Coincidences Happen

Do you believe in coincidence? I don’t. When you believe in a sovereign God who is active in the every-day details of life, you realize that nothing happens “by chance.” He is in control, and, if we open our spiritual eyes, we can recognize His providential work all around us each day.

Which brings me to an old quote I was reminded of again this week, from William Temple, an Anglican priest and the former Archbishop of Canterbury. I’m not sure if it was delivered “tongue-in-cheek,” but it sure makes a great point. The archbishop said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”

There is within that simple, yet profound, statement a recognition that God works His purpose in our lives as we pray. Things that would not otherwise happen, do happen–“coincidentally,” the world might say–when we pray. And when we don’t pray–coincidentally enough–they don’t happen.

Quite frankly, I was convicted of that statement, because I realize that often I sit around and wait for things to happen, when God allows me the privilege of being a part of their happening by engaging in the ministry of prayer. There’s no telling what “coincidences” I might have missed because I didn’t pray.

With that in mind, I wanted to remind each of you to take seriously the Christian responsibility–and privilege–of prayer. I believe that prayer is the most important ministry each of us have as Christians. At the very least, I hope you will pray for yourself and your family each day, and also pray for our church family. If you are not sure what to pray for our church, let me make a few suggestions:

Pray for God’s protection for our body from the enemy’s attacks, and for purity and unity in our church fellowship. Pray for the moving of the Holy Spirit in our church, not just on Sundays as we gather in worship, but as we are about our Father’s business throughout the week.

Pray that the gospel would go forth from our church, and that God would empower our witness, as He provides us “divine appointments” with those He would have us to reach. Pray for the Lord’s provision of the financial needs of our church, that we might increase and expand our ministries beyond our walls. Pray that He will open doors for us to meet practical needs and serve “the least of these” in His name. Pray for our staff, elders and deacons, as well as all those who serve weekly in the ministry of our church, that the Lord would lead us, mature us, protect us, and use us for His glory.

I can’t wait to see the “coincidences” happen in our lives individually and collectively as The Church at Shelby Crossings as we get serious about praying for God to do His work in His church.

I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

The Golly Hole…and a Firm Foundation

Normally, this time of year we would be languishing in the heat and humidity, and praying for rain. This year, the heat’s not as bad, but the humidity is still there, and we have more rain than we could ask for. It’s sure making out lawns and vegetable gardens grow like crazy, but sometimes it also means it’s hard to find a time to mow the lawn or pick the veggies.

There’s also been plenty of flooding of late, as well as some other issues caused by the rain. I saw one of our local weather heroes post on social media this week some photos of a couple of cars that had collapsed into a huge sinkhole in a parking lot in my hometown of Midfield. Sinkholes are also quite common in Shelby County, including in our area.

I don’t know if you are aware, but one of the largest sinkholes in the United States is located right here in our own little metropolis of Calera. It is located in a rural area off of County Road 84 and Overhill Road, no more than a couple of miles as the crow flies from our church campus. It gained national attention in December, 1972 when the massive hole just opened up one evening, after the roof of an underground aquifer collapsed.

At the time, nearby residents heard the sound of the collapse, but didn’t know what it was until they discovered the huge hole in the ground while hunting in the woods days later. It is referred to as the “Golly Hole”—and it’s not hard to imagine where it got its name. It has been measured as more than 325 feet long, 300 feet wide and 120 feet deep.

Sinkholes are an interesting phenomenon.  They are basically a geological problem, and occur for various reasons when underground streams either dry up during a drought or wash out during times of heavy rain, causing the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support.  Mining can also lead to the same effect, especially when it produces voids beneath the surface of the ground and causes shifts in those underground streams.  Suddenly, and often unexpectedly, everything just caves in, leaving people with the frightening suspicion that nothing–not even the earth beneath their feet–is trustworthy.

There are a lot of people whose lives are like one of those sinkholes.  At one time or another, you feel like you’re on the verge of a sinkhole-like cave-in, just a moment away from a collapse that will threaten to sweep your entire world into a bottomless pit. 

The question is, do we have something “solid” beneath the surface of our lives that will provide a strong foundation whatever comes our way?  Or have we just spent most of our time and energy focusing only on that which is visible, while neglecting the subterranean matters of the heart?

It’s an easy temptation, especially in a world that focuses so much on how we project a surface-level image instead of deeper, “below-ground” issues.  But God calls us to do just the opposite, to make sure our heart is in order as our top priority. The challenge for us, as usual, is to go against the flow of our society and invest our lives more on internals than externals.  When we do, we find that the matters of the heart are truly the heart of the matter.

