Broken Crayons

Recently, while traveling down the interstate, I noticed a billboard that I had passed many times before yet never read. Big white letters stamped on a baby-blue background read, “Broken crayons still color.” At first, I only smiled and continued driving; but then, in the same way a warm breeze can bring back a long-lost memory of summer vacations, the big white words transported me back to a wooden table situated in a dimly lit dining room.

At that time, I was working as a children’s bereavement counselor for a local hospice organization. I often said that I was paid to play, but honestly, I learned some valuable lessons about life, love, and loss while coloring submarines and drawing dragons with grieving children. One case involved me meeting with a seven-year-old boy whose father had been murdered one week prior to our visit. This appointment vividly illustrated a lesson for me that I hope never to forget

As we sat there rummaging through my box of crayons looking for specific colors to complete our self-proclaimed masterpieces, my little friend and I discovered that many of my crayons were bent, broken, or bare.  I had a bad habit of leaving my coloring box in the car on hot days. I should have remembered my childhood discovery that crayons don’t react well to heat. I had learned this the hard way as I scraped splattered crayon from the roof of my grandmother’s microwave after attempting to make finger paint in a Styrofoam bowl.

While apologizing that my crayons were in such poor shape, I remember casually saying, “I should probably throw all the broken ones away.” Immediately he looked at me with a confused expression, picked up a broken cherry red Crayola that was missing its wrapper, and said, “Why would you do that? Broken crayons still color!” Whether he realized it or not, I was dumbfounded. That seven-year-old had just preached one of the best messages I had ever heard in only a few simple words. While he continued to color, I sat there thinking about that fact that “broken” and “worthless” were not synonymous.

That day I went to counsel him, but he ended up doing far more for me. When I later saw that sign on the interstate and reminisced to what I had learned at my little counselor’s table, I couldn’t help but think about the broken, bent, and bare people that I encounter every day. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times others, like myself, had suggested throwing them away. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times Jesus, like the little boy, chose them as the perfect tool to complete His masterpiece.

We’re all flawed in different ways. Some of us have been bent by the consequential heat of our own choices, others have been broken, like a crayon snapped in half by the overbearing pressure of a preschooler, while others are as bare as a Crayola without a wrapper because of the inescapable wear and tear of life. Because sin exists, so do defects. They are an unavoidable part of being human. However, our defects do not have to define us. Even broken things can become useful again when placed in the right hands. My little friend didn’t let the crayons limitation limit him. He used it despite its faults to create something beautiful.

That’s exactly what God does with broken, bent, and bare lives that are placed in His hand. God sent His Son into the world not to condemn sinners, but to save sinners who were condemned already. Jesus did not come to judge us, but to justify us. God demands perfection–a state none of us could ever achieve. So, Jesus came and achieved it in our place. Furthermore, He not only did what we couldn’t; He suffered so we wouldn’t. When Jesus died on the cross, He was punished in our place. Our sins were placed on Him who knew no sin so that His goodness could be placed on us. This is what we call the gospel.

Jesus is the good news in the middle of our mess. He came to bring beauty from the tragic ugliness of sin. Looking back, I remember the final strokes my little friend added to his picture.  I can still see him, tongue barely sticking out of the corner of his mouth, hard at work. When finished, he proudly held up his picture for my approval. I have to say it was the most beautiful red rose a seven-year-old boy ever imagined onto a sheet of paper; and the miracle was that it was all done with a half of a warped crayon that was missing its wrapper.

If you are reading this and you recognize your life looks more like my hodgepodge box of mixed up, messed up Crayola’s than it does a pack of new, unopened, and unused crayons right off the shelf, you are actually in a good place, not a bad place.  You are just the color God is looking for. He didn’t come to help people who were well. He came to help people who were in need of a physician. If you’re broken, you are not helpless; if you’re bent, you are not useless; if you’re bare, you are not worthless. God makes His best masterpieces with tools that others considered to be a throwaway mess.

