Monday, November 6, 2017

Sense from the senseless...

Yesterday was a great morning at ChristCentral Baptist Church. You could sense the Holy Spirit’s presence the entire morning. People were expecting God to speak and visit His people. It was evident to me that God had answered my wee-early morning prayer time to give me Holy Spirit anointing in preaching the text from Philippians 1:19-21 “Christ Magnified.” I spoke of two promises God makes to His children that it is worth it to sell out to Jesus Christ and magnify Christ with our lives. Those promises are the promise of the Holy Spirit and the promise of an eternity with Christ. Those two promises are encapsulated in vs. 21 from Paul: “To live Christ, to die gain.” I challenged our church to give God a blank check with your life because wether you live or die, you have the Holy Spirit living empowering you from within and death is a promotion to Heaven. It’s nowhere to be found in my notes but I even used an example of if someone walked into church and put a gun to you head demanding you renounce Christ - what would you do? For believers; they can be assured the Holy Spirit would help them in that moment. 
Little did I know a mere 117 miles up the road at FBC Sutherland Springs Texas an evil  madman, an agent of Satan himself, was going to church to murder as many people as he could who were there to worship Jesus. As of this morning I heard he had murdered 26 innocent people including a number of children. Many of us are trying to make some sort of sense out of this awful, evil act of a coward. We are asking “why God?” I wish I could give you the answers to the why questions. I’m sure the evil motive of the murderer will come out as the law enforcement investigation continues. But that will not answer why. 
However, Jeremiah 17:9 gives us an insight as to why: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” The Ralph Green translation of that verse just concludes: “And don’t we know it?” If there was ever an illustration of that verse it was what took place at FBC Sutherland Springs yesterday. The evil in that man’s heart goes back to the fall of man in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve plunged this world into sin by rebelling against God presuming themselves to be like God. Satan authored that evil act and he authored the actions of this murdering gunman preying on people who were intent on worshipping Jesus Christ. It mirrors the evil in Cain’s heart that rose up and murdered his brother who was worshipping God the way God commanded and not through Cain’s invention.
Secondly, we’re angry. I mean boiling angry that causes us to say things like we hope that guy rots in Hell forever and ever. I’m sure he is doing just that even now as I type this based on the Word of God. But the anger we feel in no way compares to the anger God has against all sin. We really have no clue how much our own sin angers God. We have no idea how much evil we are also capable of carrying out. And we certainly can barely grasp how just one of our sins was enough for God the Father to take His wrath against our wickedness out on His own Son Jesus Christ. We may not like it and we may not want that evil murdering gunman to have access to salvation but the fact remains Jesus’ death on the cross paid for that unconscionable deed yesterday too. I think about what God said through the prophet Isaiah in 18:23 - “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” God continues down in verse 32 with a clarion call to repent: “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” We must remember in our anger that we’re are capable of this and much more apart from the grace of God. I know I’m a great sinner; but I am so grateful to God I have an infinitely greater Savior; His name is Jesus Christ. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Finally I think events like this should remind us of the urgency of our task to be witnesses for Christ and share the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if this madman had heard the Gospel. Some reports say he had family ties to this church. Maybe he attended VBS or Sunday School. I have no idea.While we cannot do anything to introduce him to Jesus Christ today; there is someone today God wants us to engage with the Gospel. Events like this illustrate the uncertainty of life and that we’re not guaranteed our next breath. So we need to spend our lives for Jesus and His Kingdom because it’s the only thing that will not disappoint in the end.
My heart is broken for the families of those slain, the pastor of that church and his precious wife who lost their 14 year young daughter and half of their church. I’m broken hearted for that community, for people in my own church who know families and victims of this senseless act of evil. My heart is broken for the trauma on the law enforcement and first responders who are processing the scene and what it does to them. Having served in law enforcement myself; the gruesome nature of their jobs today is more than enough to break even the most seasoned of them. They will carry those scars forever. Pray for God to pour out boatloads of grace upon those heroes and everyone grappling with senseless loss.
Say a prayer of gratitude to God for a couple of resident heroes - one who had the God given courage to engage this madman with his own rifle to put a stop to the carnage and the other resident who drove the truck in pursuit of an evil doer. It is rare to find people who charge after danger and evil like those two men did yesterday. And as you go about your day; keep looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith knowing full well He is King Jesus, He’s seated on His throne and He’s making intercession for us. He will make all things right someday and we will trust in His divine redemptive plan. Even yesterday I listened to our state convention director Jim Richards being interviewed and he clearly and calmly shared Jesus who a national audience. It was Christ being magnified as I had been preaching that morning! 
Trying to make sense of the senseless, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Brother Ralph

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"At your word..."

I HATE MOVING! My wife will testify that I don't do this very well, probably because I'm such a creature of habit; when things "aren't in their spot" it just throws me for a loop. Honestly it would be easier to just stay put and forget it. This causes my dear wife a great deal of stress because she nearly kills herself trying to get stuff unpacked and settled for her weird husband. SHE IS SIMPLY AMAZING! Honey I love you and I owe you a cruise. Over the last month we've been trying to get settled in our new home and ministry in Corpus Christi Texas. While I may hate moving, I have to go  when I hear the Lord say to me it's time for me to join Him in another assignment.

