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

Looking for a City: Lucifer’s Lies

In an era of fake news and false headlines we can’t imagine life without lies; but in the beginning that wasn’t so. Man existed in a world where lies didn’t, a world where lies were only foreign ideas; and telling the truth was everyone’s first impulse. No resident of that antediluvian paradise knew the pain of deception until Lucifer whispered into Eve’s adolescent ear, “You will not certainly die.” She believed the lie, and awful concept became a reality. From that moment we have been spending our days fighting to find our way, cutting through the undergrowth, and digging through the garbage trying to uncover the truth.

Lucifer told the first lie, and he’s been lying ever since. Falsehood is his native language, and he is a fluent communicator. Even when he tells the truth, he only tells the part that will get him closer to his goals. He is the father of lies, and he makes sure his family keeps growing every day.

There is a method behind his madness. He lies to rob God of glory; he steals glory by distracting and capturing the hearts of those God loves. Every fraudulent claim he makes is a calculated move toward that end. Satan is no fool. He is aware when men get a glimpse of who God is and what He has prepared for His own, he will lose all control.  So, he weaves intricate alternatives to the truth to keep our hearts too preoccupied to ever think about such troubling subjects as life after death. He knows heaven is the home we were made for. So, he spares no effort in keeping us from getting there. To those who dare to ponder the realities of heaven and hell; he happily presents a set of tall stories that fall far short of the truth. He has assembled his lies to look and feel so much like the truth that most people never look close enough to discover the difference. Yet, we must be aware–no matter how pretty the wrapping–that garbage is still garbage.

I believe there are three primary lies that the Prince of Hell likes to tell about heaven. The first being, heaven isn’t a real place. This lie works on two levels. If the skeptic can be convinced that there is no such thing as heaven, then they will give little concern to how they live on earth. However, to the believer the hope of heaven is what gives us the courage to suffer loss in this life knowing all we will gain in the next. Satan and his minions enjoy nothing more than destroying that confidence by placing a question mark where God placed a period.

This basic lie is sold in many different forms–heaven is a myth the weak need to get them through life; we live, we die, and then we cease to exist; death has a rotating door that allows us to be reborn an infinite number of times. The packaging may be different, but the statement is still a lie.

This lie always performs as if it is a proven fact. It claims science and logic as its chief advocates; it demands to be believed without cross examination. Interestingly its claims to be true are based on unfounded theories that have not and cannot be tested and proven by any measure.

The desire to know the truth must be accompanied by a willingness to listen when it speaks. Far too often we arrive at conclusions before we have even asked the right questions. What if the Bible is true and Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be? The claims of scripture are too great to be ignored. The only course of action a reasonable person can take is to make an honest inquiry into the evidence. The lie says, “just believe me and I won’t lead you wrong,” but the truth is not afraid to be put under the microscope.

The second lie is, heaven is for everyone. The 1989 release of a seemingly innocent children’s movie put a new name on this old story. The title was, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and the lie was that heaven will not exclude anyone. The problem is we’re not dogs, and heaven is an exclusive place. Simply put, heaven isn’t everybody’s home. Heaven is God’s city, and He reserves the right to legislate who gets in and who doesn’t. Citizenship in the City of God is not granted by doing good deeds; it is a gift of grace. American citizenship must be worked for, but heavenly citizenship must only be received. Citizenship belongs only to those who have repented of sin and by faith trusted in the death of Christ for their forgiveness.

The second lie may be more dangerous than the first because it cloaks itself in a religious overcoat. It differs from the first in that it appeals to the heart rather than to the mind. The first lie says, heaven can’t be seen so it can’t be real. The second lie says a loving God would never punish anyone. In soft pious tones it appeals directly to the emotions. It loves to ask questions, but it doesn’t really want answers. It assures the fearful that though heaven has walls they won’t keep anyone out.

The truth is, heaven is open to everyone, but everyone who gets in must come through the door. Jesus Christ said, “I am the door.”

