Monday, April 13, 2015

I love my church, but I love Jesus more…

I thrive on familiarity and comfort so yesterday was weird. I don’t know any other way to describe it except to say it felt strange not walking through the doors of Idlewild Baptist Church. Although I have known for quite some time this day was coming, I’m just now realizing how difficult it is to mentally prepare yourself to stop doing something you’ve done for 12 years. Over the past few weeks we have said our goodbyes, stepped down from our various responsibilities, and now we begin walking down a brand new path.     

Admittedly, when I walked into Idlewild for the first time 12 years ago it felt just as strange. I snuck in, sat in the back, and made sure I didn’t make eye contact with anyone. I came late, left early and did my best to ignore the people around me. I was a skeptical, immature, baby Christian looking for every reason to walk away. But I didn’t. For some odd reason I kept coming back, drawn to the incredible Spirit filled preaching of my pastor, Ken Whitten. Week after week I walked through those doors and slowly but surely God changed my heart and I started growing in my relationship with Him. 

It didn’t happen overnight but my commitment didn’t happen overnight either. Thankfully, God is faithful and as I slowly pursued Him he guided and directed my steps. I can actually look back over my time at Idlewild and see how He used circumstances, people, and conversations to help weave His purpose into my life. I love missions because a seed was planted by a missionary sharing his story and a few months later I traveled to Africa on my first mission trip. I love teaching and preaching because my good friend Jake English told me he needed me to lead a bible study with college students. I remember looking at him like he was crazy and telling him not only have I never led a bible study, I’ve never even been in one. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and 8 years later I can honestly say teaching God’s Word every week has completely changed my life. I met my wife at Idlewild and we have two amazing, beautiful adopted children because our church family encouraged us and taught us the biblical importance of adoption. I could go on and on but in the end my relationship with Christ is what it is today because the Spirit of God spoke through the men and woman of Idlewild and they helped mold and shape my life. 

So why walk away? We have been asked that question many times over the past six months and to be honest I have asked myself the very same thing. Ultimately, as much as we love our church and as nice as it is to walk into a comfortable, friendly environment each Sunday we can’t ignore the stirring in our hearts for the people in our city who don't know Jesus. I’ve tried to fight it, ignore it, and even postpone it but in the end obedience is the only path. So, as of today, my wife and I are stepping out on faith to plant a church in Tampa. 

Tampa? Yes Tampa. Believe it or not our city still has many places with little or no access to a loving body of believers and our desire is to begin where there is great need. This journey has taken many years and we have spent a lot of time in prayer seeking the face of God. As much as we would love to stay with the families we have grown to love, our desire to see gospel centered communities develop in new neighborhoods beckons us to walk down a different path. So with hope and anticipation we walk away from the only church in Tampa we have ever known. We don’t leave out of bitterness or dissatisfaction but because of an honest desire for the gospel of Jesus to be preached in our wonderful city. We love you all  very much and would appreciate your prayers as we begin this journey.

Friday, April 18, 2014

One Year Later...

A year ago today a friend of mine, Dan Witt, left this earth and went home to be with Jesus. I originally wrote this blog the day of his funeral to share something very important I learned from his example: the glory of God should be the ultimate focus of our lives and everything else pales in comparison. Anyone can say it but Dan actually lived it out. It's kind of ironic that the anniversary of his passing falls on Good Friday, the same day Jesus paid the ultimate penalty for our sins. Dan lived a life focused on His Savior and always kept the cross front and center. I will never be able to articulate how focused he was during his final months on earth. But my prayer is when God decides to bring me home that I will have lived my life with the same faith and hope that Dan showed us all. 

Life, Death, and the Glory of God...

The Glory of God is a phrase that Christians have used for thousands of years. But if you ask those who claim to be followers of Jesus what it means you might be surprised by the variety of answers. Take it from someone who has asked the question on numerous occasions and it’s clear that we really don’t know. Just about the only thing Christians do agree on is that we need to glorify God in all we do. So how is it that a phrase we use so frequently can be so misunderstood? Before I go on you should know that I am definitely not an expert on the topic but for the last six months this phrase and the ramifications of it have been placed on my heart.

