Meant for Evil, Turned to Praise

A Second Visit

photo 1 (3)Several weeks ago I wrote about visiting Charleston, S.C. While we were there on the first of a couple of short vacations I took the time to go pray on the front steps of Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the church where 9 people, including the pastor, were shot and killed by a young gunman.

Then, a few weeks later a terrorist opened fire here in my city of Chattanooga. All of a sudden we had much more in common with Charleston than we wanted. Both cities were rocked by acts of senseless hatred.

So, the next time we went back to Charleston, I had to do more than go to the front steps of Emanuel A.M.E.; I wanted to worship inside. Once I made a phone call to confirm service times and other specifics, that’s what we did. I’d like to share what we experienced.

IMG_20150802_091513228_HDR

But First…

Before I go any further, I have a couple of things to make clear. First, I am going to be very candid with my thoughts. Please, if anything I say offends or comes across as racist, insensitive, or in bad taste, believe me, that is not my intention. All I want to do is share my honest opinion on several things.

Second, a couple of you have suggested (rather lightheartedly) that I have become “ecumenical” by attending a non-Baptist church. Believe me, if that is what you truly believe, then you need to go back to seminary and do some more research; I am not an ecumenicalist. The problem is that for far too long a lot of fellowship with Family has been missed all because of some of you folk’s interpretation of the “Doctrine of Separation.” You guys need to get out more.

My Observations (in no particular order)

White vs. Black. Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat, OK? Yes, there are a lot of differences between the way most white people and most black people conduct their church services. That shouldn’t be a shocker. Therefore, what my daughters and I observed at Emanuel A.M.E. might well be common in other black congregations, too; I don’t know. What I do know is that every black church I have ever attended, including this one, had the following in common: fans in the pews, ushers with white gloves, and a complete disregard for getting out by noon.

Face it, if you want to get to the Sunday lunch buffet before the crowd, your best bet is to attend a liberal white church, not a shouting Baptist one, and definitely not any black church. As a matter of fact, I think they quit serving lunch by the time Emanuel A.M.E. let out (the service went from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.!).

No Praise and Worship Choruses. Don’t get me wrong, I totally enjoy listening to Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Keith and Kristyn Getty, etc. But from the beginning instrumental to the closing hymn, all the songs played or sung were old stuff – some even older than what Independent Baptists sing ;-) Seriously, there was not one praise and worship song during the whole service! Why is this amazing to me?

The reason I was stunned by the fact that there were none of the typical praise and worship hymns or choruses, not even a praise band, was that those people were bringing down the house! They were shouting! For crying out loud, it’s the words, not the music, that should make us want to praise God! And, if your heart is already pre-disposed to worship, it really doesn’t matter if the music is being played on a keyboard or a pipe organ.

The Choir In the Back. It may be nothing new to some of you, but it’s not often the choir, along with all the instruments, are in the back of the church where they can’t be seen. Unlike what television usually portrays, at Emanuel there was no stereotypical robed choir doing choreographed dance moves to shallow, show-worthy tunes. No one got to stare at a soloist, either. All the music came from the balcony in the rear of the church as the congregation faced forward. Imagine that!

IMG_20150802_100810478_HDR

Not One Mention of Race. Last year one of my girls attended a local black Baptist church. She and a friend went three separate times, and in each one she was made to feel like an outsider, even though it was a “place for every race.” On three separate occasions race issues were mentioned more than the Gospel. That was not the case at Emanuel A.M.E., at least not that Sunday.

I understand that the historical and cultural context of African-American churches is complicated. Good grief, how many of our white churches would have stayed together during the Civil War had we been forced to meet underground? That being said, the same daughter who left the other black church in tears of regret left this one with tears of joy. She said, “This is what I hoped that other church would have been like – I felt totally welcome!”

Roped In During the Preaching. Believe me, I have been in a lot of churches over my 48 years of life. Few of them came close to Emanuel A.M.E. in the sense of reverence shown to the time of worship, especially toward the reading and preaching of the Word of God. I have been in more than a few “Bible-believing” churches that allowed people to get up and go to the bathroom, grab a snack, even go out for a smoke during the service, even the preaching. Not this church!