For those of you who've never moved cross country, the logistics of that are monumental. I am so thankful to the Lord for His grace and provision to make this move probably one of the smoothest transitions we've ever had. It was still full of stress, mostly related to the close timing of closing on the sale of our house in Moundsville West Virginia on a Friday and being able to close on this new home in Corpus on Monday morning. Yet the Lord worked out the myriad of details and supplied the funds we needed on both ends. The distance required a moving company that would do a long distance move and Cheryl and I both remembered our move to Houston several years ago from New Hampshire where we were without our belongings for 40 days! Thankfully this time, the company we used from Pittsburg did a great job and were right on time.

Over the last month, I've watched the Lord work out detail, after detail, after detail. Multiple miracles literally stacked up on top of one another. I tell you all this because in my Quiet Time this morning, my reading was from Luke 5 when Jesus first called His disciples. Simon Peter and his buddies had fished all night and had caught nothing. Their boats were empty on the shore and they were cleaning their nets and preparing them for the next time. Jesus came along and used Peter's empty boat as a make shift pulpit. He sat down in true rabbinical fashion and began to teach people the word of God. The context seems to indicate Peter and the other fishermen were listening to Jesus' teaching while they kept on working. After fishing all night, dragging those nets up and down, over and over again, catching nothing; I can say with certainty these hard working, blue collar, "salt of the earth" kind of guys probably wanted to do nothing else but go to sleep. As Jesus wrapped up his teaching, He addressed Simon, his nets drying nearby, and told Peter to relaunch the boat into the deep, put out his nets he just finished cleaning and Jesus specifically said "for a catch" in vs. 4. 

Now Peter had a big choice to make didn't he? He could have blown off what Jesus said and just dismissed it. He could have had a smart-aleck wise crack with a few choice words for the preacher to get out of his boat so he could go get some much needed rest. He could have made excuses about how much he had yet to do for his wife and kiddos at the house that morning before he could go to sleep. But old Peter didn't do that. He called Jesus "Master." That means he had surrendered his will to the will of this new preacher who showed up - much more than a preacher, the Messiah, the Christ, the Hope of Israel. Simon told the Lord (I believe for our benefit) that they had labored all night and caught nothing! Professional fisherman came up empty. That's a tough expensive night. That means no food on the table from the sale of the catch, bills aren't going to be paid and mama ain't going to be happy she can't go to the Galilee HEB or Walmart to buy food, school supplies and clothes for the kids.

Notice what Peter said however in Luke 5:5 "But at your word, I will let down the nets." Peter responded in obedience to the word of the Lord. He responded in faith to what Jesus said, that Peter needed to do this... "for a catch." Of course the rest of the story is they had such a fish haul their nets were breaking and they had to summon James and John to come help them. This fish catch was so huge Peter recognized it to be a miracle by the hand of His Creator and he was instantly, painfully aware of his sinful condition (vs. 8). The Bible says they were astonished at the catch of fish - literally they were afraid because they knew they were in the presence of God in the flesh. Jesus reassured them they were going to be catching men from now on.

A couple of quick thoughts of application to consider:
1. Obedience to the word of the Lord by faith is never convenient. When God speaks to us through His word, it always requires a faith response and it is always going to stretch us and move us away from the safety and convenience of the status quo. Yet the promises of God and responding to them in faith and obedience produce great blessing! Not just material blessings as in this case; but spiritual blessings! Peter learned that his sins can be forgiven. He saw God at work in and through his faith and obedience and it forever changed his life. "At your word" - Oh how I hope and pray you will respond to what God says to you daily in faith and obedience and watch God do incredible stuff in your life each day and also in the lives of others!

2. This encounter with Jesus perfectly illustrates what Jesus would later teach His disciples in John 15  in the parable of the vine and the branches where Jesus said in John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." Peter and his buddies tried hard, they worked and labored all night with no success. They did all they could do and had nothing to show for it. "But at your word..." They got invited to go work where Jesus was working and it made all the difference in the world. So are you laboring in your flesh and strength alone or are you abiding in Christ? Sure it takes time to have a quiet time with the Lord in the morning or evening when you have other stuff to do, or you want to veg and watch TV; or you want to have time to stop by the new Starbucks to grab coffee on your way to work. Abiding in Christ means you have to sacrifice things like sleep to get up a little earlier or stay up a little later like Peter did in Luke 5. Jesus showed His new disciples that time spent laboring in obedience and faith is never wasted time! Joshua 1:8 says "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." Same principle, same result. "At your word" means the success and results of our labors for Him are in Jesus' Almighty and all powerful hands, not in our feeble pitiful fingers.