My prayer for you is that God will shore up your life from the inside out, so that you will never have a cave-in, no matter how much pressure you face.  When He fills your life, all the weight in the world cannot overwhelm you.  As the old hymn reminds us, He is the Solid Rock, and “all other ground is sinking sand.”

May He be your firm foundation this week. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Thinking…About Serving

Many years ago, when IBM was on the cutting edge of the computer world, they encouraged their employees to always be innovative and always be thinking.

One day, in a restroom at IBM’s Watson Center, a supervisor had placed a sign directly above the sink. It had a single word on it: “THINK!”

The next day, when he went into the restroom, that same supervisor looked at the sign and right below, immediately above the soap dispenser, someone had carefully lettered another sign which read: “THOAP!”

That’s some pretty creative thinking!

I was reminded of that story when I read that back in the early days of the pandemic, someone wrote a little bathroom graffiti that turned into a good spiritual lesson. In the restroom at a coffee shop, someone had scribbled on the mirror, “What Would Jesus Do?” Sticking with the sanitizing narrative of Covid, someone else wrote underneath, “Wash his hands.”

And under that, someone else came later and wrote, “And your feet.”

Again, a pretty creative–and accurate–response.

I am not trying to encourage you to go spread the gospel on bathroom walls–some refer to that as “evandalism”–but that’s a pretty good message the word needs to hear. That our Lord Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28) And He demonstrated that by literally washing the feet of His disciples, thus demonstrating the way in which His followers are to carry themselves in this world.

When the kingdom you are a part of has a King who serves His subjects–even to the point that He dies for them–then you should stand out in today’s world. That is certainly an other-worldly mindset, that seeks to serve and love others first. I wonder who the Lord has placed in your path and my path today that we can serve so that in doing so we can share Christ’s love and point people to Him.

So THINK about it…and go and SERVE someone today, in Jesus’ name.

I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

“All Things Without Grumbling…”

“I don’t want to complain, but…”

If you’ve ever heard anyone preface their complaint with that disclaimer, you probably realize that they do, in fact, want to complain. Some people just love to do it, every chance they get.

In fact, just scroll across any local community Facebook page and it appears that just about everyone wants to chime in with their complaint every chance they get. It may be about fireworks, bad food or service at restaurants, train delays, or any number of other topics (including politics, of course), but it seems that the only way some people are happy is if they have something to be unhappy about.

I have a theory, mostly from reading product reviews and comments sections and the aforementioned community pages. That theory is, most of the people who leave reviews or get on Facebook to complain are telling you far more about themselves than they are about the products or services or people they are complaining about. As in, they are pretty miserable people who always see the glass half full (or empty and shattered on the floor) and want to drag you into their misery.

I read about a man in the middle ages who became fed up with humanity and decided to spend the rest of his life in a monastery. The abbot warned him that he would have to take a vow of silence and live the rest of his life as a scribe, to which the man replied, “No problem. I’m sick of talking.”

Ten years went by, and the abbot called for the man. He told him that he was a model monk and perfect scribe, and that they were very happy to have him. As per their tradition, he was allowed to say two words. Asked if he had anything to say, the man nodded and said, “Food cold.”

The abbot sent him on his way. Ten years later, he was brought before the abbot again and once again told how pleased they were with his performance, and that he was again allowed two more words if he so chose. The man said, “Bed hard,” and was sent back to work.

Another ten years went by, and again the abbot sent for the man, telling him that he was the best monk they had ever had, and that he was allowed another two words. The man nodded and said, “I quit.”

To this the abbot replied in a disgusted tone, “Doesn’t surprise me. You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”

Just in case you didn’t get the memo, we as followers of Jesus are supposed to be different from the world, and one of the things that should set us apart the most is our refusal to join the chorus of complainers around us. The apostle Paul instructed the believers in Philippi to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Some translations use the specific word “complaining.” He goes on to say that in doing so we prove ourselves to be “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shines as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:14-15)

There’s that expression we keep reading about of late, just as Jesus called us to be “the light of the world.” But when we choose to grumble and complain, our light just hits the dimmer switch instead.

And that’s the reality about complaining: it’s a choice. If we do it. it’s because we want to. Contrary to popular belief, you can choose not to complain, regardless of your circumstances. Sometimes it’s still best to follow the old advice, “If you don’t have something good to say, say nothing at all.”

