Category Archives: ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Stay On the Float, Don’t Give Up

I’m going to be totally honest with you, OK? There was a post I published for just a few minutes this morning, but then I took it down and added it to the “draft” bin. Even as I was writing it, it seemed forced. So, no matter how I tried to edit it, it never seemed “right.”

So, what did I do? I decided I’d try to do a video blog ( a Vlog) post. I mean, hey, I’m a preacher, so why not just TELL my story? Yet, what happened? After multiple recordings, multiple edits, and multiple times trying to upload, only to see “Upload Failed,” I almost gave up.

Nothing was working!

YET, I still felt I needed to post something, almost like it was imperative that I do so. Why the pressure? Why the stress?

So, I decided to try one more thing – record straight to YouTube. No editing, not fancy camera work, no script…just raw, unedited video of me sharing what’s on my heart.

As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for the video to upload to YouTube (it’s taking awhile). If it uploads with no problem, you will see it below.

It’s taking a looooooonnnnng time.

Ah, finally 🙂

God bless!
Anthony

 

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Filed under blogging, Christianity, current events, Depression, Life/Death, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Dirt Roads

A portion of the unpaved southern half of the road where I live.

Georgia Red Clay

I’m sure you’ve either heard of it, or maybe you’ve even gotten your clothes stained by it, but Georgia is famous for “Georgia Red Clay.”

The reddish soil that covers much of the state of Georgia, along with areas in surrounding states, gets it’s color from iron oxide, the reddish-orange shades varying as much as any shade of red rust. It’s almost everywhere.

As a matter of fact, a good portion of the secondary roads in my area look just like the one above.

Georgia White Clay

On the other hand, especially around these parts (Washington County), there is another kind of clay: Kaolin.

4 oz. for $7 on Etsy!

As opposed to the common red clay, Kaolin (nicknamed “white gold” because of its color and its profitability) is mined, processed, and sold locally and around the world in various forms for use in products ranging from paper to lipstick. Actually, over 50% of it is used to give coated paper the “gloss” you might see in quality printer paper or magazines.

FYI, just click on the attached link and learn about one of the world’s largest producers of Kaolin located just 10 miles south of me in Sandersville, GA: Thiele Kaolin Company.

However, what I wanted to write about was not the types of clay that can be found in middle Georgia, but those red clay dirt roads…just like the one two houses down from me…right where the pavement ends.

It’s About the Dust

Two days ago, as I drove by one of these dirt roads, I sensed there was something profound…an important lesson…that I needed to learn then share. However, asking myself “What’s so spiritual about dirt roads?” over and over didn’t bring me any closer to a revelation. Then, as I was in the shower this morning, the truth of it all became clear (or clean, whichever):

It’s about the dust!

What do you get on your car after you travel down a paved road? Nothing. What do you get when you travel down a dirt road? Dust! It covers everything.

Think about it. You could drive a thousand miles down a nice, paved highway, and nobody would be any more the wiser of your long, hard journey. But travel down a dirt road and people will know you’ve been somewhere.

It’s About Serving

In a small, rural town like mine, the people have the tendency to care a little more about their neighbor. It’s not a firm and fast rule, but generally speaking, here you’re more likely to have someone lend you a helping hand than in the middle of a metropolis.

Yet, how do people know when you need a helping hand? How do people know you’ve traveled down a long, dirt road?

So often, in our “big cities,” we live such guarded, relationally-sanitized lives that we could be driven to near exhaustion and no one would be able to tell from the outside. In other words, our cars are clean.

But get down to a place where “everybody knows your business” and what do you find? A more openness about the road of life, a transparency that admits the road is dusty and dirty and has an affect on you.

Are bigger towns with the paved roads really all that better? Consider what the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery had to say about “streets” under the heading of  “A Window into the City’s Common Life”:

[The] street as a setting in the Bible represents what is commonly true of the mood, spirit and well-being of the city. Streets typically line the entirety of a city and serve as its reference points. Descriptions of what takes place “in the streets” therefore function as generalizations about what is going on in the city as a whole. – Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 820.

If the streets of this middle-Georgia pastorate are any inclination, there’s a lot of opportunity to be like Jesus…to be a servant. At least down in these parts people are a little more willing to admit the need to have their feet … or their tires … washed.

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. – John 13:12-16 

It’s easier to be a servant where the roads are dirt 🙂 

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Filed under America, Christianity, community, General Observations, Life Lessons, ministry, places

From a Suggested Reading: The Need to See Scars

As I was sitting here in my study and reading a book that a church member gave me, I came across something I had to share…because I totally agree.