3. Finally, you know the old saying: "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Peter could have placed his wife and family on a higher priority that day. Sadly a lot of men do that every day. They labor ridiculous amounts of hours trying to provide a lifestyle for their wives and children to make them happy. Yet in the end it all collapses and their family is falling apart and they don't understand why. Men, as the spiritual leaders of your home, put Jesus first, obey Him and His word each day no matter how inconvenient it is. Leave the results to God. I bet Peter's wife that day was pretty pleased that her hard working husband decided to respond in faith and obedience "at your word."

I plan to obey the Lord "at your word" today, from my little corner of the world to yours. Will you join me?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The dusty, rusty "pen"...

Often times in life we go through seasons where we are engaged in something that we enjoy to do and we find satisfaction in those endeavors. We may take up a new hobby that we are passionate about, but after some period of time, our interest fades and we stop for a variety of reasons. Time passes but suddenly that passion is rekindled and we pick it back up again. I kind of feel that way when it comes to writing because for about 5 years, several years ago, I needed to do a newsletter every couple of weeks so I wrote in this space called "Ralph's Corner." I don't know how regularly I'll write but I hope it will be more often than it has been, maybe not as much as it was in days gone by. I'll leave it to the Lord to guide me and we'll see how it goes. I do find great satisfaction in sharing my heart and I enjoy sharing words of encouragement the Lord gives me in written form if anyone cares to read it. There have been some things going on in my life that kind of dried up that desire to write but recently my desire and need to write have been rekindled. So I'm dusting off, cleaning off the rusty "pen" and refilling the ink so to speak through the aid of modern technology and computers.
In 1998 in McAllen, Texas, on a hot summer afternoon driving home from work, God clearly confirmed His call to me to vocational ministry as a pastor. It wasn't something I wanted in my younger days growing up in a pastors home. But as I walked with God and grew in my faith as a disciple through the ministries of FBC McAllen and under the preaching and teaching ministry of Dr. Bill Sutton, God began grooming me for pastoral ministry. That call of God began a journey and as Cheryl and I walked with God; that walk led us to North Carolina to seminary to prepare for ministry. We bloomed for a season there of 3 years and sunk roots even though we knew God would someday move us to a field of full time service. We joined Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church, got plugged in and I began teaching Sunday School; Cheryl worked in AWANAS and we loved and ministered to people while preparing for full time ministry. We established friendships there that last to this day. We loved our Pastor, Bill Bowyer, who loved on us and encouraged us. He modeled tremendous Pastoral leadership and a passion for missions that still impacts me today. It was sad for us and hard to say good bye to our brothers and sisters to go plant a church in Littleton, New Hampshire. But we had to obey God who once again came calling in the summer of 2001.
Our walk with Christ landed us far from family and friends in a pioneer area for the Gospel in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire with the express purpose of planting a church to the glory of God. By the grace of God we planted Crossroads Baptist Church or "Crossroads Church" as it's known locally. We bloomed where God planted us in Littleton and loved serving the Lord there and reaching people with the Gospel. What was awesome about it was that our brothers and sisters from Wake Cross Roads in North Carolina came on mission trips way up there to help us. What joy they brought us and what a blessing and encouragement they were in those early days. Brothers and sisters from FBC McAllen came in force several times nearly 2500 miles across the country to join God in the work He was doing through us. We saw God do miracle after miracle in New Hampshire changing life after life for the glory of God. I went there to pastor and my dream and my plan was to start and pastor the same church for 40 years or something like that. But God had other plans! It was hard for me when God found me and once again clearly called me to pack up my family another time and move, this time in 2006 to serve as an Associate Pastor with Pastor David Lino in Houston, Texas. 
Oh the heartache and gut wrenching goodbyes we had leaving Littleton and it was brutally hard for the saints there we left behind. But we had no choice! God called with another assignment and we knew it was His will for us so we moved. The new season of assignment lasted 2 1/2 years helping a new church plant get from the 2 1/2 year mark to the 5 year mark. We bloomed in Houston and loved our church family at Faith Family Baptist Church in Kingwood. We still have warm relationships and love those saints dearly as we served the Lord together. Again, we saw God do miracle after miracle reaching people as He birthed and grew a new church. It was a surprise to me in some ways but not in others when God started calling my number again. At the end of 2008 God called me to another assignment; this time to serve as the senior pastor of a growing church called Calvary Baptist Church in Bel Air, Maryland. The Green family circus packed up again and moved back across the country and sunk roots in Maryland because home is where you hang your hat and where God puts you. I'm still a Ravens fan and Orioles fan. You can bet one of the first things I did this morning was check the score from last nights game as the O's beat the Angels 6-2 on the west coast! For 5 years we labored, served and loved that church and community. Again God blessed and the impact for the kingdom of God from our time in Maryland will last for eternity. We continue warm friendships with many of the saints there as we’ve done every place we've been. We pray for one another and share life together. Thankfully through the aid of cell phones and social media platforms we have stayed connected. God drew my ministry in Maryland to a close at the end of 2013 and for a season we didn't know where God was going to place us next. 