If you will come to Jesus, I guarantee you, He will come to you. If you will take Him at His word and trust Him for His forgiveness, He will take you as you are and change you into what you were meant to be. He will take the broken, bent, and bare parts of your life and restore them. Not only will He restore them, He will use them to create a masterpiece He can hold up and show His Father, a masterpiece that the Creator of color Himself will find breathtaking and be proud of. Jesus chooses, and Jesus uses the broken ones, because Jesus loves them too much to throw them away.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Fitting the Pieces Together

Have you ever tried to put a massive puzzle together without the box to guide you? I think it would be well nigh impossible. Every piece of the puzzle has a specific place where it is meant to fit in the larger design. The church is not so different. We are all pieces of a bigger picture. The question is, what is the picture and where do we fit?

For the last three years we have corporately devoted the month of June to intentional prayer and fasting. We have sought God for many things during these designated times, and many of those specific prayers have received specific answers. Last year, in obedience to His command we asked God to send us laborers for His harvest. This is a prayer we have prayed often, and this is a prayer God has answered. Crestwood has been uniquely blessed with a collective body willing to go where God leads and do what God commands. A large percentage of our body is actively involved in some form of organized church ministry. For this we should be especially grateful.

Furthermore, we have not only been blessed with loyal and willing followers, we have been blessed with insightful and gifted leaders. I know I say it often, but I do not know if we really realize what God has done for us. We have been blessed with six men called to and gifted for the ministry.  Over fifteen percent of our active congregation have been given the gift of teaching. What is most interesting to me about this, is not only are these teachers obviously gifted, they are very gifted.

We know from the scripture that every member of the body is gifted for service in the body. We tend to focus on the speaking gifts, but the serving gifts are of equal importance. It’s obvious God has woven our local body together for a specific purpose. It is time we get serious about discovering what that purpose is. Beyond our gifted body we have been blessed with a large facility, parts of which remain almost totally unused. God has seen our church through difficult days in the past and has strengthened us to become a growing thriving church.

All our financial and physical needs have been met with blessings to spare. It is obvious that God has favored us. Now, I want to know why. I know the chief answer to the why is simply that He is good, but I am convinced there is more to it than that. God has a purpose for His church and a purpose for every individual in His church. I want to know what that purpose is. We could attempt to do many things for the Kingdom of God, but I would much rather do the one thing God has designed us to do for the sake of His kingdom.

Therefore, I would like to ask you to join me this month in praying and fasting for answers to two questions. What is His purpose for our church and where do I fit in the bigger picture? I believe God has given us the pieces, but we need His wisdom in putting them together. It may be that there are still some scattered pieces that He must bring to us before the whole puzzle can be complete. It may be that some pieces need to be turned around so that they can fit where they belong. No matter the case, we need His leadership in putting the puzzle together. I think it would be somewhat arrogant of us to assume we can ever completely understand the God’s whole plan, but I also think it would be foolish and faithless of us not to ask for directions in putting the puzzle together one piece at a time. Again, I ask you to pray and fast for direction on these two questions: What is God’s purpose for our church and how do I fit in the bigger picture?

In Christ Alone,

Bad Boys

The theme song for the hit show COPS was one of the 90’s most distinctive sounds. The lyrics weren’t great, but the lines became legendary. “Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do, when they come for you, bad boys, bad boys?” I remember sitting in front of the television as a kid watching silly people do stupid things, thinking to myself, “How can anyone be so dumb?” The problem wasn’t just that the criminals were bad. The problem was that they were often so bad at being bad. At that time, If I’m honest, I thought I was a little better than they were. In fact, I was sure of it until I had an encounter with the law myself.

