Not God

Ernest Kurtz wrote a book about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was entitled “Not God” because, he said: the fundamental problem alcoholics have is that way down deep, they refuse to acknowledge limitation, weakness, being finite, being fallen. They tend to live under the delusion that they are in control of everything, when the truth is, they can’t even control themselves.

Thus the first step in the 12 Step AA process is to recognize a “higher power”–one that is not you. It is to say, I have weakness and limitation. I am not in control of everything in my universe. I need help from a power greater than myself.

But you don’t have to be an alcoholic to recognize the obvious. The “I am not God” illusion is not limited to someone with addiction, but is a spiritual problem that we all share. In fact, it has been around for all of humanity, back to the Garden of Eden.

When the serpent tempted Eve, he told her, “When you eat this fruit, your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God.” That was the first temptation. “You’ll be master of your own universe. You don’t have to submit to somebody else’s ideas; you can make up your own rules. You can be your own boss!” Like God. 

That was a lie then, and it is now, and the consequences of buying that lie are often disastrous. It may lead to a life of out-of-control “control,” by medicating one’s life through substance abuse. It may be a life lived in bondage, masquerading as freedom, because we want to live without responsibility or accountability. But as the Scripture says, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” You will certainly reap what you sow.

But on the other side, it’s tremendous pressure for the average human to have to rule the universe every day. The stress of keeping all the plates spinning, of making sure everything and everyone fits your plan, of maintaining the appearance that you’ve got it all together–it is almost too much to bear. And eventually, you either come to realization that you aren’t in control after all–“Not God”–or you lose it altogether. 

The good news today is that there is a God, and you’re not him. He’s not just a “higher power” but a living person, who can be trusted. Better than that, He has already demonstrated that He’s for us, and not against us, and that He loves us, so much so that gave the life of His own Son Jesus so that we could live.

So, why don’t you take a deep breath and relax, and let God be God. Receive the fullness of His gospel, and walk with Him in his grace. It sure takes a weight off your shoulders, and it will put a joy in your step as well.

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

–Pastor Ken

War and Peace

My grandfather was born in 1903, so he was 15 years old when World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918, the original Armistice Day. My father was born in 1929 so he was 15 years old when World War II ended in 1945. And I was born in 1960, which means I was almost 15 years old when the war in Vietnam ended in 1975.

All that to say, had my grandfather been born just a few years earlier, he would have likely served in World War I and may not lived through it. Had he not survived “the war to end all wars,” then my father would have never been born, and I wouldn’t be here writing this right now. Of course, if my grandfather had been born earlier, and survived the war, then my father would have probably been born a few years earlier, and would have served in World War II, like his older brothers did. Since almost a half million American soldiers died in that war, there’s certainly the possibility that he would not have come home. And again, I wouldn’t have been born.

Of course, had he survived that war–and we are still assuming that the timeline for my family was moved back just a few years–then I would have born a few years earlier and thus likely been drafted and served in Vietnam, where another 58,000+ American soldiers were killed in action. Who knows if I would have survived that, and in what condition?

And then there was the Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now the war against ISIS, that came after I was beyond military years and for the most part before my children came of age to serve. 

From the days of Cane slaying his brother Abel, the history of humanity on the earth is marked by war, with a little peace sprinkled in every now and then for good measure. And in our nation’s short history, just about every generation has seen its share of wars, including on-going conflict even today in the Middle East. How many family trees have been stopped in their tracks because their sons and daughters went away to serve their country and didn’t make it home?

That’s my curious and contemplative reflections as we head into this Veteran’s Day weekend. War is not pretty, even if it is sometimes necessary. But each of us are touched in some way by the wars that have come before us and will inevitably come again. For whatever reason, in God’s sovereignty, I came of age between wars, as did the generations before me, and that likely has changed the trajectory of my life. I literally “dodged the bullet” of having to go to war.

So here we are in 2019. It’s been 101 years since that first “armistice” was signed in 1918, signifying the end of the fighting in World War I, though the treaty to officially end the war wasn’t signed until June of the next year. And as I think of all those veterans who have served our country, I am grateful to God for the sacrifices made to defend the freedom of our nation. To those of you who have served, thank you.

I look forward to the day when we see the end of war forever, and Christ shall reign in peace for eternity. In the mean time, may you know the God of peace and the peace of God, from the inside out. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Money Talks

In last Sunday’s sermon we looked at the Bible verse that teaches us that “money is the root of all evil.”  Or at least that’s what we’ve heard that it teaches.