God was preparing us but gave us time to rest as we'd been in a full ministry sprint by that point for 12 years in full time pastorates and really 15 years if you count the 3 years of sleepless work, study and ministry while in seminary. Cheryl and I were exhausted. Rachel & Ginny were married and having grandkids (whew hoo!), Beth was finishing college and Ralph and Garrett were in High School with Ralph about to graduate and enter the military. It was hard to be patient and wait on God, not knowing what the next chapter would bring. Looking back on that season, I am truly thankful God allowed us to rest. I realized I was so tired from the riggers and deep stress of pastoral ministry having been through some deep waters. So tired in fact I was seriously considering leaving the pastorate and taking a job in the secular world. The thought of being a faithful Sunday School teacher, supporting and encouraging a pastor had a degree of appeal to me. I know in my heart that you can never go backwards with God; but I remembered how much fun ministry was when I served as a volunteer. That may not sound very spiritual but it's true. Of course Satan would have loved to lead me down that path so the spiritual warfare going on in my heart was intense. Questions of doubt; questions of my leadership ability (or lack of it) rolled around in my head as I wrestled with the fact that I had no job, no ministry prospects and after 5 years still hadn’t sold our home in Texas. The corporate world was something I knew before God called me to ministry; I thought if I went back to selling something we could survive. I really didn’t want to uproot Garrett yet again. While this spiritual wrangling was going on; God blessed me with a season where Cheryl and I spent nearly every moment together, interrupted briefly by her continued work part time then as a nurse. Every day was a date day even if the “date" was going to Sonic for happy hour - let’s just say that the Route 44 Diet Coke with lime was consumed a little too much… Cheryl and I drew even more close - something I didn’t think was possible. 
Thankfully God doesn’t ever quit on us! While I felt like a worn out old tool in a forgotten tool box buried in an old garage; God knew exactly where I was and what my skills are and how to use me. As the “Master Craftsman”, He didn’t need to use me at that point and just allowed me to rest; think and pray. The great thing about God is that His Word speaks to us daily if we’ll just open it, read it, study it, listen to God and obey God as He speaks. While I persevered in my quiet time and Bible Study, even though I was in a difficult place in my spirit and Satan was beating me up; I read one morning Romans 11:29 “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” 9 words, a simple but profound word from God to my battered and bruised spirit. I felt the warmth of Jesus’ love envelope me; like a warm spring sun that warms your back and knocks the chill off. I knew the corporate world was not what God had for me. I knew He’d called me as a pastor - something that took two careers, one in law enforcement and another in business as part of God’s growing process in my case for pastoral ministry. I knew none of that experience would be wasted by God. While I didn’t know where God would put me; I had confidence He’d get around to it when He was good and ready, when He knew I was ready.
Cheryl was praying in her quiet time that God wouldn’t make it a multiple choice test; like we’d experienced before moving to Maryland from Texas. (I had three churches, all named Calvary Baptist Church in three parts of the country who were having discussions with me. I jokingly told Cheryl I didn’t know where we were going but I was pretty sure it was going to be to Calvary!) God answered Cheryl’s prayer with one option and called me to Moundsville Baptist Church in the northern panhandle of West Virginia to follow a pastor who served here for 47 years. A crazy assignment from a human point of view - like Joshua following Moses. Besides they are Steelers fans around here and I’m a Ravens fan but that didn’t scare them away. God called me to serve here and that ministry began on our 29th wedding anniversary - Sunday June 8th, 2014. We have loved the people, God has blessed us with a great house that has been a great gathering place for the church and for our now grown family. We’ve seen God do some great things and some lives impacted I believe for His honor and glory. 
Everywhere God has moved me I’ve always gone with a long term view and have planned to stay till Jesus comes. I’ve led our family to “bloom where we’re planted.” So why am I sharing all of this history of God’s working, moving and calling in our lives? Because I need to demonstrate how God has consistently and patiently worked in life of the Green family. You see God has in fact called me yet again to move. This time to serve as the first pastor of a large church plant in the Corpus Christi Texas area at ChristCentral Baptist Church. For those who know us from previous ministry and church fields we’ve served; you probably don’t find this news shocking at all. You’ve kept up with us and continued to love and pray for us. You may even have a bit of excitement stirring in your hearts to hear the Green family circus is on the move again and you are looking forward to seeing what God will do in this next chapter. (I’m not arrogant enough to believe that’s the case but one might hope so. 😀)