I didn’t go to court, but I did stand before a judge. To my surprise, at seven years old I found myself tried and found guilty for the crimes I had committed. I was mortified to discover that the prosecution was pursuing the death penalty. Worse still, I knew I deserved it. My crime–I lied. That was it. I had lied many times, but once was enough to earn me a death sentence. You may be thinking, “Oh, you had me there for a minute. I thought you really got arrested.” Honestly, I did, just not in the way you’re thinking. It wasn’t black uniforms backed by blue lights that had tracked me down. It was far worse than that. God Himself had cornered me, and He had enough evidence to put me away for eternity. I thought I was pretty good, but standing in His presence was enough to convince me I was actually pretty bad.

As long as I compared myself to the bad boys on the screen, I could brush my shoulders off and feel fairly good about myself, but God wasn’t buying that defense. You see, His standard of goodness was far better than mine. He wasn’t comparing me to people who were worse than me. He was comparing me to someone far better than me, His Son Jesus. I could boast that I wasn’t as bad as some people, but I couldn’t even begin to argue the case that I was as good as Jesus. Jesus was and is perfect in all His ways. He never said, thought, or did anything that displeased God or violated His law.

Therefore, God does not measure us by us. He measures us by Him.

When compared to Him, even our good looks bad. God doesn’t just look at what we have done, but why we did it. He examines our motives, not just our actions. The slightest hint of selfishness or falsified information is incriminating. The good deed we thought would take the stand on our behalf often becomes evidence for the prosecution. When I found that out, I knew I was in trouble. It wasn’t just that I was going to be tried for my bad deeds it was that I was going to be tried for my good deeds as well. Suddenly I realized that my best had left me in worse shape than I could imagine. I was just another bad boy in big trouble, and I wasn’t alone. The truth is, I found a lot of company in my holding cell. As I looked around, I realized, there are actually no good people. We are all basically bad. Even our good deeds are tainted by selfishness and pride. Listen to Gods assessment of humanity:

Psalm 53:2-3
2 God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.

According to God, who always gets it right, we’ve all got it wrong. Yet, it’s our bad that makes His gospel good. The gospel is the true account of Jesus. God’s own perfection demanded that He judge sin, and before we think Him harsh, we should be careful to admit that we ourselves believe justice should be served; just not against us. Most of us have an inner sense of fairness that forces us to believe if you do the crime you have to do the time. We believe that crimes must be paid for, but we are shocked to find out how much our own sin cost. The fine for every crime is the same, execution. The only catch is that the punishment doesn’t end there. Death is just the beginning. The real punishment is a life sentence in hell, without the possibility of parole. Make no mistake, even this proves the goodness of God. He is so just He cannot and will not overlook even the smallest crime against the crown. Every crime gets paid for, one way or the other. The bad news, that God is good, is also the best news we could hope to receive.

God isn’t just the judge of what’s good, He is also the justifier of those who are guilty. God didn’t just require a payment for sin; He made the payment justice required. The only Good Guy gave Himself as a ransom for all the bad boys. He was shackled, punished, and executed in our place. The law demanded blood, so Jesus gave His. The exchange was bigger than just pardon; it also meant purification. In His death, Jesus not only took our rebellion, He offered us His righteousness. All who come to Him by faith are not only forgiven of the charges against them, their record is expunged, and all past crimes are completely erased.  The beauty of the gospel is not just that we can be forgiven and free. No, the beauty is that we can be clean.

When we come to God through Christ, He doesn’t only take our bad away; He gives us His good. Literally, Jesus trades our orange jumpsuit for His white robes. He gives us his righteousness. When we get that, then and only then can we understand what makes the gospel so good. The gospel is the good news that, though we were bad, Jesus is always good. It’s through our badness we see His goodness most clearly. Jesus didn’t come to save good people; He came to save sinners that could never save themselves.

          

The Final Score

There were only 6.6 seconds left on the clock. The Duke Blue Devils had, in dramatic fashion, bounced back from a 15-point deficit at the end of regulation. I know pastors aren’t supposed to pull for devils, but we all have weaknesses. Duke hadn’t beat Carolina at the Smith center since 2016. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season. I was hoping this would be our season. The score was 96 -95 in Carolinas favor, and Tre Jones was going to the line to shoot two. He made the first shot, tying the game 96 all.  Nervous didn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Everything was riding on the next shot.