Let’s make the effort this week to not complain. I’ll pray that for you, as I hope you will for me, and we’ll watch the Lord shine His light through us. Have a blessed weekend. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Thanksgiving on the 4th of July

Last Sunday, our elders announced in our worship services that we have paid off our mortgage and now own Buildings B & C on our church campus. When we made the decision last August to purchase those buildings, we paid a substantial portion of the purchase price down, and negotiated a mortgage for four years for the remaining balance. We had hoped to pay it off earlier than that, but never expected to be able to be debt-free within ten months, especially during a pandemic.

Considering that 19 months ago, we had no idea what we were going to do and where we would be, in regard to church facilities, it’s especially exciting news that we now own the buildings outright. Add to that the uncertainties we faced financially just over a year ago when Covid came and we weren’t even able to meet in person, and that’s all the more something to celebrate. The Lord provided, as He always does, through the faithful giving of His people, even during a pandemic.

Speaking of which, things seem to be getting more and more back to “normal” in our church, on this side of the pandemic. Yes, we are not fully out of the woods yet, and unfortunately there are still some who are unable to return to in-person worship because of health concerns–and we do miss them. And we certainly want to make sure we continue to be wise and careful to protect the flock every way we can. But all in all, we can look back over the last year and celebrate that we survived–as individuals, as families and as a church–and again, God has been so faithful. We prayed diligently for His protection, and He answered our prayers, and for that we are thankful.

Needless to say, it’s also been a tumultuous few years in our nation. There is still much division, and in so many ways it seems like our country has lost its way. But, we have survived a pandemic and civic upheaval, and again, God has been faithful. As we celebrate America’s 245th birthday this Sunday we do so with a recognition that we are so very blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to worship together.

All that to say, there is much to celebrate this 4th of July: faith, family, freedom; God’s provision and protection, and so much more. I, for one, am so grateful for God’s blessings over the last year, and I praise His name for His faithfulness.

I know many have plans to be out of town this holiday weekend, but if you are around, I hope you can be with us on Sunday as we celebrate His goodness to us with a churchwide breakfast fellowship at 9:00 a.m., followed by a combined worship service at 10:30. It promises to be a great day.

But more than that, I hope you’ll take some time this weekend and count your blessings as well, and be sure to thank God for His faithful work in your life. This 4th of July could be the best Thanksgiving you ever had!

What a joy it is to be your pastor. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I hope to see each of you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

The More Things Change…

I’m sure you’ve heard the old expression: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At first glance, that makes no sense. But if you’ve observed life very much you realize how true that statement can be.

I bring that up in a world that is rapidly changing, and usually for the worse. Over the last year or so, it seems we have seen a constant unraveling of the very fabric of our nation, and an undermining of value systems that have lasted for generations. The cultural upheaval that we are facing has left many of us reeling, wondering what is coming next.

It is at times like these when something so old-fashioned as a Vacation Bible School comes as a breath of fresh air. To watch so many kids with their childlike faith singing, playing, doing crafts and quoting Scripture together reminds you that not all is wrong in this world, and that there is rock-solid hope, even if when it seems there is chaos on every side.

Our children have had a blast this week, and our VBS leaders and staff once again did a great job planning a fun and creative theme that filtered into every area of our Bible School. More than anything, it has centered around the key word in that title--the Bible. Our primary objective, amidst all the craziness and fun we’ve had, is to teach children the word of God and introduce them to a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the only hope for transformation not just for us but for the generation to come. 

And yet, for our Bible school in 2021, the more things stay the same, the more they change. We teach the same Bible we’ve always taught, but we do so using all the creative means we can, pointing kids to never-changing truth in an ever-changing world. Ask your child how God makes our messes beautiful, and you might hear stories about God’s creation, the man after God’s own heart who made a pretty big mess of his own life, the short guy in the sycamore tree, or the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins.

The point is, the God of the Bible has a long track record of taking “messy” people and impacting their lives with truth, so that those same lives are transformed. And He is still in the same business today: He makes all things beautiful in His time. Our goal this week has been to share the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the end that’s what the whole messy theme was about, pointing people to Jesus. He “is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) The more things change, the more they stay the same.

My prayer is that the children and workers who have been a part of our Vacation Bible School this week will each allow God to change our lives through His word, and that we’ll become instruments of change to our generation.

