Friday, December 24, 2010

Sharing The Love of Jesus at Christmas

The Christmas tree was beautiful with the multi–colored lights and ornaments. It was countdown time. The big day was approaching. But underneath the tree there were only a few gifts. They were gifts the children (me and my little sister) had wrapped up, planning to give some of our personal items as presents.

Dad was out of work. It was becoming clear that purchasing Christmas gifts was to be a very difficult task. Like most children, we had a list of things we desired. But, as the clock ticked toward Christmas, the tree remained bare.

One day a car drove up. A young couple got out of the car and knocked on the door. They told us they were from First Baptist Church (Greenville, MS). I thought it sort of odd they were at our house. We did not attend FBC. In fact, we didn’t attend church at all. They told us they had some gifts for us. I am not sure how they knew of our situation. They may have told my parents how they learned of us, but all I heard was the word gifts.

They began unloading the car and bringing packages into the house. I do not remember the couple’s names. I do remember the man’s name was Jeff (hard one to forget). I remember as he brought gifts into the house, he made it a point to show me my name on some of those gifts. Once all of the gifts were in the house and under the tree, there were more gifts than I had ever seen under our tree. I remember wondering what could be in all of those packages. I also remember the couple talking about God and telling us those gifts were to let us know that Jesus loves us and cares for us.

Several years later I gave my life to Jesus Christ. It did not happen at FBC Greenville, but I never forgot that act of kindness. In fact, those people showing up at our door with gifts was permanently etched into my mind. It was one piece of a beautiful collage of events God used to draw me to Himself and save me by His grace.

I do not remember seeing that couple again. But, I have thought about them through the years. In fact, I thought about them today as my wife and I were delivering gifts from our church to a poor family who lost everything they had in a house fire. I am thankful God is allowing me to be a part of blessing families as I was blessed as a child.

Today, my wife and I were the couple who drove up with gifts. There was a little boy who reminded me of myself. I handed him a gift bag full of stuff. It was cold outside, so I told him there was a warm shirt in the bag. He immediately pulled it out and put it on, along with the beanie. I told him to keep looking. Inside the bag was a game like the one he had lost in the fire. When he saw it, he was shocked. He sat the bag back down (without pulling the gift out) and in amazement said, “No way! No Way!” His mom had some joyful tears in her eyes. Then the young man said, “I thought this was going to be a crummy Christmas. But, this is awesome!”

As we unloaded all of the gifts, food, and clothes provided by God through his faithful servants at Walker Baptist Church, I kept looking over at that young man digging through his gift bag. He had a joyful look in his eye. It was a look that I must have had that day the couple from FBC brought gifts to my family. I do not know if that young man will grow up and become a preacher. But, I do know this, he will never forget the day that couple from the church drove up and helped his family in their time of need. And perhaps he will look back one day and see that event as one of the many things God used in a great collage of events that led to surrendering his life to Jesus Christ. And perhaps, one day, as he is driving over to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ to a family in need, he will remember the day he put on that warm shirt and received that game, all as an expression of the marvelous love of Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas everybody.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Plastic Baby Jesus

1629 Bay Street in Greenville, MS. That was my grandparents address for much of my childhood. I remember that address because we lived at 1631, right next door. This gave me one gigantic yard to play in. Grandma’s yard was my yard too.

I will never forget Christmas time in that neighborhood. Some of my greatest Christmas memories with my family took place on good ‘ole Bay Street. We would all meet at Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. There would be so many people that the house would get really crowded. It was fun, but sometimes you just had to walk outside for fresh air, or to escape the crowd for a moment.

One of my favorite places of escape was to Grandma’s nativity set on the front lawn. We were not allowed to touch it. But when everyone was crowded in the house, it made for a great time to sneak out there and pick up that plastic baby, with a light bulb stuck in his back.

I was sure that plastic baby represented something great. The only thing I knew about him was that his name was Jesus, and he came to save us from something, and he obviously wasn’t born at Delta Regional Medical Center. One of my cousins told me once that we probably shouldn’t pick him up and play with him anymore because she had heard he was God. That was a scary thought. I certainly didn’t want to get God mad at me.

