What I Learned From a Couple of Fish Sandwiches on July 4th Weekend

bs-five-loaves-two-fish-6989695Although most people would not have known it, I have been struggling for quite some time with discouragement and depression. There are many factors that have played into this struggle, but one thing kept rising to the surface–my own, personal inadequacy. I felt inadequate as a dad, a husband, a leader, a pastor, a church planter, a teacher . . . the list went on and on. I just wanted to quit, but something, or Someone wouldn’t let me.

The Holy Spirit kept reminding me of the Apostle Paul’s inadequacies that were magnified by his “thorn in the flesh.” Yet, God was using this thorn and Paul’s insufficiency to drive him to a deeper dependence upon God and His grace (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). I see many similarities between myself and Paul in this regard. One of the motivating factors behind this thorn was to prevent Paul from becoming self-sufficient and prideful as a result of the unique blessings Paul had experienced. I too have been a prideful and independent man. I know God hates pride and maybe God was opening my eyes to my own inadequacies, not to drive me to quit, but rather drive me to complete and humble dependence upon God and His power!

However, real victory came as I studied for the message I preached over the Fourth of July weekend (2016). It was the passage in Luke chapter 9 (also mentioned in the other three Gospels) about Jesus feeding five thousand men, plus women and children, with an inadequate food supply. This message was just what I needed to remind me it’s never been about me! It’s not about my leadership or communication skills . . . it’s all about me placing myself, my inadequacies, my faults, my failures, my time, my talents, my treasures . . . placing ALL OF ME into the hands of a MORE THAN ADEQUATE GOD!

For so long, I have depended upon myself without even realizing it. I gloated in my self-sufficiency even when I wouldn’t admit it. I patted myself on the back when no one was looking. However, there is a huge, huge problem that we self-sufficient folks face . . . that’s when we come face to face with an area where we feel “less than sufficient.” Because we depend so much on self, talents, abilities, etc., when we come across a situation we can’t handle we tend to get discouraged, depressed and frustrated. However, if we would learn to depend upon God 24-7 in every way, we would relieve ourselves of this pressure to perform.

I honestly believe there are some things God allows us to do in the power and the energy of the flesh. We know this to be true because unbelievers accomplish things and design inventions every single day, and they are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Imagine what would happen if we would become more like that nameless little boy who offered Jesus his inadequate, insufficient meal. Not only was the meal small, but it was probably the meal of the poor. Some commentators suggest these loaves were more like small, barley rolls. Barley rolls were the bread of the poor. His meal was inadequate in every way. It was inadequate in size, and it was inadequate in quality. The awesome thing is God was pleased to use it! I believe with all my heart the same is true about what we offer to God from humble and sincere hearts. God can do so much more with our inadequacies, our talents, and our treasures than we could ever dream.

So go ahead, and give it all to Jesus! The good, the bad and the ugly. Only He can take inadequate, insufficient human beings and save their souls and use them for His glory. Oh, by the way, it sure takes a whole lot of pressure off of you when you let Him have it all. Then you realize that all along, it’s never been about you and what you can do; it’s all about what He can do with and through you!

Can I Fix It . . . No I Can’t

If you have raised boys in the last fifteen years, the “Bob the Builder” theme song may be bobimplanted in your brain. Even as you read these words you can hear the music and the lyrics marching through your memory bank. It appeared that Bob the Builder could fix anything! No problem was too big or too challenging for Bob. It seemed that using Bob the Builder and the phrase, “I can’t” in the same sentence was unthinkable!

“I can’t”, are two words despised by every coach and every positive thinking guru out there. However, there are times when the phrase “I can’t” is necessary and useful.

Recently, I have been reading quite a bit in the Gospel of Luke, and at the time of this writing I am preaching a series of messages from this book. I am excited to share with our congregation week after week the many wonderful truths from these powerful chapters. Lately, I have been reading and rereading Luke 5:1-11. I want to share a few of these verses with you:

When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.”

When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:4-7 HCSB (emphasis added)

I don’t know if you have ever fished all night and caught nothing, but I have. Many times my dad, my grandma (mammy) and myself would load up the bait and tackle and head for one of the piers along the North Carolina shoreline. Although Mammy could always catch fish, I wasn’t so blessed with her talent. If the fish weren’t biting, I would soon get bored and was ready to head for home. However, my dad and grandma wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth, so they would continue to fish all through the night. I can relate to Simon’s frustration of empty nets.