In reality, that’s not what Scripture teaches at all. People often leave out the first few words from that familiar verse (1 Timothy 6:10), which changes the meaning altogether. As we discussed on Sunday, the verse really says: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” In other words, it’s our attitude about money that brings the trouble. That’s why I believe Sunday’s message on contentment was so important; because how we view our money and possessions drives so much of what we do.

And that is even true in churches. That’s why many people get uncomfortable when they hear a preacher talking about money. Once you’ve heard that guilt-laden, high-pressure sermon to dig a little deeper and ante up a little more when the church coffers are running short, you never are too sure about the motive behind the “thus saith the Lord.”

All of us have seen one too many preachers on television, pleading for a donation to keep their program on the air. So they can use their time on the air to plead for more donations to keep the program on the air, and on and on they go. And most have mastered the art of manipulating Scripture to convince you to send your money to them.

Some will even tell you that God will give back tenfold if you give to their ministry; that if you give $100, God will give back $1,000.  I’ve always wanted to give them a call and tell them to send me the $100 and let God give them $1,000.  I have a feeling their theology would not match their practice.

For many of us, financial issues continue to plague us and we never seem to be able to get ahead. As the old saying goes, “Money talks”– and usually what it says is, “Goodbye.”

I also believe that the reason many people still struggle so much financially is their attitude about money, especially when their security is wrapped up in the wrong things. They haven’t learned the secret of releasing their finances back to God and trusting Him with their money. And giving back to Him–however uncomfortable it may be to hear a preacher talk about it–is still the way God helps us truly release it. Christian giving is always seen in Scripture as a blessing, not a burden.

With that in mind, I come before you with news of a great opportunity to get blessed.  The Church at Shelby Crossings needs your faithful tithes and offerings to sustain this ministry, and even more so, to move forward into other areas of ministry where we’re currently limited. We seek to be good stewards of the resources God provides, and will continue to do so, but we also ask that you give cheerfully and generously–and obediently–in support of your church.

I’m not promising any exponential returns just yet–at least not on this side of heaven–though I do believe the Scripture promises God’s blessings on those who are obedient with their money. But more than anything, it is an opportunity to lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, and make an investment that will last an eternity. 

I also hope you’ll continue to pray for the Lord’s blessings on our church and His provision for our ministry needs, that “our God shall supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory.” (Phil. 4:19)  It’s a privilege to be your pastor, and I look forward to seeing you this Sunday. 

–Pastor Ken

Light in Darkness

Heartbreaking news. We hoped for the best, but feared for the worse, from the time the Amber Alert started our phones to buzzing several days earlier.

Then we heard that they had found the remains of little Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney at the landfill, from the contents of a dumpster, her 3-year old body used and then discarded like a piece of trash.

The news brought a collective grief and sorrow to all of us who had come to know little Cupcake from media reports and had prayed that she would be found okay. Across the city, people poured out their outrage on social media. 

How could something like this happen? What is wrong with the world we live in?

Those questions are hard to answer. We live in a broken world, that has lost its moral compass, and continues to spiral downward. Sadly, these kind of stories are not unusual. They are the order of the day, both in our city and around our nation. And the constant diet of such bad news is enough to depress anybody. 

So, what is our role? Can we as a local church make a difference in such a messed up world? What do we have to offer, to counter the constant barrage of bad news? Not pat answers, not trite religious cliches, not packaged Christian phrases. The reality is there’s not much we can say that can explain such a heinous and abusive and violent act against such an innocent child. 

But we do have a hope beyond all of this. And truth. And love. And, in the end, good news.

If nothing else, we as Christians are bearers of the Gospel, which by its very definition means “good news.”  We can offer hope for those who are overwhelmed by despair, truth for those trapped in a world of dishonesty and distrust, love for even those caught up in despicable sin. And that hope is in the person of Jesus Christ.

It’s no secret our world is getting darker by the day. That’s the bad news. But Jesus Himself said it didn’t have to be that way. “You are the light of the world,” He said.  That’s the good news.

May your light shine brightly for Him this week, even in the darkness of our world. I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Good News Is for Sharing

When I was in seminary, I had to buy a book for one of my classes by Leighton Ford, who was with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It was titled “Good News Is For Sharing.”


