Cold Bare Feet and Soggy Wet Basements

After what seemed like six hours of signing dotted lines, we finally closed on our new house. We breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude as we drove away from the lawyers with keys in hand and the house hunting behind us. That was Monday, but Saturday was coming. The excitement of owning a new home was soon overshadowed by the responsibilities. We were to leave for vacation on the following Monday, so I decided to take a load of stuff that we weren’t going to be using to the new house while Lindsey stayed home to pack. When I arrived, everything was just as we had left it the day before. I took off my shoes at the door to avoid tracking in unwanted dust and dirt and headed toward the basement with a heavy box of commentaries.

Stepping off the last step, I was met with a strange and unexpected sensation. I wasn’t sure if the carpet was just cold on my bare feet or if something had been spilled. The further I walked the clearer it became; our new finished basement had flooded. With every step the water rose and so did my anxiety. I stepped over to the side of the basement that was supposed to house my office and cringed with every step as water seeped up from beneath the laminate floorboards. I was genuinely perplexed! We had looked at this house several times in the months leading up to the purchase and had never found any hints of leakage or previous water damage. I did what any reasonable man would do—I found a dry spot of carpet, laid down, and stared at the ceiling hoping that when I arose everything would be okay. It didn’t work.

Despite my irritation I pulled back the carpet and set to work. In all I vacuumed up nearly twenty gallons of water that day. As unpleasant and inconvenient as the procedure was, I discovered there were a few lessons to be learned from my cold bare feet and my soggy wet basement.

First, I learned that rain exposes. It’s worth pointing out that the storm that caused the flood revealed a problem I didn’t even know I had. The heavy rain revealed that I had dirty gutters and two misplaced drainpipes. If the water had not seeped into my basement and soaked my carpet, I would have very likely continued unpacking without even realizing that my foundation was in jeopardy. Physical storms have a way of forcing us to face problems in our houses that we would otherwise ignore. Likewise, spiritual storms expose the flaws in our foundations and the holes in our holiness. It is only when the rain falls that we begin to really discover how far we are from finished. God uses soggy carpet and weeping floorboards to bring us to our knees and force us to admit that we need help. God uses the storms to make us clean our dirty gutters and reposition our misdirected drains.

Second, I discovered that rain expands. Not only did my flooded basement expand my patience and my knowledge of my new home, it expanded my garden. Just prior to the storm’s arrival, I had transplanted all my vegetables from their original pots into the small garden patch I had tilled in my new back yard. When I placed them in the hard, red clay, they were empty and weak; now they are full and strong. The rain that flooded my basement also softened my garden and allowed my plants to grow. This week I will be harvesting the first of this year’s produce, but that would not have been possible had God not sent the rain that sent me into a tailspin.

I learned that the rain that delays my plans for today is often watering something I will need for tomorrow.

Finally, I found that rain expresses. Every drop of rain preaches a sermon. The sermon has one point, and that is God is faithful. Even though the issue is not completely resolved, and I am still cleaning up the mess the storm left, I can see the fingerprints God has left on this season of my life. When I look at my flourishing garden and count the blessings that come from it, I can thank God for the rain. When I walk downstairs and breathe in the fresh smell of Arm and Hammer baking soda, I’m reminded that problems that seem so big in the moment are often smaller than the shadows they cast. God has used this little incident to remind me that even when the storm messes up my plans it doesn’t change His. The rain taught me things that I otherwise would have never learned. It shaped me into someone that on my own I could have never become. Every memory of my cold bare feet and soggy wet basement reminds me that even when the storm does damage around me, God is using it to repair the damage in me. Those drops of rain, even the ones that flood, are tiny testaments to the grace and goodness of God.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Prayer and Fasting, Week 4

Week #4 June 23-29
“Pray for a moving of the Holy Spirit in our nation.”

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. Proverbs 14:34

It would be an understatement to say our nation has entered final jeopardy. What can the people of God do when it seems that the foundations have been destroyed? They can pray! This should not be our last option, but our first. Prayer is not a last-ditch effort. It is our first line of defense. This week we will focus our collective prayers on the spiritual well being of our nation. We must be careful not to wrap the cross in the American flag or make the assumption that Christianity and America are synonymous. However, if God’s people do not pray for salvation of our nation, who will?