Honestly the Heels deserved to win the game. They had played better, harder, and smarter almost the whole game. Even if Jones made the second free-throw, I was well aware a lot could happen in six seconds. My stomach was in knots as I scooted to the edge of the couch waiting to see the outcome of the final play. Then something occurred to me, something I knew, yet was somehow overlooking, I had no reason to be nervous. I knew how the game ended!

My wife and I had gone out to eat with our families for her birthday that evening. The fact that I would miss the biggest game of the season wasn’t a big deal, because I could always record it. As soon as we arrived back at home, I grabbed the remote, jumped on the couch, and pressed play all in one smooth sweeping motion. In the first few minutes of the game, I was painfully aware that things weren’t looking good for the Devils. I looked at the time left on the recording and instinctively knew this one was going into overtime. Then, I impulsively did something I try to never do. I looked ahead at the final score. The headline read, “Carolina falls to Duke 96-98 in crushing overtime defeat.”

As the game was winding down, I literally breathed a sigh of relief and sat back to watch the epic last few seconds. The final few minutes of that game will go down as one of the all-time rivalry matchups between Duke and Carolina, but I got something more than just the pleasure of the win that night. I learned a valuable spiritual lesson. No matter how bad it looked, it didn’t change the fact that the final score had already been posted and my team had won. Knowing the final score freed me from the anxiety of wondering how the game ended.

Of course, there is an unmistakable parallel here. Listen to what James said in his letter to the early church.

You also be patient. Establish your hearts,
for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
(James 5:8)

The word establish means to stabilize. James was telling the suffering church, though things may look bad, Jesus is coming and when does, we win. Now, stabilize yourself with that truth. God’s kindness has been made evident to us in many ways, one way being His revelation of how the game ends. He hasn’t left us reason to fret about the final score. Over and over throughout scripture, He hit fast forward and showed us how the game ends. We know the game is fixed and we can’t lose. If He controls our destinies, there is no valid excuse for allowing that nagging nervousness to dictate our lives.

Knowing the final score shouldn’t cause us to lose interest in the game. Rather, it should be a catalyst to make us consider how we play our remaining minutes. Knowing the final score, there are three encouragements I want to leave you with.

Give it all you’ve got.

If we know we win in the end, there may be a temptation for some to coast through the final seconds. I encourage you, don’t waste your minutes running out the clock when you could be running up the score. You see, stats matter. According to the scriptures, we will not be rewarded because we were on the court. We will be rewarded based on how we played the game. Please don’t misunderstand me; our goal is not applause from the stands. Our goal is a “well done” from the coach. I encourage you to allow the promise of his smile to be the motivation for how you play the game. Don’t just play to finish, play to win.

Be foul conscious.

Just because our team is ahead doesn’t mean we can’t foul out. Consider how embarrassing and even ridiculous it would be to earn a technical with seconds left on the clock. Knowing the game is already won, don’t play dirty. Be careful to represent your team with integrity. Play with an awareness that flagrant conduct will not be tolerated. There is wisdom in developing a healthy fear of being benched. None of us are above fouling out. In Mark 13 after instructing His disciples about the events of the end times Jesus said, “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” Knowing how the game ends, don’t just guard the ball, guard yourself. Memorize the regulations and play by the rule book lest you miss out on the joy of participation in the final play.

Enjoy the game

Since we know the final score, we don’t have to fret about the buzzer. We’re up, and we will never be down again. Darkness will not be able to mount a comeback. There will be no surprise last-second buzzer-beaters. When God showed us the final score, there was no error in the replay. We really will win in the end. That said, enjoy the rest of the game.  Celebrate every good play, learn from your turnovers, cheer on your team, and enjoy your minutes on the court. Our name is already on the trophy, Heaven’s band is standing ready to play our fight song, the saints are about to storm the court. The pressure is off, enjoy the game!