Believe it or not, right as the pastor was walking up to the pulpit to preach, ushers were walking down the aisles hanging up velvet theater ropes! If I remember correctly, up and down each of the main aisles there were at least three two-inch thick ropes strung across to prevent people from moving around. In other words, when the preaching started at this church, you sat down and listened! I am going to suggest those in our next business meeting ;-)

Invitation First. You know, why do we always wait till the end of a church service to give an altar call? Seriously? Why not start off with one? These people did, and it lasted for about 10-15 minutes!

Oh, and it was no “let’s just gather down here and pray – Bro. Smith, would you start?” type of altar call. No, it was a come-get-your-heart-right-and-pray-for-others kind of altar call. The pastor even said, “When the altar fills up, don’t stop coming; just fill the aisles.” And they did! How many of our white, Baptist, or whatever church services would be transformed if an invitation was given to start?

Powerful Preaching. Some of you – you know who you are – think black preachers are shallow, only preach to music, and are more about theatrics than theology. Well, if you’re referring to what you typically see in the movies or on television, then you’d be correct – that’s Hollywood. The preaching I heard at Emanuel A.M.E. that Sunday was deep and meaty stuff. Oh, it was loud and exciting in that kind of way, but it was much more.

In a sermon entitled “When Tragedy Comes to Your House,” the pastor appealed to doctrine – yes, doctrine – as the source of comfort when all around gives sway. There was none of that “best life now” stuff; it was the Word of God dug out of Job and Hezekiah. The pastor said when tragedy comes, so many ask, “Where is God?” “But for the Christian,” he said, “that’s when you fall back on the doctrines you know to be true! That’s where you get your comfort!” With a voice growing louder and stronger the pastor shouted, “I believe if God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ His Son…”

Real preaching is the kind of stuff that gives us truth to hold on to when tragedy strikes. That’s the kind of preaching this church has evidently been used to, for they turned to Jesus when tragedy came to their home.

Calling for a Commitment. One day I may actually do this. After the end of the main service, the pastor did something I have never seen done before: he asked for 50 people to come forward if they would commit to come to Wednesday night Bible study. At first he asked for 100, but then scaled it back (even he was realistic). Once they came forward, then he had the church pray for them, that they would not only make it to the service, but that they would learn from God’s Word. Amazing, eh?

But stop for a moment and think about it. It was on at a Wednesday night Bible study that the former pastor and eight congregants were murdered. Would you have been one of those 50? Why not?

Communion. We got to take part in their communion service, too. Each pew was led down to the front (those who wanted to go), then asked to kneel and pray. After everyone had knelt and briefly prayed, a wafer was placed in their hands, then a little cup of juice was given. After the elements were consumed, a minister asked all to rise and go in grace.

I was actually expecting wine, but it was Welch’s. Go figure.

I Got to Speak. Believe it or not, I was actually able to speak to the congregation of Emanuel A.M.E. for just a moment. In actuality, several people had already gone up to speak, such as representatives of family reunions that were present, a couple of local dignitaries being honored for their part in helping the church through the days of crisis, and a guest minister. It was only after I tapped the shoulder of a man in front of me and asked, “How could I get an opportunity to speak?”

Immediately the man I tapped on the shoulder tapped another man to his left and said, “Take this man to the pastor; he has something to say.” “Now?” I asked. “Yeah, go on up there! He’ll take ya’.”

That’s how it happened. I went up and stood in front until the pastor gave me the microphone. At that point I shared greetings from Chattanooga and Riverside Baptist Church. I also thanked them for the example they set for the rest of the country. They gave me a bunch of “amen’s” and a warm round of applause. Later, several members came up to me and thanked us for coming and for the words I shared. Haley was amazed and said, “Wow, they must have actually listened to you – they even remembered your name!”

photo (63)

God Meant It for Good. If there was nothing else, the most incredible sensation I got from visiting Emanuel A.M.E. was the feeling of God winning and the Devil losing. Hallelujah!