Pray this week, not for God to make us moral again but for God to bring us face to face with our own immorality and grant us a space of grace to repent. Pray that God would raise up wise and honest leaders who will act justly. Pray that God would somehow use our church to punch holes in the darkness around us. Pray that God would send us a national revival.

Prayer and Fasting, Week 3

Week #3 June 16-22
“Pray for a harvest for our labor.”

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6

Gardening is hard but rewarding work. It requires patience, practice, and persistence. So it is with winning souls to Christ. Sometimes years of sowing and watering are necessary before any fruit is ever seen. We must be faithful to sow precious seed but we are aware that only God can give life. He is in control of germination. We do the going, but God does the growing. Use this week to ask God to give us open doors for gospel conversations. Ask Him to prepare hearts in advance to hear and receive the good news. Seek Him for boldness to share our own testimonies without doubt or fear. Ask Him to make our work productive and give us souls for our labor.

 

Prayer and Fasting, Week 2

Week #2 June 9-15
“Pray for laborers in His harvest.”

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38

Crestwood has been called to a great harvest. This great harvest will require a great investment of time, energy, and resources. Spend this week asking God to send new, energetic laborers to help us carry out our commission. Pray for young committed Christian families to come and help us reach the lost. Ask for older men and women full of wisdom to come and disciple new and growing converts. Most of all ask God what he wants you to do. It is a vain thing to ask God to call someone else to do something we are unwilling to do ourselves. Don’t just ask for laborers, be ready and willing to be the first to volunteer.

Prayer and Fasting, Week 1

For the last several years, Crestwood has taken the month of June as a month of Prayer and Fasting. This year will be no different. June will be dedicated to seeking God’s will in all we do, and asking Him for some very specific things we need at His church. In conjunction with the staff and other leaders of the church, we have come up with four very specific things I want you to join with me each week and asking God to send to Crestwood. I have included a scripture reference, the reason I feel the need is so important and the need itself.

Week #1 June 2-8
“Pray for repentance in our own hearts.”

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

Redemption must begin in us if it is ever to flow out of us. The greatest producer of false narratives is not the media; it is the deceitful press of our own hearts. Take this week to pray that God would reveal areas and attitudes of your life that need to change. Ask Him for the wisdom to know your own faults, ask Him for a willing spirit to accept what He reveals, and seek Him for the strength necessary to make changes. Repentance is not something we can work up, it is something that He must send down. A spirit of repentance is always contagious; let it begin in you. Let it flow through you. Let it flow out of you.

Ripples of Redemption

For nearly a century God has faithfully provided for and protected Crestwood Baptist Church. We believe He has positioned us in this particular community, at this precise moment, for an unmistakable eternal purpose. It is our honor to partner with Him in His redemptive work in this city.

Our hearts and our homes, our cultures, and our communities have all been damaged by the clumsy hands of sin. It has defaced God’s property and deformed His reflection in His people. It has left its mark on the landscape. It has left its mark on us. Because sin lives death reigns, because death reigns we are a helpless people. Thank God, though, He didn’t allow sin to write The End on our story.

God sent His only Son to redeem us from the curse of sin. To redeem is to buy back something that has been lost. With His own precious blood, Jesus Christ paid sin’s debt and purchased all who will believe to be His own people. The good news is He will not stop until He has completely restored everything that sin has ruined, and that includes us! This truth is what we call the gospel. Though the culture has drastically changed, the truth remains the same and  still has the power to transform lives.

Of this I am sure:

one bead of truth dropped into a sea of error has the potential to send shock waves of grace that flow all the way into eternity.

Our vision is simple, we are asking God to use us to send Ripples of Redemption across our church, our community, and our city. Some have suggested that our location is our greatest disadvantage; we believe it is our greatest asset. Being located in a particularly broken part of Winston Salem is an opportunity, not an obstacle. We are convinced that our community is ripe for redemption and we want to be a part of the harvest.

