Category Archives: Church

My Pre-Salvation Testimony

Testimonies

I’m a Christian. So, when I talk about my testimony, I’m talking about my personal story, not what’s given from the witness stand.

You see, we Christians, particularly we church-going folk, like to talk about what God has done in our lives. We like telling others about where the Lord has brought us from, how he’s changed us, and what He’s currently doing in our lives. We like to “testify.”

But as I say that, it seems to me that more Christians than not are pretty silent about what God has done to transform them. To be honest, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been to a “testimony service” where there’s no preaching, just people telling their stories – their testimonies.

The “Great” Testimonies

But maybe it’s because so often what gets the most press, so to speak, are the testimonies that wow the audience, the “great” testimonies of how God delivered a horrible sinner and turned him into a saint. …Yeah, I know, that’s what salvation is, but work with me for a moment

What people really want to hear are the salacious details of debauchery and crime, the drugs and alcohol, the millions blown on a life of sin … you know, sort of like Kanye … and THEN how God miraculously saved them from all the excitement.  You don’t draw a crowd with a boring testimony like, “I was saved as a small child and lived a relatively God-honoring life the last 40 years.”

Why would the average Christian want to stand up in front of people and watch them yawn? For the most part, a lot of people who are born again by faith in Jesus Christ think their story isn’t worth telling, at least not worth making a big deal.

That’s why I want to share, for the very first time, my pre-salvation testimony… to encourage the average believer who’s never been a murderer, a drug dealer, a dope addict, a wifebeater, a famous musician, or a politician.

My Story

I’ve written before about my life after God saved my soul, but I’ve never written about what I was like before I gave my heart to Jesus. I didn’t want to give the devil too much credit or make my past life look attractive to those who might be tempted by the depravity to which I was bound.

Honestly, some people talk about their lives before Christ like salvation was only something they resigned to. It’s like: “I had everything money could buy – women, drugs, fast cars, airplanes, houses on the beach, and a modeling contract – but then I got saved, and now I go to church.

But not me… I was a true sinner, lost and on my way to hell, and I’m glad Jesus saved me!

Before I got saved, I was an immature, unpredictable, maladjusted mess. For a few years, I was in such a world of my own that nobody could understand me; my vocabulary was horrible, worse than a sailor’s. My language was so bad I’d even make up words to express the neediness inside.

For at least a year I drank all the time. Rarely ate a bite of food.

I never cared about my own well-being, but lived every day without any thought of life or death. I took every risk, broke every rule, and in trouble with authority on a regular, sometimes daily basis.

Before Jesus saved me, I was self-centered, self-serving, and entitled; I felt everything should be done for me, that I shouldn’t have to do anything for myself. For a couple of years, I didn’t even try.

I was like the homeless in San Fransisco; I’d defecate anywhere and anytime I wanted. Once, while attending a party at my parent’s house, I literally walked into the middle of the living room where the church people were sitting, and urinated into an ashtray on the coffee table!

The face of an unrepentant sinner full of unholy potential.

I took advantage of everyone who loved me, especially my mother. Fortunately, I had good parents who loved me through those unredeemed years, even though it seemed like every paycheck of theirs was meant to keep me alive.

That is why I could never thank God enough for what He did when He saved me on September 26, 1973… when I was only six years old!

God spared the world from what I could have become.

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Filed under Christian Living, Christianity, Church, Humor, self-worth, Witnessing, worship

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: The Convention

I haven’t written much over the last week, especially since the weekend. The biggest reason is that I have been pretty busy with ministry and church-related stuff.

Now, when I say “stuff,” it could be interpreted as things that don’t matter much in the big scheme of things, things that just take up time and make us look busy. That kind of stuff is bad, for we should make the best use of what time we’ve been given.

However, the stuff I’ve been doing (at least from Sunday evening through Tuesday) was centered around our denomination in the state of Georgia. This week we attended the 198th Georgia Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.

Conventions

When hear the word convention, they often think about wild parties and lots of nonsense. The convention I went to for two and a half days was anything but parties and nonsense; it was where 1,300 delegates from Southern Baptist churches all over the state of Georgia came together to do business, worship, and be encouraged.

