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Monday, September 25, 2017

Holy Different

            I'm so proud of my son, Gavin.  He's never been afraid to stand out from the crowd.  He's always been smart--he graduated 3rd in his high school class.  He's independent.  He's attending the University of Alabama, Huntsville and doing well.  Last year, he used a bike to travel between classes across campus, but Gavin's never been afraid to be different.  This year, he decided to trade in his bike for a unicycle!  So if you're ever at UAH and you see a college kid riding a unicycle to class, it's probably my son!
            I want to talk to you today about being different.  Colonel Sanders wasn't afraid to be social security check was only $105. Instead of complaining, he did something different.  He thought restaurant owners would love his fried chicken recipe, use it, sales would increase, and he’d get a percentage of it. So, Sanders drove around the country knocking on doors, sleeping in his car, and wearing his white suit.  Can you imagine how strange people must have thought Sanders was?  They did.  His idea was rejected 1,009 times before someone finally said yes.  The rest is history.
different.  He was over 65-years-old before he became famous for fried chicken.  He got mad when his
            This blog is the first in a series called “Different”.  Did you know God wants us to be different than the rest of the world?

1 Peter 1:1-2 1This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

May God give you more and more grace and peace.

Holy Different
            This passage tells us some important things about your relationship with God.  First of all He chose you.  It wasn't a mistake.  He made a deliberate decision and chose you on purpose.  And He chose you long ago.  If you're like me, you get so busy that days and weeks just seem to run together.  And as busy as we are, I don't know what you thought was going to happen today.  But thousands of years ago, God already knew you would be reading these words right here, right now.  And He chose you.  And lastly, this passage tells us that God's Spirit chose to make you holy; and that is the crux of this blog.
            We use the word holy a lot in the church, but what does it mean?  Holy means “set apart for the special, sacred purposes of God.”  Something that is holy is not to be used for unholy purposes(You don’t use a communion chalice for your morning coffee).  When you are holy, you are different.  When you are holy, you are special.  When you are holy, you stand out.  Diamonds are so valuable because they sparkle.  Diamonds are really just rocks, but they stand out from other ordinary rocks because of the way the catch and reflect light.  Like a diamond, you need to sparkle and shine for God.  Stop trying to blend in to the crowd. 

But I Don’t Want to Be Different…
            An interesting thing happens with most teenagers that causes their parents a lot of anxiety.  Doctors and psychologists tell us that teenagers are biologically engineered to start separating from their parents and create their own identity.  From the time they are babies to the age of about 13, most kids adore their parents and want to be just like them.  But then they become teenagers and start to pull away.  All of a sudden, they stop admiring their parents and start to think they are boring and old and uncool.  And parents often get so frustrated because it feels like their teenage kids are going off the deep end, rejecting everything they've worked so hard to teach them.  And this is natural, because teenagers are trying to establish their own identity apart from their parents.  They want to be individuals.
            Ironically, rather than becoming “individuals” with their own “separate” identities, teenagers most often try to be like all their friends.  They trade mimicking their parents for mimicking their friends.  They want to wear the clothes their friends wear, listen to their friends music, hang out with and act like their cool friends.  And this is a natural part of growing up and almost everyone goes through it to some degree.  It isn’t until teenagers mature a bit more--usually once they get into their 20s--that they really start to figure out who they are apart from anyone else and find their own individual identity. 
            Unfortunately, many people ever really grow out of the human desire to “fit in”.  Most people want to adhere to “social norms.”  We want to be in fashion, we want to "fit in" our community, we want to be accepted by everyone else.  Most people still define themselves in relation to others.  They want to "keep up with the Joneses."  What does that expression really mean?  It means you want what they have, because you think what "they" have is what you really want or need.  Very few people stop to think what they really want without regards to what other people have.  Even fewer stop to think about what God really wants for them and trust that what He wants is really best.
            I have been accused of being different--even weird.  I'm fascinated with science and experiments and a couple years ago I was at the beach in South Carolina with my extended family.  I was staring at the ocean wondering if I could distill some sea salt out of it.  And I thought, "I bet I can."  So I got an empty milk jug and washed is out and collected a gallon of sea water from the ocean.  I put it in a  pot on the stove back at our condo and boiled it down until there wasn't any water left; and lo and behold their was about a quarter cup of salt left in the bottom of the pan!  I was so proud as I showed it to all my uninterested relatives.  My brother-in-law, Joey, looked at me and said, "Chris.  Your weird."  Haha!  And said, "Hallelujah!" because I own it! I know I'm different.  That's how God made me and I'm learning more and more to just be who God made me, because God wants us to be different.  It's OK to be weird!