I count it such a privilege to be a part of such a wonderful faith family, and I look forward to seeing each of you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

A ‘Messy’ Week Ahead

Our Vacation Bible School is just around the corner–next Monday through Thursday in fact–and we’re excited about another wonderful opportunity to share the love of Christ with the children of our church and our community. And we’re especially excited, in light of the last year, to be back on campus for our VBS this summer!

As you may know, for the last several years we have developed our own original and unique VBS materials for Bible teaching, worship, missions, crafts, recreation and even snacks, all following a theme that helps keep the kids’ attention so we can communicate the gospel effectively. We are blessed to have some very gifted and creative people in our church body who have put this together every year, and this year is no different.

I’m sure if you have seen the signs, banners and social media posts promoting this year’s VBS you know that our theme this year is “Messy.” Just to clarify, we are not going to be teaching your children how to be messy. I suspect that most of them have already perfected that art. We will be having some messy fun, hopefully to pick up on the larger lesson that God is able to make beautiful things out of the messes we make with our lives.

That’s something we all need to be reminded of sometimes. That we have a God who has a long track record of taking messed up people, with all their failures, mistakes and struggles and weaving from those messes a tapestry of grace that becomes a testimony of His goodness. The Scriptures are full of those accounts, of imperfect people encountering a perfect God, and coming out better for having done so.

One of the most quoted–and often most misquoted–verses in all of the Bible is Romans 8:28. One translation says it this way: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (NASB). Some people stop reading that verse too quickly, and think it means that “God causes all things,” as if we are all just puppets and He is up in heaven pulling all the strings.

Admittedly, it can be difficult to understand God and His providence, and how His sovereign will interacts with our free will. But it’s not hard to understand that God is not responsible for the messes we make, and most of the times it is our choices that get us into trouble. Somehow, still, God is able to take the bad and make something good from it. He doesn’t cause all things, but He does pull the broken pieces of our lives together to make something good–in spite of us.

That’s the lesson of the gospel, from beginning to end, how God makes messy things right. And that will be the wonderful, hopeful, grace-filled message that we hope the kids will be picking up on this week as they have a fun, albeit messy time in our Vacation Bible School.

I hope you’ll be praying for God’s work in the lives of the children as well as in those youth and adults who will be serving in this important ministry. I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us. In the mean time, I look forward to seeing each of you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Just Passing Through

You can sure tell that the pandemic is winding down just by trying to commute on I-65 or Highway 31 on weekends. The beach-bound crowds are back, crowding us out of our own roads every Friday and Saturday–and filling up restaurants and gas stations. It’s usually pretty obvious whether they are coming or going, depending on the shade of pink their skin is, and whether the look on their faces is one of anticipation and excitement, or dread because they are heading home to go back to work.

One thing is for certain, they definitely “aren’t from around here.” When they come through Shelby County, they are somewhere between home and their final destination at the beach, or vice-versa. Either way, their interest in our area is minimal. They are only passing through.

Actually, that whole scenario provides a pretty good picture of our lives as believers. The Bible reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven, that we are aliens and strangers, just passing through. And so we should be living with great anticipation for our final destination, even if that means we have to put up with some things in our journey on the way.

And no doubt, there are many things in this crazy world we live in that remind us daily that we are not at home. As we have discussed quite a bit in our current sermon series on the family, it is becoming more and more apparent that to follow Jesus in the 21st century demands that we regularly choose to go against the flow of the culture we live in. But then again, for Christians around world in the last twenty centuries, that has usually been the case.

I am reminded of an ancient letter, dating back to the second century A.D., that describes life in the early church for believers who lived in a decidedly secular world. The letter was written by an anonymous author to a man named Diognetus, and has been preserved for nearly 1,900 years. I had to read it as part of a church history class in seminary, and have never forgotten its description of believers who lived as foreigners in their homeland. The letter is of keen interest to Christian historians, especially in regard to its description of how believers lived “in the world,” balancing their dual citizenship in a pagan world and in God’s kingdom. It provides a good picture of how we might also live in our current world, no matter the political environment. Here’s an excerpt:

Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity…Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them. And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life.

They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.

They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They share a common table, but not a common bed.

They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life.

They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.
They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.

Once again, like our brothers in the second century, we must be “in the world” but not be “of it.” We must be salt and light in our culture, difference-makers as Jesus called us to be. This world is not our home, and we shouldn’t be surprised when it acts accordingly. We are, as the letter to Digonetus described those early Christians, “just passing through.”

I would encourage you, while we are here, to “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15). The Lord has us here for a reason; let’s be sure to impact our world for His gospel.