It is often argued, if Christ’s death was sufficient for the sin of all mankind then shouldn’t everyone go to heaven? This seems logical until we consider that the scripture repeatedly emphasizes man’s responsibility to repent and believe. Scripture says that eternal life is to know God and His Son whom He has sent. Jesus’ death purchased pardon for sinners, but reconciliation only belongs to those who accept His gift of grace.  Mercy is available to everyone, but it is only experienced by those who receive it. The reality is that men don’t miss heaven because God rejected them; they miss heaven because they rejected Him. Everyone is invited to the party, but only those who RSVP get in.

The final lie is that heaven is a boring place. We will discuss this lie in greater detail later in this series. If the devil is that father of lies, then this lie looks particularly like its daddy. Satan has a personal vendetta against the place he once called home. He can’t go back, so he doesn’t want anyone else to either. Lucifer knows his days are numbered. Soon the deceiver will deceive no more. His eternity can be summed up in five words–Liar, liar, pants on fire. He would love nothing more than to have company, so he posts detours along the path to keep us off the narrow road that leads home. Some of his lies keep us out of heaven while others keep heaven out of us.

Be assured, the truth is always better than a lie and the place Jesus has gone to prepare for us really is out of this world. For now, we look for a city and long for the land where dreams come true.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Looking For A City: Longing For A Home

Dingy white sea foam crashed against my bare ankles like a snowy avalanche engulfing twin pines. Sand retreated between my toes back into wide blue expanse. With childlike indecisiveness, a nervous sand piper darted in and out of the lapping waves in search of dinner. The sun splashed an abstract orange and purple painting onto the skyline as night prepared to close the curtain on another day. My long-awaited vacation had arrived, yet a faint but clear voice still whispered I had not.

My heart knew what my mind refused to concede. Paradise was at my fingertips, but home was still out of reach. A line from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity seized my mind: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The soft ocean breeze was like an angel’s breath inviting me to dream about a place I have never seen, yet desperately long to be. The scene around me awakened the longing within me. I couldn’t lull it back to sleep. I didn’t want to. I just wanted to go home, not back to Mount Airy–the city of Andy–but to Mount Zion, the city of God.

Like a refugee looking for a permanent place, the desire for something better–something more–is at home in every human heart.

It reveals itself in the passing incompleteness of our greatest triumphs. It shines brightest in the shadow of disappointment. Its voice is heard in the empty echo that returns to us from the pinnacle of success. Sometimes it whispers through the persistent not yet, and at other times it shouts with the voice of unmet desires that demand to be heard. Even pleasure has a way of demanding answers to those who are willing to let it ask its questions: where does joy come from, why can’t happiness last forever, is the pursuit of pleasure our whole reason for existence?

Longing is not the end in itself. Every desire has an object. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews pinpointed the root of our desire when he said that Abraham looked for a city “whose builder and maker is God.” At our very core we are longing for a place to really call home. Without provocation something in us calls for a better country. Our souls speak an unlearned foreign language that can’t be answered in any celestial tone. We long for the place we were really meant to be all along. This longing is not naïve, it is native. The desire itself is an evidence of the existence of a better world where perfection is possible and peace overrules. When surveying the vanity of life, King Solomon wrote, in Ecclesiastes 3, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”  We are by nature eternal being with eternal appetite. Behind every mistaken pursuit lies our deeper desire to be at Home with God.

When sin entered the story our fairy tale quickly became a tragedy. Mankind who was created for intimacy with God found himself separated from his one true love. Without doubt Eden was a garden paradise but it was the presence of God that made it home. In marvelous mercy God placed a guard post on the eastern edge of Eden to keep fallen man out of the garden lest he ate of the tree of life and lived forever in our ruined state. Ever since then we’ve been searching for a way back in to the garden that sin got us evicted from. In essence we all want to go back home.

The groans of the creation can be heard in spewing volcanoes and the destructive tsunamis. Every falling star cries out with its final breath, “Something is wrong in the universe,” and our own hearts confirm we are still east of Eden and somewhere south of home.

If longing were all I had to offer, the pleasure of my sentiment would render me still miserable and hopeless. May I say, I have hope because I have a home to look forward to. Jesus promised that He was going to prepare a place for me in the house of His Father. He then said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus is my way home! He is the gateway back to into Eden. He endured the sword to open the garden to me. Better still, through faith in Him I have been reconciled with God and can walk with Him again. I know I’m not home yet but greater still I know I’ve found the way.

