In 35 years of marriage, I’ve learned that there is a very real difference between cheerful giving and giving grudgingly. I cannot count the number of times my wife has asked me to do something—like take out the trash, walk the dogs, or pick up my socks—and the way I reacted was important to her. It isn’t just that I agree to do what she asks, but it is also “how” I agree to do it, that is important to her. There have been times when I was tired or in the middle of watching a football game and she’d ask me to do something. But if responded in a way was curt, lacking in charity or cheerfulness, she’d say, “You know what? Never mind, I’ll do it myself!” When I jumped up (out of guilt) and insisted that I’ll do it, she would say, “Forget it. If you don’t want to help, I’ll just do myself.”
In 30 years of ministry, I have observed three kinds of people in the church. First, there are the “good-time Christians,” the people who only serve God in the good times. As long as everything is going well and there are no storms to rock their boat, they are cheerful Christians coming to church with a song and smile. But let anything bad happened to them and it knocks the victory right out of them. They get mad at God, start singing the blues, and are right back into their former sinful life crying in their beer and blaming God for all their problems. This is because they were living with the illusion that if they went to church, gave their tithes, and had enough faith, then nothing bad would ever happen to them, but life has a way of straightening out bad theology. Jesus said, the sun rises on the evil and the good, and it rains on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45).
Have you ever stopped for a moment and thought about all the stupid stuff you did when you were younger, and thought, “Wow! If it had not been for the Lord on my side, where would I be?” I am grateful for every day that I wake up in the land of the living. Some of you may not have done the kind of stupid stuff I did, but I should have been dead at least a dozen times, and yet God chose to protect me from myself and extend my life so that He could save me, He could raise me, and He could use me to serve Him in His kingdom. Every day I wake up, I’m still amazed by His rich mercy and amazing grace. The alcohol that didn’t kill me, the fall from the women’s dorm in college that didn’t end my life. The man with the gun in my face that didn’t shoot me. The car crashes that never happened, the water that didn’t drown me, my momma who didn’t beat me to death, my wife who hasn’t killed me in my sleep. Praise God for grace! This is what Paul highlights in our passage today.
When I was a child visiting my cousins at our grandmother’s house, if any of us were in a room together and we turned out the lights, my grandmother’s super-senses were alerted and she immediately came to the room to see what we were up to. In her words, “Nothing good can be going on, if the lights are off.” For example, one night some of my cousins and I caught a mason jar full of fireflies (or as we called them, lightnin-bugs), and we had the ingenious idea to close the door to the living-room, turn off the lights, and set the lightnin-bugs loose in the house. It was going to be a magical display of lights the likes of which would make Times Square in New York City green with envy. Our plan worked to perfection, until granny burst through the door into her living-room and found it filled with the frantically flashing lights of dozens of terrified fireflies.
For years, employment and management professionals have championed the idea that if we want to get ahead in life, if we want the promotion, if we want a better job, if we want to be taken seriously and respected, then we have to dress for success. A person who comes to an interview for a corporate management position dressed like a farmer in bib overalls is probably not going to get the job. If he wants to be a manager, then he has to look like a manager, talk like a manager, walk like a manager, and act like a manager.
I remember being in the youth football program back in Doddridge County, West Virginia. The first time I put on the uniform with the helmet and pads, I felt invincible. To prove my theory of invincibility, I would ride my bicycle down a steep hill with my uniform on, and then just jump off the bike and roll down the hill. I’d get up, dust myself off and do it again, because I was … invincible. A few years later, as an underclassman in a high school varsity football game, I was jogging down the field on a kickoff, looking the action on the other side of the field, far away from me, when a player from the other team hit me like a hammer. That kid was determined to hit somebody, and hit them hard, and I became the unfortunate target of his nefarious intentions. It felt like I was hit by a freight-train, and those pads didn’t really do much to stop the bell from ringing in my head.
Mark Hardgrove was a 21-year-old college drop-out in 1982, living in my mother’s old mobile home, deep in the heart of the poverty-stricken hills of West Virginia. I had no job and no prospects for a job. My car was as clunker held together with chicken wire and duct tape, and I was coming out of a bad relationship with a young woman who broke my heart. It was at that low point in my life when I received a call from someone I had known in high
IF IT DON’T FIT … YOU MUST QUIT! By Mark E. Hardgrove, PhD Text: Ephesians 5:3-7, NKJV 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of...
Do you pray for other people? Hopefully everyone here can honestly say that we pray for others. As your pastor, I can stand before you, with God as my witness, and say without fear of rebuke or rebuttal, that I pray for you. There have been times when I’ve spent most of the night on my knees in prayer for people going through some type of life crisis. I’ve seen some recover from what looked like certain death, while others have gone on to their reward in heaven. I’ve prayed in tears for your children, even as I pray for my own, that God would grip their heart and bring them back to the Father’s House. God expects the pastor of a congregation to hold the flock up in prayer. I can be sitting at my desk or driving down the road when the Lord puts someone on my mind, and I pray. I often wake up in the middle of the night with someone’s need in my spirit, and I pray.
THE SON’S GIFTS TO THE FATHER’S CHILDREN By Mark E. Hardgrove, PhD, DMin Text: Ephesians 4:7-16, NKJV 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does...