Category Archives: Struggles and Trials

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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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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The Real Problem with the Problem of Evil

This evening at church we will be having an “Ask the Pastor” question-and-answer night. Am I nervous? A little. However, I’ve already warned the congregation that I may not have all the answers and some questions might get a simple, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” We’ll see. I may even post the questions I get in an upcoming post! Hmmm? 

But, because I have done a little writing on the “problem of evil,” I’ll re-post this article/paper in honor of tonight…and all the questions I still struggle with.

An Old Debate

One of the most common reasons for denying the existence of God is the problem of evil in the world. Just ask any group of atheists to give their top ten reasons for unbelief and surely one will claim as number one, “If there is a God, then why is there so much evil in the world?” For many, this is the pièce de résistance of rebuttals. How could a good God be real and allow all the suffering in the world to continue unabated – assuming He is even good? The eighteenth century philosopher, David Hume described the problem this way in Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, 1779:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” (Stackhouse 1998, 11)

So, the “problem of evil,” and its source, has been an issue of philosophical debate for centuries.  The existence of evil in the world, along with unanswered questions, has even become evidence enough for some to embrace atheism.  Therefore, because so many philosophers and theologians have tried for ages to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil, I dare say that nothing I write will be new.  But, if anyone were to challenge my belief in God, along with my faith in Jesus Christ, with the argument that the problem of evil constitutes proof God does not exist, then I would possibly respond with arguments based on the following thought:

Without the existence of God, there should be no evil to be a problem, and that’s the real problem with “the Problem of Evil.”

Evil? What Is It?

What exactly is “evil?” Now, that may sound like an absurd kind of question to ask, but if the existence of evil is the evidence that is supposed to expose my faith as a fraud, at best, or even a lie, then what is it?  Is it something tangible? Is it metaphysical? Is it theoretical? What is it, exactly? Does it have any particular form? How can it be distinguished from what is called good? On what do the atheists and agnostics base their definition of this thing called “evil?”

Amazingly, the answers are not all the same, nor in some cases even grounded in reality. However, it is imperative to understand that we must define this God-killer, because its definition will determine our conclusions and help to clarify our assumptions.

When C. S. Lewis was an atheist, for example, his “argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.” (Lewis 1989) There he had it, or so he thought. God could not exist because so much evil exists. But how did he arrive at “this idea of just and unjust?” Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” (Lewis 1989) “Tell me,” I would say, “what is evil, and how do you recognize it when you see it?

The Adjective

To start, evil must be understood to be an adjective. Evil is a description of something that is not good. Evil is not a thing. The word “evil” only describes the thing, the thought, and the action. Technically, “evil” does not exist, only what it describes.

Some people say that they cannot believe in God because why or how could a good God, if He was perfect, create evil? They think of evil as something that must have not existed until God made it. But evil “isn’t a kind of molecule or a virus…infecting or affecting everything it encounters.  There was no time when God said, ‘Let there be evil,’ and there was evil.” (Stackhouse 1998)  As John G. Stackhouse put it, “evil becomes a noun only in the abstract.” Additionally, in his book Can God Be Trusted, Stackhouse says of evil:

“An action can be evil, or an event can be evil, or a quality can be evil, or a being can be evil. And we can lump all these particular evils together in our minds and come up with a category ‘evil.’ We can even go on to discuss it as if it were a particular thing, so long as we do not forget that we are always dealing with a category or group of particular evil things, not a thing itself.” (Stackhouse 1998, 31)

So then, if evil is a description, how is it that we come to use the adjective, or as Lewis put it, the “crooked line,” without first having some idea of what is a “straight” one?  Defining what is good is as important as defining evil. To know what is evil, we must first have some assumption as to what is not evil.

The crazy thing is that if God does not exist, and man is nothing more than a collection of random matter, both good and evil are purely relative – their existence is based purely on one’s perspective.  So, in other words, the one who says that there is no God, based on the existence of evil, is literally basing his belief on pure opinion, not on anything objective. Therefore, in order to bring an accusation against the goodness of God, one must have a base line. What is the standard by which we determine what is good and what is evil?

The Standard

Some use Man as the baseline. They compare God to the standard set by what is thought to be good behavior in this world. They rationalize that if God is real, at least according to monotheistic dogma, He must be all-powerful, perfectly good, and the supreme example of love, kindness, and providential care. Because it is preached that God is a better Father than earthly fathers, Mark Twain took it upon himself to write:

The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it…[yet], God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of that, yet those minds warmly justify those crimes…when he commits them.” (Tonie Doe Media 2007)

So then, according to Twain, God could not exist because if He did, He would act consistent with our understanding of what a good and loving earthly father would do.  In other words, if God cannot, in all His perfection, behave better toward His children than the most common man, His credentials are therefore revoked, and He must cease to exist.  However, this is so illogical.