I enjoyed reading the book, and still have it, and often when I am searching for another book in my library I will come across that title again on the spine of the book. It’s a good reminder, in the busy-ness of church business, that the good news of the gospel is worth sharing and doesn’t need to be kept to ourselves.

That reminds me of a story about a man who traveled regularly on business trips. He returned home late one night from one trip, during a strong storm, with plenty of lightning and booming thunder. As he came into his bedroom, he found his children in bed with his wife, apparently scared by the loud storm. Not wanting to unsettle the kids, he resigned himself to sleep in the guest bedroom for the night.

The next day, he talked to the children, and explained that it was okay for them to sleep with their mother when the storm was bad, but on nights when he was expected home, it would be better for them not to sleep with their mom that night. They said okay.

A few trips later, his wife came to pick him up at the airport, with the children tagging along.They were ready to meet him at the baggage claim after his flight arrived, and since several planes had landed around the same time, there was quite a crowd to fight through to see when dad arrived.

As the weary traveler finally arrived in the designated area where he could meet his family, with literally hundreds of others gathering nearby to pick up their luggage, his son saw him and came running to him, shouting loud enough for all to hear: “Daddy, daddy, I’ve got some good news!” As the man came closer, he hugged his son and asked, “What’s the good news?”

“Nobody slept with Mommy while you were away this time!”, the little boy shouted. 

The airport became very quiet, as everyone looked at the little boy, then turned to the dad, and then searched the rest of the area to see if they could figure out exactly who his mother was. Something tells me she wasn’t hard to pick out.

You know, good news news is worth sharing, and some is just worth shouting! I wonder how excited you are to share the good news of the gospel with our world? Have you noticed that it’s getting pretty dark out there, and that there’s a shortage of hope in this world? Jesus called us the light of the world, and his gospel is the only hope for humanity. Share the good news with those near and far this week.

What a joy it is to be your pastor, and I look forward to seeing each of you this Sunday.

–Pastor Ken 

Church-Going

“Go to church or the Devil will get you!”

If you’ve traveled I-65 between Birmingham and Montgomery, you’ve probably seen those words, along with a picture of “the devil,” on a sign on the side of the interstate near Prattville. I am not sure about the theology behind the sign, but I do believe in “going to church.” 

However, it is no secret that a large segment of our society–including many people who would describe themselves as Christians–don’t feel it’s necessary to regularly attend church services. And perhaps many more who do attend, do so more out of a sense of guilt and duty–and devil avoidance–than of joy and celebration of God’s love.

Why do you attend church? Or, if you don’t attend much, why not? It’s a question worth asking, and worth answering. There are several reasons for regular participation in congregational fellowship and worship. And yes, part of our motivation is a sense of faithfulness and obedience–we are called in Scripture to “forsake not assembling ourselves together.”

But there are other reasons, some of which are downright selfish. For instance, did you know that surveys have shown that the best place in America to develop meaningful friendships is church? And in a culture of isolation and loneliness, who doesn’t need genuine friendship?

And how about family life? A Gallup survey of American adults found that the activity believed to most strengthen family life is “attending church or religious activities together.” In other words, the best thing you can do to keep your family strong is go to church together.

If that’s not enough, there are also health reasons. A series of independent medical studies have determined the positive effect that regular church attendance has on a person’s health. Researchers in one study found that those who attend religious services at least once a week have healthier immune systems than those who do not. Another study concluded that people who attend church on a regular basis have generally lower blood pressure than those who don’t. Yet another survey conducted by researchers at the University of Texas found that those who regularly attended worship services lived an average of seven years longer than those who never attended.

In the most striking finding, Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical School calculated that “lack of religious involvement has an effect on mortality that is equivalent to 40 years of smoking one pack of cigarettes per day.”

We haven’t even touched on the encouragement, hope and spiritual direction we get in a community of believers who are there to support us and lead us to a deeper level of faith in Christ. And yet, it’s obvious, we really can’t afford not to go to church!

So, let’s stay away from the devil, and join together this Sunday at The Church at Shelby Crossings. I look forward to seeing you there.

–Pastor Ken

Following the Crowd

It’s been a few months since we took our mission trip to Puerto Rico, but every day I see the wristband on the hutch of my desk that the church we served in Barranquitas gave to each of us. It’s a nice reminder of the trip, with a simple message.

It says “Yo amo servir.”  Translation: “I love to serve.” 