For my current Moundsville Baptist Church family; this news has crushed many of you and for that I am profoundly saddened and sorry. Here in Marshall County, we are a stable close-knit community. A small town where everyone knows everyone, is related to someone and where people are born, raised and spend their entire lives. Sons follow in their father’s footsteps in the coal mine industry or the plant - whichever one it is and the name it goes by today. You’ve never had a pastor leave you before. You are used to a 47 year tenured pastor who is still a member of our church, faithfully teaches Sunday School weekly and is in church every Sunday. That is your “normal.” You are used to the stability of family and long-term friend relationships that living in this corner of the world affords and it is a good thing. The local papers routinely advertise family reunions happening all over our community and everyone in your family will be there because they are all close by.
I’ve never really known that. I followed my dad in his ministry roles being born in Indiana while dad was in seminary; to Piney View WV, to Ravenna Ohio, to Elkview WV and then on to Richmond Virginia for my junior high and high school years. The longest place Cheryl and I have ever lived together in our marriage was for the first 13 years in McAllen before God called me into the ministry. So to my current MBC church family; please understand I truly was not looking for this. God found me and has called me to a new place of service. 
The best analogy I can give you is in the plant situations you all are familiar with. The industrial plants here are huge! Miles and miles of piping; electrical lines; mechanical structures, conveyor belts, cogs, gears, machinery and most importantly teams of people with different jobs, skills and areas of expertise and responsibility. You are very familiar with a foreman coming to get a team of welders or steel workers to go repair a break or build on in a different section of the plant. You are used to being laid off for a season while a shutdown takes place and the union shop gets you on in a different plant. You need to view this change God is making in our lives in that same fashion. 
God has a need to use me and my meager skills elsewhere and I have no choice but to obey Him. Not only does God have the right to make this change; He has all the authority to make this call as the Head of the church! If I ignore God’s call; it will not go well for me or Moundsville Baptist Church! Some of you feel like I betrayed you by not telling you ahead of time. You can’t believe you were hearing of this for the very first time this past Sunday when I announced my resignation. You’re in shock, some of you are angry, a very real stage of the grieving process. I get it. That’s why I’m writing this very long article because I love you and I deeply care for how you are feeling, your emotions and distress this is causing you. I am deeply sorry if you feel that way. I literally did not know for sure this would be a reality until the church in Corpus affirmed God’s call to become their first pastor when they voted to call me with a 99% vote on July 30th. I shared the news with you the very next Sunday. The Scriptures tell us we are not to put a stumbling block in our brother or sisters way. So how can I tell you I’m moving if I don’t know for sure? Why would I unsettle you and put doubt in your heart that I might be moving before it is a done deal in case the thing completely fell apart and never came to reality? I could never do that to you! Yes, I kept this possibility close to my chest with my family, a few very close ministry friends and believers I asked to pray with me about God’s leading. I did this precisely because we live in a small community and I know from experience the rumor mill can cause much damage with speculation and questions. Misunderstandings often take on a life of their own. My intentions were to protect you from unnecessary heartache and difficulty; but you all know as I’ve told you for weeks now, that I’ve always given God a blank check with my life.
A word of caution and encouragement is in order. First, be careful in your grieving process that your anger does not become sinful by hanging on to it. If you do, in reality you are not angry with me; you are angry with God. God has confirmed His call for me to this new field of service directly from His word using Hebrews 11:11-16 during my quiet time. I have no doubt I’m to be the first pastor of this new church plant. I’ve known we’d be involved in church planting again someday I have supported the church planting process in other ministry locations; but it’s taken 11 years for God prepare me to do it again personally. Please come talk to me in the next week or so and I’ll be happy to share the story of what God has done if it will help you understand. My door is open, my phone is always on if you care to chat. 
Secondly be encouraged! Everywhere I’ve pastored I still consider those saints, sheep God has entrusted to me. A change of ministry location doesn’t mean I can’t still care for you, pray for you if you call me with a need; message me on Facebook, send me an email or a text message. I faithfully pray for the needs my bothers and sisters share with me. I want that to continue with my MBC family but that’s up to you to pursue. You can also be encouraged that God may grant us the joy of working on mission partnerships and projects together possibly with RUHU or other places as we serve the Lord. Who knows how our great God will direct our paths? Maybe God will send a mission team from MBC to Corpus to join God in reaching the lost people there? Please know of my love for all of you. Keep your eyes on Jesus, He is your Savior, not a field hand named Ralph Green. Pray for us in transition & encourage us as we step out in faith once again in response to God’s call. Hoping I’ve knocked the dust off my “pen” & it won’t rust to encourage you; from my little corner of the world to yours…