For those of you who don’t know, congregations within the Southern Baptist Convention are independent, autonomous, self-governing churches – the SBC doesn’t tell us what to do. However, what unites us is a common set of beliefs (Baptist Faith and Message 2000) and a desire to reach the nation and the world with the Gospel by participating in the Cooperative Program. State conventions operate in similar fashion, but deal more with regional needs.

Changes

This year is a big year for Georgia Baptists! The reason is that the whole convention was restructured to become more effective in serving the needs of our churches and pastors.

If you haven’t already, you can click on the link above (or here) and see exactly what’s going on. But if you are short on time and/or curiosity, let me sum things up with a few bullet points.

  • The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been restructured into FIVE main ministry areas:
    • Georgia Baptist Women
    • Research and Development
    • Strategic Church Planting
    • Church Strengthening
    • Pastor Wellness
  • The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is now regionalized into six new areas. Each region will have a team of consultants that are serving our pastors, their families, and churches. Each region team includes consultants from:
    • Evangelism, Missions, Next Gen, Discipleship, & Worship and Music.
  • The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is committed to three guiding principles:
    • Pastors Are Our Heroes
    • Churches Are Our Priority
    • Georgia Is Our Mission Field

Why the Changes?

As stated in the video you can watch on the website, the main reason for all the changes in the structure and guiding principles of the convention is that there are over 7 million lost people in Georgia. We have to get “wiser, stronger, and more efficient in reaching them.”

There is a great need for discipleship. However, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus unless you are a follower of Jesus! We must get back to the primary mission of the Church, which was the primary mission of Jesus: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

I am proud to be a Georgia pastor. It is a great honor to be counted among those who will recommit to “making a big deal about Jesus” in the communities where we serve, and beyond.

Georgia pastors standing to be blessed with prayer.

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Standing In the Gap

The Reenactment

Last week I got to see the reenactment of the occupation of Sandersville, Georgia. It was the 155th anniversary of the battle that left a few dead (not like the 10’s of thousands in other battles), a courthouse burned, and a citizenry who was thankful it didn’t turn out much worse.

In November of 1863, General William T. Sherman and the Union army marched into the Sandersville area, just 10 miles or so south of where I sit right now. A skirmish broke out between some of the advance Union cavalry and the Confederates under General Joseph Wheeler. This led to more fighting and a near-disastrous misunderstanding.

Below is a video I made of the reenactment in the Sandersville town square.

General Sherman (the “march to the sea” Sherman who’s tactics embodied the term “scorched earth”) thought it had been the citizens of the town who’d fired upon the Union troops, and he was furious. He didn’t know it was Confederate soldiers. Therefore, after entering the city, he intended to burn it to the ground.

That was when the Rev. James Anthony, a Methodist pastor, went to General Sherman to beg for the city to be spared.

Changed Feelings

Before I get back into the history of the battle and the main point I want to share, I must tell you about what I felt while videoing the reenactment.

If it had been 20 or 30 years ago, maybe even only 10, I would have watched this display of musketry and role playing as “totally cool!” I mean, you’re talking to a guy who “played army” all of his young years, up into his teens. Seeing all that action, especially that close, would have been awesome.

Yet, as I stood there on the curb letting my imagination get into the act, I was surprised by my sense of sorrow, of fear, and the tears that began swelling up in the bottom of my eyes. From the moment the two horsemen rode into town warning of the impending and unstoppable invasion, to the point where men and boys were point-blank shooting at each other right in front of me, my heart sank.

There was nothing “cool” about this at all; it was utterly sad.

So “country” even the Confederates eat here 🙂

After it was all over, a deacon from our church saw me and invited me to have some tea (sweet, of course) in the little buffet right behind where I had been standing. Sitting there in the restaurant, the surreal scene of muskets lining the walls and “wounded” Confederates eating fried chicken, we talked about what we had seen.

He had felt the same way I did.

He had been standing down around the corner (where the video ended), and he said that when they came around and started shooting at “our boys,” he couldn’t help but shed a tear. He said, “This really happened.”