-Pastor Ben Webb

Debt Free for Keeps

Are you in debt over your head? Are you behind on payments and can’t catch up? Do you owe the credit companies more than you can afford to pay? These questions can be heard over and over every day on radio and television. Media centers, however, aren’t the only place those words are playing on constant repeat.  According to 2019 studies, individual Americans owe a combined total of over 1,000,000,000,000 in credit card debt and the national debt is quickly approaching $250,000,000,000,000! The voices in our own heads are asking the same questions as the advertisements, “How did we get in so deep and how are we ever going to dig our way out?”

Few things are more stressful than debt. It fills every unoccupied space with worry and taxes the joy out of life. The borrower signs his life away to the lender and tragically it’s often for things that weren’t even necessary. Beside almost every fiscal reality, I see a corresponding spiritual truth. Doesn’t the pursuit of the unnecessary vividly describe what happened in the garden? God gave Adam and Eve everything they would ever need, yet for some reason they didn’t think they had enough. They were tricked into believing something more would make them happy.

Deceived by the Serpent’s convincing, yet inaccurate add campaign, they reached out for something they couldn’t afford and didn’t need. There was no fine print; God had plainly labeled the price of the fruit. Little did they realize one appetizer would leave their family in debt so deep they would never be able to climb back out. Their bad decision has left the family in a bad spot ever since. In one moment, the whole family went so deep in debt the children are still poor thousands of years later.

It’s not only our family history that leaves us in the red. We’ve all racked up fraudulent charges of our own. Much like our parents we have been mesmerized by the devil’s marketing plan. We have bought the lie that we need and even deserve things God said we don’t. We’ve swiped our card at Vanity Fair on a daily basis without any hesitation or consideration of the cost, but the bill is coming due.

Have you ever received a credit card statement and almost passed out when you saw the balance? Have you ever wondered, “How did I spend so much?” Sin is similar. We often think we’re not that bad, until we see the bill. It doesn’t matter whether we ordered an extra-small or an extra-large, all sin carries the same cost – death and eternal, permanent separation from God. God is perfect and therefore so are His laws. No charges will be allowed to go unpaid. Every sin cent must be accounted for. One would think that this knowledge would make us buckle down and quit spending, yet instead we continue to disobey and push our personal debt ceiling higher and higher.

Our obligations are so great that if we were placed on an eternal payment plan, we couldn’t even begin to repay the interest. No matter what our bank statements say, we are all in debt beyond what we will ever be able to pay, and one day the collector is going to come calling. We are in over our heads, we will always be behind on our payments, we owe more that we can ever afford to pay, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Yet, God, in a turn of miraculous mercy, offers a debt forgiveness plan that is unbelievable.

It’s unbelievable because it is historically unprecedented. His plan doesn’t include a loan or a refinance option. His plan isn’t just a settlement where we pay part of what we owe. He offers comprehensive debt forgiveness. To the debtor, this should be the best news ever heard, but still one must ask how it works. What’s the catch? If God’s law requires all debts to be paid in full, then how can God justly forgive our debts without violating His own rules?

The formula God used was simple, yet simultaneously incomprehensible. The answer is Jesus. He, being God, became a man. He experienced every category of temptation we face, yet never once swiped the card. On a hillside called Golgotha, just outside of Jerusalem, He was crucified for illegitimate charges He had not made. It was for our sin He was nailed to the tree.

Jesus came to earth to pay the debt we had accrued but couldn’t afford. He got in to get us out. The Bible teaches that when Jesus was crucified, God placed all our sin on Him. In other words, Jesus took on our debts and paid them with His own death. Since He had no debt of His own, He possessed the necessary capital to pay ours. God’s plan is breathtaking. Those who accept Jesus’ payment don’t just get out of debt. No, Jesus’ good credit is transferred to their account. There’s no credit check required; everyone qualifies for God’s debt forgiveness program. All the debtor must do is quit trying to pay the bill and believe that Jesus already closed the account.