There were certainly some language barriers in our time there, some of which created some awkward but comical situations, but there was one thing that translated well across the cultures, and that was serving one another in the name of Jesus. And that was pretty much the lesson most of us brought back from Puerto Rico, that to serve others is a blessing in and of itself.

That’s why I love to hear stories from the mission field, because it’s always encouraging to hear how God uses ordinary people who are willing to make themselves available to Him. But sometimes, I also enjoy the funny stories that come from those awkward situations where people who are trying to overcome the barriers of cross-cultural ministry to serve the Lord.

Like, the story about the missionary recruit who went to Venezuela for the first time, struggling with the language. He visited one of the local churches and sat in the front row. So as not to make a fool of himself, he decided to pick someone out of the crowd to imitate. He decides to follow the man sitting next to him in the front pew. As they sang, the man clapped his hands, so the missionary recruit clapped too. When the man stood to pray, the missionary recruit stood up too. When the man sat down, the missionary sat down.

Later in the service, the man next to him stood up again, so the missionary stood up too. Suddenly a hush fell over the entire congregation. A few people gasped. Some of the children began to giggle. The missionary looked around and saw that no one else was standing, so he sat down.

After the service ends, the new missionary greeted the pastor. “I take it you don’t speak Spanish,” the preacher said. The missionary replied, “No, not very good yet. Is it that obvious?”

“Well, yes,” the preacher said. “I announced that the Acosta family had a newborn baby boy, and I asked the proud father to please stand up.” Oops!

We don’t have to go to the mission field to get into that kind of trouble every now and then, when we find ourselves following the crowd. It’s so easy just to go along with those around us, instead of making our own way. Or better yet, following the Lord’s way. As Christ-followers, we need to be reminded sometimes that Jesus is our model, the example we are to follow to live out our faith. And we’ll never go wrong if we choose to imitate Him in the way we live our lives.

Think about that this week. How will your life be different if your actions and your attitudes truly reflect those of the Savior whom you claim to serve? Are you more like the world you’ve been called out of, or the Lord who has called you to follow Him?

I’m praying for you this week, that your faith will be genuine and that your walk with God will be evident to all those around you. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

What We Believe Matters

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
That famous quote, often attributed to the theologian Augustine, likely came from an otherwise unknown 17th century German man named Rupertus Meldinius in a tract published around 1627. It speaks of the importance of the church’s necessary agreement on the non-negotiables of the faith, and our willingness to have diversity amidst our unity on those things that are negotiable.

One of the key themes from the pastoral epistles of the apostle Paul that we are studying this fall at TCASC is that what we believe matters. In other words, we are responsible to God and to each other for the truth of the gospel on which we stand. And in a world that has largely abandoned the concept of absolute truth, where “each man does what is right in his own eyes” (to borrow from the book of Judges), it is rare to find a person–or a church–willing to stand without compromise on sound Biblical doctrine.

And so, western Christianity, including the so-called “evangelical” church in America, has continued to drift from its solid Scriptural base. One such illustration of that came just last week, in an episode that has been widely discussed especially on social media. It involved Union Theological Seminary, an institution in New York City with a distinguished history in theological education and ministry training. Among its noted alumni is none other than German theologian and pastor (and martyr) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who studied there in the 1930’s.

The seminary had already begun to lose its way, doctrinally speaking, when Bonhoeffer was a student there, and has been on a downward slide ever since. Last week, the seminary’s Twitter account tweeted a photo of students standing before an altar filled with potted plants. The caption read–and I’m not making this up:

Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?

Part of the reasoning behind their intended-for-the-public prayer was as a statement on the highly politicized “climate emergency.” Part was just the latest slide down the slippery slope of pantheistic confusion being passed off as theology. As my mentor and friend Mickey used to say, some people get so open-minded that their brains fall out. That seems to be what has happened at Union.

If you have ever been on Twitter, I am sure you can imagine the jokes that followed. Some suggested that they were doing the “church planting” thing all wrong. Others questioned what plants were smoked prior to their time of confession. And the puns and potshots rolled out for days. But really, this is no laughing matter, especially for an institution that once grounded its teaching in Scripture.

And here’s the point, again. What you believe matters. The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ found in God’s word is non-negotiable. But when you stray from the path of the “essential” truths of the Christian faith, you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up confessing to the creation itself, in the form of inanimate plants, instead of praying to the Creator, in the name of His Son Jesus. Romans 1 describes such a wayward generation so well: “…their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…” (1:21-23)

Lest we throw more stones and make more jokes, the emphasis here is not on them but on us. My prayer is that our faith would rest in Scripture, that we would feed our minds and hearts with God’s word daily and humbly come before Him daily in prayer, confessing His lordship and our complete dependence in Him. That is the path to freedom and peace and joy and life through Christ.