Back to the Story

So, upon hearing that General Sherman was going to burn Sandersville, Rev. Anthony went to Sherman to beg for the town. He finally convinced him that it wasn’t the people who fired on the troops, but opposing forces that had already fled.

When Sherman heard that Rev. Anthony had also been kind to a wounded Union officer and kept him from being executed, he accepted the pastor’s request and spared all but the courthouse and other government buildings. Sandersville survived because of the brave actions of a pastor who put his own well-being on the line.

To the Point

There’s a lot more to the story of Rev. James Anthony and his conversation with General Sherman. You can read about it by simply Googling his name. But as I stood there in the city square and heard the reenactment of the conversation between Sherman and Anthony, I could not escape the similarity between the Reverend’s name and mine.

I couldn’t escape the following passage that has been a “life verse” of mine for decades:

And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. – Ezekiel 22:30

If only more pastors would stand in the gap!

If faced with an invading army, would I have the courage to risk everything, stand face-to-face with the conquering General, and beg for the lives of my people as Rev. James Anthony did?

Do I not have that opportunity even now?

But on my knees?

It’s war, and it’s really happening. 

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Filed under America, Church, General Observations, Life/Death, Prayer, Struggles and Trials

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Where’s the Coffee?

Preparing Sunday lunch in Zimbabwe, not Georgia 🙂

Food

It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, food is a universal need, even here in the middle of Georgia. However, what people eat and drink when they are hungry can vary greatly between location and culture, and Georgia is no exception.

Consider the following observations…

In Romania:

When I was in Romania, I found out that ground pork wrapped in cabbage leaves (sarmale) was the national dish, and I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember any food in Romania that I didn’t like.

…except that soup.

Once, when staying in an apartment, the host family made fish soup. When I looked into the bowl, several little fish glared back at me with glassy, broth-covered eyes. Considering that the fish had to have come from water that was heavily contaminated by industrial waste, I had to refuse it. Before I did, just to be sure I was doing the right thing in offending my hosts, I dipped a spoon into the broth and tasted it…I had a metallic taste in my mouth for a week after that.

At least there was coffee.

In Zimbabwe:

As opposed to Europe, food choices in Africa can be a little more adventurous, especially for an American. However, for the most part, the food I ate in Zimbabwe was pretty much the same as in the States. The only thing I was told NOT to eat was anything from the bush (i.e., monkey).

The reason for the similarity is that Zimbabwe’s food had a history of English influence, so finding familiar food was not a problem, just as long as you knew what to ask for. Don’t eat their “biscuits” with gravy, if you know what I mean.

The only thing I couldn’t stomach in Zimbabwe was a desert made of bananas, pinto beans, green onion, yogurt, and Thousand Island salad dressing. After one spoonful I was done. My American palate had met its match.

But, at least, there was coffee!

In Georgia:

Look, believe me, the food down here is great, and other than when they spring something new on me, like pineapple sandwiches, it’s pretty much like anywhere else in the South. However, I’ve come to learn that we have a completely different understanding of one key food group: Barbecue.

The best I can tell, once you’re exposed to raw kaolin (the clay mined from the ground), pine trees, and higher-than-average heat, what the rest of the South does with pork doesn’t matter. Somewhere in their rich, rich history, these folk evidently developed a subconscious hatred for the pig. They like to eat it, but first they must pulverize it then torture it with a light bath of BBQ-flavored vinegar.

But at least there’s coffee, right? Uh, well, sorta.

Beverages

Like with food, it doesn’t matter where you go – people have to drink. Of course, what they drink depends upon the quality of the water and whether or not the locals have an excess of potatoes.

But, regardless, everywhere I’ve been in the world, from North America to Europe to Africa, one drink has been there for me, waiting around every corner, offered at every function, even boiled in pots over an open fire …coffee.

That is, except in middle Georgia!

Seriously, in Romania I woke up to a big, cast-iron pot full of dark, fragrant, exceedingly rich coffee over an open fire. Yes, there was electricity where we were staying, but because there were more than a few of us, and since coffee was a must for breakfast, they broke out the pot, lit a fire, and poured in the grounds.

