The Journey

words from along the way by Keith Crawford

Moving toward Hope

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  • Ferguson, MO.
  • Confederate Flag license plates in Texas
  • Indiana Religious Freedom Bills
  • Arkansas’ Prohibition of Anti-Discrimination Ordinances -
All flash points in a growing battle over the issues of racial injustice, insensitivity, and the LGBT discrimination. A battle that has created a polarized reactionary environment that I’m fearful may lead many well-meaning Christians into adopting a stance that serves a social conservative agenda without fully measuring that agenda in contrast to the cause of Christ.

 

I’m a southern white man and a proud member of a Southern Baptist Church. My voting record leans notably Republican but admittedly this is often due to the lack of a more principled option. I’m also an egregious sinner that treads paths of unconsidered pride and selfishness naturally. So I speak as neither the antidote or an alien to these ailments a the intersection of conservative policy and Christian theology.

 

I’m simply trying to ask the question: Are my actions and words surrendering to the glory of God and advancing hope to a dying world?

Moving Toward

Recently both Arkansas and Indiana have passed laws that seem geared to protecting people of faith if they choose to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual identity or lifestyle (LGBT). At first glance it may seem foregone that Christian’s should support such measures but I ask you to pause an consider discrimination in the light of actions and heart of Christ.

 

Christ repeatedly challenged the moral norms of his day by seeking out not the well-heeled religious folks but rather the scoundrels and out-casts. Long before he was a popular children’s church song Zacchaeus was the town pariah and a blatant thief. Any morally upright person was more than justified in shunning him. Yet, when Jesus encounters Zacchaeus he says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (‭Luke‬ ‭19‬:‭5‬ ESV).

 

Not only did Christ stop and do the unthinkable by speaking to Zacchaeus he caused a scandal by going to this man’s house. To be sure he didn’t excuse or endorse the actions of Zacchaeus but he did the exact opposite of discriminating against him. He went toward him.

 

Toward him.

 

That direction is a direct challenge to any reaction that would relationally stiff-arm someone due to their position as a scoundrel. For we are all scoundrels.

 

To simplify the question: How do I bring glory to God as I interact with every single human?

Yes, but what about legal protection

So what of the risk of legal persecution of someone taking a moral stance regarding their faith?

 

I certainly don’t discount such a possibility. In fact, a biblical worldview indicates more of this is on its way in coming decades. (Revelation doesn’t exactly read like a Disney cruise brochure but that’s okay because I know how the book ends.)

 

The question for me is, where am I placing my trust? I can by no means say that God is against laws that protect his servants but history says that if I’m placing my trust there I’ll be sorely disappointed. When I examine the persecution and flourishing of the early church and that most of you have at least heard the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer then I must entertain the uncomfortable notion that God may allow persecution to accomplish his purposes. Perhaps my faith shouldn’t be in the words of legal protection but rather rooted in the Word of God.

 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4‬ ESV)

 

I’d be remiss to not mention the my entire salvation depends upon the unjust persecution of Jesus Christ.

 

The question: Am I more concerned with self-preservation and security than I am with following after Christ?
(Yeah, I don’t much care for that question either.)

 

Hope not Hate

[Disclaimer: I believe the issues surrounding LGTB discrimination and that or racism are VERY different issues. I should have broken these into separate posts. However, my mind an spirit has been greatly troubled and all these words have spilled out over recent days. So please forgive me for writing about both together.]

 

I’m woefully ignorant about many of the challenges that my black brother’s and sisters face in today’s society but I’m grateful for dear friends and exemplary Christian Pastors that God has used to peel back my naivete in recent years. Yet even with my limited understanding of the racism they face I found myself flinching at posts and comments from Christian white people in the days following the Ferguson shooting and subsequent protests.

 

Regardless of the facts and or fault in such a tragic situation I feel a divine responsibility to confront injustice. Not to be dismissive or hostile. Even a willingness to accept our own ignorance and listen is a starting point.

 

The question: What does loving my neighbor look like?

 

Which brings me to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Texas who are currently asking, under the premise of free speech, to put a Confederate flag on a license plate.

Bless their hearts.