In his book Take the Dimness of My Soul Away, William A Ritter shares several sermons he delivered over the years following the suicide of his son. At the beginning of the third chapter entitled “Making It,” Ritter wrote something that mirrors my own philosophy of pastoral ministry.

When I read it just a couple of minutes ago, I knew I had to share it with you.

“We who follow Jesus need not hide our hurts. Not all wounds need covering. Even in the pulpit. Especially in the pulpit. People need to know that even preachers have been through some wars and accumulated some scars. But they also need to know where and how healing is taking place.” p. 38

I hope you’ve realized I’m not perfect.

I hope you’ve realized I have scars.

But please know that Jesus is the Hope through which healing and thriving is possible. 

 

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Filed under Christianity, grace, ministry, Struggles and Trials

A Final Sendoff from Chattanooga – by the Sheriff!

For the last three years, or so, I was honored to be able to serve the deputies and staff of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department (Chattanooga, TN) as a Police/Patrol Chaplain.

Now that I am living in middle Georgia, it’s pretty difficult to be a chaplain to police officers 250 miles away. Therefore, I had to resign, of course.

Well, as a final sendoff, I was asked if I could come back to Chattanooga to receive a special certificate of commendation from Sheriff Jim Hammond, along with a challenge coin, recognizing me for my service. Three years is not a long time to be recognized for, but possibly because of the nature of the position and the transitions within the department, a little more than a “thanks, see ya later” goodbye was in order.

So, there in the Command Staff conference room of the Hamilton County Courthouse – where every time the Sheriff gathers his top officers for weekly meetings and has a chaplain open in prayer, give a devotional, and close in prayer – Sheriff Hammond read aloud the commendation.

Many years ago my father volunteered to be a patrolman with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and served with distinction. Later, after my family was rocked by sickening crime, and in the middle of the nationwide protests against police officers, I decided to do more than say “I support the men in blue;” I decided to get involved.

Now, as I settle in as a pastor in a different state, I hope to find a way to continue serving those who put their lives on the line for us every day, year after year. I hope to be able to continue serving in the capacity of a Police Chaplain here in Washington County, GA. Unfortunately, anything official will have to wait until after the election of a new sheriff to replace the one who recently took his life.

One more thing…

Terri and Allen Lindon, along with Sheriff Hammond and Allen’s father.

I wasn’t the only one who got a commendation last Tuesday morning. Pastor Allen Lindon was also honored for his 7 years of service as he stepped down from his duties as Chaplain.

Allen was not only a Chaplain, but he was a reserve deputy – meaning he was a sworn officer and did everything a normal deputy would do, including carry a weapon and make arrests. We really got to know each other when we shared a room for a week at the ICPC training in Louiville, KY. Allen was as  fired up and sold out as they came, loving what he did with a passion. He was never afraid to scrap it out with the roughest of characters, even if he was a volunteer wearing a cross.

Unfortunately, while working on some signage at his church property, Allen fell 20ft from a ladder and landed on his head. The damage was severe, the recovery has been rough, and after literally dying three times, it’s time to take a break from chasing criminals and focus simply on souls in Cleveland, TN.

I may have gotten a commendation from the Sheriff, but Pastor/Chaplain/Deputy Allen Lindon really deserved all the honor that day.

Godspeed, my brother!

Below is a video I made after attending the ICPC conference last year in Louisville. We all had a great time! I’m really going to miss these guys.

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Filed under community, current events, Family, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Making a Change

Changes Take Time

If you are or have been in ministry, particularly the pastorate, you are probably very familiar with the following advice that is regularly offered to those new pastors going into an established work: “Don’t make changes too quickly.”

However, if you are unfamiliar with the above wisdom, experienced ministers are often asked by the younger ones what they should do when they start working in their first church. In response, as I remember being told me years ago, they say something like:

“Wait at least a year before you make any changes. Just spend the first year or two loving your congregation, getting to know them, and letting them come to love and trust you. Then, when they trust you, you can start making small changes and the people will go along.” – Dr. Al Goss, Pastor Emeritus, Mile Straight Baptist Church, Soddy Daisy, TN [paraphrased]

However, the above advice should be qualified. You see, Dr. Goss has been at Mile Straight Baptist for 57 years! Unfortunately, long tenures like this are practically unheard of these days. With the average pastorate lasting only 2-4 years, maybe this is one reason new pastors are so quick to get discouraged and congregations are so quick to get angry with any change.

Genuine, healthy change must be organic and occur naturally as things grow. That can’t happen overnight; it takes a little time.