In Zimbabwe, coffee was offered everywhere I went, including homes that prepared their meals in a mud hut! Even in an Ethiopian airport, where few things were recognizable to a Westerner, there was a coffee shop serving that familiar, satisfying, nerve-calming, caffeinated friend.

But here? Coffee? What coffee?

No joke, I’ve been to multiple fellowships, dinners, meetings, you name it, and I can’t tell you one time – not once – where there was any coffee offered with the desserts! Where else, except maybe the Sahara, do you go to an important meeting and find only water and iced tea, but NO coffee?

I don’t understand it.

All I can figure is that the folk down here are so laid back, so calm, so chill, so full of the “peace of that passes all understanding,” that coffee isn’t needed. Sweet tea is the cure-all for everything.

Or, it could be that they learned other ways to cope with stress way back when Union blockades stopped the shipment of coffee to Confederate troops. I don’t know.

Either way, I’ll survive. I’m tough. I’ll even grow to enjoy the way they do their BBQ.

It’s not like I have to have coffee with every meal and meeting, right? It’s not like God commanded locally-grown Georgia pecan pie be accompanied by a cup of dark roast, right?

I may need your prayers.

 

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Filed under baptist, Church, community, Food, General Observations, Humor, ministry, places, Southern Baptist, Struggles and Trials

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Doing a Q&A

Inside Bethlehem Baptist Church (built on the congregation’s Centennial in 1890)

This past Sunday evening I did something I never thought I’d do: I did a question and answer service (Q&A) with my congregation at Bethlehem Baptist.

Look, I’m no Ravi Zacharias, so going into an hour’s worth of questions without any idea what was going to be asked was a little nerve wracking. Granted, I had prepared a cheat sheet with some verses that would apply to some of the more common questions I figured they might ask, but they could have asked anything, and I could have looked really ignorant.

Fortunately (at least for me) only four questions were addressed in the entire hour! Actually, four were asked, but only three got answered. The fourth one required me going home and getting on the computer, then following up with a phone call to the lady who asked the question.

So what were the four questions? I’m glad you asked!

I will paraphrase them for you:

  1. Based on Luke 23:43 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17, why did Jesus say that the thief on the cross would be with Him in paradise the same day, yet we read of the “dead in Christ” rising? Did Jesus make a special exception for the thief on the cross, or was there something else at play? Do we immediately go to heaven when we die, or something else?
  2. Is it wrong or a sin for a Christian to get tattoos?
  3. What should the Church’s response be to the issue of suicide?
  4. What is a “busybody” and where to we find it – if that word exists – in the Bible?

Now, if you would like to hear my answers to these questions, well, I didn’t record the service. And if you would like for me to tell you right here and now what my answers were, you’re out of luck…I don’t want to write that much right now! All I will say is that what started out as a Q&A turned into a sweet time of fellowship and sharing.

But here’s the thing…people have questions and they deserve answers.

Zig Ziglar used to say that people will never care how much you know until they know how much you care. Sure, I could have been blindsided by a question for which I did not have a good answer, but I cared enough to put myself in that position for their sake. If they don’t know I care, it doesn’t matter how much I know.

But what if I didn’t know the answer? Was I afraid of that? Honestly, I told my congregation up front that I might not have a good answer for some of their questions, but if that happened I promised I would do my best to find an answer and get back with them.

Funny thing, the only question that stumped me was the one about where to find “busybody” in the Bible! That, for the record, is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13; and 1 Peter 4:15.

What did I learn from this adventure? First, I knew more than I thought I did. Second, cheat sheets help. And third, the people loved it so much they want to do it again!

So, we will!

Next time they’ll probably ask about Cain’s wife and predestination 🙂

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Showers of Blessing

It’s Raining!

My first day “on the job” here in middle Georgia (Warthen) was August 1, but we were here a day or two before that. And since that time, I had not seen a drop of rain fall in our yard or on the church building until Sunday…and that was brief.