I almost hesitate sharing these two stories together as evidence of the Glory of God because they are so different and they raise such different emotions. But at the same time God has used them both in a mighty way to open my eyes to what it means to bring Him Glory. This entire journey started back on August 12, 2012. I was sitting in a church listening to a friend of mine, Dan Witt, share the heartbreaking story of what was happening to him. Months earlier he had been diagnosed with cancer and it was literally beating him down. He sat up on stage that morning and recounted the details of the last year of his life. I was hanging onto every word he said and trying to imagine what it would be like to be in his shoes. As he spoke he did so like a man on a mission and he said a lot of things that I will never forget. He talked about what chemo was like and how the growing tumor in his stomach was taking its toll. He talked about how frustrating it was to feel helpless and he told us one of his greatest fears was not being there for his family. He talked about hospitals and emergency rooms and all the tests that were being run to monitor his health. He shared that at one point with the continuous flow of bad news the discouragement began to set in and finally he asked God a simple question, “When am I going to get a break?” It’s a valid question and I have no doubt that I would have been asking God the very same thing. But what Dan said next forever changed my understanding of perseverance in the face of suffering…

“God said what do you mean a break? Look at what we’re doing here. Look at what I’ve done for you. Then I realized God has opened so many doors for me to start glorifying Him through this process. I’m blessed that He chose to give me cancer.”

I remember hearing those words and thinking at the time that blessed isn’t exactly the terminology I would have used. Blessed is reserved for good times and happiness not sickness and pain. On top of that glorifying God through this process definitely sounded difficult and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t wrap my head around what he meant. Then he clarified by saying…

“I know it sounds completely crazy. But I have been able to talk to so many people and tell them how awesome Jesus is and how awesome God is. It doesn’t matter what your life situation is He is going to be there for you and walk beside you. You can trust Him.”

I sat there with a blank stare on my face and wondered if the situation was reversed if I would be as strong and as focused on bringing God glory as he was. I wasn’t sure of the answer and honestly I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer either. So like I have so many times before I filed away his impactful words and went on with my life. During the months that followed Dan continued to fight his battle with cancer and continued to give God glory for everything that was happening. My wife and I prayed for him often and began to focus our lives on what God was laying on our hearts, adoption.

My wife and I have been talking about our desire to adopt ever since our very first date. Obviously at that point we didn’t have a clue we would be adopting as husband and wife but God implanted a desire in each of us to be involved in the things that are closest to His heart. It’s embarrassing to admit but one of the biggest hindrances for us (and by us I mean me) in following through with adoption has always been the cost of the entire process. For those of you who don’t know adoptions involving newborns generally run around $20,000. Being the good steward that I am (I use that term loosely because steward can often mean a Christian license to hoard) I couldn’t imagine a scenario where we would have $20,000 just sitting in our bank account. We have debt to pay off, houses to move into, cars to buy, vacations to go on, and a long list of other American necessities. But God had other plans and as He usually does He let my wife know first (or quite possibly she obeyed first). So in August of this past year, a week after Dan shared his testimony, my wife approached me and said she really felt the Lord moving in her heart for us to begin the process. I listened as she shared and assured her I would spend some time in prayer because I wanted to make sure we were both hearing the same thing.

So I prayed (every so often) and tried to justify in my mind why it wasn’t the right time to adopt. Interestingly, God doesn’t like it when we have a halfhearted commitment to the things He has called us to do and He will often work in our lives to expose our hypocrisy. So in January of 2013, He decided to expose my heart very clearly through Matthew 18. My wife and I both teach college age bible studies and we were teaching through what it meant to have childlike faith.

Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I remember standing in front of the students and asking them if they had any areas in their life where they were not exhibiting childlike faith. Areas where they were neglecting to turn, as verse three says, and become like children who place their complete trust and dependence on God. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth I knew where I was lacking that same faith and trust in God’s direction. So I confessed to the group and spent a few minutes sharing with them our desire to adopt. I also asked them to pray for me in the area of trusting in God’s provision and timing. They prayed, I trusted and later that week we decided to move forward with the two to three year process of adoption.

We spent the rest of January exploring our options and on February 4th committed to an agency here in Tampa, FL. As you can imagine February was a busy month filled with lots of paperwork, background checks, home studies, interviews and all the other fun things that go along with adoption. We finished everything up the first week of March and then moved on with our lives. Much to our surprise (or lack of faith) two days later on March 5 we got a call from the agency telling us that we had been selected by a couple that was having a child. The mother’s due date was in less than a month and the parents wanted to meet with us to confirm their decision. I remember hanging up the phone in shock and just staring at Courtney as we both tried to let the good news sink in.

Good news has this amazing ability to overshadow everything else in your life. Unfortunately, bad news almost always does the exact same thing. As my wife and I spent March contemplating our future and the exciting addition to our family Dan and his family received word that his health was declining and the doctors were at the point where there was nothing else they could do. They sent him home and gave him just a few weeks to live. I can’t imagine the emotions that must be involved in getting that type of news. But as he has done every step of the way Dan stayed strong and attributed everything that happened to ultimately being part of God’s plan.  