You see, the enemy of God thought he could break a church and burn a community by having some misguided young punk come in and kill the pastor and some church members. What Satan miscalculated was the sincere faith in Christ the wounded families had. He underestimated the fortitude of a congregation that had endured many more tragedies. He underestimated, once again, the ability of a Sovereign Lord who can take the worst the devil can dish out and turn it into good.

Literally, what we saw in Charleston was undeniable evidence that God can turn what was meant for evil into joyous worship and praise. Emanuel A.M.E. is the proof.

4 Comments

Filed under Christian Unity, current events, Faith, General Observations, Life/Death, places, worship

An Upcoming Flood

Anthony Baker:

Many of you know about my other blog, one I have shared with several others for the last few years. What would you think of starting over?
Any suggestions?

Originally posted on Proverbial Thought:

A few of you have noticed that there have not been many new posts in the last week or two. There are several reasons for this, among being too busy to stay on top of it.

One problem that I (Anthony) have had with the republishing of some of our “thoughts” has been with the subject matter being dated. For example, those that were written around the end of December were likely to have themes centered around Christmas. As you can imagine, reading about Christmas coming up while in the middle of summer heat can be a tad confusing, if not distracting.

You see, if I had planned ahead to re-release all of our posts on Proverbs we might have done things a little differently. On the other hand, had we kept the immediacy out of it the freshness of the moment would have been lost. Oh well.

Honestly, when…

View original 133 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hiding In Plain Sight

Back in 2010 (I think) I wrote a post that later became the basis for a story in my book, Life Lessons from the School Bus. If you don’t yet have a copy (you can order one by clicking on the picture), the following story, “Stop #13,” can be found on pages 45-46.

The reason that I am sharing it with you now is because today was the “kick off” day for our local school bus drivers. The most important and most repeatedly-stressed point was safety. I’m sure you’ll get the connection.

The Story

As you can see in the picture, a typical school bus has two mirrors immediately to the left of the driver window (besides the convex mirror below). With mirrors everywhere, driving is made much safer and easier, even in heavy traffic. What you don’t see is what is on the other side of the mirrors.

(This picture at the very spot an accident could have taken place.)

I was beginning to exit a gas station directly across the street from another station, and a Hardee’s. I looked in every direction and checked my mirrors. Then, as I started to pull out, an 18-wheeler appeared out of nowhere…directly in front of me! It had been hiding behind the mirrors.

Take a look at the picture. Right behind the top mirror sat a Peterbilt. I never saw it. What saved me was taking my time and being cautious. Had I rushed on forward I may have pulled right into the path of that big truck. Only going slow and expecting the unexpected made the difference.

The Lesson

So many tragedies in life could be avoided if only we would take the time to “consider our ways.”

“Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5 KJV).

Do we stop to think about where we are going? Do we take the time to make sure there is nothing hidden behind the obvious? Sometimes our judgment can be clouded by the determination to move forward with our plans. Wisdom understands that the Enemy loves to capitalize on things hidden.

For example, how many people have fallen into financial ruin because they rushed into a business deal or bought something too expensive? Many times there are dangers lurking in the fine print or hidden in words we don’t take time to understand. Even though the path may look clear, it never hurts to take one more look before proceeding.

Ironically, big dangers can hide behind the very things meant to point them out.

Route Suggestions

The following are a few suggestions to help you navigate the route of life:

  • Never get too comfortable behind the wheel.
  • Never make quick assumptions based on past experiences.
  • Never let someone rush you into making an uninformed decision.
  • Read Psalm 119:105…”Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” How important is it to have a light when driving down a dark and unfamiliar road? Where does this verse say we can find light for the road of life?

The road of life can be dangerous place, dear reader. Why not follow the One who not only knows the way, but IS the Way?

1 Comment

Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Life Lessons

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.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Life/Death

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. 

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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. 

20 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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! 

   

 

8 Comments

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