Don’t you love Thanksgiving?

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I do.  It’s my favorite time of the year.  Here’s why:

>I like to eat—and eat a lot!

>I enjoy family and it’s all about family

>I have a favorite memory from when we had kids at home… we were in Las Vegas visiting one Thanksgiving and my son jumped up and down on an elevator, causing us to get stuck.  The firemen had to come and, yea, all that happened. 🙂

>I enjoy thinking of all the things I have to be thankful for

>I just think that overall people are more gracious during this time of the year

>I enjoy the Thanksgiving blend coffee at Starbucks

>I start listening to Christmas music the day after

>I love turkey and dressing—did I already mention food? 🙂

>I believe in the bible and the bible says… Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
~1 Thessalonians 5:18

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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Crafting with Clay…

Unshaped Clay in Potter's Hands

By Denise Meyer
Last week my friend Margie took me to her clay studio to make some pottery. This is a new adventure for me and I was excited to be invited to play in the clay. Before you get too impressed, she is a professional potter and has created molds for bowls and plates to help make the process easier. I have only once experienced trying to create something from a glob of “mud” stuck on a spinning wheel and discovered it is a VERY difficult thing to do. It is certainly not as easy as it looks in the movie “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. NOT in the least! In this case because of her molds Margie convinced me that this would be “easy peezy”. It was nice of her to have such confidence in my skills but seriously I had my doubts.

There was much to do to prepare the clay for this project. One thing I did not know about clay was that it has a memory. Who knew? So the first thing we had to do was stretch the clay to a workable thickness by guiding it through a series of rollers to flatten it to about a quarter-inch-thickness. Following that we lightly scraped it to smooth it and remove any air pockets but mostly to stop the stretching memory. Then she showed me how to attach the plate mold to the wheel, and center the clay onto the mold.  “Easy peezy”? Not so much! One thing Margie kept telling me was to spin the wheel slowly and steadily, which is rather difficult if, like me, you have a heavy foot and like speed.   She also looked me straight in the eye and reminded me that mistakes are going to happen and that items made by hand were not meant to be perfect. What? Yes, she knows about my desire for perfection!  I guess it takes years of practice to become totally proficient with clay. Sorry to say but it makes me feel better that she still makes mistakes after years and years of working with clay.

We worked together as a teacher and student to create what would become two plates and a bowl. My excitement was palpable but Margie cautioned me not to get attached to the pieces until they were totally completed.  She explained that many things could happen before I would actually hold the finished product in my hands. The “things” might include the clay cracking when it was fired in the kiln or some other random thing could happen in the process. How could I not get attached? Well I walked away and left them in her capable hands; just trusting they will look beautiful when they are completed.

This experienced brought to mind a biblical text about another potter named God. In the text Isaiah spoke to the God of Israel in this way:  “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand,” Isa. 64:6.  The prophet Isaiah was crying out to God on behalf of Israel who had not been faithful. Recognizing the people’s need for another chance, he pleaded with the God of mercy not to abandon them in their sin but to continue to shape and mold this willful people.  That is what a potter does right? They work the clay to make it more malleable in order to create a product. The prophet understood that the future of God’s chosen people was in the Holy hands and he was asking God to continue to mold and shape them as a people into God’s Image.  When I worked on creating my bowl, it took many pieces of clay that were pushed, maneuvered and shaped into a circular form to accomplish my goal. At first it was just a blob of clay but the more I worked it the more it resembled the inside of a bowl. For the finishing touches, I used a scraper to remove excess clay and smooth out the bumps. This entire process required my imagination, strength and confidence that eventually it would be a usable bowl. By the way when the bowl was removed from the mold, it really did look like a bowl however I am not attached to it just yet.

After spending much time working with the clay has given me a deeper insight of God the potter. From the beginning, the Holy Creator has held us in His hands, molding and shaping us with tenderness and love. Just like my creations not being perfect, God does not expect us to be perfect either. God continues to shape us to be the best us that we can be. God is molding us in His image so that our lives can reflect God’s Divine work. There are no restrictions or worries that God might get too attached to us before we are finished because His promise never to leave us or forsake us, (Heb. 13:5b). We are not perfect and God loves us in spite of our flaws. Like the clay, sometimes we crack under pressure and unlike a potter who destroys the broken pottery in order to start over, God puts us back together piece by piece. The cracks within us are mended by His grace, forgiveness and above all His overwhelming love. Because of that promise, I am very attached to the work of God’s hands.

The Day I Was Invited to The White House

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I am sitting in Reagan International Airport, Washington, D.C., waiting for my flight to Tampa.  About three weeks ago I received a “heads up” email from Dr. Jay Strack indicating I would be receiving an official invitation to the White House.  I was encouraged to not broadcast the event and so I didn’t.  Vice President Pence wanted to address a group of Florida Pastors concerning faith-based initiatives.  Today is Tuesday, October 9th, and I flew in for the meeting Monday, October 8th.