 

Before I continue let it be known I spent a good number of years as a Civil War reenactor (Grey & Blue mind you and relished every moment). I have been invited 3 times to join the SCV in Arkansas and I have the documentation of family records to have my membership approved. I’ve got kinfolk with their names etched in a wall in Chickamauga, GA and I can sing the words of the “Bonnie Blue Flag” from heart. So if you’d care to attack my love for the South with all her blemishes and bruises you’d better pack a lunch. You’ll need it.

 

My experience with the Illegitimate Sons of the Confederacy (my PG approved moniker) has greatly jaded my view and unfortunately their actions continue to bear out my prejudice against them. Honestly, for the SCV to have any shred of legitimacy in heritage preservation they would lobby for using the actual flag of the C.S.A., pictured below. To be clear I would not support that measure either. So I’ll try to abbreviate my derision of this organization that continues to be an ignorant stain on Southern Heritage and return to the issue of faith.
The 1st National Flag of the Confederacy 1861-1863

The 1st National Flag of the Confederacy 1861-1863

As a Christian standing in line at a the Texas DMV considering a confederate flag license plate how can I ignore that I might unnecessarily offend and also limit my usefulness as a vessel of hope and mercy? I can just see a Baptist church with a parking lot full of trucks with confederate flags praying over how to reach their community.

 

The question: Whom do I love more? Me or them?

 

I echo the words of Dr. Moore (a white Baptist)

And from the Apostle Paul,
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9‬:‭19-23‬ NLT)

Amen.

Advancing a Higher Agenda

Brothers and Sisters I do not propose that these thoughts should lead to a single or simple answer nor be used as a litmus test. I just want to take a moment and ask sincere questions of myself and my brother’s and sisters.

My goal is to challenge ourselves to consider, to pray, to seek wisdom and above all else seek to advance only one agenda: that of the kingdom of God.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (‭Philippians‬ ‭2‬:‭3-4‬ ESV)
God Bless.

 

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Broken Together

The Key - Brokenness

The one thing…

What is the one thing that:

  • enables God’s forgiveness and mercy to flood our souls?
  • ushers us to the point of confession and true repentance?
  • takes us to the end of ourselves where we realize that we have no defense before God?

Brokenness.

Knowing we are utterly and completely messed up.

We have selfish minds, evil hearts, weak wills, unsatisfactory talents, and we simply can’s make this thing called life work. When it begins to crack, crumble, or utterly implode then we cry out to God, “I can’t do this, I can’t take it anymore” and an almighty loving God says, “I know and I love you.”

My Lent devotional, Journey to the Cross, put it this way yesterday,

“You are worse than you think, but also far more loved by God than you ever imagined.”

Ouch and Hallelujah.

Pride says I’m not that bad. I’ve got this under control. I don’t really need God all the time, just occasionally. I’m really OK.

This pride completely shuts us off from God. Pride is worship of self and God hates me worshiping any idol. I dare say there is no greater idol than ourselves. I often say there is really only one sin, Pride. The rest (greed, lust, envy, anger, laziness, and gluttony) are just symptoms of what I think I deserve or want and when I want them.

The funny thing about God’s answer to pride is humility. Humility has only one prerequisite, absolute brokenness.

The point at which I hold nothing back. I reserve nothing from God, he can take whatever he wants and do what he wants. My response to his astounding love and mercy is to utter only one creed, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17

Broken Together

As I’ve seen God do miraculous open-life surgery on me to rip pride from my chest and have seen brokenness become a beautiful anecdote to so much of my sin…. the question I’m left with is

Why are we Christians, (the church) so consumed with pretending that none of us are broken?

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Allow me to give you 2 snapshots from recent months:

  • I’m a breakfast with 3 other men from a local church who by any standard are pillars of faith and the community. By anyone’s estimation these men have it all together: successful jobs, good physical health, beautiful families, savings accounts etc… Yet the conversation that morning was about how truly messed up and damaged we are by sin. Make no mistake these are truly good men that are seriously seeking to honor Christ and yet here we find a common bond of brokenness.
  • At a recent breakfast with a dear friend we began to share or spiritual journeys over the past 4-5 years. This is a guy who has preached, led worship, can teach the Bible at a moment’s notice, and is a giant in my eyes and guess what? He’s broken too. His life has suffered catastrophic blows when God started trying to get his attention. God has redeemed so much of that pain and blessed him tremendously yet he still struggles. (Glory to God he is an agent of brokenness, seeking and sharing to help others.)

It’s as if God intended for us to be broken and to be broken together.