Our mission is a mission of mercy. We want to be involved in the rebuilding of broken lives. With God’s help we intend to see this accomplished by equipping our people to reach out with truth, in with grace, and up with love. Every changed life will possess the power to repeat the process and begin a new series of ripples in its own arena. Our vision will begin with changes at home. We are committing ourselves and our resources to the redemption of our community and the revitalization of our church.

I am both humbled and excited to invite you to join us on this journey of faith as we watch our God restore what sin has ruined and rebuild what time has reduced to rubble.

In Christ Alone,

The Future is Before Us

Dear Crestwood Family,

I always find it difficult to put my feelings of gratitude for you into words. You have been such a blessing to me in the short time we have been allowed to walk this road of faith together. Some pastors may have reason to complain about the difficulty of their assignment, but you deserve no such criticism. Your love and respect for me is highly valued and deeply appreciated. I often stop and consider how fortunate I am to shepherd such a gracious group of people. I love each of you and am excited about the future God has planned for us.

When I first arrived in April of 2017 to assume my role as pastor, I began challenging the church–especially the leadership–to seek God for guidance regarding our future and His will. We asked God for direction and we believe He has answered. After many long hours of intentional prayer and intense preparation, we are ready to allow God to turn the page and begin writing the next chapter of Crestwood’s history. It is not our goal to forget the past but rather to build on it.

Our vision is not a three-step plan or an updated program for church growth. I am aware that seeing God’s dreams for this community come true will require time and effort, but I am sure it will be time and effort well spent. Our prayer is that we can be the church God intends us to be. We want to be known for making disciples and giving God the well-deserved glory to God in the process.

On January 27, we will meet at 11am in the main auditorium for a time of information and celebration as we reveal our new vision to you, our church family. We believe the mission and vision God has given us has the potential to create lasting change in our church, our community, and our city. By the grace of God, we want to be at the epicenter of a move that sweeps across our community and into eternity. Therefore, we are excited to introduce to you what God has shown to us. I hope that you will join us as we seek to prize our past while pressing into our future.

In Christ Alone,
Pastor Ben

The Consistency of Christ

It’s hard to believe that 2018 will soon be just another label in the deep file cabinet of our memories. Last week, as the Thanksgiving holiday was rapidly approaching, I sat down at my desk to write a sermon for our community thanksgiving service. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, but I knew I didn’t want to preach another generalized message about an attitude of gratitude or seven more things to be thankful for. There, in the soft light of my computer, I bowed my head and quietly asked God what He wanted me to say to His people on the following night. Suddenly, but not like a lightning bolt from Heaven as you might imagine, I had an idea: I would speak about one attribute of God for which I was especially grateful. The difficult part would be choosing just one.

Obviously, I could speak about His love. The more I know of me, the more amazed I am by Him. Heaven itself could produce no higher theme than His love, but somehow I knew that wasn’t the one thing God was leading me to. His amazing grace and abounding mercy were certainly contenders in the race, but still they did not express the thought my heart was searching for words to say. His omnipotence and omniscience were close on the heels of mercy and grace. How could I overlook the fact that there is nothing in our universe, visible or invisible that exists outside of His consent and control? I couldn’t just avoid the fact that He has never once entertained a new idea nor ever had a fresh realization. Yet, I knew that neither of these two attributes were the one that comforted me most this past year.

Could I speak about God without mentioning the precision of His judgment and perfection of His justice? Honestly, I was in awe of the fact, considering the often biased cries for modern justice, that He has never reached a wrong conclusion because He always has all the information. After rehearsing all this on the stage of my mind, I knew that I was thankful for everything about Him; but there was still one thing that I loved most this year–His consistency.

All of His attributes provide precious comfort, but what good would they be if we had no guarantee that He would be the same tomorrow?  In the epistle to the Hebrews, the Spirit of God assured us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews13:8) Simply put, Jesus doesn’t change. His name is synonymous with consistency. The idea that He is unchangeable may seem rather simplistic at first glance, but it really is quite a profound truth. He is the only living thing in the universe that has not, does not, and will not ever change.