Who are we to say that God, if He is perfect, and we are imperfect, ever treats His children poorly? Do the protesting cries of a toddler who has had poison taken from his grasp carry more weight than the decision of the earthly father to take it away? How, then, are we to automatically assume that the infantile tendencies of finite man are wiser than the infinitely Mature?

Using Man as a baseline for what is good and evil is pure arrogance.

Whose Line Is It?

In reality, the problem of evil is really a problem for the atheist. He, who denies the existence of a Creator and accepts only the realities of evil in the world, essentially has nothing about which to complain.  Everything should be just fine and dandy, but it’s not.  The atheist knows that evil things happen to both good and bad people.

He sees the hurt, feels the pain, and begs for justice. The reality of evil in the world causes men to cry out for justice; for things to be made right. This is a problem, though, because knowing that a crooked line is not straight hints at the fact that a Line-drawer exists.

The Followers’ Fault

Others take a different approach. They claim that God does not exist except in the evil intentions of his followers to control others through guilt. They claim that God is just a fabrication of priests to keep mankind from behaving “naturally.”

They say that nature is good, and if anything, God is evil for trying to get man to behave contrary to the very way he was created to behave. One guru said, “It seems that for those who worship God, the opposite to God is not that which is ‘evil,’ but that which is natural.” He said of animals, comparing them to men, “They don’t worship God, they don’t go to church, they don’t have any theology.  They don’t have any feeling of guilt, they are simply natural.” (Osho 2009)  In other words, if there is evil in the world, it is because our belief in God has inflicted it.

The Majority Response

But for the majority of the hurting world, pain is real, loss is real, and evil is manifested daily.  Many see the things that happen to innocent people, especially children, and wonder, “If there is a loving God, why doesn’t he do anything about this?

These people, many of which hold on to hope as long as they can, finally succumb to their doubts and conclude that the only way to explain away the pain is to admit that it is just part of life, part of the natural world, part of what makes us human; alone, in our quest to make life easier, free of pain, free from evil; alone, without God.

These are the ones, I believe, that lure more away from the faith than any Darwinist.  They are the ones who have seen evil face-to-face and cannot fathom a God who would allow it to continue.  And because their experiences are so painful and tragic, the devout are left speechless and without explanation. Ellie Wiesel is a good example.

Wiesel’s Observation

Wiesel was a teenager when he saw his family murdered in the Nazi death camps.  But it was only after witnessing one particular act of horror – the slow, hanging death of a young boy – that he turned away from his faith in God.

In the book Night, his Nobel prize-winning autobiography, Wiesel said he heard a man behind him ask, “Where is God now?” As he stood there, being forced to stare into a pitiful, wide-eyed, swollen face of a dying child, a voice within replied, “Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on the gallows…” (Wiesel 1982) Because there was no justification, even in the big scheme of things, Ellie Wiesel’s God died with the executed boy.

But as sad as it is, without God, who can say what happened to that boy was any worse than the slaughter of an animal?  Are we not all just animals – some more evolved than others?

The Real Problem

To me, the problem of evil is not a problem for the believer to explain, but one for the non-believer.  Aside from the theological arguments about the character of God, without God, to turn Hume’s question around, “whence then is evil?

Without God, evil is relative to one’s desires and personal pleasure.  Does it really even matter whether or not God could do anything about evil in the world when the whole question is moot if He didn’t exist?

With God, evil is defined as that which is against His law, that which stands opposed to His standards, and that which describes all who take pleasure in such rebellion. Without God, evil is just a matter of opinion.

That is the real “problem of evil.”


Works Cited

Lewis, C. S. “Atheism.” In The Quotable Lewis, by C. S. Lewis, 59. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Osho. The God Conspiracy: the path from superstition to superconsciousness. New York: Osho Media International, 2009.

Stackhouse, John G. Can God Be Trusted. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Tonie Doe Media. In The Atheist’s Bible, 129. New York: Harper Collins, 2007.

Wiesel, Ellie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

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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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Alone As Hell?

It was just after midnight, and I knew where my children were (if you’re old enough, you know what I’m talking about).

It was just after midnight, and I also knew where my wife was (thank heaven life isn’t a country song, right?).

It was just after midnight, and believe it or not, I pretty much knew where everybody I love was – and they were not here with me.

Just yesterday I drove from Georgia to South Carolina to pick up a cute little puppy (a chorkie -that’s a dog) that was a gift from our oldest daughter, Alicia. The little puppy was meant, among other things, to help alleviate the pain of the empty nest. But another reason was so that when my wife is out of town there’d be some sort of living being at home to welcome me when I came in the door (mice – and we don’t have any…anymore…don’t count).