Sure, it has rained a couple of times since the 1st of August (it’s now Oct. 15), but I was out of town, so I didn’t see it. Other than a major storm that nearly washed everything away with 6 inches of water falling in just a few minutes (which I missed), it’s been pretty dang dry. Frankly, we’ve been in a drought for 3 months.

So, today, as I was driving into the church parking lot, I saw for the first time the church building through a rain drop-covered windshield! I was so taken aback by the unusual sight that I had to take a picture.

Praises!

Since the sound of rain landing on the rooftops has been missing, when it finally did rain again the folks around here took notice. Eyes looked upward, heads tilted like a dog hearing a strange noise, and people literally exclaimed, “It’s rain! Praise the Lord!”

Can any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the skies alone give showers? Are you not the LORD our God? We therefore put our hope in you, for you have done all these things. – Jeremiah 14:22 CSB

The folk around these parts know the importance of rain. Without rain, there’s no harvest. Without rain, there’s ruin. Without rain, there’s desperation. Without rain from the sky, there will be tears from the eyes. Therefore, praises were appropriate.

Rain Will Come

But what I’m waiting for, even more than the rain that will bring an earthy harvest, is the spiritual rain of the Holy Spirit upon the dry and thirsty hearts of men and women, boys and girls.

When I heard the audible praises upon the sound of rain falling on rooftops, my heart longed for the same type of rejoicing at the sound of hearts being renewed, revived, and re-energized.

Ask the LORD for rain In the time of the latter rain. The LORD will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, Grass in the field for everyone. – Zechariah 10:1 NKJV

I’m asking, I’m praying, and I’ve got my umbrella ready.

 

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Filed under Church, General Observations, Thanksgiving, Weather, worship

5 Reasons to Stay Home On Wednesday Night

Hey, don’t be ashamed! Listen, you don’t have to feel guilty for NOT going to church on Wednesday night. It’s not like it’s the Lord’s Day, or something, right?

Look, should that crusty, old, Bible-thumping preacher come at you with a large-print Ryrie, using words like “backslidden” and phrases like “God rewards faithfulness,” just hold your ground. There are actually several reasons why staying home while the faithful few gather to pray is perfectly acceptable.

5 Reasons to Stay Home On Wednesday Night

1) The Genesis Argument. Wednesday was not the day on which our Savior was resurrected, nor is it the Sabbath; it was the day the sun, moon, and “lesser lights” were made. Therefore, should we “go back to Genesis,” the most logical thing to do on Wednesday is enjoy the sun till the moon comes out, then rest under the lesser “night” lights until Day 5.

2) 2 Timothy 2:15. Even the Apostle Paul would approve of you staying home on Wednesday night instead of heading over to where the worshippers are gathering. Was it not Paul who told Timothy to “study to show thy self approved”? Hey, you’ve got homework to do! If you make a bad grade you WILL be ashamed.

3) Old People Like Saving Money. Only the old people go to church on Wednesday night. Modern people, especially the younger ones, aren’t used to going to church “every time the doors are open.” For crying out loud in an unknown tongue, everybody knows the doors are open too much as it is, anyway.

Seriously, staying home to watch a movie…going out with friends…making ready for the weekend to the the lake…hey, all of those things would save the church money by not having to keep the lights on for an extra hour and a half. Don’t the older, depression-era saints like saving a penny?

4) We Can Pray Anywhere. The older generation needs to get with it! We don’t have to meet on Wednesday nights to pray; we can pray anywhere and anytime – that’s in the Bible! And for that matter, if we could just do a group message on Facebook we’d all save a little gas and driving time. Besides, this generation would rather text than shake a hand or hug a neck.

5) Sunday Is More than Enough. Let’s be honest, all the Christianity one needs can be gotten on Sunday morning from 11:00 to 11:47 a.m. (no need to stay for an invitation or after-service chit chat). Early Christians met on the Lord’s DAY, not night.

So, even though there are millions of people in the world who daily risk their lives to go to church whenever they can, this is America; we’re getting along just fine. Besides, the fewer times we meet the less risk we run of a church split, and who in the world needs that?

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. – Matthew 24:12

No, I’m not serious.

 

 

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Filed under America, Church