As I reflected on my vacation, I found that surprisingly it was the bitter longing that made my vacation sweet. The expectation of what is to come made me enjoy the beauty of what was with a greater appreciation. Every pleasure became purer, every color brighter, and every moment sweeter knowing that these were only fleeting shadows of the better reality to come. The knowledge that I will one day live with the Artist in the land where all the beauty came from was almost more enjoyable than I could bear.

Many times since, I have been overcome with the desire to taste “again” what I have never tasted once, to hear the music my ears have never enjoyed yet somehow always miss, and to embrace what I have searched for in everything else. I’m looking forward to the land of the forever hello where I can finally bid farewell to goodbye. As for now I’m a pilgrim wandering east of Eden just somewhere south of Heaven but I’m looking for a city, I’m longing for home.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Ask and You Shall Receive

A beaming little girl with long brown hair stood beside her mom with her blue eyes fixed on the large glass candy jar that sat on the counter of the old country store. Lost in a land of gumdrops and candy kisses, her dream was interrupted by the sound of a kind man’s voice somewhere off in the distance. In an instant she was back in the store standing on her tip toes, with her hands on the counter pulling her up to see the treasure behind the glass.

Again the man asked, “Would you like some candy?“ To most children her age that was like asking, “Would you like to take a year off from school?” Of course the answer was yes; but there was one problem—she didn’t have any money and neither did her mom. She knew this because every time she asked for something her mom told her that she would have to ask her dad.

“No sir,” she finally replied with a deep sigh and hesitant fidget. Then a miracle happened! The old shop keeper explained that he just happened to have a special on candy that particular day. Any little girl with blue eyes and brown hair could get a whole handful of candy for free!  For a moment she thought she heard the bells of Heaven ringing, but then realized it was just the bell on the front door of the little store.

Most children wouldn’t hesitate at an opportunity like this, yet she slowly took her hands from the counter and placed them in her pockets. Confused by her response the jolly old man with the shiny bald head repeated his offer again. Still she only stood there staring up at him with her large puppy eyes. Undeterred by her shyness the old shop keep rolled up his long white sleeve, opened the jar, and scooped out a handful of sugary bliss and held it out to his little friend. It took both her hands and three pockets to hold all the candy his dozer-sized hand had taken from the jar. What could she say, other than a genuine thank you.

With a big smile on her face, candy in her pockets, and cherry red die on her lips, she left the store with a story to tell and evidence to prove it. As they walked down the sidewalk her mother stopped and asked her a question. “Why didn’t you get the candy when the nice man first offered it to you”?  Skipping along and without missing a beat the little girl replied, “His hands were bigger than mine.”

Can God do more for us than we can do for ourselves? Are His hands bigger than ours? Of course He can, and of course they are! Every need Crestwood has ever had has been supplied by the big hands of God, and He will not fail us now. Currently we are in need of $200,000.00 to make necessary repairs on our heating and air units and our parking lots. I believe God has the funds and wants to transfer them to our account. This may seem like a large amount to us, but I guarantee you it’s pennies to God. For the past two months I have been asking our Father to supply this need, and now I would like to invite you to ask Him with me.

This is His work, we are His children, and it is His delight to supply our needs. We only have not, because we ask not. I do not preach, nor do I believe in, a prosperity gospel; but I do, however, believe in a God who pays for what He orders. We must not view this as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity for God to prove Himself both faithful and able. We ought to pray for this, not just to fix problems but to increase our faith and honor our Father. Imagine what a testimony it would be to His kindness for us to be able to say, “Look what our God did!”

Through the prayers and kindness of His people He has already provided us well over $20,000.00 for special projects in this last year. Now we ask for ten times more in full confidence that He is a ten times more kind of God. When Ezra returned to Israel from Babylon we are told that the king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahweh his God was on him. Furthermore, we are told that the King issued a decree that whatever Ezra needed should be provided to him promptly from the royal treasuries. (Ezra 7:6/21) I believe God can and will do the same for us.

