Na Eric Simmons

How do we discern “gray matters”? Maybe we should ask, “What are gray matters?” Eric Simmons did an excellent job unpacking this topic in some clear and practical ways. He gave us a list of gray matters, though not comprehensive, it helped us to think about the right categories. Here is a partial list:

Smoking, tight clothes, music, debt, sex in movies, TV, My Space, Facebook, Drinking, bars, gay people and more. How do we think biblically about these things? What does God say about things that are not black or white?

His outline was simple:

1. Groundwork for thinking about gray matters
2. Process for thinking about gray matters

He began with two assumptions (1) Being transformed into Christ’s kingdom radically redefines our identity in Christ. (2) There is no such thing as gray matters; we assume Scripture is silent, but it is not.

Keys to the sermon

Key #1: Let our default assumption be that God has something to say

Key #2: When discerning gray matters always ask the question “Why” when you want to know about this or that

Key #3: Find somebody ahead of you in your walk and seek their counsel and not somebody who you already know will agree with you. Find the person who you think will not agree with you, but they are spiritually mature

Key #4: We are made to seek socialization. We are social creatures. Therefore, ask yourself who do you want to imitate, be like, join-up to? Hint: Eph. 5:1

Good questions to ask when discerning gray matters

Will this reveal God’s glory?
Will this set me apart from sin?
Are we bearing the family image? (Christ)
Am I orienting my life around my Father’s pleasure?

This was a very practical message with immediate application today!

Na Joshua Harris

Joshua preached the opening message on Saturday night. Each speaker has about one hour to speak. This year’s topic is Discernment. Joshua gave us a working understanding/definition of discernment, which served as the framework for the other messages.

Two examples of future messages are Mark Dever preaching on “Discerning our Doctrine”and Al Mohler preaching on “Discerning our Culture”.

Joshua said discernment is the ability to judge well. The Latin definition would be to “separate apart”. This was an outstanding message that has served so many of our singles as they are now applying the other “discernment messages” in Community Groups and their personal time together.

Joshua said he had two concerns regarding the need for this message:

1. Discernment is not always easy
2. To have discernment is a matter of life and death.

His text was 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

His application text was Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

His application outline was as follows:

1. Resistance: Do not be conformed to this world
2. Renewal: Things can get old. We need to remind ourselves again and again
3. Action: Do what God is calling you to do
4. Gospel: Only by being free can we be transformed

Just awesome!

New Attitude…we arrived!

We arrived in Simpsonville at the Enterprise location at 5 AM and were off toward TR by 5:25. It looked like we were going to be running ahead of schedule for this trip, sweet. We arrived at the Spinx in TR at 6 AM. Katie Crumpton and Kaise Cassell were at the Spinx in TR along with Heidi and I was informed that the Spinx I told everyone to meet was actually in Taylors not TR.

I called Katie and Heidi brought them to the Spinx on 290 and we were all settled in. Several of the folks brought goodies for the trip. A couple of the girls brought some small bags for their particular rooms. Cinda Pratt brought enough goodies for everyone. …and off we went up 290 to 25 to 26 to 40 …

We pulled out at 6:30 and within the hour Sarah Payne was on the phone asking for a restroom break, unbelievable. I’m thinking this is going to take two days to get to Louisville. I’m now praying we can make it by the last session on Tuesday morning.

We were all refreshed and prayed for new attitudes and off we went again wondering when Sarah would call again, assuming it would be within the next hour. Fortunately we made it two hours before the inevitable call came. We pulled over and created the worlds longest restroom line to the ladies room of some rural BP Station.

The bladder gods prevailed and as we approached 12 noon I put in a call to the other van and the two cars in tow and asked if they wanted to push through to Louisville. At that point we were 70 miles away. Everyone wanted to push through so we did and we made it to Louisville at 1:15 PM, amazing. God is kind. We were all almost checked-in by 2:30 and the guys registered for the conference by 3 PM. There was one small hitch. They had six of our seven rooms ready. It took another two hours for Sarah, Christa Hobbet, et. al. to get to their room.

