reason for courage: “Do not be afraid…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” It kept them going in darkness: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me.”
God gave Israel the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant and the temple and a pillar of cloud and another one of fire, like so many Post-It notes that said, “Don’t forget. I am with you.”
When God Himself came to earth, His redemptive name was Immanuel–God with us. And before Jesus ascended to the Father, His promise to His disciples, then and now, was, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And as a promise for our future, at the end of time, when sin is a distant and defeated memory, Scripture tells us that it will be sung, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
What does all that mean to you and me in 2017? God’s promised presence, with us, is as certain as anything in our lives this week. No matter where we go, or what we do, or what we may face, God is with us. There is no reason to fear or fret, because we don’t have to face this world alone.
But like Jacob, when he wrestled with the angel of the Lord, sometimes we miss Him. “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it,” he said (Genesis 28:16). Or like those disciples who walked with Jesus on the Emmaus Road an didn’t recognize Him in their midst, we might ask, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road…? (Luke 24:32)  How easy it is, in the busyness of our business, to miss the Lord altogether.
My prayer for each of us is that we will take God at His promise, and experience the presence of the Lord this week, so that He impacts our lives. As the song we sing says, “Let us be more aware of Your presence.”
What a privilege it is to shepherd such a great church, and I look forward to seeing each of you on Sunday.

Bad News, Good News

People magazine once did a part-serious, part-tongue-in-cheek survey of its readers on the subject of sin. The results were published as a “Sindex,” with each sin rated by a sin coefficient. The outcome was both amusing and instructive.
Sins like murder, child abuse, and spying against one’s country were rated the worst sins in ascending order, with smoking, swearing, and illegal videotaping far down the list. Parking in a handicapped spot was rated surprising high, whereas unmarried live-togethers got off lightly. Cutting in front of someone in line was deemed worse than divorce. The survey concluded, “Overall, readers said they commit about 4.64 sins a month.”
I wonder what kind of “sindex” we would come up with at Shelby Crossings if we did our own survey. One thing is for sure, the readers of People were either not telling the truth about how much they sin (which, coincidentally enough, is a sin) or they are far holier than most of the rest of us, if they are averaging less than five sins a month. Or maybe, they just don’t understand what sin is, and by whose standards we measure it.
Admittedly, calculating our sin is not an easy task, and certainly it is hard to be precise, when you include attitudes as well as actions. Ultimately, we find in Scripture that sin is not just a few bad acts that we do, it is the attitude of self-centeredness, self-sufficiency and pride that is in rebellion against God.
As the writer Dorothy Sayers once said, “[Sin] is a deep interior dislocation at the very center of the human personality.” Or, as 20th century poet W.H. Auden wrote, sin is “the error bred in the bone.”
I had a seminary professor who used to say that we are all sinners, by nature and by choice. The apostle Paul said it this way: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  And that sin nature and the choices we make inevitably get us all into trouble, in that they separate us from a holy God. The bad news is that “the wages of sin is death.” We all must pay for the sin that we commit, and the pay day comes in the form of spiritual death and eternal separation from God.
But the good news comes in the second half of that verse: “…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Our only remedy for our sin is not to clean up our act but to accept the free gift of salvation that was purchased in our stead by Jesus Christ, who went to the cross to pay sin’s penalty on our behalf. But if we don’t accept the gift, we don’t get the pardon, and must live with the consequences of our sin.
My prayer for each of you who read this is that you have trusted in Christ’s redemptive work on your behalf, and received that wonderful gift of forgiveness for your sin. Whatever may be included on your “sindex,” and however many sins you may think you average each month, there’s no limit to the mercy and grace that God offers in Christ. “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).
I look forward to seeing you Sunday.