Cute Little Thieves

After closing on our new house this past June, getting my garden planted was my top priority. When I finished, there were thirty-four tomato bushes planted in two neat rows of sixteen each. Within a week of planting little yellow flower clusters were appearing on the bearing branches of every plant. All gardeners know that flowers mean fruit, and fruit means success. By late June my plants were covered with growing emerald marbles. All I had to do was water and wait.

As July warmed and the plants grew strong, I went out every day expecting ripening fruit, but I was met instead with ripening frustration.  I was accustomed to having my first tomato sandwich in late June but since I had planted later this year, I thought I would just have to be patient. I quickly became concerned because I noticed that when my tomatoes reached golf ball size they just disappeared. Occasionally I found a half-eaten green tomato on other parts of our lot. Every night more tomatoes disappeared until eventually the whole garden was bare.

I was convinced, though I could find no tracks, that the culprit had to be a deer. The plants were too high for a rabbit to reach and, unless they had an insatiable taste for fried green tomatoes, it didn’t make sense to assume someone was stealing them. I was legitimately perplexed. Then one morning it all made sense. I poured my first cup of liquid life into a half-filled cup of French Vanilla Creamer. As I sipped my creamer, I casually glanced out the kitchen window above the sink and saw something that made everything make sense.

I don’t know If I can communicate to you the hilarious nature of what I saw. A chain link fence separates our lot from the neighbor behind us. Several small trees have grown along the fence line. Hanging upside down, with arms stretched toward the ground, swinging back and forth in the wind, with a big green tomato in his mouth was a not-so-ordinary gray squirrel. Until that moment I didn’t know squirrels would eat tomatoes, but the evidence was undeniable.

I had seen this little bandit several times before. He was unmistakable because he had a crooked tail and a peculiar way of walking. Just a couple days earlier I had watched him clumsily wander around the yard. He seemed to walk crooked as if he had a flat tire and was always being pulled to the right. To be honest I wasn’t sure if he was handicapped or just goofy. Regardless, he was harmless, and I didn’t mind sharing my space with him until I discovered he was the burglar robbing me blind. No matter how cute he seemed, I knew he was a thief, and now he was my enemy.

The more I thought about his presence in my garden, the more concerned I became. I began to wonder if there were any cute little thieves stealing fruit from the garden in my soul. If you’re unsure of what I’m referring to, let me explain. I’m talking about those little sins that we don’t mind cohabitating with. I’m speaking of those offences against God that, though seemingly small and harmless, steal the young fruit of the Spirit right off the vine. In his most famous song, Solomon likened these little thieves to selfish and senseless animals who plunder the harvest as well:

“Catch us the foxes,
The little foxes that spoil the vines,
For our vines have tender grapes.”
(SoS 2:15)

The flesh tempts us to believe that if our sins are “small” they are harmless. It throws up a caution flag when the Spirit begins to work and says, “Your little pickpockets may be a problem but at least you don’t have pet snakes.” Or, to put it bluntly, “Your sin is not near as heinous as theirs.”

And it’s tempting to believe it’s right. Of course, there are different categories of sin, aren’t there? There are the big nefarious ones–you know, the kind that “bad” people commit–and then there are the harmless little pet sins that we are much more willing to tolerate because we think in their own odd way they are actually kind of cute. There are some very evident problems with that way of thinking. First, sin can’t be domesticated. It may appear tame and under control for a time but make no mistake it’s wild and eventually it will destroy its own habitat.

Second,

it was not big wild sins that mauled Christ on His cross, it was just sin– mostly everyday ordinary sin.

There are no such things as a harmless or innocent sins; there are only deadly ones.

I always plant more than we will ever eat and consider it a privilege to give most of my produce away. Letting that little brown bandit have free course in my garden wasn’t just hurting me; it was hurting other people. It was keeping them from getting the nourishment they needed from me. We must all come to the sobering realization that others will go hungry and our garden will be bare unless we are willing to deal with the obvious thieves that are stealing the fruit right off the branches.