But, don’t forget Simon was a professional fisherman. It had been his livelihood for much of his life. If anyone knew where the fish would be, it would be him. After a long, fruitless night, Jesus instructs Simon to let his nets down into the deep water and he would receive a catch. Jesus was not a fisherman by trade. He was raised by a carpenter, not a fisherman. Simon, although not fully convinced, was willing to obey the Lord regardless. He was willing to do what the Son of God said even though it did not seem rational at the time. Even though his faith was weak, he still had enough faith to obey.

When he obeyed, God worked in a miraculous way! When he followed Christ’s command, God did something in a moment that he had not been able to do all night. I would dare say this was more than likely the biggest catch Simon had EVER seen! This catch did not come FISHon the heels of human ingenuity, counsel from other fisherman, better weather, a fish radar, a better boat, a different lake or any other man-made tactic. This catch came as a result of simply obeying God.

What does this ancient story have to do with you and me in 2016? The fact of the matter is there are many things that you and I face on a regular, even daily basis, that leave us frustrated and empty. It may be a struggling marriage, a prodigal child, a difficult work situation, a problem at school, a personal health issue or the pain of watching a loved one suffer. Many times these situations drain us, discourage us and even depress us. We feel helpless as we try to figure things out on our own and discern what we can do differently to change the problem. Day after day, night after night, we give it our all. Time and again we try to come up with a solution only to find ourselves more and more discouraged. It is as if we have “fished all night and caught nothing.”

The wonderful reminder in this passage of Scripture is that the marvelous catch Simon Peter experienced was not a result of what he and his buddies could accomplish on their own. Rather, it was all about him having enough faith to launch out one more time and do what the Son of God said to do. It was all about obedient faith. When Simon exercised this obedient faith God took over and provided in a miraculous and marvelous way. As a result the catch was so massive, it took two boats to haul in the fish and both vessels began to sink.

Whatever your situation or your problem is, no matter the thing that has your stomach in knots and your heart in turmoil . . . learn to, by God’s grace, handle it with obedient faith. Your ingenuity and energy may be exhausted, but often it is then that God shows up on the scene and just asks us to trust Him. Our responsibility is not to trust our wisdom and our capabilities, but rather to trust His wisdom and His capability. Someone once said, “God likes to work, when nothing else can.”

Recently, I have been very discouraged and frustrated about a particular difficulty in our family. I have said everything I know to say. I have done everything I know to do, and I have tried everything I know to try. Quite literally I have “fished all night and caught nothing.” As I was reading this passage of Scripture a few days ago, it seemed as if the Holy Spirit reminded me of this truth as I read Simon’s words when he said: “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing.” It was as if the Holy Spirit said, “It’s not about what ‘you’ can do, but it’s about what ‘He’ can do.”

I can’t help but to think about the widow woman in the Old Testament that was down to her last dinner. She and her son were about to eat the last meal and then they were going to wait and die as a result of the famine. The interesting thing is God sent Elijah to this widow woman and said that she would sustain him. How on earth could she sustain Elijah? She was literally down to her last bit of food for her and her son. Somewhere, deep inside her soul, she still had a glimmer of hope that led to obedient faith. When she responded with obedience to the Lord, God supplied her every need (see I Kings 17:7-16).

I do not know what you are facing today. Maybe you, like Bob the Builder, have been trying to “fix it.” You have exhausted your efforts. You have run out of human ingenuity. You have been crushed time and again by disappointment. You don’t know where to turn, you don’t know what to do and you don’t know how to fix it. Maybe today, you need to stop trying more and begin trusting more.  Maybe today, you need to begin to search the Scriptures and find out what God says about your scenario and your need, and you simply need to exercise obedient faith. So often, we like to be in “control,” but the reality is we have very little control over anything. Life happens and disappointments come. We live in a sin cursed, messed up world that is only going to deteriorate more as the return of Christ draws near. God has not called us to figure everything out and solve every crisis. However, God has called us to trust Him and obey Him. As the hymn writer said so long ago, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” We may not be able to control whether or not the “fish swim into our nets,” but we can lower our nets and be ready if God chooses to send them our way. We cannot make the wind blow, but we can raise our sails.

