Receive Christ, Don’t Purchase Him

But we are all an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  – Isaiah 64:6

I was checking out an old sermon last week from the early 1800’s.  Honestly, it was difficult to understand, and I wasn’t getting a lot out of it, but then I came across these 5 words: “Receive Christ, don’t purchase Him.”  I just read those words over and over.  After about a week of contemplating them in my mind, I sure wish I had heard this years ago.

How many times have I expected that my behavior would win His favor?  How many times have I thought that God would answer my prayer because I’ve been “doing pretty good”?  Basically, there have been too many times in my life where I have lived performance-based Christianity.  Why would anyone buy into this?  The Bible clearly states that the righteousness that we think we do on our own are as “filthy rags.”  

When you feel like you have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, what is your first reaction?  Before you read on, really answer that question.  My first instinct is to beat myself up for a while.  Then, I will read the Bible, pray for a long time, read an old sermon, listen to a sermon, take a drive, or take a walk.  None of those things are bad at all, but as I look back, I wonder what my intentions were in doing them.  Something in me thinks that I might have been trying to earn God’s forgiveness and favor by doing religious things.

From this point on, I really hope that God will remind me of these five words.  No matter where I am in life, or what I’ve done, may I simply receive His forgiveness.  In Romans 6:23 it clearly says, “The wages of sin is death.”  So many times, I stop right there and beat myself up for a while.  I’ll end up praying to God and making my prayers all about what I deserve.  If I’d just read on and finish the verse, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  If someone gives you a gift, all you can do is receive it.  You don’t say, “How much do I owe you?” You certainly don’t go working for that person in an attempt to earn what they’ve already given you.  Let’s not do this with God.

Lord, my mind races with all the times I really thought I was earning Your favor.  You did all the work that will ever be required on the cross at Calvary.  This morning, I simply receive Your forgiveness once more.  Make me clean, pure, and holy.  Sanctify me by the power of Thy Word.  There is and never will be anyone like You.  I pray for all who would read today that they would simply receive You.  Not make any deals with You to do better . . . Just receive You.  Amen

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The Right Prescription

Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth. – John 17:17

Lately, I’ve been reading this one particular devotion over and over.  I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite so profound.  The devotional is from a South African preacher who did most of his ministry in the mid to late 1800’s.  His name is Andrew Murray.  He writes of how Bible knowledge is like a monstrous pharmacy to which we have access.  Unfortunately, most Christians do not take the correct prescriptions because they don’t know or seek the doctor who gives them the correct medicines to take.  Just as the doctor writes the correct prescription, it is the Holy Spirit which leads us and guides us to take the right medicines for our souls.

I was born with a sick, selfish soul.  Truly, Adam Hopkins had sinned greatly and had fallen well short of the glory of God. I remember the first “pill” I had to take as a brand new, saved follower of Christ.  After reading the words “all liars” in Revelation 21:8, God wrote me a prescription and told me to stop lying.  When I really thought about it, it was embarrassing just how much I lied as a teenager.  So, God placed me in these situations where it was hard to tell the truth, but I swallowed the pill and did it anyway . . . no matter what it cost me.  This was the very beginning stage of me learning that God can be trusted.

Years later, I remember the Colossians 3:23 pill I had to swallow.  I hated my job.  One morning, God asked me to work my job like I was working for Him and not for human bosses.  After contemplating for a while just what this looked like, I swallowed that pill and went to work.  I couldn’t believe just how much I began to enjoy my work.  Once again, the amount of trust I gained in doing the hard things that God asks of me went through the roof.

In the past year or so, God has been asking me to swallow some pills that are really hard to choke down.  I have realized that what I like to do when this happens is browse through the pharmacy and take other medicines that simply make me feel better.  Metaphorically speaking, I will take another Colossians 3:23 pill for the day when the prescription clearly says to take the Matthew 6:14 pill.  The Colossians pill makes me feel better temporarily, unfortunately it is the unforgiveness that is making my soul sick.  

A few weeks ago, I decided to start taking the prescribed pills.  I’ll never forget taking that first dose.  It played like a vision in my mind while I was driving (I’m so glad I didn’t wreck).  I was standing on this platform and one by one all these people were packed in this room.  I looked at each one and said, “I forgive you.”  Many of them weren’t asking for forgiveness and looked like they didn’t even know what I was talking about, but I forgave them anyway.  When it was over, it felt like . . . the only way I know to describe it is it was like having a flowerbed that had been overrun with weeds all of a sudden be clean.  The soil was all torn up and the weeds along with the roots were laying in a pile, but I knew something good was finally going to grow again.  