I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

The Age of the Crowd

If there’s anything the past year or so has shown us, it is that we humans are often such conformists. Time after time we have seen how people have made their decisions–or chosen their “side”–by what their crowd is doing. Whether that has involved the pandemic, politics, social protest or just about anything on social media, it seems that many people look around to see what everyone else is doing before they decide anything for themselves. But we must remember that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be different, to “no longer be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2)

I think one of the reasons why the apostle Paul wrote that was because he understood that it is part of our nature to try to follow the crowd. Social scientists have discovered that reality for a while. And in recent years, marketers and merchandisers–those who are trying to sell us stuff–have found that as well. Customers find safety in numbers. We tend to judge a restaurant or recreational activity–and even a church–by how many other people are there. If there’s a crowd, it must be good. I read of one man in Utah who bought several used cars and lined them up in front of his store. His business increased significantly.

More than a hundred years ago, the Dutch philosopher Soren Kierkegaard warned that “the age of the crowd” was upon us. In such an age, said Kierkegaard, people would not think of deciding anything for themselves. They would look around and see what others were doing and just behave like them. Like sheep, just following the flock. 

A television documentary a few years back showed a lot about the behavior of sheep–and perhaps humans too. One scene was a packing house where sheep were slaughtered. The sheep had to walk from their large pen up a narrow ramp and then turn right. In order to get the sheep to move up the ramp, a “Judas goat,” as he was called, was trained to lead the sheep up the ramp to their death.

The goat was placed among the sheep and then walked confidently to the ramp as the nervous sheep watched. After the goat got about five feet up the ramp, he stopped and confidently looked around at the other sheep, who then began to follow. Near the top of the ramp the goat turned left, as a gate was opened only for him and then closed. The sheep, however, continued up the ramp and turned right, to their death.

“My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me,” Jesus, once said. “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28) 

My prayer for you is that in the age of the crowd, you will be faithful to only follow the Good Shepherd, who loved you enough to lay down His life for His sheep. Trust His leadership for your life, even if it means going against the flow of the crowd. It may be hard, but it will always be worth it.

I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

The School of Life

“School’s out for summer!” Congratulations to the class of 2021, and to all who made it through this crazy school year!

The end of every school year is usually a time of celebration. But this year brings an even bigger exhale for so many families who are especially relieved to finally get this year behind them. It’s been a difficult season, for sure, with the uncertainties and limitations brought on by the Covid pandemic. From social distancing to mask mandates to virtual learning–to kids being at home for extended periods–there have been many challenges. And that goes for students, parents, and teachers too–including those who teach in public and private schools, as well as homeschool moms and dads. Thanks for hanging in there, and enduring to the end.

I heard a story about a kindergarten teacher whose students brought presents for her on the last day of the school year. First, the local florist’s son handed the teacher a gift. She shook it, held it up, and said with a smile, “I bet it’s some flowers!” “That’s right!” shouted the little boy.

Then the candy store owner’s daughter handed the teacher a gift. She held it up, shook it, and said, “I bet I know what it is! It’s a box of candy!” “That’s right!” shouted the little girl.

The next gift was from the liquor store owner’s son. The teacher held it up and saw that it was leaking. She touched a drop with her finger and tasted it. “Is it wine?” she asked. “No,” the boy answered. The teacher touched another drop to her tongue. “Is it champagne?” she asked. “No,” the boy answered.

“What is it?” she said.

“A puppy!”

I know this year has been one full of surprises. We entered it in the fall not knowing even if we would finish the year, and sometimes it seemed like the only constant was change. But school is about learning, and there are certainly some educational opportunities that come, on the fly, when things don’t always go the way we would have planned or hoped. In school, we call them “tests,” but that is also what we encounter in the experiences of life. For learning to live and function as responsible citizens often means times of testing that never make it into a teaching plan. And in that light, the school year that is behind us has provided some great practical life lessons for coping in difficult times for students and teachers alike.

But you don’t have to be a K-12 student to learn in the school of life. And I hope and pray that in the years ahead, when all of us look back on 2020-21, we will see some wonderful learning experiences that developed our character and taught us patience, endurance, consideration, compassion and a new level of trust in God. “Because,” as the apostle James wrote, “you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

I am sure grateful that we have made it through this school year, and that the Lord protected us so faithfully through a worldwide pandemic. My prayer is that we will be better because we did it. That’s what getting an education is all about, and really, when we see it that way, school is never out.

Have a blessed weekend. I hope to see you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken