The Space Between

by Kevin Litchfield

I have shared this quote from Jim Branch before, but I feel led to share it again. Jim talks about the time Peter walked on the water to meet Jesus. “There is one particular aspect of this story that has been a wonderful source of reflection for me lately. It involves that sacred space that Jesus invites Simon Peter to step into.

It is the space  between…

Between the boat and Jesus…
Between letting go and being taken hold of…
Between the old and the familiar and the new and unknown…
Between control and agenda and dependence and detachment.

It is the space that is both completely terrifying and unbelievably exciting.
It is the space before your answer has come or your problem has been fixed.
It is the space where you must trust the heart of God alone for your life.
It is the space of genuine transformation.”

The Lord Directs Our Steps

by Kevin Litchfield

Most recently, I was reminded of Proverbs 19:21, “Many plans are in a man’s mind, But it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand (be carried out).”

The Lord directs our steps. SO why try to UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING along the way.

The steps of a [good and righteous] man are directed and established by the Lord, And He delights in his way [and blesses his path]. (Psalm 37:23, AMP).

I was in Cleveland last week serving alongside a mission team of 23. Throughout the week we consistently saw that it is our job to encourage others and share the love of Jesus and leave the results up to God.

May together we learn to trust the Lord and not our own understanding of what we think God may or may not or should be doing.

Praying for an increase of the awareness of His Presence and Peace in the midst of trials, challenges, and successes.

Come on Jesus! We’ll stay out of the way!

The story goes that the call to worship had just been pronounced starting Easter Sunday Morning service in an East Texas church. The choir started its processional, singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” as they marched in perfect step down the center aisle to the front of the church.  The last lady was wearing shoes with very slender heels.

Without a thought for her fancy heels, she marched toward the grating that covered the hot air register in the middle of the aisle. Suddenly the heel of one shoe sank into the hole in the register grate.  In a flash she realized her predicament.  Not wishing to hold up the whole processional, without missing a step, she slipped her foot out of her shoe and continued marching down the aisle.  There wasn’t a hitch.  The processional moved with clock-like precision.  The first man after her spotted the situation and without losing a step, reached down and pulled up her shoe, but the entire grate came with it!  Surprised, but still singing, the man kept on going down the aisle, holding in his hand the grate with the shoe attached.

Everything still moved like clock work. Still in tune and still instep, the next man in line stepped into the open register and disappeared from sight.  The service took a special meaning that Sunday, for just as the choir ended with “Alleluia! Christ arose!” a voice was heard under the church shouting… “I hope all of you are out of the way ‘cause I’m coming out now!”  The little girl closest to the aisle shouted, “Come on, Jesus! We’ll stay out of the way.”

What a powerful reminder to allow God to be God, to move among us, and have His way in our lives and His church. Far too often we try and do things on our own wisdom or strength. We do what makes us comfortable and easy.  We do what we always have done and follow our ways instead of God’s way.  May we always have the attitude of the little girl – “Come on Jesus!  We’ll stay out of the way.”

May we always remember, it is not about us, it is all about Him. To God be the glory, great things He has done, is doing and will do!

(Submitted by Pastor Neal Sweet, Northside Baptist Church)

What I wish Mama Could See and Hear…

It’s been almost five years since my mother died.  She really left us years before, as Alzheimer’s robbed her of her mind.  Sometimes her eyes would lock on you and you could almost feel the part of her brain that was clear of memory robbing plaque trying to communicate.

People ask me from time to time if people in heaven know what’s happening on earth.  The honest answer is “I don’t know.”  God didn’t make that clear.  I do know when people die and go to heaven, they are not converted into angels.  That’s folk theology that isn’t taught in the Bible.  Sometimes I pray and ask God to tell my mother some things I wish she could see and hear.

I wish Mama could see her grandchildren now.  They are all grown and very good looking (some too good looking for their own good).  When Sarah and my niece Katie graduate next year, all of her grandchildren will have graduated from college.  She would be thrilled.  A college education to her represented a real achievement.  She’d be even more amazed that three of the eleven have Master’s degrees.

I wish Mama could hear me say to her, “The older I get, the smarter I realize you were.”  Like every adolescent in the world, I was convinced I knew more than her.  Now I know she had a wisdom that let me try and fail; that spoke her mind when she thought I was making a mistake; and that supported me even when she wasn’t sure about the path I was taking.  I also know that she must had many conversations with my step-father I never knew about, pleading my cause: “Lawrence, don’t make him go fishing again.  That’s just not him.”

I wish Mama could hear me say, “I forgive you.”  When I hear people talk about their perfect mothers, my skepticism kicks in.  I don’t know any perfect mothers.  My Mom had a wounded soul from a father who fell short and from losing a husband far too soon.  She could lose her temper and be very judgmental.  But in many ways, I think she did the best could.  She was like the injured runner who persevered, and finished the race.  As I’ve gotten older and faced my own shortcomings as a parent, I want to apologize for being so judgmental toward her and tell her “I forgive you because I know you were doing the best you could.”

I wish Mama could hear me say “Thank you.”  I never said it enough.  Maybe you don’t realize how much you have to be thankful for until your mother isn’t there.  I want to thank her for reading stories to me, for pushing me to be all I could be, for taking me seriously when I said at four years old, “I want to be a preacher.”  I want to thank her for her imperfect love, the best she could offer.  I want to thank her for being courageous after my father died.  I want to thank her for letting me go explore, which was really the beginning of my passion for next steps.

I wish I could give Mama a Mother’s day gift one more time – like the coffee mug I made for her in 3rd grade that looked like a piece of mud with a handle.  She kept it all her life, ugly as it was, because I made it.

But for me, the window of time has closed.  I can only pray that God lets my mother know these things – and lets her know I still miss her.  I don’t know if God passes on messages, but I’d like to think he does.

And if God passes on messages, I hope he passes on one more.  There’s one more message I’d like Mama to hear:

I love you.  Happy Mother’s Day Mama.

Grace

Clay

The Last Will and Testament of Judas Iscariot…

“I, Judas Iscariot, a troubled soul, do hereby declare this to be my last will and testament.  In a few moments I will end my life, because I have committed the most despicable deed and I can no longer live with myself.

Just eight hours ago, I betrayed my Master, the one I believed would deliver my people from the Roman oppressors.  Now he hangs on a cross, beaten, sure to die before the sun goes down.  I will die before him, though only God knows what waits for me on the other side of death.

I began to follow Jesus three years ago.  I had heard of him, of course.  His teaching was like no other: plain, understandable.  A power radiated from him.  When he beckoned me to follow him, I cast aside my labor, left my father and mother, and went with him.  Something in him kindled hope in my own heart.

The miracles amazed me; such power!  Could such power be used against the Romans?  Could Jesus drive them out and restore the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of God?  That was my hope, my dream, my passion.

I knew Jesus was closest to Peter, John, and James, of course.  But I knew I was special to him.  Soon after our journey together began, he approached me with the sack of money given to him by some well-meaning women.  ‘Look after it,’ he said.  He trusted me.

Why then did I betray this man?  I thought he was losing touch with reality.  During the past three months, he talked about his death and then coming back to life.  The words were clear enough, but we did not understand what he meant.  For all his talk about the Kingdom of God, it was plain he was not going to raise an army to fight the Romans.  The hopes I had for our people began to dim.

During this last week, it was obvious Jesus was on a collision course with our leaders.  It was on Tuesday, when he was teaching in the Temple, that something in me broke.  He spoke of being a judge, of coming back at an unexpected time.  I saw him turn his back on financial security for his ministry and watched perfume worth a great sum flow onto the floor, wasted with the dust.

The thought entered my mind: ‘What if I told the religious leaders where to find him?’ They would reward me.  Jesus would have the chance to show his power and be the Messiah I expected him to be.  Or I would realize my dreams had been placed in the wrong man.  Either way, I could force him to reveal who he truly was.

I made my deal with the religious leaders; I sought my chance; I led the soldiers to the place I knew he would be.  Then I called him “Master” for the last time and kissed him.

The soldiers pushed me aside. I stood on the fringes of his trials.  A sinking feeling began to overtake my heart.  Why was he not displaying his power?  As I watched him stand before Pilate, a wave of nausea hit me.  He was going to let himself be killed.  I knew nothing he had done was deserving of death.  A rush of memories flooded my soul: the time he calmed the storm, the way he smiled at me, the compassion in his voice when he told me last night, ‘Do it quickly.’

As they led him off to Skull Place, I charged the smirking priests.  ‘He’s innocent,’ I cried.  ‘Stop this!  Take back your money.’

With cynical smiles they smirked, ‘It’s out of our hands now, and yours.’

I threw the money at them and ran from the plaza.  I passed a rope dealer and a plan leapt into my mind.  I purchased a length of rope, enough to do the job.

Now, I sit under the shade of this tree, penning these words, in hopes that whoever finds them will learn from me:  I should have stayed with Jesus, even when I did not understand.

I leave my cloak, my sandals, and my all my possessions to my brother Justus.  May my shame not touch him or my parents.

A hangman’s noose awaits.  God have mercy on my soul.”

Will you stay with Jesus even when you do not understand?

Grace,

Clay

 

 

Your Unique Vision

by Kevin Litchfield

I have been reading a book lately called Church Unique by Will Mancini. One section jumped out at me. I believe it is one of our deepest traps among churches and leaders. The trap of copying other leaders or churches instead of leading in a way that is Unique to your church and ministry. listen to what he says: “Leaders in the vortex of the ‘VISION VACUUM’ clamor for the right tools, programs, and resources to propel their church forward… The result is massive cloning and a glut of photocopied vision in the body of Christ…” Mancini says though there is a better way. A better way of leadership includes the discipline of careful observation and vibrant imagination, and demanding collaboration that forges a UNIQUE VISION based on what God is uniquely doing in each church’s unique context… Until leaders not only embrace uniqueness but celebrate and leverage it, they will miss out on God’s best for their ministry. The answer is having a vision that oozes, that is original, organic, zeroed in, and extravagant. When leaders start thinking clearly, engaging locally, focusing redemptively, and risking boldly, their church becomes an unstoppable force and an irresistible influence.”

May we be Kingdom people who seek the eyes and ears of Jesus..

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33, NLT)

Have A “Put On” Attitude

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:12-17).

These words stand out in these verses:  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience.

Compassion:  Sympathy says, “I hurt with you.”  Empathy says, “I feel your pain.”  Compassion says, “I’ll do anything I can to stop your hurt. Kindness:  Love in action.  Meeting the needs of others; physical, mental, emotional. Humility:  Admitting mistakes, sharing responsibility; sharing credit. Gentleness:  Strong strength.  Handle people with care.  Meekness is strength under control. Patience:  Putting up with those you’d like to put down.

“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (v. 14).

The Greatest Gift: Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.”  All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever.  It’s like this: when I was a child I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I became a man my thoughts grew far beyond those of my childhood, and now I have put away the childish things.  In the same way, we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.  There are three things that remain—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Praising God for His Relentless, Redeeming Love

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).

In her book, When Wallflowers Dance, Angela Thomas writes, “Redemption is God bringing good out of bad, leading us to wholeness, and the experience of God’s amazing power.  Redemption means that out of our greatest pain can come our most profound personal mission in life.”

I believe there are Christians who are forgiven, and are still lying on a bed of affliction; always returning to the point of their failure.  Although they have been forgiven and released by God through the authority of Jesus, they continually struggle with freedom; questioning, ”Has God truly forgiven me?”  The reality is: He has forgiven them.  Still others struggle with picking up the pieces of their broken lives.  Caught up in their failures; they remain captive to their past; returning to a point in time where they failed God.  Although the world will say, “You made your bed; now lie in it.”  But Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.  Take up your bed and walk!”

Then, your heart will sing, Hallelujah!  “I am redeemed, You set me free so I’ll shake off these heavy chains, wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be. I am redeemed, I’m redeemed” (lyrics by Big Daddy Weave).

A while back, I was listening to a message, Cross of Jesus, by Dr. Jack Hayford.  Dr. Hayford encouraged his congregation with these words:  “Whatever has shaped your life until this moment doesn’t have any claim on where He wants to take you from here on.  Whatever has been problematic or disappointing the Lord calls us to come to terms with this:  It’s dead!  That’s what the cross was all about – the nailing not only all our sins, but also of everything that restricts us from stepping into tomorrow.”

Through confession and invitation, Jesus will bring health, healing, and restoration to your soul.  When you look to Jesus and call on Him, He will take what the enemy tried to use to destroy your faith and give you a stronger faith so you can proclaim the mercy, grace, and faithfulness of our God to others!  God will allow experiences to turn into testimonies that bring hope and encouragement to others.

My prayer today is that you will be encouraged to “put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption” (Psalm 130:7).

The Day Dreams Come True …

This Sunday is a day when dreams will come true.  I’m not talking about the Super Bowl.  I’m talking about the dream of Alice Drive becoming one church in two locations.

The church began as one church in many locations.  Acts 2:46 tells us the first followers of Jesus met in homes.  It would be decades before Jesus followers thought about having a physical location.

Over time, Jesus followers lost sight of this idea: that the church is a movement, not a location.  Instead, we were consumed with real estate.  We built grand cathedrals and brush arbors, thinking a church wasn’t a church unless it had a roof, four walls, and a deed.

The modern multi-site movement began as churches began to run out of space.  Blocked by local zoning laws or the restriction of finances, they leveraged technology to bring a service to another physical location.  Today in North America, over 5,000 churches exist as one church with more than one physical location.

For a long time, I observed this movement and thought it would not apply to Alice Drive.  Sumter, I thought, was too small.  Anyone who wanted to attend could easily reach us.  Then two things happened.  First, I saw a study stating if a person lived more than ten minutes away from the physical location of a church, their participation (attendance, service, and giving) dropped by half.  A quick mapping of our membership showed over 200 households beyond a ten-minute drive, clustered around the Pocalla/Lakewood area.

The second thing that happened was reading about Brand New Church in Arkansas.  Shannon O’Dell had a vision to serve the underserved communities in northern Arkansas by becoming a multi-site church.  He went to the least of these with a satellite truck, merging with dying churches in small towns to create a healthy, thriving congregation where none existed before.  Today, Brand New Church has four campuses in forgotten places, drawing over 2,000 people each weekend.

A whisper from God seized me.  If this could be done in Arkansas, why couldn’t it be done in South Carolina?  That day, a dream was born.  The dream was to spread the health God gave Alice Drive beyond 1305 Loring Mill Road.

In the 60 months that have passed since that whisper from God, I’ve shared this vision with our staff team, with the Vision Council, and with our Deacons.  All of them are committed to help as many as possible take their next step toward Jesus – and they saw the connection.  I think they heard the whisper from God too.

This Sunday, Pocalla Church launches publicly.  People volunteered to be pioneers, to go and serve.  People gave sacrificially so we can resource this campus.  Staff team members stepped up to go, help, and train.  On Sunday, we take our next step and become one church in two locations.  Sunday is the day the dream comes true.

This is our next step, but it’s not our last step.  All my life I’ve loved Jesus’ church.  It literally breaks my heart to see churches that once were thriving, dying.  This week, 80 churches will close in the United States.  It’s like a lighthouse that is going out of business: the money has run out for lamp oil, but the warning still needs to be given.  I believe with all my heart that God is going to open doors of opportunity for us to go to the forgotten corners of South Carolina, and be Jesus to people who lost sight of what church, Jesus’ body, could be.

Thank you for stepping up to this whisper from God.  I don’t know how it will all turn out; but I know God is leading us!

God has a dream and we are part of it. Sunday, one more piece comes true!

Grace,

Clay

Why My Daughter was in Tampa, but Not at the Game…

For those of you who have been comatose the last four days, Clemson defeated Alabama Monday night to win the Football National Championship.  My daughter, Sarah, was in Tampa, but she didn’t make it into the game.

The background of the story is this: when Abram, my oldest, attended Duke, they made it to the Final Four in Basketball.  Figuring this was a once in a life-time opportunity, we made arrangements to go.  My cousin Ned, who is well connected, got us tickets, and we saw Duke defeat the hometown Cinderella team, Butler, in the last second.

I promised Hannah that if UNC-Chapel Hill made it to the Final Four while she was a student, I would take her to the games.  Unfortunately, they never made it.

Naturally, Sarah expected the same bargain when she attended Clemson.  Last year, I asked her if she wanted to go to the National Championship Game in Arizona.  Too far, she said.  But this year, the game would be in Tampa, home to many cousins with spare bedrooms.

We held our breath after Pitt beat Clemson.  Would they climb back into contention? After winning the ACC championship, Sarah declared she was going to Tampa if they beat Ohio State.

When the dismemberment of Ohio State was over, we arranged for her to stay with my wonderful cousin Marti.  Sarah put her deposit in for the Student Ticket Lottery.  She prayed for a ticket.  Last week came the crushing news that she was not one of the 500 selectees (Note to the NCAA: Only 500 student tickets for each school?  Really?  Remember it’s the National Collegiate Athletic Association, not the National Corporate Athletic Association).  She began to search for tickets on line, but they were outrageous.

She came to me with tears in her eyes, “Daddy, I’ve been praying, and Jesus wants me to go to the National Championship Game.  Will you find me a ticket?  Will you put it out on your Facebook and Twitter account that your beloved daughter will be unfaithful to Jesus if she doesn’t go?”

Sarah was claiming to have heard a whisper from God.  What could I say?  I was launch a message series about listening to God and doing what He says.  I put up the post.  I was hoping someone would respond and say, “Beloved pastor, I have four tickets, and God told me to give them to you so Sarah and her friends could go to the game.”  Apparently, no one was listening to that whisper from God.

Instead, I got an offer to buy one ticket, for $1,800.  One ticket.  Now, I could buy that ticket for Sarah, but her friends would still be outside the stadium. Plus, we just paid for a pretty nice Christmas for all.  Plus, I just replaced the front hubs on my truck, requiring me to sell my right kidney.  I was a little short on discretionary funds. I had to tell Sarah, “No.”

I expect her to start speaking to me again in 2019.

Sarah made the trip anyway, hoping against hope they would find a way in.  They did get to go to a free concert and hang out around the stadium.  No angel, however, came to their rescue.  The price of tickets did not drop at kickoff.  They watched the game from a sketchy pizza place (her words).  Still, they basked in the glow of victory.

So why did Sarah go to Tampa, but not go to the game?  Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it is wise.  And just because you think Jesus has told you to go to the game, doesn’t mean you heard Him correctly.  Hard lessons for college kid.  Hard lessons for us all.

 

Grace

Clay