Yet how would a hurting soul see us on Sunday when we all pretend to have it all figured out. Perhaps they need to hear that we are as messed up as they are (perhaps more so when you consider our complacency and hypocrisy after encountering the gospel.) Yet God loves them and us.

I’ve spent years putting on a mask and pretending that I wasn’t broken all the while suffering in isolation in defeat. When God started to get my attention and by his grace I got vulnerable and real honest it was then that God put brothers and sisters in my life that shared their brokenness and suddenly I feel like I’ve discovered exactly what church should have been the whole time.

I told my accountability partner one morning that I’m ashamed that I’ve missed this for 35yrs of my life. That I feel like I finally discovered what church should have been along. Broken folks that stop pretending and celebrate the love and redemption of God against all odds and logic. Sounds like church to me.

So allow me to say: I’m broken, real broken. I’m messed up, I’ve got way too much sin I’m nourishing in my life, I struggle, I doubt, I waver, and I coming running back hurting and helpless to the throne of YHWH and weep when he shows his mercy.

I’ve spent along time dressing well and putting on an “I’m ok” mask on Sundays. I’ve worked hard to maintain a veneer of having it all together and now by the grace of God I’m no longer doing that. I’d rather be broken, because pride was killing me.

So what do we do now?

  1. Resolve not to tear others down when their broken parts are exposed. – Whether by gossip or simply coldness we communicate that being broken makes you an outlier and unwelcome. God forgive us. We never simply excuse sin but if Christ died on a rugged cross for it might I find a way to love someone in the midst of it?
  2. Find a place to get real. – There is certainly a level of wisdom that should be applied. I don’t suggest that the proper place is to ask the Pastor for 15minutes on a Sunday morning to air all that you are struggling with but we must find a safe place to start being real. 1 on 1 or small groups are a good place to start. Ask God to open the door and take courage to walk through. (Relationships have a funny way of requiring us to be vulnerable, why would the family of God be any different.)
  3. Seek others who are broken. – It might be serving the homeless, going on a mission trip, showing love to a visitor, or just finding a way to go the extra mile when you know someone is hurting. The flames of pride stayed doused when we realize that we are loved regardless and suddenly that love spills out onto others.

God is still God, he can redeem even the chaos and pain that is in your life and perhaps we can give him more glory and spread his good news more authentically once we resolve to be broken… together.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. – Hebrews 3:12-14

[photo credit: andilicious]
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God is a God of coming back

In the midst of encouraging a friend this evening I just need to write these words. Perhaps they will reach you in a time of hopelessness.

God is a God of coming back, a God waiting with open arms…

At the point you don’t feel like you can’t crawl back the 1200th time THAT is exactly when you should fall before him and confess.

Confess who you are, confess who He is,

and cling to the cross of Christ which satisfies the scales of justice and opens the door to mercy. Pour it all out on Abba Father and surrender all pride. His mercy has no limit and His grace is sufficient.

—-
An excerpt of an amazing prayer, “Meeting God” from the Valley of Vision.

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For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29‬:‭11-14‬ ESV)

Amen.

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A Selfless Leader

One day the LORD said to Moses, “Climb one of the mountains east of the river, and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. After you have seen it, you will die like your brother, Aaron, (‭Numbers‬ ‭27‬:‭12-13‬ NLT)

I love Moses’ reaction to being told he was going to die and not enter the promise land.

Did he pout?
Did he protest?

No, he prayed…
and not for himself but for the people and that God might give them a courageous leader and shepherd.

Then Moses said to the LORD, “O LORD, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the LORD will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (‭Numbers‬ ‭27‬:‭15-17‬ NLT)

If God speaks a difficult word to you or I today will our hearts respond like Moses? Will our prayers be for those around us?

May God grant us the power to love so completely.

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Grace abounded all the more

Romans 5:20, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,”

What God has done and has given us is much more than to counteract sin. Christ did not repress or weaken sin – He destroyed it in Himself, so that we might know the power of Him in us. People have been tyrannised so long that they live looking over their shoulders, expecting sin to raise its ugly head. We need a long, steady realisation that the grace of Christ is much more than enough to deliver us”

~Les Wheeldon

What a word of dependence and victory.

Except taken from his “Hearing God’s Heart” Devotional, a portion available via YouVersion Reading Plan or you can purchase a copy at his website.