God wants us to be Different.
            Truitt Cathy was different and he founded a different kind of fast food restaurant.  He said, “We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”  Now, if you try to eat lunch after church at a Chick-fil-A, you will be disappointed, because they're always closed on Sunday.  You'll have to settle for something else.  Chick-fil-A makes a statement by being closed.  You can't help but see it.  Sunday afternoons is one of the busiest times of the week for a restaurant, but Chick-fil-A intentionally stays closed and you can't help but see it.  And you don't just see it on Sundays.  Go in there on a Monday when they're open and you get a sense of it too.  I mean, it's just a fast food restaurant like any other, but it's also different.  Something about the way they carry themselves and the way they serve and the way they take pride in what they do.  Chick-fil-A is different.  It's almost like they're holy.            In the Old testament, God chose the children of Israel to be his holy people.  He wanted them to be different, to stand out.  So he gave them all kinds of rules that would make them a separate, different people.  Resting on Sunday was one of those rules, but there were also rules about how to dress and what kind of food to eat.  And all these laws--though they were a burden to follow--marked the Israelites as a special, holy people.
            Things have changed for us since Jesus came, because Jesus made all food clean and said we are saved by grace and not by following rules.  But we are still supposed to be holy and different. People should be able to look at us and think, "They look like other people, but there's something different about them, something special."
            Jesus told us the most important way we would be so different.  In John 13:35, Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  Do you love people in different way?  A holy way?  God's way?

God Chose You, but Do You Choose God?

            Long ago, 1 Peter 1:2 tells us, God chose you to be holy.  How long before you humble yourself, bow down, and choose to follow God?  For when you choose God through faith in Jesus Christ, Peter says you, “have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”  Then you are holy and forgiven and you will have more grace and peace.  People will begin to see you are Holy Different and you will live a Holy and Different life, a better life, and you will have eternal life. And you will know you are loved and your will love people like Jesus loves.   Are you ready?  Make the decision to be Holy Different today!

Monday, September 11, 2017


            The picture you see here is of me holding my first child, Gavin.  I was only 24-years-old.  As you can see, Gavin was crying and I was a little bit stressed out as a new father unsure how to comfort him.  My life back in 1998 was a lot different than today.  I was not a minister back then; I had not yet accepted the call.  I was working at 1888 Mills in Griffin, GA--a textile mill that manufactured towels.  It was a secular job like most people reading this blog might work.
            Even though it was not a job "in the ministry", I viewed it as a ministry.  Everyday, I went to work with the attitude that I was a minister in Jesus' Kingdom.  I believed I represented Jesus to everyone I interacted with.  So, whether it was a salesperson, a designer, a customer, a line worker, a plant manager, or even the janitor, I tried to love them and interact with them the way Jesus would.
            My attitude was shaped largely by a talk I heard while attending a spiritual retreat called The Walk to Emmaus.  The name of the talk was P.O.A.B. and it is the inspiration for what I want to share with you today. 
            What is P.O.A.B?  P.O.A.B. is an acronym for the Protestant Christian doctrine known as the "Priesthood of All Believers."  We believe that every Christian--every person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior--is a priest in God's Kingdom.
What is a Priest?
            The concept of priesthood goes all the way back to the Old Testament.  God chose and set apart certain Israelites for the special work of a priest.  Today, priests serve much as they did back then.  A priest has two main functions.  First, a priest is God’s representative in the world--communicating God’s Word, shedding light on God’s will for people, and pronouncing God’s forgiveness and healing grace.  Second, a priest also acts as the people’s representative to God—interceding for the people. 
            In the Old Testament, only men from the tribe of Levi were ordained (or set apart) for the holy work of priests.  Furthermore, a priest could not have any physical defects or be unclean in any way.  However things have changed for us because of everything Jesus did.  Jesus redeems us and sets us all apart as holy, perfect, and ordained for an important purpose to serve as his priests.  Christian priests include ordained pastors, but also every other Christian who has experienced the love, acceptance, and forgiveness of God. We are all called into the priestly ministry to help others experience the grace we have experienced from God.
            Jesus is our great high priest and our perfect example of our priestly role.  Notice how Jesus fulfills the two main functions of a priest.  First, Jesus is God’s representative to us. He is the Word of God made flesh. Jesus is the perfect representation of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. Jesus was born, lived, and died and rose from the grave to show and prove God's love for us and to make a way to reconcile us with God.  Second, Jesus is our representative to God. Jesus shared our humanity and because he lived as one of us--knowing all the troubles, suffering, and temptations of our daily life-- Jesus understands us and can intercede for us to God.  Furthermore, Jesus sacrificed his own life for our salvation.  John 1:29, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
            Today, all believers--everyone who is a true Christian--shares in Jesus' priesthood. This concept is called the priesthood of all believers (or POAB). But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what the Word of God says. 

Slides – 1 Peter 2:9b-12
…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Look yourself in the mirror every morning and say, “I am a royal priest!”
            In the Christian church, we often use two terms that can be confusing--clergy and laity.  Clergy are Christians who are set apart to work full time as professional servants of Christ.  This is important, because most people have to work a regular secular job to make a living.  Not everyone has time to spend years training and then devote their life to the full-time work of leading the Church.  Besides, Jesus needs most of us to be out in the world serving Him where people need Him most.  However, Jesus also needs some people to devote their time to administering the Church, training the laity, and sending them out to do the work of the Kingdom.  That is what Clergy do.  If you are not clergy, you are laity (or a lay person).  Laity are Christians who serve Christ but make a living in other ways. 
            Both laity and clergy have vital roles to play.  Each role has strengths which offset the other's weaknesses.  For instance, most people do not have the time it takes to prepare a sermon each week.  It can take as much as 20-25 hours to research and properly prepare for 20-25 minute sermon.  And then there are people to visit, relationships to build, administration, planning, visioning, training, etc.  Clergy are usually paid to focus on all the many tasks of leading the church so they don't have to work a separate, secular job that would take up too much time.  But clergy have limitations too.  Clergy tend to spend the majority of their time working with other clergy and people in the church who already know Christ.  You can't evangelize someone who already knows Christ.  Another limitation is that there are relatively few clergy compared to laity.  And that leads into the great strengths of the laity.
            There are so many more laity than clergy.  Consider my church--Pleasant Grove UMC.  Suppose there are 150 people in my congregation on a given Sunday.  If each layperson visited just one person that week (just one person), then the Church could reach 150 people for Christ in one week.  How many people do you think one pastor could visit in a typical week (especially given that they must also prepare a sermon, do administrative work, and keep up with all their other numerous tasks)?  The numerous laity of the Church can reach out to more people than the limited number of clergy.  Furthermore, laity spend most of their time with people in a secular job, school, or other places where non-believing/non-church going people are who need to hear about Christ.
            So when clergy and laity work together capitalizing on each other's strengths, they are a powerful team of priests ministering for Christ.  Clergy focus on researching, planning, training, and leading the laity and the laity go out into the world to do the real ministry of the Church.

POAB has a Mission
            The Priesthood of All Believers has a mission.  Part of our mission is to make Christ real for people.  Most non-Christians think about God in abstract terms--as if he were some spirit or distant deity.  However, Jesus came to make God real for people and offer a personal relationship with Him.  We are called to do the same--to invite people into a real, personal relationship with the Living God through Jesus Christ.
            Legend has it that during World War II, a church building in Strasbourg was destroyed. After the bombing, the members surveyed the area to see what damage was done. They were pleased that a statue of Christ with outstretched hands was still standing. It had been sculpted centuries before by a great artist.  Taking a closer look, the people discovered both hands of Christ had been sheared off by a falling beam. Later, a sculptor in the town offered to replace the broken hands as a gift to the church. The church leaders met to consider the offer and decided not to accept it. They felt the statue without hands would be a great illustration that God's work is done through his people.  For they said, “Christ has no hands to serve but ours…”  You are to be the hands of Christ serving those around us.
            Part of our mission is to be channels of God’s grace.  Remember that!  Grace not judgment.  The Church has gotten a bad reputation for being full of judgmental people--people who think they are holier that everyone else and who look down on everyone else.  And unfortunately, there are many Christians who have that attitude.  Don't ever forget that we are called to be channels of grace, not judgment.  We are sometimes called to make judgments about what is right and wrong and to stand up for what is right, but that is wholly different than being judgmental (and if you've ever seen the difference, you will know it almost immediately).  However, we are no better than anyone else. We are just sinners saved by the grace of God and we should never forget it.  Therefore, let us offer to others the same grace Christ offered to us.  Let us focus on grace and mercy and love 10 times more strongly than anything else.  For Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” (John 13:35)
            Part of our mission is to proclaim the goodness of God – to be light in the midst of darkness, promise the midst of problems, and overcoming the deadly attitudes of selfishness, cynicism, fatalism, and hopelessness that are so widespread in our world today.  There is enough hatred and darkness and pessimism and sarcasm going around in our world.  Don't be part of the problem.  Whether you are on Facebook or Twitter or speaking to your friends and co-workers, seek to be a positive, uplifting influence.  Be the Light in our dark world. 