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Spiritual lessons from the Cicadas...

May 31, 2016

As I type this, there is a distinct and some would say obnoxious sound going on outside. I can hear this sound from inside my office, with music playing on my computer. It’s those strange little bugs called Cicadas; the Brood V 17 year Cicada to be exact. These unusual and curious creatures haven’t made an appearance for 17 years and they last time this Valley was introduced to them was in 1999. In 1999, Bill Clinton was President and was impeached by the US Senate (I’ll resist commenting further); Michael Jordan announced his retirement only to return a year or so later; a professional wrestler named Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota, the horrific and tragic shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado took place where several Christian students were killed, the Space Shuttle Discovery completed the first docking at the international space station. In 1999 the average price of gas was about $1.14 a gallon and Cecil H. Underwood was Governor of West Virginia! All that to say a lot has happened since these Cicadas came on the scene.

They seem to be the topic of conversation and curiosity and I’ve been interested in them myself. I’ve heard a number of people question their purpose and comment they have pitiful lives. After all, they are buried in the soil for 17 years and when the ground temperature reaches 65 degrees 8 inches below the surface and the rain loosens the soil, they emerge by the millions crawling up trees, shedding their outer shell and for 6 weeks they produce an ear splitting cacophony of noise that gets louder as the day goes on. Their dead bodies litter our sidewalks, driveways and yards to where you can’t walk without stepping on them and we wonder what in the world God had in mind when He created these things? Here are some quick spiritual lessons we can learn from the Cicada.

1. They draw our attention to our Creator God. In this area we’re surrounded by natural beauty but we get immune to it and stop paying attention to the magnificent Creation our Creator and Maker God Almighty has made. You can’t ignore the presence of these Cicadas and so you cannot ignore the Creator who made them. Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” I think one simple lesson from these insects that show up once every 17 years is to draw our attention to the Creative handiwork of Almighty God. 

2. Cicadas play an important role in God’s Creative plan. They help prune trees and underbrush by the cuts they make in the wood to lay their eggs. Weaker and dead limbs will often fall off the tree allowing new growth to take place. They are a tremendous food supply for birds and all manner of creatures who find them rich in protein. The robin population that stayed at my house nearly all winter long are a testimony to that! When Cicadas emerge after 17 years, as they burrow up to the surface, they create a pencil sized hole that goes down about 8 inches and so they aerate soil very effectively, better than any machine I have access too. After they breed and die often at the base of those very same trees, their nutrient rich bodies decay and fertilize the tree roots below and their offspring burrow down into the soil for 17 years. These are only the things I’ve been able to learn in my research and yet they speak to me that God’s wisdom and Creative design are infinitely greater than I can comprehend.

3. Cicadas teach me that God’s resources are limitless. I couldn’t even begin to count the numbers of these things I see on the ground at my house and certainly I could not guess how many million there are in the trees singing their hearts out with their mating calls around me. In their simple way they remind me that God doesn’t need my help, my wisdom, my power, ability or lack there-of. God is self contained like these strange bugs and His power and might have no limit just like there seems to be no limit to the numbers of these creatures.

4. Cicadas teach me that God can use anything to bring glory to Himself. These 17 year Cicadas help me learn that if God can use a bug like the Cicada to bring glory to Himself; how much more could He glorify Himself through me, someone He created in His own image, one to whom He gave a mind, a body and most importantly a soul that has a choice to enter into a relationship with Him. Paul said in 1st Cor. 10:31 “Therefore whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whatever you do, live your life in such a way as to bring glory to God with all of what God has given you and don’t let some bug that shows up once every 17 years do a better job of bringing glory to God than you do.

5. Cicadas teach me about God’s character and nature. Who creates an insect that you have to wait 17 years to see? God does. God is so patient, patient with 17 year Cicadas to develop to maturity and He’s patient with sinners who desperately need to repent of their sin. These creatures teach us of God’s faithfulness, I have forgotten what was going on in my life 17 years ago in 1999 - oh yeah, I was in seminary preparing for ministry and my soon to be graduate son Garrett was only 2 years old! God hasn’t forgotten and is faithful to these little creatures and if He is faithful to them; He’s always going to be faithful to me. Cicadas remind me that time is in God’s hands and no one else’s and they help me see part of His eternal nature. We look at these bugs and marvel at their sad little lives that last 6 weeks or less top-side. Yet beneath the surface, they are there for 17 years! God’s eternal nature is like that because we don’t see it. The brevity of the life of Cicada highlights the eternal nature of God but also reminds me of the brevity of my life. Scripture says our life is like a vapor that quickly vanishes away (James 4:14). Cicadas don’t have much time to do what they do and neither do we. Paul’s exhortation to believers in Ephesians 5:15-16 is appropriate: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” Cicadas also demonstrate the Holiness of God. How is that possible? God is holy which is His most unique character trait. God’s holiness drives everything else He does. What that means is He is “wholly other” - there is no one like Him in the universe and He operates according to His own plan, schedule and agenda which I see in the life of the Cicada. These are just a few of the character traits we can learn about God from the Cicada. I challenge you to think of other traits about God and His nature on your own.

6. Cicadas teach me of my glorious hope in Christ. Yesterday, while peering out my second floor window in my home office, I could see these Cicadas taking flight up to the trees, being drawn like a magnet to the call of their future mate somewhere in the wooded tree line. They know there is someone waiting for them and they will be together shortly...I won’t go further with my description. Seeing those bugs taking flight up to those trees encourages me that someday I’m going to hear my Savior’s call to come home to glory and I will go! It may be when I close my eyes here in death and my brief life comes to a close when I breathe my last; or it may be when the Lord returns and raptures His Bride, the church, home to be with Him. Either way, that will be glory for me. “Oh that will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me. When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me.” (Charles Gabriel 1900). The Lord used these 17 year bugs to remind me that I have great hope because He’s going to call me someday to be with Him. I only have that hope because I’ve placed my faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

These are just a few, quick simple spiritual lessons from the 17 year Cicada. When you hear their “noise” view it as praise to God and thank your Creator for the Cicada and praise Him for His infinite wisdom in making these creatures. Take time to reflect on some lessons the Holy Spirit might reveal to you before these creatures disappear beneath the surface in a few short weeks and apply those lessons to your own life. Remember that God loves you and has a plan for your life as you reflect on the simple Cicada; from my little corner of the world to yours... 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

National Day of Prayer

Today I was able to participate in our community National Day of prayer in Moundsville. I don't write out my prayers but today I did. I was asked to prayer for our nation. Below is the text of my prayer today.