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The Beginning and End of Hope

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For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (Psalm‬ ‭62‬:‭5‬ ESV

We readily accept that our hope is in Christ but perhaps this can lead us to an incomplete picture.

Look at v. 5 again. “for my hope is FROM him.” Yes we have a hope in God but don’t overlook that this hope is from God. He is both the source and the fulfillment of the promise of hope. God is the start/finish line of our hope.

Without the Spirit of God working in us we are unable to manufacture true hope and without Christ and his resurrection and victory we have nothing to anchor our Hope.

Look at Romans 15:13 (emphasis is mine)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (‭Romans‬ ‭15‬:‭13‬ ESV)

When facing trials, suffering, fear, or uncertainty God does NOT say “Good luck go muster up some Hope” rather he waits for us to turn to him in prayer and stillness to give Him the opportunity to grow Hope in us.

This understanding should bring us rest and lead us to being more desperate for God. (Funny how so much of following God is continually confessing how utterly unable I am to do it in my own power.)

A hope that is planted by Him can sustain through any storm.
A hope that is secured in Him will never fall short.

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Disaster Relief Buckets of Love and more…

Buckets of Love

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention is collecting “Buckets of Love”.  These are really helpful items for victims and their friends/family that are assisting in the clean up. See the brochure below and deliver the buckets by Friday to Central Baptist Church Conway, 3333 Dave Ward Dr, Conway, AR 72034.

Regarding relief supplies:

I’ve seen a need for more Gatorade and sports drinks, masks for the workers, and colors/coloring books for kids. In Vilonia you can drop off supplies at Beryl Baptist Church (Red Cross HQ).

Volunteers:

Authorities are asking people to not self-deploy. If you’d like to volunteer you can put your name on the ABSC list here

Buckets of Love

 

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Sunday Sunrise

The Same Voice Still Speaks Life

sunday_is_coming_life_voice

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:24 ESV)

At the point that all seemed lost I imagine hearing God the Father’s voice speaking the name of his Son in the darkness of Saturday night. Divine vocal chords piercing into the abyss of death and hell. A phrase that changed everything.  – Jesus, my son, Arise.

The Bible doesn’t tell us the exact words God used but it does tell us repeatedly that the same voice calls life out of our death as well.

When we are trapped by our sin suffocating under the weight of our self-centeredness and wickedness that voice of YHWH pierces through. The power it contained 2000 years ago hasn’t diminished one iota. God is still in the resurrection business.

That voice is giving life to men, women, orphans, families, murderers, deacons, Sunday school teachers, our homeless neighbors and even we folks that have lost sight of God in our business of church. Gods speaks life to all who will come.

Wherever you are tonight do not despair. The Good News still stands, your debt has been paid.

Do not mistake seeing Jesus sacrifice as rudimentary appeasement of an angry terrible beast name God. He died because the wages of sin is death. God is Life and Holy and cannot abide sin. Justice demands a price and once we chose to sin that price was demanded of you and I. It is through God’s love and mercy that he made a means of atonement for you and I. Take hold of the cross and choose to live!

Glory Hallelujah Sunday is COMING!

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)

//image credit Stephen A. Wolfe
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The Greatest Comedian You’ve Never Heard Of

Minister of Mirth: Grady Nutt

Minister of Mirth: Grady Nutt

I have a special place in my heart for great comedy and as a youngster I thrived off Ray Stevens, Bill Cosby, and Grady Nutt. Most of you recognize 2 of these names but you aren’t familiar with the venerable Mr. Nutt.

Grady Nutt is the best comedian you’ve never heard of. This is a true southern brand of comedy that centers around church and families and it is absolutely hilarious.

I’ve looked for clips of his sketches for years and on a whim decided to try again today (it’s maintenance night and I need something to entertain my ears) and EUREKA; I found the exact album that I played endlessly.

So do yourself a favor and check out “Funny Stories from the Prime Minister of Humor

I recommend you start with “When the Roll is called up yonder”  – My favorite joke of all time. and don’t miss “I have an Odor” and the “Dinner on the grounds“.  I hope you enjoy these bits as much as I do.

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Passing Away

We are immersed in thoughts of food that will be gone tomorrow, a situation at work that you won’t remember in 6 months, a repair on a house that will be shambles in 50 years, and building a legacy that will be forgotten by our own ancestors in 200yrs.
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. -1 John 2:16-17
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