The Characteristics of the Mission
            The mission of the Priesthood of All Believers has several characteristics.  Our mission is personal.  In other words, it starts with you.  What was it that Jesus said?  "Before you worry about the spec of dust in your neighbor's eyes, first take the log out of your own eye.  When you get the log out of your own eye, you will be able to see more clearly to get the speck of dust out of your neighbor's eye."  Let Jesus get ahold of your life first.  Repent of your own sin.  Open yourself up and let the Hoy Spirit change you.  Then you can go out and be His priest for others.
            Our mission is spiritual.  Don’t ever forget there are spiritual forces at play behind the scenes.  Look deeper at what may be happening in your life and others.  The Bible tells us we are engaged in a mighty spiritual conflict and the spiritual forces of darkness are at war with your soul.  Pray, study, work hard and refuse to become complacent for we are engaged in a spiritual war.
            Our mission is service oriented.  Don’t get big head because you are a royal priest.  Remember what Jesus did and said; John 13:12-15 – “12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.
            The mission is a team effort.  We can’t do this alone.  We weren’t meant to.  Even Jesus had 12 disciples.  Our mission requires teamwork between clergy and laity.  There’s only one of me, but there are many of you.  Plus, you are more out in the world where people need Christ than I am.  Let's all work together to do the work of our Lord.
            The mission calls for our very best.  Remember, you are Christ’s representative.  Doesn’t he deserve you very best effort?  Sometimes people serve the Church with the attitude "Well, I'm not getting paid for this so I don't have to do a spectacular job.  Beggars can't be choosey, right?"  And you know, what am I as a clergy to do and say?  I'm not paying you as a volunteer so it's not like I can cut your pay or something if you don't do a good job.  But what is that saying when it comes to Christ?  He gave His all for you--not even withholding his life.  Are you now then going to say to Him, this mediocre job I've done is good enough?  Heaven forbid!  Give Him your very best!

Be a representative for Christ
            About 10 years ago, my sister called and asked if I could do a funeral for a friend of hers.  You see, her friend had a daughter who was not really living what most would call a "godly" life.  She worked as a stripper.  And she messed around and got pregnant out of wedlock.  And then the pregnancy didn't go well and the baby was born after on 20 weeks (a healthy pregnancy is supposed to last 40 weeks).  The baby survived for a couple weeks in an incubator in a hospital NICU near McDonough, GA.  The mother and grandmother at least had that much time to spend with Augie (that's what they called him as they named him after St Augustine).  If Augie had been born just a week or two later, it might have survived, but 20 weeks is just too early.  The baby died and since they family was not involved in church and had no pastor, they asked if I would do the service and it was my honor. 
            I thought long and hard and prayed a lot about what to say.  What do you say in a situation like that?  I thought maybe I could try to put some kind of positive spin on it, but that just seemed trite and dishonest; besides, how can you do that for a family that is not active in church and may not grasp the complicated concepts of the Christian faith and hope.  I felt God was telling me to say something different.  So as I spoke at the hospital chapel where the funeral was held, I simply said something like this.  "I am here as a representative for my King, Jesus Christ.  I don't understand why things like this happen and I can't give you any answers, but I know that God loves you and He wanted me to be here today to represent Him for you.  I can't imagine the pain and sorrow you feel, but my God does because He also lost a son.  You His Son died on the cross because He loved us so much.  And so, I am here today to represent my King and express His love to you in your time of grief.  He knows your pain and He cares about you."
            God calls us all to represent Him, wherever we go and in whatever situation we find ourselves.  God calls Christians today not to be passive participants in the problem, but to be active partners in the mission—to Be the Church!  We have the opportunity today to make our lives modern-day translations of the Gospels.  (You know some people will never crack open a Bible and read the Gospel, but if you live for Christ they can look at you and read your Gospel).  Each of us has a personal and nontransferable mission: to make Christ real in our lives and share His grace so other may know God’s salvation.  Will you answer the call to serve as God’s Royal Priest?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Home - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…
Hebrews 13:14 – For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.
My Uncle, Gilbert Bigham
Recently, I had the privilege of traveling to Clinton, SC with Mom to visit some relatives.  My 97-year-old uncle, Gilbert Bigham (my Grandma Wingo’s brother and last living sibling), has lung cancer. So Mom and I went to see him.  While there, we visited several other relatives and heard many stories about our family history.  I saw where my Grandpa Wingo grew up and stopped by Bellview Baptist church (the church my ancestors helped found by donating land).

Relatives on my Grandma Wingo's side, (Going Clockwise):
Ann Campbell (Grandma's sister Daisy's daughter),
Kenneth Hamilton (Grandma's sister Hannah's son) and his wife,
Elizabeth Beaty's husband and Elizabeth (Grandma's sister Hannah's daughter),
Harold and Joan Smith (Grandma's sister Ruby's daughter),
and Georgia Mae Brewer (Grandma's sister Hannah's daughter)

I have a rather large family.  Grandma was one of eleven siblings and one adopted child.  (So you can imagine how many cousins and aunts and uncles we have.)  Unfortunately, I didn’t see many of my relatives as I was growing up.  While most of my extended family lived in the Clinton and Laurens, SC area—and many still do—my grandparents were more like Abraham and Sara from the Bible; they moved away from home to make a new life. 

My Grandpa's Childhood Home
Bellview Baptist Church - Laurens, SC
First, my grandparents moved to Savannah, GA where my mom was born while Grandpa built ships for World War II.  Then, Grandpa went to Europe to fight the War.  Afterwards, my grandparents moved to Ohio and lived in a few different towns before settling down in Marengo.  Mom persisted in her parents’
migratory methods.  She graduated high school and moved to Washington DC where she worked for the FBI and met my dad.
I was born in Maryland and lived in two different towns in that state—North Beach until I was 6 and then Silver Springs.  The school kids in Maryland joked about the “southern” accent I inherited from my parents until I was 8 and my family move to Macon, GA.  It was closer to my Dad’s family, but miles from anything I was used to.  Now, the school kids said I sounded like a “Yankee”.  We moved one more time, just far enough that I had to change schools.
Now, I’m not whining.  I was used to all this moving.  It was sad to leave friends and homes behind, but it’s just who we were.  Looking back know, I realize this was a legacy that went back a long way in my family—at least to my Grandma and Grandpa Wingo.  What urged Grandma and Grandpa to wander away from Clinton, SC when everyone else stayed?  Was God leading them to find a new “Promised Land” like Abraham and Sara of the Bible?  I don’t know, but I realize it prepared me for the life I live as an itinerant Methodist preacher.  Since Kelly and I married 23 years ago, we have moved from Macon to Marietta to Lithia Springs to Griffin to Forsyth and now we live in Dalton.  And if the Lord is willing, we will have many more cities and towns to call our “home” over the next 40+ years. 
            People often ask, “Where’re you from?”  Well, you tell me.  Where am I from?  Where is my “home”?  Is it where I was born or where I first went to school?  Is my home where I met my wife and got married?  Is it where I graduated from high school or college or seminary?  Is my home where I live now or where I’m going next?  Or is “home” in Clinton, SC where my ancestors came from or Ireland or France where their ancestors came from?  Well, my life and my faith have taught me this: “Home” is not some place you go back to; “Home”—our real Home—is where we are going.  With Jesus help, we shall get there one day.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…
Remember, God loves you and so do I!
The Wingo Brothers - Robert (my Grandpa) is second from the left