I Broke the Rule

But speaking of time, I’ve been at Bethlehem Baptist Church for less than TWO MONTHS and I’ve already changed something!

What happened to following the advice of my elders? What happened to following my OWN advice?

Actually, it wasn’t a huge change, but unless I’m mistaken, I was the first pastor in 230 years to get a CLOCK put up in the sanctuary! (One of our deacons heard my plea from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago and surprised me with it last Sunday morning.)

Now, as far as I know, no one here in this congregation had a problem with the small addition above the sound board, computer monitor, and digital recording system. However, thanks to social media, I did hear from one person who thought the addition of the clock was akin to blasphemy.

“That’s the wrong thing to do putting the Lord on a time clock…”

It might already seem a little petty to even be having this discussion, but I think being able to see a clock is not only a good thing, but an important addition. Believe me, God will not be put on a “time clock.”

But since this small change did elicit a negative response, I’ll give you 3 good reasons for keeping it.

Time Is Valuable

Whether we like it or not, we live in a fast-paced world. It’s so face-paced, I doubt many readers of this article have made it to this point; they’ve already been distracted.

The key word, however, is RESPECT. Unless you know something I don’t know, each of us has a limited amount of time, and our time is valuable. Even though I love to talk, I must not love it too much. My job, my calling, is to deliver a message, not carry on a lengthy, one-sided discourse.

Sometimes we preachers forget that people often sacrifice other things to come hear us speak. They trust that what we are telling them is from God, will be useful, and the benefit far outweighs the cost of them being there. If I’m not aware of the time, I might end up wasting theirs.

Time Is Ticking

Having a clock is a reminder that time is ticking, that every man, woman, and child has an appointment with eternity (Hebrews 9:27).

Because of this, time is nothing to be wasted, for every moment that is flittered away in the pulpit with unimportant, inconsequential nonsense is one less moment available to impact souls on their way to either heaven or hell.

Time Is NOT On Our Side

In John chapter 4 Jesus asks us to look upon the fields, for they are “white unto harvest.” That only means something when you understand that harvest season is short, after that the crop can be lost.

Statistics vary, but the last one I read stated that every second 2 people in the world die. That means in one 40-minute sermon 4,800 people will go out into eternity, the majority of which are probably unsaved. The laborers need to be trained and equipped, but they are needed in the field as soon as possible.

Time is not on our side, dear friends. Wasted time behind the pulpit is wasted time in the field, and the laborers are already few.

A fellow pastor and friend in Zimbabwe shared his thoughts on Facebook, and I think they sum it up nicely:

“Having a [clock] in church is a sermon on its own. Time doesn’t stop for anyone, neither does it rewind for anyone. Leave it for Christ…” – Moses Dhaka

God is not limited by time, but we are. And since it is given to us in such limited quantity, we who ask of others their time to listen to what we have to say should be better stewards of it.

This change came right on time.

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Advice to the Will-Seeking Christian

This morning I saw a post from a friend on Facebook. It was a question that many ask, and I felt compelled to answer it with more than a clever quip, cliche, or copy-and-pasted quotation.

The question was:

“How do you know you are where you are supposed to be and doing what God has called you to do?”

Below is a word-for-word copy of what I wrote (names omitted). I hope that by sharing it here it will help others beyond the realm of Facebook.


[For all my friends]

Whenever people ask how to know God’s will – especially when it includes questions like, “How do I know I’m where God wants me to be?” – I have to ask some [three] clarifying questions.

First, are you doing what you already know He wants you to do? I mean, just start with the basics like do you read the Bible and pray to your Father just to get to know Him? Or, do you only do these things when there is a need? He desires our fellowship like any father or friend, you know. Are you telling others about Him? Are you putting Him first? Are you doing your best with the “talents” He has given you?  “Whatsoever you do, do it with all your heart, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23). These are important first steps.

Second, is your heart aligned with the heart of God? Remember, we want to do HIS will, not ours. However, God does promise to give us the desires of our heart, if, of course our desires are HIS desires. How is this possible? Well, go back to the first question – are you spending time with Him for love’s sake? Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Third, would you be OK with wherever you are, or wherever you went, if you KNEW it was God’s will for your life? The Apostle Paul, as you know, had it good, bad, was rich, was poor, in bad situations and good, yet he said: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). If your prayer is, “Wherever, Lord, I will serve you,” then He will bring fulfillment to your life wherever you are. You will see Him working through your life. You will know that wherever you are, He is with you.