We cannot justly ask God for anything that we are not willing to invest in ourselves.

With His help and by his grace, I humbly ask you to commit to increase sacrificial giving to the cause of His Kingdom this year. His hands are bigger than ours, but ours will remain empty as long as they remain closed. Brothers and sisters, I ask you to ask God what he would have us do. Would you commit to fasting and praying with me in the name of Jesus for God to supply this need for the advancement of the gospel and the fame of His name?

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Happy Is the Man Who Grieves Out Loud

C.S. Lewis used these powerful words to describe the loss of his wife, Joy: “Her absence is like the sky, spreading over everything.” Grief cuts deep and spreads wide. It leaves its frosty fingerprints on everything it touches. There are few things more agonizing than living under its shadow. Grief is a cold and lonely wilderness of lost love and unmet expectations. Often, survivors are encouraged or even told to move on. But how can one just move on from love? I think moving forward is a better concept. The valley of death is not a place to build a house. It is a place to mark on the map, a place to learn from, and a place from which to launch out with new direction.

As the Man of Sorrows, Jesus understood more about grief than any other human who ever experienced it. His deep understanding of human loss is evident in a statement He made about mourning in the Beatitudes.  During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” This statement contains both a paradox and a promise that we should seek to understand.

Let’s examine the paradox first. I always thought this phrase to be somewhat perplexing. How can anyone say that the one who mourns is blessed? The word “blessed” is an interesting word. In fact, it could literally be translated “happy”; happy is the one who mourns. This seems to only further complicate Jesus’ statement. To understand what Jesus is driving at, we must understand the difference between grieving and mourning. Grief is the emotional internal pain felt as a result of a loss. Mourning is the external expression of that grief.

Notice Jesus did not say that the one who is grieving is happy, but the one who is mourning will be happy. Literally, Jesus was communicating the idea that happy is the one who grieves out loud! Happy is the one who expresses inward trouble outwardly. Jesus understood that physically, psychologically, and spiritually, mourning is directly related to the ability to move forward and that a failure to do so will inhibit progress.

The spiritual and the scientific do not need to be viewed as separate categories. Jesus’ words are fully compatible with recent studies on the positive effects of expressing emotions. Research shows that those who allow themselves to express sorrow—whether through tears, ceremony, or other avenues of mourning—are less likely to experience negative effects on their health and more likely to adjust to their new normal and find meaning after loss and in loss.

To those who have experienced recent loss, I encourage you to allow yourself the right to acknowledge that you are not okay. Your life has been forever changed. Acknowledge this often and openly. Allow the tears in your heart to become the tears on your cheek. Washington Irving beautifully said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep loss, and of unspeakable love.” It is fine to remove your “I’m okay” face and acknowledge that your heart has been broken. It is more than fine; it is necessary!

The idea that Christians who have enough faith shouldn’t hurt is preposterous. Jesus Himself contradicts that idea by His own actions as He wept over Lazarus. The wise man said there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Tears are God’s gifts given to aid us in our journey through the valley of the shadow. Research proves that tears serve as agents of healing in the grieving process. Mourning plays a role that only it can.

The paradox is “happy is the one who mourns.” The promise is that the one who grieves out loud will be comforted. Could it be that Jesus desired us to understand that comfort comes through mourning? Mourning is the bridge from the shadow lands to sunlit tomorrows? Comfort will not grow where mourning has not first prepared the ground. The happiness of a memory can often heal the heart, yet the sadness of that same thought calls the heart to continue its journey onward, forward, upward, and deeper in. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a leading expert in the field of grief and loss, recently suggested that one must say hello many times before one can ever say goodbye. Hello to a memory, hello to love, hello to loss. Mourning is saying hello; comfort is saying goodbye.

When joined with the promise, the paradox makes perfect sense; “Blessed is the one who mourns for they shall be comforted.” Mourning is the path to healing.

Grief can’t be “gone-avoided”; it must be “gone through,” so don’t be afraid to mourn your loss.

Do not succumb to the pressure to be okay when, in reality, you are not. Happy is the one who grieves out loud, for in mourning, they find comfort of body, mind, and soul.