Boulders wear away to pebbles. Rivers take new courses, and lakes dry up. Families fragment, companies evolve, churches modify their methods, friendships go deeper or disappear, and even we ourselves do not remain untouched by the wrinkled fingers of time. But Jesus is always the same. His faithfulness to His own character is a thing to rejoice in. He is just like His Father; change is not a part of His nature. Scripture says, “In Him there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

His consistency would be a terror to us if He were not also good. Reliability means little if it is reliably bad. Consistency coupled with a tendency toward mischief would be a horrifying notion to live with. I’m thankful that Jesus isn’t just consistent, but that He’s always consistently good.

For us, change is often necessary, but for Jesus to modify His majesty would be a retreat from perfection. His constitution warrants no amendment, His attitude needs no adjustment, His appearance needs no alteration. He can’t be enhanced, upgraded, or improved. Jesus doesn’t change, because He has no need to. We change as we learn and are exposed to new things. Yet, since He never makes a new discovery or has a new experience, He is not affected by any outside influence. He never changes in either policy or practice because one can climb no higher than the summit of perfection.

The promise that Scripture makes is not just that He hasn’t changed, but that He never will.

He is who He was, and who He was He always will be. Tomorrow when I need forgiveness for yesterday, He will remain my Redeemer, always ready and willing to restore. When I find myself longing for love–no matter the hour–I know two arms that will always be open. If it’s provision I need, He will always have plenty and more than enough to spare. When I lack the wisdom to offer an answer, my Counselor will be standing near. When my body is broken, I am confident there will be a Physician within reach. When I am terrified, He will be a Tower I can run into that the enemy can’t breach. When my faith is shaky, He will be the Rock I can stand on that can’t be moved or worn down. Whatever my need, whenever I need it, I know where to go, because Jesus Christ never changes.

Of this we can be sure, He will be faithful even when we are not. I am grateful that He is consistent now; I love that He will remain that way forever. As surely as He has been faithful, faithful He will forever be. As we sail into another new year, we can face the fog of the future with a confident knowledge that regardless of the direction of the wind that blows against our ship, Jesus will remain the same, and He will see us safely to shore.

In Christ Alone,
Pastor Ben

Looking for a City: Life in the Light

Entomologists have offered various explanations as to why insects are so attracted to artificial light, but there is still no consensus on the subject. Regardless of the why, it’s clear that there is just something about a porch light that is irresistible to a moth. Like the moth outside my kitchen window, I find this same attraction to light alive in me on a much larger scale. I have a hard time enjoying dark restaurants and dimly lit churches. I want to be able to see what’s going on around me and who’s in front of me. Darkness is great for sleeping, but it provides poor atmosphere for living.

Life without light would be an exceedingly dull and exceptionally depressing sojourn. Yet, scripture tells us that there will be no more sun in the place God will prepare for His people. How can the people of the light enjoy eternity in darkness? At first glance it may be hard to picture paradise without the sun, but it’s important to recognize the Bible says, “there will be no more night.” The Bible never says there will be no more light (Rev 22:5). The devil wants to keep us in darkness about eternity. He wants us to picture it as drab and dull; but how can it be dull when the Creator of color is the centerpiece of the city?

Revelation 21:23-24 states: “And the city (the New Jerusalem) has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk.”

There is a day coming when the sun will secede its place in the cosmos to the Son of its Maker. Jesus Himself will become the center of the entire universe, and everything will revolve around Him. It’s worth considering–what will life be like in the perfect light of God Himself?

When the Day Star rises, night will not only be erased from without; it will be erased from within. Honestly, I am ashamed to admit it, but I often fear the darkness inside me much more than I do the darkness around me. That old sin nature that trips me every time I try to run, that darkness that hides the light I want to shine, that cataract in my eye that blurs reality and leaves me unable to clearly see the truth will be irreversibly removed from my sight. Scripture says that the former things will pass away and God will make all things new. That includes me. I look forward with great anticipation to the day when the Son has finally and forever driven out the darkness in me.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for one who has lived in a cave to comprehend life in the light. This is why Heaven is so far beyond our imagination. We’ve lived in the shadows so long descriptions of the light have become foreign to us. If we could all simultaneously imagine the most beautiful scene our minds could recollect, it would not compare to the glory that awaits us when clouds are pushed back and the Son shines in.