You see, I hate being alone. I hate it that the people I love most in the world are not with me. Up until the end of July, the sound of “daddy” (or other versions of it) was a word I heard every day for the last 25 years. Not any more. And then, with everybody out of town last night, I had only 8 ounces of tea-cup cuteness to keep me company… and it wasn’t the same.

I was alone.

Praise the Lord for FaceTime! Can I get an “ amen!”?

But think with me for just a moment. When Jesus spoke words of comfort to a troubled Peter, what did He say to encourage him? Jesus told Peter that he would always have a place in His Father’s house, and most importantly, Jesus would be there with him!

The picture Jesus chose to describe heaven was an eternal home where one would never be alone.

So what is hell?

Hell is a place NOT prepared for us, but for Satan and his demons. It’s not a home; it’s a prison.

With hell there is no hope of Christ’s return or to be received into His welcome embrace. No, it is a place where one is sent, away from the presence of love, to be alone…forever.

No One to speak in our defense. No One to never leave us or forsake us. Only darkness, damnation, and desolation.

Sure, the fires of hell will torment, but how much worse when one is totally, mercilessly alone?

Even if there should be no flame, would not eternal, infinite loneliness qualify as hell?

Here on this earth I am never truly alone, for God is with me. I’m never alone.

But for those who don’t have Christ, no earthly loneliness could ever compare to a place where not even the Spirit of God convicts anymore.

Sure, I may be lonely right now, like I was a little before 1 a.m., but thank God I’m not alone as hell!

Jesus is here.

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Just a Little Reminder

Hey, friends!

Hey, creeps!

Hey, predators!

Hey, to anyone who casually assumes these preacher’s daughters will cower and pray – they sold a purse and bought a sword (Luke 22:38).

God bless America.

God bless the 2nd Amendment.

#notavictim

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I Am a Soldier. This Is My Creed.

In honor of the home-going of a godly man and combat veteran of the European campaign of WWII, W. L. “Red” Sims, I re-post the following.


Soldier’s Creed

Hearing a soldier in the United States Military recite his particular “Solder’s Creed,” whether it be with the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard, is something quite stirring.

Probably inspired by the military creeds of this world, an unknown author penned the following for soldiers in God’s Army, the Church: those bought with the blood of Christ, wearing the whole armor of God, and marching onward toward victory with the Sword of the Spirit in their hands.

The sooner we come to the realization that we are most certainly engaged in a spiritual war, the better. May we all be willing to stand unashamed…”and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

The Christian Soldier’s Creed

I am a soldier in the Army of my God.

The Lord Jesus Christ is my commanding officer.

The Holy Bible is my code of conduct. Faith, prayer, and the Word are my weapons of warfare.

I have been taught by the Holy Spirit, trained by experience, tried by adversity, and tested by fire.

I am a volunteer in this Army, and I am enlisted for eternity.

I will either retire at the Rapture, or die in this Army; but I will not get out, sell out, be talked out, or pushed out.

I am faithful, reliable, capable, and dependable.

If my God needs me, I am there.

If He needs me in the Sunday school to teach the children, work with the youth, help adults, or just sit and learn, I’ll be there.

He can use me because I am there!

I am a soldier.

I am not a baby. I do not need to be pampered, petted, primed up, pumped up, picked up, or pepped up.

I am a soldier.

No one has to call me, remind me, write me, visit me, entice me, or lure me.

I am a soldier.

I am not a wimp.

I am in place saluting my King, obeying His orders, praising His name, and building His kingdom!

No one has to send me flowers, gifts, food, cards, candy, or give me handouts.

I do not need to be cuddled, cradled, cared for, or catered to.

I am committed.

I cannot have my feelings hurt bad enough to turn me around.

I cannot be discouraged enough to turn me aside.

I cannot lose enough to cause me to quit.

If I end up with nothing, I will still come out ahead.

I will win.

My God has, and will continue, to supply all my needs.

I am more than a conqueror.

I will always triumph.

I can do all things through Christ.

Devils cannot defeat me.

People cannot disillusion me.

Weather cannot weary me.

Sickness cannot stop me.

Battles cannot beat me.

Money cannot buy me.

Governments cannot silence me, and hell cannot handle me.

I am a soldier.

Even death cannot destroy me, for when my Commander calls me from this battlefield He will promote me to Captain and then allow me to rule with Him.

I am a soldier in the Army and I’m marching, claiming victory.

I will not give up.

I will not turn around.

I am a solder marching, heaven bound.

(Author Unknown)

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. – 2 Timothy 2:3

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