Here is the thing:  It wasn’t a one pill taken one-time solution.  I swallowed those pills every day for probably two weeks.  Through that, God worked some absolute miracles in my life.  I sit here now with what might be the cleanest heart I’ve had in what feels like a very long time.  

What really difficult medicine is God asking you to swallow?  Whatever it is, I can almost guarantee two things:  You don’t really want to swallow it, and it will be the very thing that brings about the most healing inside of your heart and mind.  Nobody knew about all of the available prescriptions more than the Pharisees in the Bible.  They had them all memorized.  Yet, Jesus came along and asked them to swallow the pills of mercy, grace, and love towards sinners.  They refused and went on taking the pills of public prayers and other outward displays of affections.   Consequently, they never saw the kingdom of Heaven.

If you’ve swallowed the pill of Christ as Lord and Savior, that was not the end of the matter.  It was only the beginning.  Now, we must allow God to clean us up and prepare us to meet Him in Glory.  There can be no fruits of the flesh as mentioned in Galatians 5:19. As I read the list, I still have so much in me that needs to be destroyed.  Instead of picking and choosing other verses that are easy for me, and scriptures which will go down much easier, I think I will just walk one day at a time with my Lord and simply ask Him what my next step is and to show me what difficult to swallow medicine I need to take.  He hasn’t let me down in 29 years of serving Him . . . I don’t think He is going to start now.  

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Here I Am, Send Me

(Written by Shaun Watkins)

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” Isaiah said, Here I am, send me.” — Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)

When the Prophet Isaiah saw God and His Glory, he fell and shouted, “I am doomed because I am a sinful man”. When we see the Glory of God, we realize just how righteous, holy, and perfect that He is, and how sinful we are. The Word tells us that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This should remind us of the cross. We are all sinners, but Christ came to take that sin and pay the penalty of death for it so that we wouldn’t have to.

How do we see the glory of God? Well, all you have to do is look around. We see the Glory of God in the morning sunrise, through a Fall drive in the mountains, through the birth of a baby, or maybe it’s through the life of someone else. God’s Glory and presence is all around us if we just take off the blinders and look. 

The journey that is ahead of us is sometimes a journey that you would not have chosen for yourself or a loved one, but I like Isaiah’s response, “Here I am, send me.” I hope that this is your response as well. I hope that your conversation with God today goes something like this: 

“Father, I don’t like the way that this path looks. I don’t know how this story is going to end. I don’t even know some days how I am going to put one foot in front of the other. But God, this is what I do know; I have seen Your Glory over and over in my life! I know that Your Presence is all around me. I know that your glory lights the world. Who better than me to send? Father, we have been preparing for this my whole life. So, God, not my will but Yours. Here I am, send me! I will be Your messenger. Because I know when this journey is over, regardless of the outcome, I will still be standing because of You!”

I pray that today you reflect on the goodness and the glory of God. I pray that you realize God has been preparing you for this journey a long time. So, take today and reflect on His goodness. Walk this journey knowing that God is with you. His presence and His glory are all the strength that you need to make it through each day. 


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Slow Down and Enjoy the Ride

(This WMD was written by Shaun Watkins from Maranatha Baptist Church in Seneca, SC.)

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog, it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. James 4:14 (NLT)

So, I have been thinking about this verse for a while. Regardless if we live 20 years or 100 years it goes by so quickly. I have heard so many people in their eighties and nineties talking about how fast time goes by. I want to encourage you today to slow down and enjoy the ride.

I recently heard an illustration that was talking about the Israelites that were in bondage in Egypt (Exodus 5). They were being forced to make bricks for Pharaoh. The illustration was saying that one day there was this business executive who was driving down the street in his brand-new Jaguar F-Type. A car that cost over a hundred grand. As he was driving through this neighborhood, he was being very cautious to make sure nothing or no-one ran out in front of him. As he was driving all of a sudden, he heard something hit his car. As he got out to investigate, he saw that a brick had hit his brand-new car. He was furious! There was significant damage. As he looked around, he saw a young man standing on the side of the road crying. The executive said, “what have you done!”

The little boy crying, replied “sir you don’t understand. My brother has fallen off the curve and fell out of his wheelchair and I cannot pick him up. I have tried and tried to get someone to help me, but no one was paying attention as they passed. Everyone was in such a hurry that they didn’t even notice us.”

The executive was heartbroken and assisted the two young men. He helped the brother back in the chair and even walked them back home to make sure they made it safely. As he came back to the car and saw the damage, it was reminder that he needed to slow down and enjoy the ride.