Just as the earth burst open with new life when the cold winter season passes away and the warmth of spring falls gently on the ground, so human culture itself will experience a regeneration under the perfect administration of Christ. We will know the truth and the truth will set us free from the bondage of falsehood.  The Light will reveal all things in their truest form and dispel the lies that have so long held us captive. Our feeble hearts would rupture with excitement if we could conceive the pleasure beyond measure that awaits in the guilt-free, glory-saturated city of God.

What will life in the Light be like? It will be out of this world. Our worst moments there will be better than the combination of all our best years here. Contrary to the popular portrait of disembodied spirits floating on feathery clouds in a state of eternal inactivity accompanied by harps and halos, Heaven will be a busy place. You see,

eternity with God is not just an offer of everlasting life; it’s a promise of eternal living.

Imagine a world where people are encouraged to think, dream, write, play, build, and explore without limitation or restraint. The Michelangelo’s will finally find the colors to paint the masterpieces they always knew they had hidden deep within their hearts. The symphonies played in the grand halls of the New Earth will make Beethoven’s finest works seem as the tinkering of a child on a nursery piano. Oh, the tales the tellers will tell when they are free to dream. The architect will have no creative roof, the sky will be his limit, and Paris will seem ordinary compared to the beautiful city of God.

The government will exist only for the good of its people. God’s administration will establish a kingdom of true racial, social, and economic equality. Soldiers will gladly burn their boots and melt their weapons into farm tools because when He speaks peace, war will be no more. We have no such city here, but we are promised one to come. For this, we look; for this, we long.

Studies have found that infrared light can be used as an effective means of treating heart disease, soothing mental illness, and healing deep wounds. Infrared rays can penetrate the deepest regions of muscle and bone tissue, providing healing while simultaneously causing no harm. Astonishingly, even seemingly irreversible scar tissue can be treated through the proper amount of light exposure. Medical scientists are only beginning to uncover the potential possibilities of infrared therapy. Our future is bright because of the light.

In the land of light, all our hurts will be healed. The deep, seemingly irreversible scar tissue left by the disappointments of life will be wiped away like a child’s warm breath from a backseat car window, to be remembered no more. Broken hearts will be mended. Minds crippled by anxiety and illness will be made well. Bodies bound by the crippling effects of age and disease will dance again in the light of Heaven’s Son. In that city no one will ever be burnt by the Son. We will be able to draw as close as we like with confidence of healing and never hurt.

There will be no more tears because there will be no more reasons to cry. It has been said that Heaven is the only city without a cemetery. Death will pass away. Pain will be no more, and we will bid “goodbye” farewell. The spirit of suicide and self-loathing will be silenced when morning comes.

There’s a certain sadness that accompanies reaching the end of a good novel. We always wish the writer would have written just a little more. When the Son sets in the New Jerusalem, darkness will rise no more. As much as we thank God for the precious memories we possess of those we’ve laid to rest, we can also thank Him for the memories that are yet to be made in the City of Light. The last page will never be turned on Heaven’s story because the end will never be written. I can’t wait until the day when God cuts on the lights and I can see everything around me and, more importantly, the One in front of me.

What will life in the light be like? It will be heaven on earth.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Looking for a City: Land of Our Dreams

There I sat on the plush red pews of our small country church, flipping through a hymnal between covert glances at my watch. Of course I wanted to go to heaven, but not right then. The sermon made it sound like a nice place to visit but not a place I’d like to live. If you like the thought of a never-ending liturgy and eternal repetitions of How Great Thou Art, it was perfect; but as a ten-year-old it sounded–well, to be honest–boring. An eternal routine seemed like a big step back from all the fun I was having here. I consoled myself with the thought, “Maybe it’s one of those ‘you’ll understand when you’re older’ things.”