Laura Paradis and Christa Hobbet drove up in their car because they have to go back on Monday. Courtney was sleeping in their backseat. Rick and Patty Patrick was in the other car. Rick and Patty attend our Titusville, FL church. They came with their son, Justin, after spending a few days with the Britts. Justin rode in the van.

The conference begins at 7:30. Joshua Harris will be up to bat first.

May God surprise us…

49% Bad, Don’t Push It!

A few years ago I had the privilege to spend some time with some friends in NYC. It was Queens actually. Their church was planted many years prior and was going strong, but thought it would be good to have some guys come in to serve them evangelistically.

I was immediately exhilarated by the ease and opportunities for evangelism in New York. People were everywhere. It was nearly overwhelming the first time we went. And there was so much freedom in telling people about the Savior. Not only were people everywhere but they were mostly un-churched with very little idea of what it was all about. It was a most unusual place for me to be. It was comparatively different than my religious South. God opened my eyes to so much and allowed me to step out of my hermetically sealed world into a real world. Things were all of a sudden not safe. Yes, it was exhilarating.

One day before the church meeting on Wednesday I was making my way to the meeting at the American Legion Hall and there was a couple sitting on the park bench just across the street from the Hall. The couple was not talking to one another. They had carry-out Chinese. They were focused. She was overweight. He was slightly overweight. He had reddish hair that was a bit greasy and long. He face was acne covered. They were probably about 27 to 30 years of age. They had just got off work, stopped somewhere for some rice and whatever and were eating on the park bench. This was normal. There were many people milling around them in the smallish park.

He had a T-shirt that said, “51% Good & 49% Bad: Don’t push it”. That was a welcoming sight. I approached them hoping not to push it, but yet a desire to tell them about Jesus. It was a bit surreal. They were sitting, eating, focused simultaneously downward and most certainly in no hurry. I began the small talk, which led to the deep talk. I had 30 minutes before the meeting started. He was not a Christian and knew very little about it. He was either interested or didn’t have anywhere to go so he listened to this weirdo from Greenville, SC. I’m sure it was non-threatening to him. In his own laid-back, semi-interested coolness he talked to me as did his wife.

I asked him about heaven and hell and whether he believed in either and whether he knew how to get to either. He believed, but didn’t know the course to take. I invited him to the meeting. He said he couldn’t come because we would not accept him. That might be true in Greenville, SC, but not in NY and praise God I was in NY and it didn’t matter what you looked like. He also had a six pack or more of beer at his side. I told him to come on in that he was welcome here. He was taken aback by that, in a positive kind of way. We talked some more and then I told him I had to go. It was a pleasant conversation. I did plead with him to come to the meeting.

I hung around the inside entrance for a long while. He never showed. About 20 minutes into the meeting he and his wife came in. I was so encouraged. He told me later that he got saved and the reason he was late for the meeting was because he went home to pour his beer out. He wanted to walk a new way. The truth is he was 100% bad, but God changed that.

Sitting on a park bench…in Queens

Once upon a time while in NY we all were out walking around checking things out and on the prowl to witness to someone. I approached a lady who was sitting on a park bench. I walked up to her and said something like, “Excuse me ma’am, may I sit down?” She began hollering at me like there was no tomorrow. She was loud and very rude. She was shouting at me telling me to go back home and don’t come around here anymore. To go away and never come back, she kept on saying. It was another in a long list of surreal moments.

I sat down and began talking to her anyway. She was talkative in her NY kind of way. She was old, probably 60. She had lived in Queens most of her life, I think. After awhile I asked her why she was hollering at me when I approached her. She said she thought I had just moved up here or was planning to move up here. I had told her by that time that I was up here on behalf of the church to tell people about Christ and that I would be going back in a week. She was relieved. She began telling me how difficult and, at times, horrible it is to live in NY. She didn’t want me to make that mistake if I had a chance of living anywhere else. She assumed by my accent that I had a choice and if I did that I should not screw up my life by choosing to live there. In reality she was being nice to me. She was being kind. It was an odd style of kindness, but she was and I appreciated it. One of those odd interactions, but amazingly the norm in such a place as NY. The people are lovable, eccentric and always adventurous.