National Day of Prayer – Moundsville WV, May 7, 2015

 1st Tim. 2:1-4 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, nd giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Father we thank you for today and the privilege we have to come to this public place
and pray for our nation. We thank you Lord for giving us the great blessing of being
citizens of the greatest country on earth, the United States of America. Lord, we thank
you for the blessings and freedoms we enjoy because of our men and women who serve
in the greatest military in the world. We thank you for our first responders, our law
enforcement officers, our fire fighters and emergency medical personnel. Lord, please
keep our military & first responders safe & encourage them in their work as they have
incredibly hard jobs to do.

Lord, we are gathered in prayer today because we are broken-hearted at what we see
taking place in our beloved country. It seems the very fabric of our society is being
ripped to shreds in front of our very eyes. Mayhem and chaos is too often found in the
streets of our cities. It appears we live in a day like the book of Judges tells us that
“everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Oh God please forgive us for our
wickedness. Forgive us Lord for the scourge of abortion & the resulting devaluation of
human life at every stage. Lord please forgive us for kicking you out of every public
institution and for our rebellion against your commands. Lord please forgive us as
Christians for not representing you well in front of a lost world that desperately needs
the purpose, peace and hope found in Jesus Christ. Lord forgive us for allowing our
society to become a sex-saturated and filthy society. Lord we need to be cleansed and
purified by your truth. Oh Lord God; we pray that you would guard the institution of
marriage, the first institution you created even before the church and the government
was created. As our Supreme Court is deliberating even now on the issue of so-called
same sex marriage, Lord we affirm here today publicly that your definition of
marriage is still the only correct one that matters. Lord would you please reveal this
truth to the Supreme Court and that marriage between one man & one woman for one
lifetime will prevail?

Now Lord Jesus, I pray that you would encourage all of us gathered here today that
there is always hope regardless of what is happening in our society because you are the
King of Kings and Lord of Lords! You reign over Heaven & earth and no human can
overthrow your plans. We bow before you today Lord Jesus and ask you to be gracious
and merciful to the USA even though we do not deserve it. We pray this in the name
that is above every name, the ame of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Constitutional or Biblical Church...

I love sports, especially football, baseball & golf though not necessarily in that order. Every sport has rules the players have to play by and in all professional sports there are rules officials who make sure the game is played according to the rule-book. Here at Moundsville Baptist Church, we have two rule-books: First & foremost, our rule-book is God’s Holy Word the Bible. We believe the Word of God has complete authority over our lives. We also have a church constitution which spells out some practical guidelines on how we’re organized and how we conduct the business of the church. The constitution is important to help us ensure that we adhere to the admonition from 1st Cor.14:40 “Let all things be done decently and in order.” I am committed to “playing by the rules” when it comes to our church constitution.

Sometimes however I find myself in a quandary because I believe the Lord has spoken to me through His Word or through the “still small voice” of God’s Holy Spirit to act and obey. The Holy Spirit’s leadership and call to obey always trumps the constitutional requirements set forth by the church. Such an occurrence happened this past Sunday on “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” so I’d like to tell you what happened.

I had invited Brother Phil Chatting who serves as the Treasurer and is on the Board of Directors for Women’s Choice Pregnancy Resource Center in Charleston to come speak about what God is doing through this crisis pregnancy center. As Phil shared the statistics of the numbers of abortions performed in the 2 abortion clinics in West Virginia and shared about how the Lord used a gift of $10,000 from MBC several years ago to help them purchase a building right next door to one of these abortion clinics; the Lord started speaking to me about giving this center a large gift. Phil shared that the center had been given an ultrasound machine and they were trying to raise money for a medical director and a nurse to operate the machine that would help women see the life of the baby inside them. Studies have repeatedly shown this equipment is highly effective to help people choose life. Then Phil showed the video testimony of a young woman who planned to terminate her pregnancy as a single mom and through the Providence of God, she contacted Women’s Choice and through their ministry she chose life!

As I wrestled with how to go about doing this, I have to tell you I was in great turmoil as your new pastor. I know the constitution requires certain things in terms of calling a business meeting and we have a finance board who oversees our finances. But I clearly sensed the Lord wanted us to give the center another $10,000.00 in response to Phil’s presentation but I hadn’t talked to anyone on the board of finance, the deacons, or any of the staff. In my spirit, I was a bit concerned because of the amount involved and I don’t like to manipulate or back people into a corner. However, the Lord wouldn’t let that figure out of my mind and I remembered Samuel’s challenge to King Saul from 1st Sam.15:22-23 “…Behold to obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams, for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry…” I have to tell you I thought “Lord I can take care of this by talking to them later and trying push this through”; yet the Lord was prompting me to obey. When we began the invitation, I made an appeal for people to come and pray that we’d create a culture of life. Our Pastor Emeritus, Reverend Tom Steele, came forward and was visibly moved, as I greeted him. The first thing Brother Tom said to me was “I want to give testimony about that $10,000.00 if you’ll give me two minutes.” It was like the Lord was saying “You see Ralph, that figure I gave you is correct and you need to obey me now and ask for it.” So after Brother Tom spoke, I put my arm around him and called the church into a business session and asked if we could give another $10,000.00 to the center. I had two men affirm the motion and by voice vote the congregation said yes unanimously!