Now I’m older, and yes, now I understand. Heaven wasn’t dull. My imagination just wasn’t sharp. My experience was too small to grasp how good life with God could be. I hadn’t yet sunk deep enough into the depths of pain or flew high enough into the heights of pleasure to begin to fathom what God has in store for those who love Him.

I was well acquainted with the joys of snow days and summer nights, but I didn’t yet know the God who had made them. To me, a boring place like heaven seemed like a big step backward. I understand now what my ten-year-old self couldn’t. Heaven won’t be boring, because God isn’t boring. My misconception wasn’t just about heaven; my misunderstanding was about its Architect. It seemed to me He only knew two words, “no” and “don’t.” It never crossed my mind that fun was His invention and His no’s were meant leave my hands free to receive better yes’s.

Pleasure was God’s idea. The Psalmist writes that at the right hand are of God are pleasures forevermore. For those trusting in Christ death is not a retreat signal, it’s an order to advance. Revelation, chapter five, describes one of the most powerful scenes the universe will ever know as all of creation falls down before the Lamb in worship. As striking as the scene may be, we have to remind ourselves that the book doesn’t end with chapter five. Nor is that all God has to say about heaven. Will there be worship in heaven? Of course; but that does not mean that it will be an unending church service. It will be, however, an eternal adventure with God.

Scripture teaches that our wildest imaginations can never measure up to what we will experience when we get home. Still, we wonder as we wait, what will heaven be like? God doesn’t spoil the surprise by giving us every detail, but He has given us enough information to piece together a snapshot of the place Jesus has gone to prepare.

On the Isle of Patmos, God pulled back the curtains and allowed the Apostle John to peek at the prize. The beauty he saw was so overwhelming it left him nearly speechless. He gave us a sketch of the city of God–the New Jerusalem–in the last few chapters of the Revelation. He said the foundations of the city’s walls are adorned with rare jewels, blood red jaspers and royal blue sapphires. Often, he used the word “like” to describe things he saw. I believe he used that word because comparing the things he saw with earthly things was the only way he could begin to describe them.

In no uncertain terms he told us that the buildings there are built of purified gold clear as glass. Think about this–if the only activity of heaven is corporate worship, then why build a functional city? If I were privileged to visit Paris, I don’t think I would give much attention to describing the roads to my friends back home, but John made a point to speak specifically about heaven’s main street. It’s hard to imagine a highway paved with gold and always pothole-free. I like to think John must have laughed when he realized that gold is as common in God’s country as gravel is in ours. 

In heaven, everyone is on city water, yet no one ever gets a bill. The unpolluted River of Life flows without any hint of contamination from the throne and into the city. Groves of trees grow along its banks that produce a different kind of fruit every month. Their leaves have the power to heal the wounds of the nations.  Unsightly power plants that litter the sky with smoke and ash have no place there. God will dwell with His people, and He will be their light. The glory of God will saturate His whole creation with warmth and illumination. Imagine no more sun, yet no more night, for the Lamb will be the lamp and light. How the jewels will sparkle, and the gold will shine, basking in the radiance of Love divine!

The emerald city will leave us wondering why Dorothy ever wanted to go home. Our hearts will discover paradise was never lost, it was just temporarily out of reach. Set free from the curse, every sensation will be fuller, every taste richer, and every emotion deeper. Life on this polluted ball will seem to have been a pastel prison when we behold the sharp, bright, contrasting colors of home. And to think, that’s all just within the city limits!

In heaven, every day is Christmas and every discovery a new gift from our Father, to be unwrapped and enjoyed. Understanding this changed the way I think about heaven. Once, it was a boring nightmare; now it’s the land of my dreams.

I can’t help but smile when I think of so many I dearly love who went to sleep here and woke up in a land where the nightmare is finally over. Like the arms of a girl running to embrace her man who’s been away at war, someday soon pearly gates will swing open wide to welcome us in. I’m looking forward to life in the light, in the land where dreams really do come true.

Pastor Ben