I know what you’re thinking right now, I’m messing with you.  I thought the same thing when Jay emailed me.  He is the master prankster—jokester!  I thought, man, this could be the biggest hoax ever!  What if I spend this money thinking I’ve got this once in a lifetime opportunity to “hang out” with the VP of the USA and it ain’t so.  Well, it turns out, it was so.  I received the official email from the White House with the details and I went.  It was worth it.

The meeting was educational and informative.  It was not a political meeting.  It was an opportunity to discover what the current administration is doing to strengthen initiatives that impact the lives of US citizens, most especially in the state of Florida.  I now feel like a have a basic knowledge and a means to contact others that have great details.  Other Florida Baptist pastor friends attended, and I enjoyed seeing them.  Our Florida Baptist President, Dr. Stephen Rummage, attended, as well as our State Executive, Dr. Tommy Green.  There were other evangelical ministers from our great state present and I thoroughly enjoyed the chemistry in the room.  I must tell you, during the closing prayer, it was obvious I was sitting on the Baptist row. 🙂

I’ve included several pictures just to let you know I’m not “pulling your leg.”  There was one reason I was able to represent my dear church family, Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, today at the White House.  Jay Strack.  That’s it.  I know Jay and he invited me.  He was my way in the room and survived all the security measures taken when anyone enters the building.

Sound familiar?  When it comes to entering heaven, there’s only one way.  It’s knowing Jesus.  That’s it…

I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me.

~John 14:6

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Is a “civil war in America” looming?

By Jim Denison

Does watching the news cause you stress? If so, you’re in the majority, according to the American Psychological Association.

Responding to the vitriol of our day, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warns that a “civil war in America” may be coming if we cannot find a way out of the tribalistic political and cultural fracturing that threatens our future.

I think I can explain a foundational reason for the divisive angst of our day. Then I’d like to offer a surprising way forward I discovered recently.

Who’s to blame?

This morning’s Wall Street Journal reports that the White House has reviewed the FBI’s probe into Judge Brett Kavanaugh and finds no corroboration of sexual misconduct allegations. Senators are set to review the FBI’s findings today.

Why has Judge Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination evoked such visceral reaction? The late Antonin Scalia’s son has an explanation.

Christopher Scalia recently pointed to the oversized power of the Supreme Court in contemporary America. In his view, the Court has preemptively settled cultural issues that should have been resolved in elections–Roe v. Wade and the 2015 same-sex ruling are examples.

According to Sen. Ben Sasse, the blame lies largely with legislators who have delegated authority on divisive issues to the executive branch or the judiciary. This is a good strategy for lawmakers who want to get reelected by skirting controversy. But it is a bad strategy for a republic whose governance intends such issues to be decided by leaders directly accountable to the people.

With three current Supreme Court justices aged seventy and older, it is predictable that we will see more fights over future nominations. And more fights over who should nominate and confirm them.

How did we get here?

Abraham Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs” begins with the physical (air, water, food, rest, and health). It proceeds upwards to security (safety, shelter, stability), social (being loved, belonging, inclusion), ego (self-esteem, power, recognition, prestige), and finally to self-actualization (development, creativity).

Human civilization is the story of our drive to climb up this hierarchy. Our physical needs motivate us to work with others to raise food, producing farms and villages. These villages need security, so they cooperate to form cities with walls and armies.

These cities then work with other cities to enhance their resources and security, forming “states” and nations. Their residents develop social networks that their egos drive them to lead. Upon this foundation, they focus on creative development.

The need for such sociological cooperation led our Founders to create a republic in which the majority rules but the minority is protected. They devised checks and balances to minimize the ability of an individual or group to gain an unfair advantage over others. So long as citizens believe that the compromises this system requires will benefit them and their nation, the system works effectively.

Such belief seems to be in serious question today.

“What is truth?”

Pilate famously asked Jesus of Nazareth, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Americans now embrace two contradictory answers to his question.

Some believe that truth claims are objective and authoritative, while others claim that all truth is relative and subjective. The latter elevate tolerance as the highest value, then ironically demonstrate intolerance toward all those they perceive as intolerant.

These divergent views of truth produce divergent views of morality. The relativistic view led to the legalization of abortion (the woman’s right to choose) and same-sex marriage (the couple’s right to choose). Those who disagree on objective moral grounds are caricatured as anti-women and homophobic.

Divergent moralities are reflected in divergent views of governmental authority (limited, states-centered vs. expansive, federally-centered), which have produced bitterly divided political agendas. As a result, today’s parties are fighting not just over legislative issues, but over foundational views of our best future. As the Supreme Court has become increasingly engaged in political issues, its composition has become increasingly politicized.

