When Heaven Becomes Real

My city has been in the news a lot because of the deaths of five brave servicemen. The last of the funerals was held yesterday.

I have been to a whole lot of funerals as a minister. Even when I was young I had to go to a lot of funerals because my dad was a preacher – and guess who performed all the funerals for family and friends? It seemed like every other week someone would call on my father to preach someone’s funeral, and most were people I did not know.

Unbelievably, however, there are a lot of people in this world (especially America) who have never had to deal with the loss of someone really close, like a parent, sibling, or spouse, not even a grandparent. There are a lot of adults who have never even been to a funeral. For them, as it was for me, heaven is just a place they may believe in, but it’s not really thought of much in terms of an actual destination – like it’s only a metaphor.

All that changes in an instant when a believing loved one dies.

One evening in 1991, shortly before me father died, I went to hear and evangelist speak at my home church. He preached on heaven that night, and one thing he said has stuck with me for the past 24 years. He said, “Heaven will never be as real to you until there’s someone there you want to go see.

Four days later I knew what he meant.

For me, heaven is a real place, a place where I long to go. Over the last few years more and more people have gone on ahead of me and are waiting.

Right now there is a silhouette of golden light tracing the edges of the dark mountain before me. What is on the other side I can barely imagine – I’ve only heard stories. But one day, maybe not long from now, I will receive the call to cross over. There my faith will be made sight.

It’s just a matter of time before I learn what “real” is all about.

 

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Word of Encouragement

Whenever you feel like your life is out of control and as crappy as a yard full of puppies, forget yourself for just a moment…

if only for a moment….

and try to encourage someone else. 

Who knows? It might just be they are having a worse day than you. 

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All Lives Matter. Period.

A Prayer

Lord, please help me. Help me, dear God, to say, or rather write, something profitable, something worth reading on this most difficult topic of race.

I need wisdom. I need guidance. May my words contribute to healing, not hate.

 

My Thoughts

I have not been writing as much as I would like, but I felt it necessary to take a few moments to address the whole idea around the rallying cry of “Black Lives Matter.”

Folks, being that I am not black, brown, or transgender (somehow gender has been added to the mix – just check out the website), I admit there are things I don’t understand. But there is one thing I do understand, and my race has nothing to do with this truth: ALL lives matter, not just ones with a particular color or sexual preference.

Let me reiterate. ALL LIVES MATTER.

Yes, I said it, and I will not back down. Why? Because to do so would be un-biblical and un-Christlike. Regardless how one might want to politicize the issue, as a follower of Jesus, as one who believes God made all mankind in His image, I must stand firmly on Truth, not catchphrases.

Racism is wrong. Bigotry is wrong. And taking a statement that excludes the inherent value of all human life as your mantra is also wrong.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I would not have agreed on several things, particularly in areas of theology and what is called the “social gospel.” Nevertheless, I believe Dr. King and I would have seen eye-to-eye regarding the “Black Lives Matter” thing. He would have said, “NO! NO! NO!” to all the violence and hatred. I believe he would be heartbroken at all the calls for unrest. He would certainly be ashamed of those who have used race as a tool for their own gain. Was it not Dr. King who envisioned a “color-blind” society?

If a person can’t say that “all lives matter” in public without being condemned, without being forced to apologize, then what does that say about the lives of others? What about my family? What about the Asian family down the road? Or the Indian woman that walks down the street with her husband and son? What about the Native American?

I guess one could argue the phrase is only meant to bring attention to the plight of the black community in America. One could also argue that by saying “all lives matter” one is, in a way, saying racism in America doesn’t exist. Possibly. But that’s a matter of opinion.

The truth is that black lives do matter, but so do white lives, brown lives, yellow lives, and red lives; red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. The proof was when Jesus offered Himself as a ransom so that every tribe and nation could be reconciled with God.

By the way, the majority of aborted babies are black. Do their lives matter? Jesus loves them, too.

All lives matter. Period.


UPDATE: This post has done nothing but depress me.  I regret writing it. 

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De Nyew Testament 

Once again I am composing a post upon my old iPhone (would someone set up a GoFundAnthony account and buy me an iPhone 6?). 

I’m sitting in a school bus, under a bridge, all alone, after dropping off a bunch of kids on a summer field trip. They are riding the Riverboat while I sit here waiting. But, it’s a great opportunity to read and study. 

Anyway

One of the treasures I picked up the last time I was in Charleston was a new Bible. But this Bible is a little different – no, it’s a LOT different – from others I have: it’s in a different language! And I am reading it! 

De Nyew Testament is a translation of the New Testament into the Gullah language. No, it’s not a paraphrase or a for-fun parody of the KJV; it’s a literal translation of the NT into a genuine language. Gullah (also known as Geechee or Sea Island Creole) is a language “traditionally spoken along the coastal area of South Carolina and Georgia.” 