Pastor Benjamin Webb

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Pebble-Kicking Skepticism

I have never been more excited about the direction God is leading Crestwood Baptist Church than I am today. We have asked Him for guidance, and He has answered with fresh insight and clear vision. For this we thank Him. As the Lord has led our church through this process, He has been leading me through a personal process as well. I’ve heard Him calling me further up and deeper in, watched Him increase my faith, and sensed an expansion of the vision he has planted in my heart. Through every twist and turn of this brief journey, one scripture has been whispered into the ears of my heart over and over. 

Matthew 17:19-20 says, Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, “Why could not we cast him out?” And Jesus said unto them, “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

After their descent from the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus–along with Peter, James, and John–returned to the find the other nine disciples in a heated argument with the local scribes. When Jesus asked what the discussion was about an anxious man in the mob spoke up and answered, Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not. (Mark 9:17-18)

This helpless father had come to the church looking for answers, but all he found was confusion. When Jesus entered the equation, He confronted the darkness with light. Jesus ordered the fretful father to bring the boy to Him. In Jesus’ presence the tormenting spirit showed his true colors, tossing his victim around like a rag doll and throwing him to the ground in a violent rage. In the middle of the turmoil Jesus took the time to ask an important question to assess the situation, “How long has this been going on?” Jesus understood the importance of determining a time frame, because the length of the oppression determines the strength of the possession.

Without fear or hesitancy of any kind, Jesus commanded the spirit to come out of the boy and never enter Him again. Having been served his eviction notice, the demon had no choice but to pack his bags and find somewhere else to live.  It was when the disciples were finally alone with Jesus again that they asked, “Why could we not cast it out? To which Jesus simply answered, “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

As I reflect on this story, I am struck by one glaring truth. Jesus told his disciples if you have a small amount of genuine faith you can command mountains to move; but most believers don’t even have enough faith to get a rock out of their shoe. I am convinced that, under the guise of being realistic, we have embraced pebble-kicking skepticism and ignored mountain moving faith. We like to label our doubt as caution and maturity, but sometimes God just calls it unbelief. 

I believe God is calling our church to greater things than our minds can fathom, but we will never know the power of His presence, or apprehend the fullness of His plan, until we learn to pray mountain-moving prayers in full assurance of faith. It’s worth asking, are you currently praying any God sized prayers?

It is God-sized petitions that get God-sized answers.

Why settle for a pebble-kicking recess when the mountain-moving dynamite of the Spirit is yours in Christ? Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to ask God for more, and quit settling for less.

In Christ Alone,
Pastor Benjamin Webb

IMPACT!

Crestwood Baptist Church is committed to meeting both the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbors. Therefore, we are excited to announce a new opportunity we are offering to the families in our community. We are calling this new ministry IMPACT. This program will be offered to children, kindergarten through fifth grade. A Bible lesson, a meal, help with homework, and fun activities will be provided at each meeting.

IMPACT will meet Thursday evenings from 6pm to 8pm in the Education Building at Crestwood Baptist Church located at 530 Motor Road in Winston Salem. The first meeting is scheduled for March 1, 2017.

We have a limited number of spots available
and preregistration is required!

When our registration limit is reached all other interested candidates will be placed on a waiting list.

For preregistration or more information, please contact the Crestwood Baptist Church office at 333-767-0096. If you are interested in volunteering or contributing to this effort, please contact the church office as well.

In Christ Alone,
Pastor Benjamin Webb

Sing Me A Love Song

The phone rang and, to be honest, I hesitated to answer. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to her. After all she was a friend. The problem was I knew she was discouraged and I didn’t know what else to tell her. Since that time, I’ve learned that I don’t always have to have the answers.  Sometimes the most encouraging thing we can do is just listen. Yet, that day I knew she needed something to hold on to, something to keep her above water until the storm calmed down.

I took the call and happily answered as if I was surprised to hear her voice. To my chagrin she immediately called my bluff, and of course I denied hesitating to answer. I was right about one thing though, she was down again, and I didn’t know how to help her up. She raced from point to point, barely taking a breath in between. The skies over her life really were dark, and it seemed like the sun had gone on an extended vacation. I wanted to say something, but what was there to say that I hadn’t said already?