What is the way forward?

God loves the “world” (John 3:16), not just our part of it. Shockingly, he loves the jihadist as much as the Christian that the jihadist martyrs. Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), his character requires him to love everyone as much as he loves anyone.

Now he is calling Christians to act as bridgebuilders by incarnating his compassion for our broken culture. How do we do this?

In A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace, William Barry offers this unusual advice: talk with God about the news.

When you see coverage of the disaster in Indonesia, don’t just pray for those affected by this tragedy–ask God how he feels about them. Then ask him for his heart for those he loves. Do the same with coverage of the Supreme Court process–ask your Father how he feels about those with whom you disagree, then ask for his heart for those he loves.

We don’t have to compromise our beliefs to love our enemies. In fact, the urgency of such love is one of our most essential beliefs (Matthew 5:43-47).

Barry retells this medieval parable: There is a party in heaven after the Egyptian army has been destroyed and the Jewish nation saved at the Red Sea. The heavenly host notices that God is not joining the party but weeping.

They ask, “Why are you sad? Your people have been saved. The Egyptians have been destroyed.” And God says, “The Egyptians are also my people.”

Who are your Egyptians today?

Samson – A Mighty, Little Dog

IMG_3534The year was 2005.  Our oldest child, Trey, was going off to Liberty University.  We were living in Eustis, Florida, and I was pastor of First Baptist Eustis.  I was preaching a sermon series on the Judges of Israel.  Soon after dropping Trey off in Lynchburg, Virginia, I had landed on Samson – probably the most well-known Judge of the bible.  I discovered one of the meanings of the word is – sunshine.  At the same time, we had decided to buy a toy rat terrier to help ease our pain.  Now, I’m not saying Trey was replaced with a dog.  No one can replace that boy!  But I am saying Kellie, Halie and I decided an inside dog might be therapeutic.  It was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a family.  He lived up to his name in every sense of the word.  Samson provided “sunshine” for our family for over thirteen years.  As of today, he’s no longer with us.  He had to be “put down” due to a terminal disease that reached the point of greatly hindering his quality of life.  It was not an easy decision.

Please allow me to share my heart a little bit about old Samson, as this is fresh, maybe you can relate…..

How wIMG_1379as he a ray of sunshine?

When we moved to Las Vegas, shortly after getting him he was a major source of comfort for Halie.  She was a 9th grader.  As you can imagine, transitioning to a huge public school in Las Vegas was not easy.  (I will always be proud of how she handled that season of her life.)  It was in Vegas that Samson transitioned to sleeping in the same bed with Halie instead of being put in his crate.  Translated, living a dog’s life had come to an end!  As most dogs do, they love unconditionally and can sense when their people experience discouragement.  Need I say more?  Halie has her own dog now, but Samson will always be special.  We have pictures to prove it! 🙂

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When we lived in a rented downstairs condo in midtown-Memphis for a purpose of planting a church he never stopped wagging his nub of a tail.  This was one of the most challenging, yet, exciting times in our lives.  It was during those years he became a husband and a daddy.  Good times…

When tragedy strikes, and it does everyone, he sought comfort.  Samson was the gentlest dog I’ve ever had in my life.  He seemed to know when things were not right.  And he would try to lick us to death or sit beside us until things were calm again.  And if there were times of raised voices in our home through the years, he’d quickly go get in his crate.  It was as if he was saying, “hey, calm down folks.”

IMG_5081I have counseled church members through the years when their pet died.  There’s nothing weird about it, unless it’s prolonged.  But any grief that is prolonged and hinders our ability to live our lives, is not healthy.  And there are times that seeking help from a professional is necessary.  But grief is a natural part of life.  Pets are God’s creations.  As a matter of fact, here’s a place where scripture speaks to our responsibility.   The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.

~Proverbs 12:10

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I know what you may be thinking right now, “I wonder if Pastor Hal thinks he’ll see Samson in Heaven?”  I believe I will see the Samson of the bible in heaven.  But I know that’s not what you may be thinking – you’re thinking my dog, Samson.  Well, that’s a subject/post for another day.  In the meantime, I find comfort in what Billy Graham said when asked if he thought his dog would be in heaven…

“God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”

 Samson, a mighty dog I will never forget and always be grateful to God for during this season of my family’s life.

Until next time….

RESEARCH SHOWS WHAT THE BIBLE HAS TOLD US ALL ALONG…

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A good laugh has great benefits.  Experts indicate that laughter enhances your intake of oxygen rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.  Don’t you love it when “experts” provide information that coincides with God’s Word?  Me too!