According to the preface, it took more than 25 years for folks from Wycliffe Bible Translators and the American Bible Society to pull this translation together. And let me tell you something: it’s worth getting. 

If you are a fluent reader of English, then you can read Gullah. It will take some practice, but you’ll get used to it and start to pick up on its rhythm. 

So, here I was under a bridge, in a school bus, next to the riverfront, reading a little from the Gullah version of the NT, when tears filled my eyes. And because of that, I wanted to write this post so I could share with you the particular verse of Scripture that got me. Read it through a few times, then let me know if it blessed you the way it blessed me :-) 

“Look yah! We oughta study pon how de Fada da bless we wid e lob! E da lob we sommuch dat e call we e own chullun, an we e chullun fa true. People ob de wol ain been know who God da, an cause ob dat, dey ain know we.” 1 John 3:1 (Gullah)

“Look yah!” We ought to be studyin’ about how the Father has done blessed us with His love! Glory be to God! 

   

 

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Filed under Bible Study, blogging, book review, God, translations, Uncategorized, worship

A Leader Leads

I don’t think much needs to be said that hasn’t already been said. Nothing I say will make much difference in the big scheme of things.

photo (62)However, in the light of today’s news that President Obama finally….finally….FINALLY requested that all American flags be flown at half-staff, I thought I would step out and take a picture of the flag flying half-staff in front of the church where I pastor.

It has been flying that way since Thursday, July 16…the very same day that a terrorist killed 4 Marines and mortally wounded a Sailor in my city of Chattanooga.

If a leader leads, who was the leader?

You tell me.

Looks like God’s house didn’t need the White House telling us what to do.

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My [Mirrors] Are Above Your [Mirrors]

A Little Context

I would like to set the scene, to provide you with a little context, before I continue with this totally off-the-wall (or maybe on-the-wall) post.

First, I am sitting in the dining area of a large hospital in Chattanooga (the one in the news, actually), sipping on a hot cup of coffee (it’s 100 degrees outside, but it is stinking cold inside). The coffee was for drinking while waiting on my daughter – she is here doing some stuff, the details of which would probably bore you.

Second, I am writing this on my cell phone – my dependable little iPhone 4S with a cracked screen – causing my eyes to lose their ability to focus at a distance.

Third, as a matter most important to the context, I had to go to the men’s room. That’s where I took the accompanying photo, the impetus for this post.

Lots of Questions

Because I am a man of proper upbringing, after making use of the facilities, I stepped up to the sink to wash my hands. However, before I could begin, before I could even turn on the water, I was taken aback by something my mind had a hard time comprehending – a space between the back of the sink and the mirror on the wall.

photo (61)

Hawaiian shirt and New Balance shoes: I’m stylin’.

I must have looked like a dog hearing a strange, new sound. Fortunately, no one else was in the room, so I stood there, perplexed, wondering to myself, “What the heck?” Why was there a space? What would happen if I placed my marbles on the counter? Was there really that big of a gap, or was it just  an illusion? Was I being pranked? Was I on television?!

For a couple of minutes all I could do as I stood at the sink was wonder why anyone would build it this way.  When I finally leaned forward to wash my hands, I saw my feet and thought, “Maybe doctors designed this to see if their shoes needed polishing?” Then I realized I don’t even know what kind of shoes doctors wear. Don’t they usually cover their shoes with footies? Maybe the architects had full-length mirrors to sell? Maybe somebody wanted to show off his plumbing?

Anyway, a simple trip to the bathroom turned into a list of questions. Instead of just accepting things as they were, my questioning nearly led me to spread unhealthy germs by nearly forgetting to wash my hands! So many questions, and I’ll probably never get a satisfactory answer.

God’s Ways

I took a photo of the sink and mirror in question with the intent of quickly posting it to Facebook, including with it some quirky remark. That’s when the Holy Spirit interrupted my thinking and spoke to my heart. He said, “Men question the placement of a mirror, yet they dare to understand all my ways?”

I paused and looked at the picture I was editing on my photo app. Then, in my spirit, I heard, “My ways are higher than your ways. My mirrors are far higher than man’s mirrors.”

So often we question the ways of God, don’t we? Why not just admire the beauty of His Wisdom and rest in His provision? Why not accept the fact that we’re never going to understand why He does all He does, or allows all He allows, and just trust Him?

After all, the last thing we need to be doing in this sin-sick world is spreading germs. 

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#Noogastrong

#Strong

It is becoming commonplace to insert the name of a city between a hashtag and “strong,” thereby symbolizing a community’s solidarity following tragedy. There was #Bostonstrong, #Charlestonstrong, and now there’s another one – #Noogastrong (and #ChattanoogaStrong).

It’s becoming all to common, isn’t it? And for me, it’s WAY beyond “close to home”; it IS home! Chattanooga, nearly eight hours away from Charleston, SC, the place I just visited. Chattanooga, the place where I came home to after praying on the steps of Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The world is just too small these days.