The month of March was obviously very different for us then it was for Dan and his family. For us it was a blur of last minute paperwork and finalizing the preparations to our house for God’s little blessing. We met with the biological parents and were able to spend some time getting to know them. They were both nice caring individuals who thought long and hard about their decision to choose adoption for their son. The days passed and on Saturday, March 30, 2013, my wife and I stood in a hospital room with our unborn child’s birth parents. They were gracious enough to let us be in the room when he was born and even gave me the opportunity to cut his umbilical cord. Minutes later as we held him for the first time we couldn’t help but be in awe of God’s graciousness and His provision in our lives. Even the next day as we came to pick up our son we couldn’t help but thank God that his adoption into our family was happening on Easter Sunday. What a great reminder of the day that Christians are officially adopted as heirs into the kingdom of God with Christ’s death on the cross. We could do nothing but praise His name for who He is and how He works in the lives of those who follow Him.

Courtney & Jadyn
As I write this blog our son Jadyn is three and a half weeks old. Minus a little bout with pneumonia he is perfectly healthy and doing his job of keeping us up at night. It is amazing the opportunities we have had to tell people about the adoption and how quickly everything transpired. Everyone is amazed and we literally can say nothing except God has a plan and He is always at work in the lives of those who trust Him. I have been reminded many times over the last few weeks of what Dan said as he shared his story “it doesn’t matter what your life situation is He is going to be there for you and walk beside you. You can trust Him.” Dan’s words seem to make so much sense when times are good and yet so difficult to understand when times are tough.

It’s easy to thank God and give Him glory during the good times. It would be senseless for my wife and I to think we had anything to do with the speed and ease of our adoption. People spend years trying to adopt and our process from beginning to end didn’t even take three months. That literally can’t be explained any other way except to say that God is awesome and for that we praise His Name. On the flip side Dan did something that was far more difficult by giving praise to God and giving Him glory in the midst of suffering.

So how can God use two events, life and death, which are so contradictory in their very nature to bring glory to His Name? Even though it has taken me almost a year to truly understand I think I'm finally starting to get it. God's goal from the beginning of time has been to display His glory and bring honor and praise to His Great Name. The phrase God's glory points to all of His divine attributes (His wisdom, holiness, knowledge, love, mercy, righteousness, perfection, beauty, goodness, etc) working together in harmony and on display in one infinitely perfect being. All of these things represent how awesome God is and as believers in Christ even though these attributes are hard for us to understand our goal is to reflect His glory for the world to see. We do this in many different ways such as speaking of His goodness to us and His faithfulness in our lives. We share of His love for us and the comfort and peace He offers when times are tough. We speak of the mercy He has on us even though we are sinners and undeserving. When you think about it our lives are filled with peaks and valleys but the honor and praise we give our Savior should always remain the same. As we strive to reflect His glory to those around us He too is working among His people to display His glory. Sometimes that may come in the form of suffering and sometimes that may come in the form of triumph. How we react to these circumstances tells the world that we love His glory more than life itself. 

So how is this possible? It’s possible when we understand that our focus is not on this life but on the future glory prepared for us in heaven. The Apostle Paul explains it perfectly to the church at Rome.  

 Romans 8:18 - For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

No matter the situation we find peace in whatever God has in store for our lives and we praise Him every step of the way. John Piper says that our duty is to bring our thoughts, affections, and actions in line with this goal and ultimately it should become our goal. The way we glorify God is to delight in His glory more than in anything else and be grateful for it. Psalm 73 does an amazing job of explaining this mindset that Dan exemplified so well.  

Psalm 73:25-26 - Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

On April 18, 2013, at the age of 34 years old, Daniel Witt lost his fight with cancer. Thankfully on that same day he gained entrance into the most glorious place imaginable. As I look back it's weird to think that a man I knew for such a short amount of time could change my perspective on life in such a dramatic way. But I guess that's how God works. Constantly placing people in our lives to redirect our focus to Him.

Today at 12 o’clock we honored Dan and the life he lived on earth. It was evident to all who attended that his hope, his peace and his joy were found in Christ. He lived and died knowing that God had a plan and even though he might not fully understand what it was he would be faithful to it until the very end. I'm thankful for his testimony and I pray that his unwavering faith will point all who knew him to the God of the universe and they too will glorify His name.  

