Today is Ash Wednesday.  It’s a day that the entire Christian world will consider the depth of our sin.  Sin that needs a Savior.  It’s a day to prepare ourselves for the weeks of Lent leading up to the celebration of Easter Sunday.  These are some of the most cherished days in the life of a believer.  It’s a seasonal opportunity to remember more fully the work of Christ in our lives.

This Ash Wednesday is particularly special to me.  This Ash Wednesday perfectly intersects with the anniversary of my own salvation.  On March 6th, 1988 – I was an 11-year-old 6th grader on the south-side of Florence.  I became fully aware on that Sunday morning of my deep need for Jesus.  I recognized my sin and knew that Jesus was my only hope for salvation.  It was on that Sunday morning at Greenwood Baptist Church that I prayed and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and be Lord of my life.

So, on this Ash Wednesday, 31 years later – I’m still in awe that the God of the universe would look down on me in my sin and shame, pick me up, wash me clean and call me His child.  He will do the same for you.  Take this Ash Wednesday to consider the weight of your sin.  Stop walking around with it and turn your life over to Jesus.   Today may be Ash Wednesday, but Easter Sunday is coming!  We know the end of the story.  Jesus won!   Live today in the grace and freedom of Jesus Christ and help share that hope with those around you on this Ash Wednesday.

I’ve been a youth pastor now for seventeen years and by many standards, that’s a lot of time in Student Ministry.  But imagine one person serving more than twice that long with teenagers.  Mrs. Anita Shively has been serving with the Youth Ministry of Ebenezer Baptist Church for over 40 years.  She has been teaching teenagers to follow Jesus longer than I’ve been alive.  There are thousands of people all across the world that have been touched by her life, her ministry and her witness to the power of Jesus.  I’m so thankful that she is my partner in ministry at Ebenezer.  I’m grateful that she loves my wife so well and I’m grateful that she is a bonus grandmother to our three boys.  They adore her.  They don’t just love her cooking or her smile, they love the way she loves them and the way she points them to Jesus.  So, tonight at our annual Sweetheart Banquet, we reminded Mrs. Anita that she is truly the Ebenezer Sweetheart.

Mrs. Anita, you are our sweetheart because Jesus is your sweetheart.  We love you and we’re grateful for your faithfulness to the Lord.  Thank you Mrs. Anita!  It’s hard to capture a lifetime of ministry in one video, but may this help you understand the love our church has for you and the countless lives you’ve touched.

When I was a kid my grandmother used to gather all the grandkids every now and then to measure our heights on the pantry door.  She would carefully take her pencil and mark a spot on the door to see how tall we had grown since our last visit.  That old pantry door on Wheat Street in Columbia held the growth history of so many of our family members.  I sure do miss that old pantry door.

There are lots of ways we can measure the growth and maturity of a young man.  From shoe size to height and even a child’s waste grows bigger.  During the teen years, physical growth is inevitable.  But it’s the growth of a young man or woman’s mind and spirit that are of the most importance.  As a father, it’s my responsibility and privilege to raise my sons to mature and be fully devoted followers of Christ.  Just as Matthew 2:52 says that Jesus grew in favor with God and man – that’s my hope for my boys.

This summer many pre-teen and teenage guys spent their summer in front of a screen playing Fortnight.  That was not the case for Anderson & Ellis.  There was so much more for them to learn outside.  I encouraged (or should I say…prodded) them to build on the little lawn mowing business they started last summer.  In 2017 they learned to mow yards and helped a couple of homeowners keep up their yards throughout the summer.  This summer their business exploded.  They worked in at least twelve yards and many of those were regular clients.  They probably did a total of 30-40 yards in less than three months.  The boys took turns on the riding mower, push mower, and blower while I helped them handle the weed eater/edger.  I charged them $5 per yard to help them and to cover the cost of their gas.  It was a tough gig.  No doubt about that.  Many of their homes were done in the late afternoons after I got off work and they often didn’t end until it was too dark outside to see the grass.  While other teenagers were out hanging with their friends and playing video games, these two boys were up to their necks in lawn clippings, sweat, and gasoline fumes.  Dad was pretty worn too.

So, why in the world does a 12 year old and 14 year old need to mow 40 yards in a summer?  Here are a few reasons why I made them do it:

  1.  It got them off the couch.
  2.  They learned valuable skills.
  3.  They were able to be outside and get exercise.
  4.  They earned money (a lot of money for their age).
  5.  They learned to tithe off their income.
  6.  They learned the value of a dollar and how best to save/spend it.
  7.  They learned to speak with clients and say simple things like “please” and “thank you.”
  8. They learned what it means to keep a commitment.  Often they would think of something they would prefer to do, but they always knew the right thing to do was go mow a yard they committed to cut.
  9. A few times they recruited a few friends to help them on big jobs.  It gave them the chance to show other guys the value of working hard and earning money…so i guess they had employees.
  10. AND It really helped my relationship with the boys.  Though I pushed them hard this summer – none of us will ever forget the long hours we spent in 2018 mowing yards all over Florence.

If you have an older child or teenager in your home, help them get away from the screens and put them to work.  The generation coming after us will never learn the value of money and a hard work ethic if we don’t teach them.  It’s better that they learn to work hard at 12 than still be living at home at 30.  My prayer is that the hard work of parenting that Ashley and I do now will lead to the joy of seeing them launch well in a few short years into adulthood.  This summer my boys grew taller and stronger, but I really measured their manhood by the yard (yard after yard that they cut).

One more thing…I need to give a big thank you to Ashley for keeping us fed, hydrated (and sane).  And thank you to Randy Welch for keeping the lawn mowers running.  Those machines took a beating and it sure did help having a great lawn mower mechanic around.