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

~Proverbs 17:22

DID LAUGHTER EXTEND ALANA’S LIFE?  I believe so… Some of you know by now that one of my former youth passed away recently.  This “ray of sunshine” as a teenager became an even brighter light for Christ in her later days.  Her impact on her husband, two children, other family members, company she worked for, friends, and literally thousands of others will only be realized in eternity.  She loved Jesus and she knew the importance of taking God seriously, but not taking herself too seriously.  The bible says the joy of the Lord is our strength.  She had joy.  She had laugher.  She had Jesus.  She got it!

SHE WORE THE WIG LIKE NONE OTHER…  I’ve seen numerous cancer patients wear wigs through the years while going through chemotherapy.  And they have worn it well.  But no one has worn one like our Alana wore it! She was so funny…  Was it pink because of the color that so often represents cancer?  Probably so.  Was it worn due to losing her hair.  Yes, I’m sure that played a part in it, though she wasn’t wearing it at the end and didn’t seem to flinch.  I personally think she also wore it because it provided God’s medicine—laughter.  Yes, laughter is like good medicine and so she did everything possible to laugh and make others laugh.  It caused her days to extend and make those of us that loved her love her even more.  May we all follow her example for whatever trial may be coming our way.  Folks, take God seriously—always, but please do not take yourself too seriously.  As I shared during her home going celebration…

Do not take yourself too seriously or you may end up looking foolish.

Bill Hybels and the illusion of “private” sin

By Jim Denison

Bill Hybels is making headlines again. The New York Times tells the story of a woman who worked as his personal assistant at Willow Creek Community Church. She is now describing multiple occasions in which he behaved toward her in extremely inappropriate ways I will not describe here.

Hybels denies her allegations. “I never had an inappropriate physical or emotional relationship with her before that time, during that time or after that time,” he stated in an email to the Times. He has already taken early retirement following other allegations of misconduct. Ten women in total have now made such accusations.

Willow Creek’s elders have stated: “We now believe Bill entered into areas of sin related to the allegations that have been brought forth.” Yesterday, the church announced that it plans to launch a new independent investigation into the charges against Hybels.

After Hybels took early retirement, Steve Carter became Lead Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek last October. He resigned his position on Sunday, stating that he and church elders disagree about ways the church can move forward. “I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor when my soul is so at odds with the institution,” he wrote in a letter to the congregation.

The personal assistant making the latest allegations against Hybels worked with him some thirty years ago. Whether we believe he is guilty or not, we should take note of this fact: the public consequences of personal sin can come to light years after the sin is committed.

A satanic strategy

Satan loves to tempt us to sin, then use the consequences of our sins against us. But he wants these consequences to devastate us and the people of God as much as possible.

I think he sometimes waits until Christian leaders are even more visible so that their public disgrace can be even more traumatic. The higher we climb a ladder, the farther we have to fall.

We can see this in the timing of the latest allegations against Bill Hybels. The Global Leadership Summit he began more than twenty years ago will take place again this Thursday and Friday. Some 445,000 people are expected to participate in more than six hundred satellite locations around the world.

However, the controversy regarding Hybels has led to more than one hundred churches and other organizations canceling their plans to host a viewing site. Actor Denzel Washington and author and speaker Lisa Bodell have withdrawn from the summit. And several publishers have stopped printing books by Hybels.

If we think we’re getting away with private sin, we’re not. Scripture is clear: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). And it will only get worse: “Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15).

Three deceptions

The New York Times article points to an insidious problem for Christians: the illusion and allure of “private” sin.

Satan wants us to believe that no one will know or be hurt. We know we can confess our sins and be forgiven for them (1 John 1:9), so we think we can harbor an area of private sinfulness that will never be made public.

There are at least three deceptions here.

One: Private sin seldom stays private. David’s sin with Bathsheba soon became part of his public legacy. Computers can be hacked; internet cookies can track web traffic; others can discover what we thought was secret.

Two: God can forgive our sin, but he cannot reward us for it. Every moment we spend in disobedience is a moment we cannot get back. And a lost opportunity for obedience that our Father would have rewarded eternally (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:14).

Three: Private sin hinders the work of God through us. Sin grieves the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and “quenches” his work in our lives and ministries (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit cannot fully use an unholy vessel. If we are harboring private sin but think God is using us anyway, imagine what he could do in and through us if we were completely his.

A powerful key to defeating temptation

Let’s close with a crucial element in defeating private temptation. Several years ago, I attended a clergy workshop on the dangers of pornography. One of my colleagues made an observation I have not forgotten: we must love Jesus more than we love sin.

It is one thing to love Jesus but another to be in love with him. So, ask the Spirit to help you be more in love with your Savior today.

And remember all that Jesus has done for you. Charles Spurgeon: “If we know but little of the excellencies of Jesus, what He has done for us, and what He is doing now, we cannot love Him much; but the more we know Him, the more we shall love Him.”

Would Jesus say you’re in love with him today?