1 Corinthians 10:31 - So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Daniel Witt

This is a video that was played at Dan's funeral and 
it has some great audio clips of his testimony. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest

"Never build your case for forgiveness on the idea that God is our Father and He will forgive us because He loves us. That contradicts the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ. It makes the Cross unnecessary, and the redemption “much ado about nothing.” God forgives sin only because of the death of Christ. God could forgive people in no other way than by the death of His Son, and Jesus is exalted as Savior because of His death."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 
~Psalms 19:1 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  ~ Psalm 8:3-4 

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! ~ Psalm 148:3

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. ~ 2 Chronicles 16:9a

Monday, July 23, 2012


Preaching has to be one of the toughest, most complicated, difficult areas of full time ministry. Not only do you have members from your congregation who don't approve of how you do things, but the spiritual warfare from outside the church has to be outrageous as well. In case you read this blog and choose to think I’m attacking pastors let me tell you up front that’s not true. I understand that God clearly calls men from all walks of life to communicate His gospel to people everywhere.

So here's where I get confused. A couple of years ago I spent a few days in Orlando at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors Conference. No I’m not a pastor but it was open to the public and the lineup of preachers was pretty phenomenal. In two days I listened to 12 different speakers, and left wanting to move overseas and adopt an entire village of orphans. Maybe that’s a little exaggeration but the speakers were great and I left motivated to proclaim the Word. The speakers preached wonderful, challenging sermons to a convention center filled with thousands of preachers.

On the way home I was talking with a buddy of mine and something came up that I haven’t been able to forget. Why is it that our most gifted communicators travel the country week after week speaking to millions of people who already know Jesus?

I know that sounds extremely arrogant so please try and ignore the feeling to punch me in the face and listen to the root of my point. It seems to me that a preacher in America has arrived at the pinnacle of success when they are being fought over to preach at conferences, cruises, weekend retreats, conventions, seminaries and other churches. We advertise these events based on which dynamic speaker we were able to bring in, and 90% of the time these events are filled with people who already know Christ. When a preacher get's really popular we even create conferences based on which preachers can be there and what they can bring to the table. It just seems so weird to me and I'm not sure I can find that model anywhere in scripture.

I remember sitting at the convention and thinking I wish they could broadcast this all over Orlando for everyone to hear. I wish these guys could go to India and Africa and use their God given gifts to preach to the unreached people groups of the world. And better yet I wish just a small percentage of the men in America who feel called to preach would preach in areas that have the most need or have never heard. But sadly that doesn't happen very often.

No, I'm not against conferences. It's exciting and convicting to hear great communicators share the Word of God. I'm also not against preachers using their gifts to encourage, challenge, and proclaim Christ to His followers because clearly that is a fundamental aspect of the church. All I'm saying is that churches need people who will speak truth from the pulpit, but the nations need men who are called to preach that same truth as well. Preachers who are willing to use their gift in unfamiliar territories and in dangerous situations for the sake of reaching those who have never heard.

It's sad, but even as I write this I'm convicted that I share in that same responsibility and rarely do I act as if I do. At the end of the day if we are born again followers of Jesus Christ then we are all filled with the same Spirit of God. If we listen to His commands and allow Him to speak through us then we are just as capable of sharing the Word as someone who’s been to seminary and preaches every week. I’m not quite sure why but as members of the church we tend to leave the duties of sharing the gospel to the pastors, elders and deacons. In reality it is a required part of every believer’s walk with Christ and it is of utmost importance that we understand the task. I like what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 when he says, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

It's amazing to think that every single word in Scripture was breathed by God to men and recorded for all of us to read. Not just those placed in charge of leading our churches but those sitting in the pews as well. Every man (or woman) of God has complete access to the Spirit of God as well as the Word of God. What more do we need in order to be made complete and equipped for every good work. The word work in this verse is referring to the work of the Father and is used over 150 times in the New Testament. It is also the same word used by Jesus in John 17:4 in the holiest prayer ever prayed, I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Obviously our work is very different from that of Christ but ultimately our work is tell the world about His work. My prayer is that we will all be able to stand before the throne one day, give Him thanks for His sacrifice, and say with confidence that we accomplished the work he gave us to do. Maybe the real question is not so much why do our most gifted communicators travel the country speaking to people who already know Jesus, but why don’t we all spend more time sharing with those who have never heard?

Romans 10:14-15
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Are You Content?

Could you honestly be content with only food and clothing? Sadly most days the toys around me contribute more than I know to my satisfaction in life. If they were gone I'm not sure how content I'd be...

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
~ 1 Timothy 6:6-10