The moral of this story in our Christian life is that we need to slow and pay attention to what is going on around us. As I heard this story, I was reminded that I have a brick. It is a brick that came from a fire that we had when I worked at the fire department. It’s a fire that we refer to as the “old mill fire.” When we were called to the fire it was reported that someone was lost in the building. When crews arrived on scene, we were all searching to find the person in the mill. Through the grace of God, I was able to locate the person in the fire and get them out of the building.

So, as I was reminded of this on Thursday, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “Shaun that is how you should be pursuing the spiritually lost.” I knew immediately what that meant. See, when I arrived on the scene of that fire and knew someone was lost in the building, many of us nearly sacrificed our own life to save the person on the inside. Christians, that is the urgency that we should have today. That is the way we should see the lost. We should be willing to give our lives to save the lost. Why? Because our eternity is secure. We should want others to have that same peace.

Now when I look at that brick, I don’t think a lot about that fire. It reminds me that I am called to do whatever it takes to reach this lost world.

I pray that today is a day that we slow down and enjoy the ride and not be like the business executive and have such tunnel vision that we miss seeing those who are in need right in front of us. 

Father let us realize that our time is short. I pray we see the urgency that none of us are promised tomorrow. Let us be vessels who share the Good News, because we know life is like the morning fog, it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

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Mad World

I know I said that I was taking a break from writing, but something happened that I had to write about.  I talked to Shaun and he agreed that I had to write this one.  Before I get started, I do want to invite any and all to come and visit our little church group that we have started at Jocassee Valley Brewing Company.  We are changing the time to 10 am this Sunday so it will have a little more time to get warm.  Without further ado . . .

Mad World

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  – John 1:5

My daughter asked me this past weekend if I would take her to Mad World.  I had no idea what it was, so I Googled it.  It is a haunted house in Piedmont.  It looked like a good one, and by good one I mean that it actually looked really scary.  I ignored her.  That didn’t work.  I tried to kick the can down the road and push for doing it later . . . didn’t work.  I reluctantly agreed to take her.  My wife told me, “If you’re going to take her, you need to change your attitude.”  I wanted to say something smart back . . . but I had nothing.

It was on.  I flipped the switch and was going to have a fun evening with my daughter.  When we got in line, the monsters walking around were pretty dang scary.  I saw a former student of mine who had already done it.  I asked him if it was bad.  He said, “Yes!”  This was the first time I kind of got worried.  I could see that my daughter’s excitement turned into apprehension.  I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be out sixty dollars.  

Because there were only two of us, we had to go with another group.  It turned out to be a family.  They had a little girl with them.  I was wondering why the heck they would bring her, but then noticed that she had a flashing light necklace on.  They called it a “No Scare Medallion.”  I found out that if you bought one of these for five dollars, then the monsters inside would be cool to you.

As we walked through, it was pretty scary.  There was one point where we got behind the family we were with and it got really scary.  We caught back up and it was way more tolerable.  We went through all the rooms and finally, about 40 minutes later, we were finished. 

Riding home, my daughter was talking about how fun it was, but that if she did it again, she’d want one of those light necklaces.  That got me thinking.  I told her, “You know, there is a great sermon in what we just did.”  She said, “What?”  I said, “How different was the walk if you had a light as opposed to not having one?”  Immediately, she understood where I was going.  She said, “Daddy, you have to preach that one!”

Death and fear of the unknown is a scary thing that we all have to deal with.  Fortunately, for all who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, there is a light for our path, and a lamp for our feet.  He makes everything much less scary.  He makes evil have to back off from us and treat us better than it wants to treat us.  I don’t even want to think about navigating this world without Him.  Just being in the group with that little girl brandishing that light made the walk so different.  

Jesus, thank you for making my journey through this life so much better.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Amen.

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Open Our Eyes Lord

I am actually finished with my book.  Unfortunately, I have been super lazy with editing it.  My friend, Shaun Watkins, has been inspired to write devotions lately.  I am going to use his devotions for a while in an attempt to get my book ready to publish.  If you like his content, visit his church, Maranatha Baptist Church, in Seneca, SC.  

Open Our Eyes Lord

Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” 2 Kings 6:17 (NLT)

O Lord open our eyes. Lord open their eyes. O the times have I prayed these two prayers. In this story Elisha, the man of God, and the servant both wake up. When the servant looks out that morning, he sees that the city is surrounded by the Aramean Army. The army is there to kill the man of God Elisha because God has given him the power to know the army’s plan even before they do anything. Elisha basically could read their minds. So of course, this made the Arameans extremely mad, so they made the plan to kill Elisha. When the servant looks out and sees that they are surrounded he cries out “what will we do?” and then Elisha turns to God and prays, “God, open his eyes and let him see.” When God opens his eyes, the servant sees that the hillside is covered with horses and chariots of fire, Gods army.