The usual Romans 8:28 hadn’t even slowed her venting down. She was like a steaming kettle whistling under the pressure, and I felt like the range top fan trying to sift through the smoke. I discovered that my deep barrel of wisdom was really no bigger than a red solo cup and I had already poured out the last drop. With a sigh I offered a silent prayer. Why I had not done that sooner I can’t explain. “Lord, she belongs to you. Will you please give me something to say that will help her?”

Suddenly one line from a little-known verse written by an obscure Hebrew prophet came to my mind. After pronouncing pending doom and certain judgment the prophet Zephaniah said, “The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17)

Then followed one of those moments that can be explained no other way than God did it. I am an analytical planner, nothing can be said without careful thought as to whether it is accurate, beautiful, and true. Yet, without even a second thought I blurted out, “Do you ever hear singing?” It was like someone pulled the emergency brake in her fast-moving anxiety express. For a moment she was silent. Finally, she said, “What in the world are you talking about?”  Again, I repeated, “Do you ever hear singing, music that you don’t know where it’s coming from?” She was intrigued. I had her on the ropes.

It was like a teleprompter flashed on in my head. The Holy Spirit enabled me to quote a verse I had never memorized. The words came so naturally as if they were my own, but clearly they were too good to be mine. I remember saying, “When God sings, He sings about the things He loves, and that includes you.” It was so simple, so elementary, but it was what she needed to hear. We talked on for a few minutes more about God’s love for her. She was thrilled by the fact that God was singing a love song over her.  I could hear the smile in her voice as she said thank you and hung up the phone. She thanked me, but I thanked Him; because, after all, He was the One who wrote the song.

There is nothing more stabilizing than love. To know you are loved is to know that you are not alone. To give love is to surrender the most sacrificial gift the heart can offer. To receive love is to receive the most honorable present the heart can cherish. The certain reality that we are loved with unconditional love that will never run out, thaw out, or fall out–by a God who will never walk out– provides our hearts a haven of rest.

It’s hard to imagine what an angelic choir sounds like; it’s even harder to grasp the magic that fills the air when God sings a solo. What is amazing to me is that when He opens His mouth He sings a song about sinners He has chosen to save. Of the 1,005 songs Solomon wrote, his best hit was a love song about his Shulamite bride. Our Shepherd King sings about His bride as well, and His lyrics make Solomon’s look like a kindergartener’s crayon-colored love note. If you belong to Him, He’s singing about you. When loneliness puts a chokehold on your joy, when anxiety stops up your wells of contentment, be still, and listen to our Savior’s soothing song. He sings about what He loves, and what He loves He takes care of.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?  I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

-Pastor Ben Webb

Shut the Door Behind You When You Go

Working with Hospice taught me many unique lessons I would have otherwise missed. One such lesson found its way into my heart during a counseling session with a recently bereaved widow. She came into the office and took her seat opposite me. Unacquainted, we exchanged small talk before beginning our journey together. I asked her to tell me her story.

She paused pensively as if standing outside peeking into the windows of her own memories. Other than the sound of soft sobs the room was quiet. Her left hand clenched a damp crumpled tissue; tears carved long slow trails down her cheeks. She opened her mouth but at first nothing came out. It appeared as if her mind was frantically searching for the words her heart needed to say. He wasn’t perfect, but he was so much more than just another good man. He was her teenage sweetheart and the love of her life. They had been given what many only dream of but now her happiness had been laid to rest with him.

The frequent hospital visits her husband’s illness demanded had become an expected part of their routine. A brief scare, an unexpected rally, another trip home, this was the cycle she had come to expect. She reminisced, surely, he would pull through, he always did, but this time was different.

The memory of his dramatic final moments had become her tormentor. In the brief moment she had turned away from his hospital bed her whole world changed. His body shook like an autumn leaf pummeled by the wind. A team of nurses met her at the door as she hurried to find help. Looking back, it all seemed like a surreal nightmare. Slowly she retold the story of fading into a foggy background as experienced doctors and nurses rushed in and ushered her out. They worked feverishly to stabilize him, but even advanced medicine could not stop his advancing disease process. No one knows the power of the word gone until it is spoken in apologetic tones in one’s own unbelieving ears.