When it comes to the difficulties and struggles my family faces, I must lay it at the feet of Jesus. I must completely and wholeheartedly give it to Him. I must exercise obedient faith and do what He says and leave the outcome up to Him.

Is there something in your life you need to surrender? Let’s choose to let go together.

Mary’s Response to an Amazing Announcement

Put yourself in the shoes of this teenage girl. She has just received news that will forever change her life and forever change the history of the world. She, a virgin teenager, is going to give birth to the Son of God. The announcement came from the angel Gabriel, who had given astonishing news to Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, just a few months before. God was on the move, and He was about to do something BIG!

She had questions. In Luke 1:34, she asked God, “How?” “How in the world is this going to happen? I’m a virgin. I’ve never been intimate with a man. I am pledged to be married to Joseph. What will my parents think? What will my friends think? What will society think? What will Joseph think?” Those questions and more must have been swirling around in her head. Scripture indicates she was perplexed and agitated (Luke 1:29) when the angel first appeared. Imagine what she must have been feeling after the announcement!

After the angel answered her question and revealed to her that Christ would have no earthly father…and after the angel revealed that God had miraculously intervened in Elizabeth’s life…and after the angel reminded her that NOTHING was impossible with God (Luke 1:35-37) she finally speaks again. Her response is the response all of us should have concerning God’s will, but unfortunately many of us do not. She simply said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; LET IT BE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD” (emphasis mine).SC-PES-001-Yes-Lord

What a difference it would make in our lives if we humbly and genuinely approached God’s will and God’s Word the way Mary did!

  • Let me think on the appropriate things, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me renew my mind, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me walk in the Spirit, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me live in YOUR freedom, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let the Truth set me free, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me follow the greatest commandment, according YOUR Word!
  • Let me love my neighbor as myself, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me train up my children, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me love my spouse, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me give, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me be changed into a new creation, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me ______________________, according to YOUR Word!

God was calling Mary to leave her comfort zone, suffer a potentially devastating misunderstanding and ridicule, and eventually watch her precious Son give His life for the sins of the world . . . and she simply surrenders it all to God and says, “OK Lord, may YOUR will be accomplished in and through my life, according to YOUR Word. I’ll be a willing vessel!”

How about YOU? The question is not, “What would you do if you were in Mary’s shoes?” The question is, “What are YOU doing RIGHT NOW with God’s revealed will?”

The statement,  “No Lord” is an oxymoron. The only right answer to give is, “Yes Lord.” The songwriter said, “Yes, Lord, yes, to Your will and to Your way, yes, Lord, yes, I will trust You and obey. When Your Spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I’ll agree, and my answer will be yes, Lord, yes.”

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 3)

Please take time to read Parts 1 & 2

  1. Consistent and regular worship meetings are commanded in Scripture. One of the most well-known passages Scriptureregarding church attendance is found in Hebrews 10:24-25. This passage instructs believers to be a part of these assemblies and gives the reason why. It says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, HCSB) One of the purposes of church attendance is to promote love and good works amongst other believers. The writer of Hebrews indicates there are some who choose to stay away from these meetings, but he clearly instructs his audience not to be like them. As a matter of fact, he encourages more of these gatherings as the day of Christ approaches!
  1. Believers are to be under the protection and encouragement of church leadership. If a believer is not attending or involved in a local church they are isolating themselves from the elders/pastors God has called to instruct, guide, encourage and direct them. Once again we turn to Hebrews for some insight in this regard. Note the two verses from Hebrews 13, “Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:7, 17 HCSB) Did the necessity for elders/pastors die off with the apostles? Scripture gives us no indication of that, whatsoever. As mentioned in the previous point, church attendance should increase as the return of Christ draws near. As long as there is a need for a local church, there will also be need for local leadership within those churches in the form of elders/pastors. They have the responsibility to speak God’s Word, live a life of faith and integrity, guide believers from Scripture, and watch over those in the congregation.
  1. Jesus Christ referred to the existence and the importance of the local church. If there is still doubt about the reality of God’s design for local, distinct churches, please consider the admonition found in the last book of the Bible. John is writing to seven distinct, localized congregations in Asia. Notice his words in Revelation 1:4, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne. Not only that, but Jesus Christ, Himself, addresses each of these seven local churches in the second and third chapter of the book (see Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, 2:18, 3:1, 3:7, 3:14).