I think on the same day I had met another lady earlier who was hanging out of an apartment window on the first floor. It was hot and she was cooling off. Since they didn’t have air conditioning it was not unusual for folks to be lined up hanging out of their windows talking to folks on the street. I caught the eye of this elderly lady and she seemed engaging. I had never witnessed to a lady hanging out her window while I was walking up the street. However, in NY there are always these types of opportunities. You just have to have an awareness and desire.

We began to talk and I was trying to connect someway, somehow. She said something, I said something back and the conversation took off. At one point I was going to reference a verse from the bible, but couldn’t remember it. I shouted at one of my friends and asked him if he had a Scofield (meaning Scofield Reference Bible). She heard the name Scofield and in light of our conversation about angels she thought Scofield was an angel. So she questioned me about this. She was Catholic, like everybody else, and thought there was another angel out there that she was not aware of. She didn’t want to miss out on something. She did see Mary (Jesus’ mother) in Brooklyn one time.

Foreigners at Micky D’s

One of the more common statements I heard repeatedly while in NY was “You are not from around here are you?” It was apparent. As one lady said, “I don’t know what you said, but could you say it again? I like the way you said that.” It was quite humorous.

One time I walked out of the church meeting at the America Legion Hall and out on the sidewalk was a small boy about 3 or 4 years of age. He had a stick in his hand and he was tormenting (or playing with) some ants that were scurrying in and around the cracks in the sidewalk. I got down on my knees and began to poke at them as well. He never once looked at me. He didn’t look to see who I was, where his daddy was or anything else. He never broke stride so to speak with what he was doing. I engaged him in conversation and he talked back to me. We carried on a conversation while both of us played with the ants. It was sort of odd. Finally I asked him if he knew where I was from because I spoke different from him. He said, “I think you are from Texas.” That was funny. I told him I was from South Carolina. We chatted a bit more and then I told him goodbye. I don’t think he ever looked up at me.

Another time we were going into McDonalds. Brook Sutters (I think his name was something like that) was from the mountains of NC. He had one of the more “hick-a-fied” voices you would ever want to hear. He was a hoot to talk with, listen to. The folks in NY loved to hear him. He sounded something like what they thought the Beverly Hillbillies would sound like.

One evening we went into McDonalds and Brook was ahead of me. He was at the counter ordering something. I walked in the double-doors while he was ordering. There were about two registers between him and a lady who was about to order. When Brook opened his mouth the lady two registers down turned to look to see where that sound came from. It was my friend. Apparently she had never heard anything like it before. She froze, trancelike as she stared at him. She never turned her body, which was still facing the counter. However, her head was turned and it was facing Brook. It was a 90 degree sort of thing from her shoulders to her head. I stopped and savored the moment at the front door. She was mesmerized by it all and everything became sort of surreal and frozen in time.

I walked to one of the middle registers, between the two of them. Brook had no idea she was staring at him. I stood there, then turned and faced the frozen lady. She never saw me though I was impeding her view. I said, in my most drawn out Southern voice, “He ain’t from around here.” She said “Yes” before she realized she was talking to another one of them. Then she snapped out of it all and realized there were at least two of them in the building.

New York Street Gang

We were staying in Queens on one of our trips. It was Vivian Williams’ apartment. It was a very nice neighborhood as far as those kinds of neighborhoods go. It was clean and family oriented. It was not as rundown as Jackson Heights for example. It was old, but had a family flare to it. There were bushes on the sidewalks and some small trees as well. Not many, but one of the few places where there was some greenery.