I can’t help but imagine her shuffling aimlessly back into his room in an almost robotic manner, stunned and in shock at how quickly her life had just unraveled. Otherwise chatty machines seemed reverently quiet, he was eerily still, and the hands she had held so long were already unfamiliarly cool. Although they were together again in that lonesome room she knew she was alone and he was gone. The sacred hour she spent with her husband before releasing his shell to the funeral home is not a thing to be lightly commented on. Those moments were her moments not to be shared. When it was time she packed her things and tearfully left the room shutting the door behind her.

As she told her story the continual re-occurrence of the last time she saw him alive made one thing abundantly clear to me. She was being held hostage by the traumatic memory of his death. A life time of memories were being starved and suppressed by the torment of one traumatic moment. That unavoidable picture was the terrorist that haunted her sleep, chased the taste from her food, and posted a closed sign on the door of her heart. There were so many rooms in the house of her grief begging to be visited, but one memory locked her in and would not allow her to leave. We both knew it was time for her to go.

Sometimes to deal with a traumatic event or hostile memory it is necessary to seek professional counseling. Nevertheless, even an experienced provider cannot change the past. Among the most important forward steps in the journey of life is making the decision that you will not spend the rest of your days held hostage by the dark shadows of the past. For her it was a hospital room, for you it may be a conversation, a bad decision, an unavoidable event, or something else that no one else would ever guess. The past can be a terrible tormentor but it only holds the power we give it. If we are ever going to live again we must make the conscious decision to leave the past where it belongs and step forward into the future.

I would not be so naïve as to suggest that we can choose to forget our past, but I am confident we have the power to choose not to live there.

Overcoming a memory may take a lifetime; but not letting it take your life is a choice you must make. Whether it be our own sins or the sins of others, what if’s or I should haves, we cannot allow what was to decide what is.

Before concluding our time together, I encouraged her to make an intentional visit to the room where she had been held captive so long. Acknowledge what happened there and grieve what was not. I asked her to take the time she needed to observe her surroundings, rediscover those moments she had forgotten, and gather the things she would need for the future. Box up everything you want to keep and then say goodbye–not goodbye to him, but goodbye to that small cell that has held your life for ransom so long–and shut the door behind you when you go.

As we face this new year I encourage you to let go of what you cannot change and embrace the goodness and the mercy of God in the here and now. Don’t try to forget the past. File those lessons away that were learned from it, learn to see the grace of God in the midst of it, then leave it where it belongs and shut the door behind you when you go.

-Pastor Ben Webb

You Shall Call His Name Jesus

Jesus (Iesus/Yeshua=God is salvation) was a common name in Israel. There were probably numbers of little boys running around with the same name, but this One–this Jesus–was the first and only One ever able to live up to the name!

Joseph called Him Jesus; God called Him the Beloved Son in whom he was well pleased,

Peter called Him Master. Bartimaeus called Him the Son of David. A legion of demons growled at Him as they called Him the Son of the Most High. Pilate called Him The King of the Jews.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, called Him wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. When he wrote to the Ephesians, Paul identified Him as the chief cornerstone, the creator, the truth. In the Thessalonian letters, he said Jesus was He who delivers us from the wrath to come.

To Timothy, Paul referred to Him as our hope, our God, the seed of David, and the judge of the living and the dead.

The writer of Hebrews called Jesus the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, the Mediator of the new covenant, and the great Shepherd of the sheep.

When John looked upon Jesus in the revelation, he wrote that He was the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.

He has been called many things, but Jesus says it all!

There is no other name given under Heaven whereby we must saved.

Even now all who call on the name of Jesus in faith shall be saved.

Friends I encourage you, you who are lost, you who doubt, Jesus says to you, “Look unto me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth.”

The ends of the earth includes you my friend.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

*Excerpt from morning sermon on December 23, 2017. To hear the complete message, visit Pastor Ben’s sermon page here.*