But Chattanooga, my city, is not just another hashtag in a list of tragedies. Chattanooga is a strong community with a strong sense of pride. And even though our town is full of nominal, backslidden Christians who can barely tell the difference between theology and skiology, Chattanooga is still a place with strong faith in its veins.

Community

photo (1)Today I got an email from our Mayor’s office. We can pretend that makes me special. It was an invitation to an “interfaith” prayer vigil at Olivet Baptist Church on MLK Boulevard.

(Here is a link to a news story about the prayer vigil.)

At first I felt a little apprehensive, for I am not one who subscribes to the ecumenical belief that all faiths are equally valid and true; I believe Jesus Christ is the only way to God. However, as a Chattanoogan, I felt the need to come together with others, despite our differences, to encourage not only peace, but the realization that good can come from evil, love can conquer hate, and that Jesus is the Way.

Gov. Bill Haslam (TN) was only one of several distinguished speakers at tonight’s meeting (our congressman and both senators were there, too). But it was Governor Haslam who made the case for a community prayer service, even if we considered this city a “Babylon.” He spoke of the captivity of Israel and the command by God to build houses and plant gardens, and “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace”(Jeremiah 29:7).

Uncomfort Zone

One of the most amazing things to see tonight, however, was the number of Muslims who came to the service – a predominately Christian service, in a Baptist church, on what was supposed to have been a day of Muslim religious celebration. They came to show their solidarity with their fellow Chattanoogans. As a matter of fact, the Imam that spoke nearly broke into tears as he condemned the actions of the Muslim shooter.

But what was truly incredible was what happened toward the end of the Imam’s speech. He asked that all those Muslims present who agreed with him, who condemned the actions of July 17, who wanted peace, to stand in unified allegiance, not as Muslims, but as Chattanoogans! They did! At least a hundred or more! All I could think at that moment was, “Man, that guy just became a target.” OH! If only more Muslims would do this publicly!

One man that stood up was an older man who was sitting next to me on my right. I stood up, took his hand to shake it, then embraced him. As we embraced I said, “Thank you!” He said, with tears in his eyes, “No, thank you! I served in the Army, too.” Later he told me that his heart was so heavy, and that he loved Chattanooga so much, that even after he moved to Florida, he kept his Chattanooga license plate – and comes back each year to renew it!

Later, when the meeting was over, I seriously stepped out of my comfort zone – seriously. I walked up to four guys who looked as stereotypically Muslim as could be, reached out my hand, and said, “Thank you for coming.” Of course, in conversation I told them who I was, so…it’s all in God’s hands. My uncomfortable zones are never outside God’s zone.

“Witnesses of Me”

It is easy to believe that everything is out of control, that God and Elvis have left the building. I mean, the more #strongs we see, the more likely we are to conclude that the Enemy is winning, correct? Well, don’t get too discouraged! Remember, the battle isn’t even a contest; it’s fixed – God wins!

Just look at all that has happened. Seriously! Here we have a radical, hate-filled Muslim “extremist” thinking he’s going to bring honor and glory to his cause by killing unarmed Marines, policemen, and everyone else. Sure, his name and cause gets mentioned, but what else happens?

The name of Jesus Christ is broadcast day and night! On radio and television! Around the world! This happened in Charleston, too! What the Enemy meant for harm, God has used to proclaim the forgiving, restoring, gracious love of Risen Saviour! For crying out loud, folks! There were over a hundred Muslims who sat through a Christian prayer service tonight! People were praying – in the name of Jesus! Even politicians!!

Never forget the full ramifications of Acts 1:8 and what it means to be a “witness.” Sometimes our Father calls us to be witnesses of His Son by becoming martyrs (the word translated “witness” [μάρτυς] is the word from which we get “martyr”).

We Need Him

A lot of people came to the prayer vigil that were not followers of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, both Jews and Muslims had words to say, along with “Christians” of every creed and color. Nevertheless, the name of Jesus Christ was proclaimed within those walls and to people watching around the world.

And even though it could be rightly argued that many in attendance worshiped a false god, there was something very positive and encouraging permeating the prayer vigil my little girl and I attended: it was humility. You see, whatever else you want to say, Chattanooga was humble enough to admit that there is a Higher Power to Whom we must go for help in times of need – not Washington or our local mayor – we need God!

I firmly believe Chattanooga is the best mid-size city in America. But it was like what our former Governor, and former presidential candidate, Senator Lamar Alexander said in his final words about the whole “Chattanooga Strong” thing: he prayed, “God, make Chattanooga strong.”

With God’s help, Chattanooga will heal. And as we are blessed with healing, we will be a blessing to the world.

Please continue to pray for Chattanooga, my hometown.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

A powerful prayer was offered by a comrade in arms.

A powerful prayer was offered by a comrade in arms.

National News Media were everywhere.

National News Media were everywhere.

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