It was obvious I had to go squirrel hunting, not just in my back yard but in my heart. The truth is, no matter how accustomed to or fond of their presence I had grown, my pet sins had to be destroyed or they were going to destroy me. My thought process had to change. The question wasn’t, “Does this bother me?” The only question that mattered was, “Does this bother God?” If the answer was yes, it was time to serve their eviction notice.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t kill the squirrel. I just helped him reshape his appetites. But that’s another story for another time.

In Christ Alone,

Let There Be Light

From Darkness to Light

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In the beginning there was darkness, and deep was that darkness. Confusion like a morning fog hung thick over the colorless landscape. A stubborn emptiness occupied every vacant space. Fear thundered in the distance and grew like a storm that couldn’t yet be seen but was doubtless about to break loose. Every shadow harbored a secret. The blinding darkness was better than vision if seeing meant beholding what was there. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

It may surprise you to discover that the deathly place I have been describing was not a place on earth but a place in me. You see, I’m not speaking of earth’s creation, but of my conversion. That lifeless wasteland, stretching as far as the imagination could see, was my own heart. In the beginning darkness was all I knew and therefore all I wanted. Quite frankly, I loved the darkness, because my deeds were evil. However, God’s goodness was greater than my badness. The Genius of Genesis was not content to let me dwell alone in my self-constructed cell. He was determined to bring me out of my darkness and into His marvelous light.

At six years old, God whispered into my little universe, “Let there be light,” and suddenly there was light. The Apostle Paul describes the dawn in his soul like a bolt of lightning falling from a cloudless sky. My experience was more like a gentle sunrise slowly climbing up heaven’s eastern wall. That one Son-rise changed every subsequent sunset. In that moment the day dawned; and the Son’s been getting brighter ever since.

It didn’t take me long to discover my darkness couldn’t share quarters with His Light. Light by its very nature can’t be contained. It finds its way into every dark crevice; it spreads into the smallest recess of every shadowed corner. Often is exposes the dirt I didn’t even know was there. Yet, somehow, even when it reveals the dust that I would rather leave hidden, it does it in a comforting and constructive way. The same Light that continually drives away the darkness warms the air it leaves behind. When it shines in my heart, it melts away the icicles that grow on the ledges of my soul. All I can say is, I’m thankful for the light He gave that led me to the Light I love.

From Light to Darkness

2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

It’s easy to comprehend a sunrise; it’s well-nigh impossible to grasp the sun being placed in a flowerpot. Yet, that is exactly what God did in the heart of every true believer when He said, “Let there be light.” He didn’t just bring us out into the light—He sent the Light to live in us. This is a wonder beyond comprehension but not beyond belief. We know the Light has come to dwell in us because of the fruit He now produces through us.

In the beginning, before God said let the land produce fruit, He first said let the land have light. Without the sun’s energy, fruit cannot grow. Therefore, fruit is a product of light. The Light in us proves His presence by producing fruit through us. It is not just that we were once blind, but now we see; no, it is also that we were once bare, but now, because of the Light, we are abounding.

The Light He put in us now shines through us. He is the Light of the world, but He has chosen us to be His lights in the world. We have been given the privilege of carrying the light that carried us out of the darkness back into the darkness. As He once spoke, “Let there be light,” we are now commissioned to shine light into every crevice and remote corner of the kingdom of darkness.

When the darkness resists our advance, it should neither surprise nor alarm us. The day is as incomprehensible to the children of the night as sight is to a man born blind. Yet of this we are sure, the darkness has not and will not overcome the Light.

Darkness never has power over light, but light always has power over darkness.

Soon the darkness will be driven out, never to return, but the light of the risen Son will never set. The Light that He is, and the light that He gives, will never grow dim or go out. The glory of the Son will shine so brightly on His new earth no other light will be needed. He will Himself be our constant source of clean energy. Literally, He will power the world with nothing more than His own presence.

If we house this unquenchable flame in vessels of clay, it only seems logical to conclude that it will shine out somewhere. It is with confidence in the Light dwells in us we boldly and creatively declare to the darkness, “Let there be light.” We have this treasure in earthen vessels so that all glory may be given to the Light and none to the lamp.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

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