Whoever the Son sets free is free indeed. All who come to Christ by faith are, in the eyes of God, Debt Free for Keeps. If you don’t have a dime to spare, you’re a perfect candidate for God’s free program, because Jesus paid it all. If your debt has you down, God wants to talk.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Tic-Toc Goes the Clock

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic -toc. Besides the occasional slow exhale, those were the only sounds heard in the room. The scene was a normal Tuesday morning prayer meeting. We were spending our usual five minutes in silence preparing our hearts for intercession. It was into this silence the generic round wall clock spoke. No one else in the room may have even heard it chattering away, but I knew it was talking to me.

Every time the hand clicked away another second, it seemed like the tic-toc got louder. Realistically, the clock probably wasn’t any louder than usual. I was just finally quiet enough to hear it. Its message was much shorter than most of mine, but it rang out with a clarity I often spend hours trying to achieve. The message was simple, “Your life is quickly ticking away. What are you doing with it?”

Almost immediately, the twelfth verse of the ninetieth Psalm came to mind. There, Moses penned the words, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I find it fascinating that, somewhere past age 80, Moses was not praying for power or protection. He was asking God to teach him how to count. His concern wasn’t the ability to tally the days he’d lived; what he wanted was to learn how to count the days he had left. His reasoning was simple. He wasn’t asking so he could plan elaborate trips or know how much he would need to save for retirement. No, he wanted to learn how to count so that by preparing to die he could learn how to live.

Like Moses, we all have an invisible, unchangeable expiration date stamped on these bodies of clay. We are all on death’s layaway plan. Every day he’s making payments, every day he’s getting closer to claiming what’s his. We can’t cancel or postpone our meeting. This is one appointment everyone will be on time for. When the buzzer sounds there will be no overtime. When the game is over, win or lose, the score will be unchangeable.

One day–and it may be sooner that we would care to imagine–our entire life will be summed up by nothing more than a dash between two dates. It’s a sobering thought to realize that once our last breath is taken, the dash can’t be undone. No one gets a dateline do-over. As certainly as the first date on our headstone is already written, so the final date is already set in stone. We’re just living on the line.

This knowledge should force us to confront ourselves with the question, “What am I doing with my dash?”  Living in the shadow of our own mortality isn’t a morbid thing; it’s a wise thing. Wisdom is not knowing something; it’s doing something with what we know. We know death is certain. Wisdom is making prearrangements. Numbering our days doesn’t come naturally for most of us because we don’t want to think about our own expiration date, but it is an essential element to wise kingdom living.

I think back often to that day in the conference room. Sometimes I can still hear the clock methodically ticking away. Every time I think about that morning, I feel forced to ask, “Am I investing my minutes in things that will last longer than the carnations placed on my grave?” The phrase my childhood pastor often quoted comes to mind, “Only one life, will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

One day we will all stand before God. When we look into the fiery eyes of Christ, and the fiery eyes of Christ look into us, all that will matter is what we did with Him and what we did for Him. In the moment we behold the Invisible One, our achievements, our status, our elaborate trips, and our bank accounts suddenly won’t even be a story we care to tell. All that will matter then will be His approval. If it will be that way then, shouldn’t it be that way now? Knowing our time is limited should cause us to want to learn to count our days now so that our days will count later.

Even though no one else may have even heard it, I knew that God was in the room that morning, and He was speaking to me through the tic and toc of a Walmart clock. I encourage you, no matter your age, it’s never too late to learn to count.  There is wisdom in learning to count early, but learning to count late is better than never learning to count at all. Living with death in mind is wise, but dying without ever considering how we’re living is foolish. Life is brief but eternity is not. Therefore, our prayer should be, “Lord teach me to count.”