Once you have truthfully answered the above three questions, be a light where you are, let God open and close the doors, and walk in faith. If you are in close fellowship with the Father, follow the desires of your heart, for He wants to give them to you. But understand, even in the following He may lead you places you never knew you’d enjoy. Just like when Paul had a desire to go to Asia to preach, the Holy Spirit prevented him and led him to a place he never intended – Europe (Macedonia). Paul was certainly in God’s will and trying to do what He thought was right, but the Holy Spirit used that momentum to take him in a direction he never saw coming and didn’t even know was needed.

Lastly, understand this important truth: Our Father in heaven wants us to be mature. Just like any other parent, He wants us to grow up in our faith and walk so that we don’t have to be led around like little babies (not saying you are). He wants us to think and act with a transformed mind, one that is becoming more and more like Christ, and do the things that we think He would do – we are His body. The desires of your heart, if aligned with His, will give you the freedom that Grace affords to step out in faith, trusting what you are doing is His will. But rest assured, He will never leave you nor forsake you, and His arms are there to catch you and redirect you if you fail while in the process of trying to please Him.

Oh, one more thing: His thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), and no matter the direction we take, the decisions we make, the places we work, or whether we stay or go, God is our Sovereign King – He is still God – and He is always in control.

One of my favorite verses from Proverbs (and the Bible) is Proverbs 16:33. It reads:

The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof [is] of the LORD. – Proverbs 16:33 KJV

Or, as another translation puts it:

We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall. – Proverbs 16:33 NLT

Others have mentioned Proverbs 3:5-6, and those verses sum it up nicely. Trust in the LORD with ALL YOUR HEART, and lean not, like a crutch, onto your own understanding, or at least what worldly common sense my dictate. Instead, in ALL your ways (the things of your life) acknowledge Him (put Him first), and He will direct (make sure you walk in the right direction) your paths.

God bless!

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Christianity, General Observations, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Not Just a Pretty Building

Precious

Do you remember the pretty pictures of the last church building where I was the pastor? It was the “little white church with the red door” that so many people in our community raved about. It was an historic edifice to a by-gone day when old-fashioned 7-day revivals were still a thing and people went to church because it was expected.

Everybody thought it was a “precious little church [building],” but they had other places to be come Sunday.

Unfortunately, because the outside of a building does not reflect what goes on inside, the admirers who drove by in their cars every day did not know that looks alone couldn’t keep the red doors open for business. The cute little building, despite desperate injections of love and effort, was destined to close.

Picturesque

Now, let’s talk about Georgia…

I didn’t intend to look mean, it was just the sun in my eyes and I was looking down at my phone 🙂

The church I now pastor gathers in one of the most beautiful structures around! Not some wedding-chapel-like building, Bethlehem Baptist Church is known all over the area as a picturesque, post-card-worthy example of 19th-century architecture. I have no idea how many times the building has been photographed, but I know of three framed pieces of art depicting the structure hanging on different walls inside!

I mean, seriously! It’s one thing to know your church building is special, but it’s a whole different level when you’ve got three paintings of the outside on the inside! Needless to say, you’re not likely to forget where you are on your way to Sunday School.

As a matter of fact, the building itself was built in 1890 as part of the church’s centennial celebration! It’s listed, as you might imagine, as a protected historical site, too.  The structure is so well known that when I tell people where I work, if they don’t immediately recognize the name, they remember the building when I describe it.

People know Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Or do they?

(To prove the point, I am sitting at McDonald’s using their WiFi to write this. I asked the lady sweeping the floor, “Do you recognize this building?” She did. She’s from New York, not been here long, but remembered seeing it when driving by – and she’s looking for a church…so I invited her.)

Whited Sepulchers 

Before I go any further, and before anyone here at Bethlehem who’s reading this gets upset with me, I think Bethlehem Baptist Church is more than a building; it’s a fantastic congregation of Jesus-followers who love each other and their community. However, somewhere along the line the fame of the building outstripped the fame of the congregation’s deeds.

Jesus said that we should let others see our good works so that the ones seeing them might glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Jesus also said the following:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men’s] bones, and of all uncleanness. – Matthew 23:27

Is the building where I pastor a whitewashed tomb?? NO! It’s not! But if our church is known more for our outward beauty, more needs to be done to express the Life that is inside.

When people hear the name Bethlehem Baptist in Warthen, GA, I want the first thing to come to their mind is how much like Jesus the people inside are! I want the beauty of His grace to pop into their minds, not the memory of some architecture made with hands.

We’re NOT just a pretty building; we’re a living body of believers who gather in a pretty building. There’s a difference, and the difference is critical.

What’s in YOUR walls?

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