See there are two options that we can take to look at our problems and our current situation. One, we can look at the problem and see no way out. We can see no good at all in what is going on because all that we are looking at is what’s in front of us. The struggle that the journey may bring or the pain that it may cause. But there is a second option, we can ask God to open our eyes, and when he does, we can see past our current problem or situation, we can see past the struggle and the pain.

I encourage you today to ask God to open your eyes and let you see. To let you see past your current problem or situation. To let you have a glimpse of it through His eyes, because through God’s eyes we are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. We are His Masterpiece, His workmanship! I believe that if we pray today as Elisha did, to open our eyes, God the father will give you the peace that only He can. To see that He is working. Though the problem or situation may not change, we can have the peace to know God is in control. That He is perfect, and we are not. That His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. 

Have the peace today to know that when God opens our eyes, we will see that He loves each and every one of us! He has never made a mistake and He is not going to starting with you or me! God is bigger than any army, diagnoses, or situation you may be facing! Just like God heard Elisha’s prayers, rest today knowing that He also hears us as we pray!

Father I pray today that you open our eyes and we see You! Let us focus on You and not our problems. Let us see Your Power today as we walk this journey.

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Jehovah Jireh

And Abraham called that place The LORD will provide.  – Genesis 22:14

This past Sunday the Lord taught me a great lesson.  I have been thinking for months that He wanted me to start something new.  I made sure it was okay for us to use the outside space at Jocassee Valley Brewing Company.  I was granted permission and the only invitation I sent was last week’s WMD.

On Saturday, I was about to do what I always do before I preach on Sunday.  I usually take prayer walks, study the Word, and just overall try to feel like I’m as clean as I can possibly be.  I just felt the Lord say, “Don’t do any of that stuff.”  Of course, I kept wondering if that was really His voice.  Before we headed to church, I thought I’d text some people, make a post on Facebook, or something to get people to come.  Once again, the Lord said, “Don’t do any of that stuff.”  

We were going to start at 9:00.  About 8:50 Tonya and I arrived.  There was nobody there.  In my heart, I immediately thought, “This was just a test from God to see if I’d do what He asked me to do.  Nobody is coming.  I’m probably just supposed to pray with my wife and then just head on home.”  Then, a couple arrived.  We began to pray together.  Then, another couple arrived while we were praying.  It ended up being one of the nicest times in the Lord I’ve ever had.  Instead of me getting all “cleaned up” and then preaching, we just all got cleaned up together.  I loved feeling perfectly refreshed and perfectly renewed.  I’m looking so forward to doing it again.

You are invited to The Wilderness at 9:00.  

Jocassee Valley Brewing Company

13412 SC-11

Salem, SC 29676

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An Invitation to The Wilderness

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness — Matthew 4:1

This Sunday, September 13 at 9 a.m., you are invited to join me at Jocassee Valley Brewing Company off of Highway 11.  There is a really nice outdoor area that you can’t miss, and we will be meeting outside.  You may want to bring your own chair and even a blanket if you get cold easily.  If it looks like rain, you may want to bring one of those big umbrellas.  I don’t really know what the service will look like, I just know that I’ll be preaching from John 4:1-11.

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Back to Simple

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. – Psalm 73:24

For some messed up reason, I’ve gone back into this really strange “I must work for God” mode.  I don’t know how or when it happens, but a lot of time seems to go by before I realize that it has happened.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with working for God, but it can and often does lead to this place where there is no real joy in Him.  This is where I find myself this morning.

Lately I’ve been listening to preachers who have really stressed the importance of praying over these next few months.  Therefore, I’ve tried to really up my prayer game.  I’d go on my prayer walks, kneel in my favorite room, pray while driving my bus route, and basically pray anytime I could grab a spare moment.  Without realizing it, I treated most of my opportunities like I was about to do a workout in the gym.  I walked into prayer with my sleeves rolled up and ready to work.    What was the result?  There was absolutely no enjoyment in prayer.

