Category Archives: Struggles and Trials

The Light Beckons

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As I was walking through the darkened auditorium of our church, I saw the light beaming in through the stained glass. I couldn’t help but be impacted by the profound truth I was seeing, that there was no light inside these walls; the light was outside.

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For so long we’ve known it, we’ve taught and preached it, but where God wants his Light to be seen is outside, in the world, where Hope is needed. Yet, it took an “act of God” to get us out of our hallowed walls and out where we’ve been needed.

So, for now, the lights inside are off and the pews are empty. God, the Great Teacher, has taken us on a field trip. He’s causing us to regain or acquire a better perspective and understanding of what matters, what is needed, and what it truly means to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Because, if you haven’t noticed, we’re all in this together.

Will the real Church now stand up and walk in the Light, as He is in the light?


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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Unity, Christianity, Church, community, ministry, Preaching, Struggles and Trials, Witnessing, worship

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Operation Re-Evaluate

Bethlehem Baptist Church
95 Bethlehem Church Road, Warthen, GA 31094

It’s Our Time

I know I am not going to be the first person to make this observation, but as I said on Facebook this morning, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and crisis is this generation’s World War Two.

Make no mistake, this is a world war . . . a war for survival, both physically and economically, against a killer virus. But unlike wars of the past, this one is being fought on every continent – none are immune from its effects.

However, as tragic and scary as the upheaval may be, just like our forefathers did in the 1940’s, what we have is the potential to come together in ways thought impossible just weeks ago. Where less than a month ago people had no plan for how to survive a national crisis, now you see the creative minds working to solve difficult issues.

It’s not an easy thing to say, for it could be interpreted the wrong way, but as strange as it may sound, this crisis could be the best thing to happen to America since WW2. In so many ways it is forcing us to unite to fight a common enemy that cares nothing about politics, race, or religion – it just wants to destroy us. So, where petty ideological differences, even serious political and social ones have threatened to destroy our country in recent years, this virus – like Nazi German and Imperial Japan – is deadly and costly enough to force a re-evaluation of who we are.

And just think about it! What time in history would have been a better time to fight a war like this? We were created for such a time as this, and in this time we will be victorious.

It’s the Church’s Time

How often have you heard it said that the modern Church is irrelevant? How many times have you heard the complaints about living within our buildings’ four walls and never engaging people outside?

How many times has it been said that the modern, local church cares only about itself? How many churches, for real, exist only for those who walk through the door on Sunday?

COVID-19 is the wake-up call – no, more like the Pearl Harbor – that Christian churches across America have needed for a long time. We have had an Enemy waging war against us for ages, but we’ve been content living with the effects being on distant shores. Now, the fight has been brought to us, and even the old “home guard” is being activated.

Throughout the history of Israel and the Church, God has brought conflict, even foreign invaders, to shock His people out of complacency and lethargy. At times God called our enemies His “servants” to discipline us. And as we should be thankful God loves us enough to discipline us, it should not be too far of a stretch, then, to be thankful the “virus” has come at this time.

What of the Walls?

So, finally, here we are in a situation where the walls of the church don’t matter too much anymore. Oh, sure, we will get back to corporately worshiping together like we should, but what of the walls right now? Not only are they doing us little good, but they have no relevance to who and what the Church actually is or how it must operate right now.

Most local churches have operated on the model that worship, fellowship, community, bearing each other’s burdens, etc., happens only when people show up to the building, the campus, or wherever the bulk of the member choose to gather.  In other words, when you miss out on what happens at the church property, you not only miss out, but you get left out, ignored, forgotten.

All that has abruptly changed.

For the first time in the history of the Church, local congregations are being forced by a virus – not the government or a tyrant – to make “church” something other than simply attending a one-hour meeting while sitting on a pew.

For the first time in history, churches are now, for the most part, gathering online over the internet, not inside four walls.

For the first time in a a LONG time, local churches are going to have to prove their worth to the members. For if coming together on Sunday to hear a choir or listen to a pastor is all church is, many are going to wonder why they tithe or give offerings.

Frankly, this pandemic is going to open the eyes of a lot of people and make them ask the question: “Why do I even go to church?”