And one more quick note while I have the opportunity: Thank you for your kind words and expressions of love and generosity last Sunday night at our TCASC picnic in recognition of our ten year anniversary as pastor at Shelby Crossings. Nan and I are so blessed to serve such a great church, and we look forward to what the Lord has in store for us in the days and years ahead as we continue to serve Him together.  I’ll see YOU on Sunday! 

–Pastor Ken

Eternal Life…for Living People

“If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would I get into heaven?” a man asked the children in his Sunday School class.  “No!” the children all answered.

“If I cleaned the church building every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would I get into heaven?” Again, the answer was “No!”

“If I never told another lie and never said another bad word, would that get me into heaven?”  Once more, a resounding “No!”

“Well,” he continued, “then how can I get into heaven?” A five-year old boy shouted out, “You gotta be dead!”

Maybe not the deepest of theology, but there’s certainly some truth there. No, you won’t get into heaven because you do a bunch of nice things and stop doing all the bad stuff.  The Bible is clear that “there are none righteous, no not one” and that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That is, in and of ourselves, we would never have the ability to reach into heaven because of our good works.

But because of His mercy and grace, God allows us the opportunity to spend eternity in heaven through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, who  went to the cross on our behalf. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) Our only means of getting to heaven is accepting the gift He has offered, not earning our way to paradise. We come to Him by faith, believing in His promise that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

The question for us–and for the little boy who answered the question above–is, when does eternal life begin? I would suggest that you don’t have to wait until you die to experience the eternal blessings of a life with God, but that it is available now, even while you’re alive. Jesus described it this way, in His own prayer to His heavenly Father in John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You.” He was saying that the promise of eternal life is not just about a quantity of life–that we live forever–but a quality of life, that of knowing God and enjoying His presence in our lives. This–knowing God–defines what eternal life is.

That’s why we were created, to live in right relationship with our Creator and to enjoy the blessings of His favor every day. So you don’t have to sit around till you die so you can enjoy the “abundant life” that God offers, but you can start now. Eternal life for living people…what a concept!

I hope and pray that you know God and have experienced the joy of forgiveness and hope that comes only through a personal relationship with Him. If you haven’t, we’d love to talk to you further about that and help lead you to trust Jesus Christ as your personal Savior so that you can begin enjoying the blessings of life everlasting in the here and now.

I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, both morning and evening! 

–Pastor Ken

A Blessed Dash

This past Monday would have been my father’s 90th birthday, had he lived that long. He passed away in 2007. A few days before that was my youngest grandson’s first birthday.  Many of you have prayed for him, and his heart issues, I am happy to report that he continues to do very well. As time passes, and generations come and go, the birthdays continue.

I was invited to play golf a few weeks ago at a golf course in Bessemer that I hadn’t played at in almost thirty years. It is located right next to the cemetery where my parents (and sister) are buried. In fact, you could hit a 6-iron from the first tee of the golf course to their graves, if you could navigate around a few trees. I hadn’t been to the cemetery since my mother’s funeral, so after the round of golf, I drove around the corner, and made my way to their grave sites to make sure they were still kept up and to take a few moment to remember my dearly departed family members.

All was in order. I took a photo with my phone of their tombstones, inscribed with their names and two sets of dates, one for the year they were born, and the other for the year they died. 

I was reminded of a sermon I heard once, and a poem quoted within in, entitled “The Dash.” It pointed to the “dash” in the middle of those two dates on a tombstone. When you think about it, the dates on both ends are significant and what we usually give most attention to, but it’s that simple horizontal line in the middle that represents the whole life that was lived.

And really, though it’s usually ignored, it’s that punctuation mark–the dash–that counts most. It’s not so much when you started, or when you’ll stop, as what you do with the time between the dates. Or, more specifically, what you do with your “dash.”

So, I have to ask: What are you doing with your dash? What kind of legacy are you leaving, by the kind of life that you are living? We can all choose, intentionally, what we do with the time God allots us here on earth, to invest it in those things that really matter, and to live in such a way that leaves a legacy that honors Him.

I pray that your dash is blessed this week, and that your life honors the One who gives you the life you live. 

–Pastor Ken