Every Christ follower needs to take the time to find a local church they can call home. They need to find out what the church teaches and see if it lines up with Scripture. They should also talk to the pastor and look at their website or informational materials and find out what they believe. Pray and ask God to lead you to the congregation that He would have you to serve through.

Please contact us if we can be of assistance or if you are looking for a church in the Erie, Pennsylvania area. We completely understand Flagship Church is not for everyone, however we are a church committed to Scripture and to sharing God’s message of hope and forgiveness with the Flagship City. If you know Christ and want to know Him more, we would love to have you “on board” with us!

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 2)

Please take time to also read Part 1. Here are three more reasons to attend and be involved in a local church:

  1. Many of the books in the New Testament were letters written to individual local churches. Some have indicated the references to church in the New Testament are references to the universal church, not to local assemblies. While Scripture does indicate there is the universal body of Christ, which encompasses all believers everywhere, there is an abundance of evidence indicating the universal church is made up of believers who are a part of local congregations. These local congregations listed in the New Testament were located in the cities of Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica and more. Not one person who studies Scripture with an honest heart can deny the existence of local churches. Here are a few references for further study: I Corinthians 1:2, II Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:2, Philippians 1:1, I Thessalonians 1:1, II Thessalonians 1:1.

 

  1. Spiritual gifts were to be used for the common good of believers. Isolated believers cannot use their gifts toGifts-1024x768 serve others, nor can they benefit from others. Scripture indicates Christ followers have been given spiritual gifts. God does not administer these gifts for selfish purposes. Paul and Peter, both writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it clear these gifts are to be used for the benefit of other believers. However, if a believer is not in fellowship with other believers, they will not have the opportunity to benefit the congregation. According to these verses, an isolationist mindset is incompatible with God’s design for believers and their spiritual gifts. Notice the words of Paul and Peter:
    1. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:7, ESV)
    2. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: (I Peter 4:10, ESV)

 

  1. Paul gave Timothy clear instructions about things to be included in the meeting of the local assembly. Timothy was a young preacher of the Gospel and was Paul’s protégé. Paul writes two letters to instruct him about a variety of topics to help him in the ministry. As he concludes his first letter, Paul explains what he expects to be included in the public worship services. Note his admonition, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (I Timothy 4:13, ESV)

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 1)

I have been involved with ministry through local churches in one form or another since 1996. It has been an honor to serve as a pastor, Christian School Administrator and Evangelist. I am currently a Church Planter and Pastor of Flagship Free Will Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. I have heard numerous reasons, opinions and even excuses why people do not attend church faithfully. However, I have not heard one legitimate, scriptural reason why people should not attend and be involved in a local, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church. I believe Scripture gives plenty of reasons why faithful church attendance and involvement should be a “no-brainer” amongst followers of Christ. The following are just a few reasons:

  1. God designed Christ followers to need other Christ followers. God never designed for His children to grow, mature and flourish in isolation. Even Christ Himself, brought a group of men into His daily ministry known as the disciples. Being the God-man, He needed nothing, but He set the example for us. He made it a practice to go the Temple regularly. The Old Testament reveals this truth as recorded for us in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote: Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, HCSB)

Christ-Follower-Logo-for-webAs the Apostle Paul addressed the local church at Corinth, he explained to them that the church was much like a body. In fact, the church is the body of Christ! In this explanation he said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ ” (I Corinthians 12:21, ESV) A Christ follower may say he/she does not need other Christians, but when they do they contradict the very truth of Scripture. We need other believers in our lives just like our body needs all of our body parts. For a hand to fulfill its function and design it must be attached to the body; therefore, for a Christian to fulfill his/her function or design, they must also be connected to the body of Christ.

  1. After the church was born in the book of Acts, Christ followers gathered together on a regular basis. Acts 2:42 records, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 20:7 records another occasion of believers gathering together, this time to hear the Apostle Paul preach, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7, ESV) They did not get together for a one-time event, but rather devoted themselves to learning the Word of God together. They also spent time with one another and prayed together. There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates this should be optional or if there will be a time when this type of gathering would cease. As a matter of fact, other Scriptures indicate this type of gathering and fellowship would become more and more necessary as time went on.