What is our answer going to be?


In my next post I will address ways that churches (including the one I pastor) can use this current crisis to turn us into the effective, healthy Church Body we should have been all along. 

Until then, make a phone call, do a video chat, and pray with a fellow believer. We must not forget each other, nor our need for fellowship.

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Prayers for Nashville

Tornadoes

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ABC News

Last night one of the most terrifying things in nature descended upon the capital of my home state of Tennessee. Destructive and deadly storms brought tornadoes right through Nashville, leaving (as of this writing) 9 people dead, possibly more. As of this moment, several of my friends have already checked in as “safe,” but a few more have not responded.

I hate tornadoes! I’ve been close to 4 or 5 and actually been in a hotel in Clarksville, TN when it was damaged by one that destroyed houses across the street. Tornadoes scare the crap out of me. I think that might be one reason why I experience feelings of panic or anxiety when I feel/hear a train (because the sound of a freight train is very similar). In a matter of seconds, everything can be gone.

I’m thankful to God that what came through Nashville last night was not as destructive as what destroyed so much of Georgia back in April of 2011. That storm, if you remember, killed nearly 300 people and decimated Ringgold, GA. But for Nashville, our prayers and thoughts are with them.

Thoughts and Prayers

What about those “thoughts and prayers”? What does that even mean?

As of late, many in the media have started to publically make fun of and shame those who say “our thoughts and prayers.” Some politicians have even been so bold (and arrogantly foolish) to stand up and declare that our prayers are worthless; we need action!

Granted, thoughts don’t do much other than say, “We’re thinking about you.” Unless that thinking leads to help in some tangible way, what good are the thoughts except to let the people who are suffering know that others know they are hurting?

And what about the prayers? First off, unless the Object of our prayers is capable of doing anything, they are actually of less value than “thoughts.” Keeping someone who is hurting on your mind might lead you to do something to alleviate the suffering. However, prayer is calling upon the aid of Another, or those whom He will send to address the need.

Yet, if the prayers are made by those whom God hears, then they are not worthless, but helpful and empowering. God moves on the backs of our prayers, and godly prayer has a tendency to become self-fulfilling (i.e., when we pray for workers to collect the harvest, we often become the workers). That’s one of the ways He works “mysteriously.”

So, my thoughts and prayers this morning concern Nashville.

Help me pray, would you?

  • Heavenly Father, nothing that happens in this world catches you by surprise – You know all things. There is nothing outside of your all-seeing, all-caring, all-judging eye. I am thankful you already know what has happened in Nashville, and even long before last night you were working in ways we will never comprehend.
  • Lord, comfort the ones who are mourning the loss of loved ones. Bring peace to them through the power of your Spirit.
  • Ease the pain of those who are wounded, and give the medical personnel added measures of endurance as they are pressed into longer shifts and greater stress.
  • Please protect those who are on the ground clearing debris, directing traffic, and protecting the most vulnerable.
  • Give a mighty voice to those who survived! Like so often is the case, send the reporters and news crews to the places where survivors give You the glory so the world may hear your name praised.
  • Jesus, as we know you have the power to calm storms, You also have the power to use storms. you know the hearts of the people of Nashville. Open their eyes to your mercy and grace.

Amen.

 

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Filed under community, General Observations, places, Struggles and Trials, Weather

The Fatherly Voice Has Lung Cancer

1991, UTC

I can still see that green Datsun station wagon my dad used to drive. It was a beat up, light-metallic green B210, I believe. I don’t remember what year model. But it had tan cloth seat covers and a 5-speed, and you couldn’t kill it.

One day, when for whatever reason my own car wasn’t running, my dad got up early (or stayed up late – he worked 3rd shift) and waited in a gravel parking lot just outside of the building where I was attending a class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It was 1991.

I walked up to the car, opened the passenger-side door, and there was my dad … blue work pants, a light-colored shirt, jacket, and ball cap … sitting with the seat leaned slightly back, bill of his cap resting over his eyes, listening to someone on the radio (WGOW, 1150AM).

That person was Rush Limbaugh.