Here it is Tuesday and I’m still overwhelmed by that hallelujah moment and thankful for God’s prompting and teaching us a valuable lesson. I believe this past Sunday we had what Dr. Henry Blackaby called a “Crisis of Belief” in his study “Experiencing God.” The principle at work is to see where God is at work and ask to join Him in that work. God is clearly at work through Woman’s Choice and He invited us to be involved in that work in a profound way. The rest of the story is that I went to our finance board as they were counting our morning offering; kind of expecting to be taken to task for my procedural error relating to our constitutional way of doing things. Instead I was met with smiles and gentle encouragement that they would have said yes if I’d have asked ahead of time but they told me they would cover it and would cut a check for me to give to Brother Phil immediately! Oh how they encouraged me! I was half way expecting a “tar & feathering” but received a great blessing in supportive members who want to follow the Lord Jesus in humble submission and obedience to God’s call.

After reflection however, I didn't ask ahead of time because the Lord didn't speak to me ahead of time! He spoke to me in corporate worship and not in my prayer closet. I’m reminded of what God said through the prophet Isaiah in 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” That’s how God works and I’m thankful He works in ways that often don’t make sense from a human point of view but in a way that brings Him the most praise when His people obey Him by faith.

You need to know I’m not in the habit of setting aside our church constitution. But I can also assure you I intend to obey God with my whole heart when I discern He’s calling us to respond. If I have to choose between being a constitutional church or a Biblical church, I will lead us to be a Biblical church. You all encourage me in ways I can’t even express. Your love for Jesus and each other shines through constantly and I am profoundly humbled to serve as your Senior Pastor. God has great plans for a congregation committed to the Lordship & leadership of Jesus Christ so be encouraged by the working of God among us. Oh by the way, Brother Phil was moved to tears and said the board of directors has already committed extra gifts they receive like ours to fund those staff positions to man that ultrasound machine. Our giving will encourage other churches to step up to the old plate and swing for life!

I love you and I rejoice over our commitment to being a Biblical church, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Come into His presence with Thanksgiving…

Psalm 95:1-2 says “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” The psalmist is right target with his call to all of us to thank the Lord for the many blessings God has so graciously given to us.
I hate to admit it but it seems the older I get the faster holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas sneak up on me. I’m kind of in shock that Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is right on its heels a few weeks later. The retail world and the advertisers want you to focus on Christmas and forget all about Thanksgiving; but I think the admonition of the psalmist is of critical importance for all of us. I hope that at this season of Thanksgiving, you will pause, reflect and truly give thanks to Almighty God for His incredible blessings to you and your family.
I’m thankful for many things this year, not just every year, but every day of the year. When I wake up I thank the Lord for the night’s rest He gave me. I thank him for the blessing of my family, especially my amazing wife Cheryl. If it is blistering cold outside like it was this morning when I awakened from my slumber; I’m thankful for the home He provided me with heat and indoor plumbing! The point is we don’t need to step too far away from where we lay our head at night in the morning to give thanks. When I lay down to sleep, I thank the Lord for guiding me through the day and allowing me to labor for Him. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians in 1st Thessalonians 4:18 “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Oh dear friends, would you be vigilant to give God thanks?
I’m thankful for this church family and your outpouring of love, concern and prayers for my family with the promotion of my father to Heaven. I’m thankful for our many friends across the country that have cared for us and prayed for us in these days of sorrow. I’m grateful to God for giving me the opportunity spend a lot of time with Dad over the last year of his life here on earth. As the Psalmist said earlier, the Lord is the Rock of our Salvation. For believers, oh how we can thank God for the assurance of salvation so when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can rejoice and be glad our loved ones are safe in the arms of God!
The rock of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ, is why we exist here at Moundsville Baptist Church. I want to encourage you to take careful note of the holiday schedule you’ll find in this newsletter. Begin to plan now to invite a lost family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker or just an acquaintance to church at this season of year. They will come if you invite them particularly to the Christmas Eve service, or the Sundays before or after Christmas. I promise I’ll clearly share the Gospel message and we’ll pray that your invited friend will come to know the Rock of Salvation, Jesus Christ…and that would be something to shout joyfully to the Lord with thanksgiving that because of your invitation, a precious soul trusted Christ!
At this wonderful time of year, don’t miss out on the blessing of giving thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m coming into His presence with thanksgiving, from my little corner of the world to yours…