Between Covid-19 and not being a pastor anymore, I’ve just felt kind of lost lately.  I’ve been wandering in the wilderness looking this way and that wondering where He wants me to go.  For some reason, I feel like I have to find it quickly . . . I realize sitting here this morning that I do not.  I can take a deep breath and simply picture myself resting in Him, knowing He has me right where He wants me.  My prayers can turn back to so simple:

Lord, you have been leading me and guiding me ever since I gave my life to you as a 16-year old kid.  You have guided me with your counsel.  I come back to you now with that same kind of belief I had when I was young.  I don’t want to complicate all of this.  Help me to want to get alone with you and just enjoy you.  I don’t want to feel like I’m going to work when I draw near to you for that is certainly the opposite of resting in you.  Thank you for always pulling me back when I get too far ahead.  Thank you for always catching me up when I’m lagging so far behind.  You always keep me in just the right place at just the right time.  Please keep leading me by your great counsel, and I look so forward to that great and glorious day when you receive me into glory.

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A New Kind of Church . . . or Maybe it’s and Old One

They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  – Acts 2:42-47

I have been to a lot of different churches in my 45 years of living on this planet.  Church services come in all shapes and sizes.  I have been blessed to learn about the Gospel inside of church buildings, youth meetings, Bible studies . . . they have all been used for my growth in Jesus Christ.  

Right now, I’m kind of in “no man’s land” when it comes to church.  I’ve been visiting around.  I’ve watched more online services during this pandemic than I’ve probably watched in my life.  I visited the church that I got to pastor for six years recently.  God moved on me in a powerful way there.  I am amazed at how God has been using so many outlets to reach me lately.

Here is the question that I’ve been asking myself lately:  Where do I want to settle down when it comes to church?  I’ve decided, at least for now, that I’m tired of doing what Americans call church.  When I read the Bible, nobody ever asked someone the question “Do you go to church?”  In the Bible, you were part of the body of Christ . . . in essence, the group who called themselves believers were the church.  The question that should be asked today is not, “Where do you go to church?”  The question should be, “Are you a part of the church?”  

That being said, If I could finish out the rest of my existence on this planet meeting with a group of Christ followers regularly, I’d like it to look a lot different than it does right now.  I’m basically just thinking out loud here, but I guess I’m asking you in this WMD if it even sounds appealing to regularly attend a gathering of a group of people that looked more like this:

  •  There were no paid positions.  Speakers were simply speakers who didn’t mind articulating what God was saying to them as they studied His Word and had the Holy Spirit working in their hearts and minds as they tried their best to follow Him.
  • There was no real structure to the services.  Three songs, two fast followed by one slow, announcements, and then a sermon would not be the norm.  You might get an all prayer healing service.  You might get an all worship service.  You might just get a sermon.  You might even just get a person reading the scriptures as passionately as they can.  You might even be asked to not come to a service and simply stay home that morning and devote it to individual prayer and study, or even hold a home service with just you and your immediate family.  We might break up and meet in each other’s house for food and fellowship.  While at these homes, we would pray out loud over them for covering and protection.  Probably, you’d get some sort of combination of these . . . just going wherever the Spirit leads.
  • There was no specific location.  There might be a consistent location, but we would simply meet wherever someone would allow us to meet for free.  Most services would probably be outside.  No utility bills.  No renting. Just asking God to lead us to meet wherever He would like us to meet.
  • The leaders would be devoted to nothing but prayer.  Too often, leaders are worried about what the people like.  I’d like to link up with people who are only worried about what God likes.  If you’ve read all the way through the Bible, you know the God of the Bible asks people to do some crazy stuff sometimes.  How cool would it be to be around a group of people who wanted to find out what He is asking us to do, and then doing it . . . no matter how dumb we looked doing it to the world around us.  
  • Tithes would be given straight to those who had need.  We would pray for the offering, but we wouldn’t take one up at the services.  Each individual would be responsible for allocating his or her money where God led them to give.  It might be a struggling church, it might be a struggling family, or it could be a struggling individual.  I know you wouldn’t get the tax write-offs this way, but that would not be the reason you were giving anyway.  Upon giving to those in need, all that would need to be said is something like, “God loves you.  He led me to help take care of this need for you.”  

I don’t know if that even sounds good to anybody else.  I know most people just want to go sit in church on Sunday morning, go out to lunch, and then enjoy a relaxing afternoon before the next work week begins.  If I’m honest, I like that too!  It is nice, clean, and super easy.  That just isn’t the way I want to finish out the years I have left on this planet.  I don’t want to stand before God having done that.  I want to find a group of believers who honestly might dare to get together and just believe that we could see the signs, wonders, and miracles that the early church saw.  I want to feel God.  I want to see His power manifest itself amongst a group of believers who are simply there for Him, and Him alone.  Nothing else.

What do you think?

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