Over time, I began to learn the truth that this little plastic baby represented God’s love. God the Son physically came to earth and took the form of a man. He came because God is holy and man is not, because of sin. He came because sin had separated man from God. He came because sin had to be punished. He came to take our punishment for us on a cross. And even greater than being able to touch a plastic baby image of Him, He desired to touch me and hold me and call me His. This Jesus wanted to not simply be a figure on our lawn for one season each year, but to be the very real constant companion of our lives. He desires to save us by His grace and to walk with us and talk with us and to declare that we belong to Him.

One day all of that penetrated my heart. I repented of my sin and put my trust in Jesus Christ, not the plastic figure, but the real life Savior. He saved me by His grace and transformed my entire outlook on life. Suddenly, I was no longer Jeff Box, living a meaningless existence. In one saving act, I was now Jeff Box, redeemed and treasured son of the Most High God.

Christmas is wonderful!! It’s not wonderful because of extravagant gifts that eventually end up in the trash. It’s not wonderful because of decorations that all go back in storage shortly after Dec 25, including plastic baby Jesus figures. Christmas is wonderful because that plastic baby Jesus figure represents a real baby Jesus who came to be the Savior of the world. John said, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Health Care Distraction

Congress recently passed a very controversial health care bill that President Obama signed into law. As with many of you, I have very strong feelings about this issue. However, we must avoid the temptation of losing perspective. It is so easy to get distracted by such events and lose sight of what really matters, eternal things. I know, because I have been guilty many times.

Let me preface by saying that I am not suggesting we disengage from the political process. We should be involved. However, Christians must remain focused on the main issue, the Gospel. As Christians, we know God is Sovereign and that we have victory in Jesus. With that knowledge, we must not walk around as defeated and frightened American citizens.....but as Citizens of Heaven, eagerly awaiting our Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who possesses the omnipotent power to bring everything under His control (Philippians 3:20-21).

As Christians, we are to be the most optimistic people in the world. We know how all of this ends. Our mission, in the meantime, is to be Gospel busy. Multitudes of people are in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the only hope for America and the world. Imagine if all of us were as willing to share our faith as we are to share our disgust over health care. Imagine if we used even the same amount of energy lifting up Christ as we do voicing our disagreement with politicians.

The things we see shaping America are not the real problem. Abortion is not the problem! Homosexuality is not the problem! Pornography is not the problem! Socialism is not the problem! Should we take a stand and speak the truth about these things? Yes! But let us remember, as someone once said, "The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart!" The things I just listed, as well as multitudes of others, are merely the symptoms of the real issue. The real issue is sin! The only cure is Jesus Christ! If we spend all of our energy fighting the symptoms, while ignoring the real issue, we accomplish little. As Dr. Adrian Rogers once said, at best we make the world a better place from which to go to hell.

In the opening chapters of Romans, Paul painted a very accurate and vivid picture of the world. In his description, he listed many of the symptoms of a sinful society. It is a picture that clearly resembles modern day America (Romans 1:18-31). Paul went on in the following two chapters making it clear that all of humanity suffers from the same disease...sin. Then in 3:21-26, he pointed to the only hope, Jesus Christ. My friends, that is the same task you and I have been commissioned by our Lord to fulfill, the proclamation of the Gospel to all people. Without Christ, our neighbors are going to hell even if they agree with us over health care.

My prayer is that each of us see the real issue, and that all of our worldly frustrations would become burdened hearts for the lost in need of the Gospel. Don't miss the opportunities all around you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Life Just Hurts

Every once in a while, as we are going along about our everyday business, enjoying life, something happens that puts us flat on our face. A crisis happens that is sometimes life changing in nature. The pain from such events runs deep, crushing the heart, and robbing us of whatever false sense of self-security we possessed.