I remember one night when I walked out in the street in my pajamas and began talking with all kinds of people. All the people hung in the streets because the air conditioning either didn’t exist, or was too expensive, or didn’t work. In the evening you just hung in the streets. I would walk up and down the street around our apartment talking to all kinds of folks in the streets. These were not apartment buildings that were stacked. They were all connected, but were not high-rises.

One evening Brook Sutters was coming back to the apartment with me. We got off from our ride, whatever that was, I don’t remember and we were walking down the street toward our apartment. There were about five kids or so leaning, sitting on/around a car. They were talking smack. For some reason I began talking smack with them. They were talking real big like they were going to beat somebody up or destroy this or that. I jumped in there and began mocking them, threatening them and talking smack as well. Brook was freaked out. He was not raised on the street. He didn’t know they were not serious. Though my language was different and my accent was really different and they knew I was not from NY we were all in there talking it up. I took a stick away from this boy and began telling him that I would beat him with it. I jacked him up against the car. It was a surreal scene for Brook. He had no idea which way was up. I had to tell him after we left that we were goofing off.

During that week, maybe that night, we were walking down the street, Brook and me. There was a gang at the end of the street and I walked up to them unannounced and began talking a similar smack. Brook was really scared at this. He had no clue. It was frightening. We jawed around for awhile, threatened one another and then begin talking about where I was from and what I was doing in NY.

It didn’t matter that we were from different “streets”. We were from the street and it was discernible between two guys raised on the street even though my street was Olive Branch Road in the country of Monroe, NC and theirs was somewhere in the maddening world of Queens, NY.

David Schulter

David Schulter pastored Lefferts Park Baptist Church. This was an old church building built in the early 1900’s. David was in his 30’s. He was the son of a gangster-type dad. He told that story often. He had part of his finger missing due to his early life. It was his claim to fame so to speak. I think he had two kids or three. He had a very nice wife. They lived in an apartment in Brooklyn. It was, like everything else, right on the street. In NY you were either in a building of some sort or on the street. There were no buffers. It seemed a heck of a way to raise kids. I thought about this more with David than with my friends in Queens. I guess that was because he was the only one I hung with in Brooklyn while I hung with teens and adults mostly in Queens. David’s kids reminded me of the difficulties of child rearing in such a place. I admired him.

I met David through Richard Johnson. Richard was a friend of mine who wanted to be a missionary in NY. He met David somehow and Richard asked me if I would go to NY with him to take pictures for his deputation work. Deputation is when a guy goes around raising money from churches to go on the mission field. The potential missionary shows a slide presentation of his soon to be mission field. I took Richard to NY in my Buick and shot many scenes for his slide show. Richard did go to NY and planted a church. I assume he is still up there today.

David Schulter reminded me of Pluto on the Popeye cartoon. He was barrel chested, a bit shorter than me, rotund, but not fat. He had black hair and a beard. He was a bit comical looking, boastful in a NY kind of way, but seemed to be a pastor. He was a survivor and a good fit for the city. I hope he is doing well today.

We arrived in Brooklyn a bit late, around 8 PM. It was raining and we didn’t know exactly where David lived. We called him to come get us. While we were waiting we walked around. I saw a theater that was converted to a church. It was Charismatic. We went in. The ushers looked like bouncers. The place was gutted with folding chairs on a slant incline. It was loud and charismatic in every caricatured sense of the word. We stayed awhile. It was an experience. Neither one of us like it. They had prayer after some loud, bouncing, singing and the preaching. We turned around and put our heads in our seats and prayed. It was so loud that you couldn’t hear one another praying out loud. I was hollering. When I finished I tapped Richard so he would know I was through. We left.

David showed us around. One time I jumped from his car to witness to two guys. He lectured me sternly never to do that again. He said I didn’t know what they were doing. It could have been a drug deal going down and I could have been killed. I was wreckless and full of unwise zeal. He also took us through Harlem. That, too, was an experience.