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

Open Windows

We are taught to believe our hearts are basically good, but God says they are basically bad, and He is the leading authority on the subject. Our hearts are compulsive liars, always at the loom fabricating fairy tales and false information.  One of the greatest temptations we face in life is naively believing the lies our own hearts whisper to us; lies not about others but lies about ourselves.

Knowing just how conniving and convincing our heart could be, God unlocked two windows in His word through which we could look and see the unflattering truths our hearts would rather keep secret. These two windows are our words and our wallets. Allow me to explain.

Our words provide an open window to look in and see the condition of our heart.

 Matthew 12: 34-35
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good,
and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

According to Jesus what comes out is a product of what’s within. It is easy to convince ourselves that we are faithful followers of Jesus, but sometimes our words speak louder than our actions. What comes out of our mouth is an unmistakable betrayal of what is in our heart. How often have we said something like, “I didn’t mean to say that,” when we should have said, “I didn’t mean to say that out loud”?

God lets us in on this little secret; if you want to know the truth about your own heart, look through the window of your words. A dirty mouth is the fruit of a dirty heart. Sweet water can’t come from a bitter well, nor bitter water from a sweet spring. What comes out of the fountain is only the product of what’s in the fountain.

At this point many of us may be quick to defend ourselves and say, “Well I don’t talk ‘dirty’ so that must mean I’m clean,” but we must be careful to examine the whole case laid before us. It’s not just how we talk that matters, it’s what we talk about. It’s very possible to have a clean mouth and still have a cluttered heart. We talk about what we cherish. If the majority of our conversational life is about everything and anything but Jesus and His kingdom, then the view from the outside window tells us the inside is cluttered and needs to be cleaned. By nature, we are hoarders. God doesn’t just want an organized mess, He wants a decluttered house.

Our hearts may lie but our lips always tell the truth. Even our lies tell the truth about our heart.

Our wallets provide an open window to look in and see the disposition of our heart.

Matthew 6: 21
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It seems to me, Jesus taught that our wallets, rather than our eyes, are the windows to our soul. If the location of our treasure determines the location of our heart, then it is safe to also say that wherever our heart is pointing is where our treasure will be placed. Few things can pull the curtain back on our inner life better than the way we use the money God has entrusted to us. Our bank statements give a more honest testimony about what we believe than our confession does.

The belief that this world is transient, but Christ’s kingdom is permanent, the conviction that Christ is better than everything else, the assurance that God will meet my needs according to His riches in glory are all key components of the Christian faith. It is one thing to recite a confession as an affirmation of these truths; it is another thing to give sacrificially as a confirmation we believe these truths. Talk is cheap, but sacrifice is not. It’s easy to sing, Oh How I Love Jesus with our lips while our hearts are singing, In It For the Money.

Our hearts lie, but the paper trail doesn’t. My question to you is not whether you believe in the Kingdom. My question is, would your accountant be convinced you believe in the coming King and His coming Kingdom? How we manage what we have been entrusted with is the needle on our inward compass, and it always points not just to where our treasure is but to where our heart is also.

Often, God’s most obvious acts of kindness are His most overlooked overtures of grace. One of the surest evidences of God’s love for us is His unending pursuit of our holiness, for without holiness no man can see Him. Though it is often unwelcome, unwanted, and unappreciated, conviction of sin is an act of compassion. God’s call to repent is always a call to return. It is an instruction to turn from the sin that leaves us thirsty and an invitation to return to the only well where water can be found.

It is mercy that opens ours eyes to see the corruption of our own soul. It is grace that calls us to come to Christ for cleansing. Only God has the power to open our blind eyes and expose what He’s seen all along. It is a great kindness when He opens the bolted windows and shines the light of His word into the dark and forbidden corners of our heart. It is a great blessing when He enables us to see the lies we have been hiding from ourselves. He doesn’t just open the window to let the truth out, He opens the window to let the Breeze in. I encourage you, don’t just acknowledge the truth; ask the Spirit to blow through and change your reality.

-Pastor Benjamin Webb

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