I have faced such events. I was living in New Orleans in 2005, carrying out life as usual when in early August my grandmother died from brain cancer. A few short weeks later, Hurricane Katrina knocked me to my knees. Following that event, my family lived in devastated New Orleans East (including time in a tent and a fema trailor) helping to rebuild. Nine months later, my grandfather died with cancer. Seven months later, my other grandfather died with cancer. Six months later, God relocated us to another state (a great move, but a life change nonetheless). Seven months later, my dad died with cancer.

Trials come. As I write this, my wife recently had a miscarriage. She was pregnant with our fourth child. This was a crushing blow. Yes, sometimes life hurts bad!!!

One of the most challenging passages in Scripture is found in James 1:2-4, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Consider it pure joy? That is a phrase that must sound like complete ignorance to the unspiritual mind!! But then again, the joy that James refers to is supernatural. This joy is not circumstantial, but flows from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. James MacDonald wrote concerning this joy, "A supernatural delight in the purposes of God means you know there is something bigger than yourself going on here. There's something unfolding that is so far beyond the here and now. God has a purpose. Joy in trials says, 'I'm going to find a way to trust Him even though I'm not seeing Him.'"

Life in Christ is the superior life. As Christians, we face the trials and difficulties of this fallen world like others. The difference is we understand and trust that God is doing something that our minds cannot comprehend in the moment. We trust that somehow, someway, He, in His Sovereignty, will work this thing out for our good and His glory (Romans 8).

Every trial gives us the opportunity to display the supremancy of life lived in Christ. Although everything in this life may fail, Christ remains!! The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 73, "Whom have I in Heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart (and everything else) may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Bold in parenthesis mine). Horatio Spafford said it well in the great old hymn IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL, "Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul."

As you read this, maybe you are experiencing some trials. If you have not given your life to Christ, I do pray that you will repent of sin and place your trust in Christ alone for salvation. Until you do that, you will never experience the joy through trials mentioned above. That joy is reserved only for Christians. If you are a Christian, hang on! Don't give up! In the words of Charles Spurgeon, "There is One who careth for you. His eye is fixed on you, His heart beats with pity for your woe, and His hand omnipotent shall yet bring you the needed help." AMEN!!

How's Our Welcome?

While watching the pre-game show leading up to Super Bowl XLIV, former Denver Bronco Shannon Sharpe interviewed Reggie Bush of the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints. Sharpe asked the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner what went through his mind when he was first drafted out of USC by New Orleans. Bush replied, "I didn't want to go!" He went on to explain that Hurricane Katrina had torn the city apart and certainly the Saints was not the most desireable of teams to play for.

When Bush arrived in New Orleans, he was given "the tour." As a resident of New Orleans, I had given many of those tours. It consisted of showing people all of the positive aspects of New Orleans, and all of the devastating scenery left behind by Hurricane Katrina. I can still remember the looks on faces when they saw with their own eyes what they had seen on TV. Bush stated that the tour certainly did not help his desire (or lack thereof) for wanting to be in the city.

Following the infamous tour, Bush was taken out to dinner at one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants in the city. Bush said when he walked in the door of the restaurant, the people stood up, applauded his arrival, and began chanting his name. They were glad he was there. Bush stated that immediately his feelings about the city changed. Suddenly, he felt as if New Orleans was his city too. He was not simply welcomed as a guest, but was welcomed home.

As I watched that interview, I thought about people that come in to our church every week. Like Bush, they come with certain preconceived ideas. Some of them are convinced they will not have a great experience before they ever set foot inside the door. How are we at welcoming them? What are you doing to make sure that a guest coming into our church or into your Sunday School class feels like he/she is being welcomed and embraced?

When people enter Walker Baptist Church, they need a friend. They need someone who will come along beside them and break the ice. They need to sense that their presence is welcomed and that they can be a part of the family. Take the time to invest in the lives of the people that God places in our path. A wise old elder once told me, "People are not a hindrance to ministry, people are the ministry." Let's love them with the heart of Christ.