Beloved New York

I fell in love with New York City. It was a beautiful place. I never saw the blood and murder and other “TV things”. My mind was conditioned to expect certain things, but that never came to pass. It was totally different from what I expected. The people were kind. They were surviving. They had a life to live and they were trying to live it the best they could. They didn’t bother anyone and didn’t want to be bothered. They were friendly though. I could ask them anything and they were always accommodating. They were kind.

The smell of the city was noticeable. It didn’t smell as much during the winter months. The stench was frozen during the winter. During the summer the asphalt was constantly breathing and putting off heat, gases and odors. You had a film on you after a day in the streets. It was a dirty place. There are too many people and not nearly enough space. Folks hardly ever make eye contact with you. They stare straight ahead. In the subways no one says anything to anyone. Everybody knows what to do and they do it instinctively. When passing out tracts on the streets of NY you simply place the tract where their hand is and they instinctively grab it. Their hands are down by their sides, btw. They don’t bother to ask and you don’t bother to tell. You just hand the tract to them in the general vicinity of their hands and they latch hold to it.

One time a person came out of a subway in NY and I went up to the person and said, “Pardon me sir, but can I share some information with you about Jesus?” The person said, “The first thing you’ve got wrong is my gender.” I was mortified. She looked just like a man. She had on construction boots, short pants, muscle legs and huge body. She had on a flannel shirt and was very large. I could not tell it was a woman. Amazing.

Another time I approached a very tall black guy early in the morning. He was standing at the corner of a building on the sidewalk. I asked him if he would like some information about Jesus and he angrily looked down at me and said, “You bother me.” It was way too early to be telling him about Jesus. I sheepishly went my way. I didn’t want to bother him, nor get killed.

Another time I met a so-called NASA physicist of some sort who was a street bum. He made his living on the street. He said it was easier and less stress to live on the street. He showed me how to retrieve watches and coins from the big grate covered holes in the sidewalk. He would take a magnet on a string and lower it down to the bottom and pick things up. If it wouldn’t adhere to the magnet, he’d put chapstick on the magnet and let the weight of the magnet sit on the item and the chapstick would stick to the item and pick it up.

I love that place!

WWJD?

My month continued with varying amounts of challenges and victories. God gave me the idea of beginning a writing career. I was just introduced to the computer during this time and it seemed like a good way to get the gospel out. I didn’t have any grand ideas for publication, but the computer was there and it seemed like a good thing to do.

Shortly after my month of WWJD I began formalizing a plan to publish a monthly newsletter as an outlet for whatever I was thinking about, whatever God may be teaching me. So off I went. I made a template and over the next year or so I began publishing “Scriptural Truth”, a monthly folded colored paper newsletter that I mailed to any address I could get my hands on. It was going to be my ministry. This was going to be the thing that got me off the ground as far as full-time vocational ministry. It didn’t work. It was a good idea, but limited funds, backing and ability were three things that hindered the plan.

At the end of August I sent my journal to Kevin Ryan in NY. He sent his to me. It was a wonderful experience. I’ve often said it was one of the few times in my life when I “really” lived for God. It was so huge. I was challenged everyday in a good kind of way. There were deep integrity things that I had to deal with. There were honesty issues and behavioral patterns that I was confronted with. There was an ever-increasing awareness of God’s presence. It was amazing.

I have not lived exactly like that since that time. Kevin and I met and/or talked a few times after this heightened spiritual time in our life, but it was never the same. It was a time that God used in my life to bring me closer to him, to show me what biblical fellowship could be like and to model in a small way what friendship could look like. It was a portal into something that left me longing. I was not mature enough to put it all together back then, but in later years it all made sense. There was always the nagging longing for biblical friendship and about 12 years later, God connected the dot by showing me Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Kevin also was the first person to mention Nouthetic counseling. This was a foreign word to me. Though I would not totally embrace the Nouthetic approach as it has been worked out over the years, I would embrace biblical counseling. I read Jay Adams’ book on the subject and that led to a series of events that have proven to change my life. So, it was more than a simple WWJD bracelet. This relationship was used by God to shape the course of my life for the rest of my life.