 

  1. Scripture refers to “elders” or “pastors” of specific churches. If local churches were not part of God’s plan then why did God ordain elders/pastors to oversee local congregations? The New Testament repeatedly alludes to this. Here are just a few references that you can turn to for your own personal study: Acts 14:23, 15:2-6, 15:22-23, 16:4, 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; I Peter 5:1-5.

What Ray Rice and I Have in Common

By now multiplied millions have seen the infamous Ray Rice video. On the video, he knocks his fiancé out cold and then drags her body out of a casino elevator into the hallway. Many adjectives have been used to describe this despicable act. Horrifying, sickening, brutal . . . just to name a few.

Social media and news programs erupted into angry tirades against this athlete. ESPN anchors talked for hours about the ramifications of the video and how it would affect Rice as well as the entire NFL. Speculation will likely continue for days on end regarding who knew what and why more wasn’t done to verify the facts.

While the newscasters continue to talk about this problem and speculate regarding what will happen next, many people are using this opportunity to cast stones at this “awful person.” There is no doubt that Rice’s punch was blatant, cruel, and gruesome. However, we must remember Ray Rice is not the standard of righteousness that God will judge us. Jesus Christ, God robed in flesh, is the standard and that is a standard of which we ALL fall short of (see Romans 3:23). James makes it clear that if we are guilty of breaking any part of the law, we are guilty of breaking the law . . . period. Listen to the words of James inspired by the Holy Spirit: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10-11 ESV, emphasis mine).

The Law rises or falls as a unit. Picture in your mind the Ten Commandments represented by a chain of ten links. Each link represents one of the commandments. The chain is connected to a crane on one end and a 5,000 pound weight hanging over your head on the other end. With this scenario in mind ask yourself a question, “Does it matter which of the ten links are broken?” Absolutely not! If the link labeled “taking God’s name in vain” is broken, the weight comes crashing down. If the link labeled “murder” is broken, the weight comes crashing down just the same! You see God’s standard is perfection. It doesn’t matter how close to perfect you were, if you aren’t perfect, you aren’t perfect!

Let me share one more illustration. Suppose you had to swim a thousand miles in under an hour to win a million dollar prize. Of course this is humanly impossible, but if you can do it you are the winner. Let’s suppose you swam 5 miles in an hour and your competitor swims 7 miles in an hour . . . who wins? Neither of you won! It doesn’t matter who swam the longest distance and who looked good doing it! You both failed. You both lost.

Though you may have never punched a woman and drug her body into a hallway, you have still SINNED and fallen short of the glory of God. You need the same Savior and the same forgiveness that Ray Rice needs. Your sin may look better to society than Ray’s sin, but sin is still sin in God’s eyes. It is a transgression of the Law. It must be punished. The wonderful news is that Jesus Christ came and paid the penalty for your sin, my sin and Ray Rice’s sin. The penalty that we all deserve, which is separation from God, was experienced by Jesus Christ when God’s wrath was poured upon Him while He willingly laid down His life on Calvary.
My lies, my lust, my dishonesty are just as responsible for Jesus being nailed to a tree as Rice’s knockout punch is. We are both guilty and we both deserve to be judged and suffer in Hell as a result. However, God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but He wants us all to repent of our sin and trust Christ for His cleansing and forgiveness.

You have a choice to make if you haven’t already done so. You can compare yourself to Rice and feel pretty good about yourself, or you can compare yourself to Jesus and realize just how far you are from perfection. You can depend upon yourself to make it to Heaven and fail, or you can cast yourself at Jesus’ feet and plead for His mercy and forgiveness. You can continue to point the finger at everyone else’s mistakes and ignore your own and act dignified, or you can admit your own wickedness and rebellious heart and be justified by the blood of Jesus.

I hope Rice, if he hasn’t already done so, will come to Jesus and confess his sins and be forgiven through Christ. We have more in common with him than we would like to admit. We are all sinners in need of a Savior! If Jesus can forgive the murderous Saul of Tarsus, and change him into Paul the Apostle, he can surely forgive you and I. Call on the name of the Lord and be saved today (see Romans 10:9-10, 13).
In conclusion please understand that I am in no way, shape, form or fashion trying to make light of what Ray Rice did to his fiancé. It was truly a despicable act that needs to be repented of and forgiven. My prayer is that we would all recognize our own sinfulness and the consequences that we deserve and plead for the same mercy and grace to be extended to us for our own sins.