June, 1991

In June of 1991 my dad died of a heart attack at age 46. There were no goodbyes, see-you-laters, or even warnings; he was just gone. It’s a whole other story, but the last words I ever heard him speak to me, or anyone, were, “Boy! I don’t EVER want to see you do that again! (slight pause) But that was a good burnout.” I then pulled away in my blue ’77 280z and never saw him alive again.

Wow, this is painful to write.

Sometime later, maybe in June, maybe a little after, I was scrolling through stations on the radio (why on AM radio, I don’t know), and heard the voice of Rush Limbaugh once again. I wasn’t much into politics at that time, so the subject matter didn’t catch my attention. It was just the voice, the one my dad was listening to, that made me stop turning the dial.

From that day until now, some 29 years later, I’ve been a faithful listener (whenever I could) to Rush Limbaugh, the most influential conservative radio personality in history. What’s more, with my father no longer in my life, tuning in to Rush each week day from noon till 3 was like having my dad in the car beside me. In a way, Rush Limbaugh (flaws and all) became a surrogate father figure to me.

Feb. 3, 2020

Here I am, sitting in my office at the church, struggling with some deep-seated emotions. My chest is heavy. I sorta feel a burning in my eyes, but no tears have swelled to cool them. A little while ago my wife called my on my cell phone and started off with the following words: “I don’t want to ruin your day, but…”

I have lived long enough to know that when my wife says something like that it usually has something to do with the kids or a bill that didn’t get paid. I literally had no way to be prepared for what she said next.

“Rush Limbaugh just announced that he has advanced lung cancer.”

That loneliness when my daddy died … that feeling that sucker punched me in the gut when my mother, tears in her eyes, greeted me at the hospital with a clear plastic baggie full of my father’s final effects and said, “This is all I have left” …  yeah, that kind of feeling hit me all over again, except this time I’m a little more calloused, so it doesn’t hurt as bad.

The Announcement

I don’t know what you think about the man, but he needs your prayers. I’ve prayed for him for years, actually, hoping that one day there would be proof, some evidence of him becoming a follower of Christ. His brother, David Limbaugh, after all, is a solid and out-spoken Christian lawyer, apologist, and author. Maybe my prayers were answered, today.

This afternoon, in the last segment of the Rush Limbaugh Radio Program, Rush let everyone know what was going on. Thankfully, since I am not a premium subscriber to his website and not able to watch the video of the show, the video of the last hour of the show was made available on YouTube.

If you’ve never listened to Rush, take advantage of this and listen to the whole hour – you might be surprised at what you hear. But if you want to get straight to the announcement (including a cryptic admission of his personal faith), go to the 45:46 mark and start watching there.

God speed, Rush. I’m praying for you.

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Filed under current events, Life/Death, politics, Prayer, Struggles and Trials

You Believe WHAT About God? Tuesday Thoughts 21 January 2020

Just the other day I shared a post from Pastor Randy which generated a lot of response, some not so positive. Well, I guess I’m a sucker for punishment because I’m going to do it again.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I, too, have heard some seriously stupid answers to the question of “why?” when it comes to the death of children (I worked in a funeral home for several years). The “angel” and “He needed them” reasons were also sickening to me. Yet, some of my Calvinist friends have also attempted to give some pretty sad excuses (ask John Piper), but that’s another argument for another day.

Anyway, “be still and know that I am God” is in vinyl lettering (from Hobby Lobby) above the mantle in our dining room.

Kingdom Pastor

I thought this Tuesday Thoughts edition was going to take a while to figure out what to write. I was wrong. It comes out of something that happened last week: 4 year old Wyatt Spann died from cancer. And this reminded me of something that happened a few years ago–the death of another young child, Noah Crowe, from cancer. It’s not “MY” feelings about these tragedies, but the things “some” people say. To be more specific: What some who call themselves ‘Christians’ say to broken and grieving hearts. It’s not only at funeral homes where they speak these abominations, but being active in disaster response, I’ve heard some of the same poor, DEPLORABLE theology.

Below are some of the DESPICABLE, VILE, LOATHSOME AND WRETCHED things some people believe, and Dear Lord In Heaven, say to people in the worst moment of their lives:

  • God needed them more than you. Really?…

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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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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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