Tag Archives: Charleston

It’s Just an Alligator, Move Along

Remembering the Trip

Like I said all last week, my family (most of us) made the nearly 8-hour drive down to Charleston, S.C. to visit with our daughter Alicia and her husband Josh. We had a good time.

But one thing I noticed just blew me away: The casual attitude toward alligators in one’s backyard!

Seriously, my daughter lives in a fairly upscale neighborhood, not in a swamp. Yet, because it’s South Carolina, and because there’s lots of water in various places, the swamp critters have become accustomed to the upwardly mobile millennials. I guess they’re more afraid of the reality show crowd than the realtors.

So, as you can see from the picture below, it is not uncommon for the people in Alicia and Josh’s neighborhood to sit out and watch living cowboy boots and purses sun in their backyards. You can also tell by the quality of the picture that we decided to keep our distance.


Too Common

When we see things too often they become mundane. In the beginning one might scream, “There’s an alligator in our yard!!” Then, after only a few mortgage payments, one ends up telling her guests, “It’s just an alligator, Mom.”

Unfortunately, the way we view sin can be the same way. At first it shocks us and we cry out in disgust, “Did you see that??” But then a little later, after a few seasons… after a few dates… or after a few drinks, cries of shock morph into indignant apathy, “It’s just the way things are! Jeez! Quit being so dramatic.”

“And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;” – Romans 1:28

“Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” – Ephesians 4:19

“…having their conscience seared with a hot iron…” 1 Timothy 4:2b

The danger of growing too accustomed to sin is that God will turn us over to it and let us be destroyed by what we have come to believe is harmless.

Be forewarned…an alligator is an alligator, and sin is still sin; both will bite in the end.


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Spring Break Slide Show

The Story

Over the last few Saturdays I’ve shared my thoughts about the “selahs” in the Psalms. More will come in the weeks to follow. But for today I want to change pace.

This past week my wife and I, along with Haley, Freaya (our exchange student), and Jack (Haley’s dog) traveled to Charleston, S.C. to spend sometime with our daughter and son-in-law, Alicia and Josh. So, instead of writing a traditional post, I’m going to share some highlights with pictures.

Worth a Thousand Words, or so


For most of the trip I was driving eastward into the sun. smart me brought my sun glasses.


Cold and windy…no hat or jacket. But hey, it was the beach.

See Haley and Jack. See Jack smile. Don’t see Freaya (because Korean culture has some serious vanity issues).


See Haley try to convince Jack to go into the water. See Jack say, “Not even for a Scooby snack.”

What a beautiful place to worship!

The Angel Oak tree. One of the cool places one can visit for free.


Part of our family tree under a tree. The photo was taken by a nice girl from New Jersey. i returned the favor.

If you are going to visit a tree, why not visit the restaurant?

This was a really neat place. Low country charm.


It’s been a while since I’ve done food stories, but the food at Angel Oak was superb. Here I ordered their take on Shrimp and Grits, with sweet tea and a side of collard greens. Fantastic.


The faithful steed. Oil changed and new wipers. Outside washed. Ready to say goodbye to the palm trees, Fred Anderson Toyota, and Charleston, S.C. Tennesse here we come!

Not pictured are late-night card games, going to a movie, visiting a wonderful Bible study, and getting the oil changed in our van before heading home (correction: I just added the Saturday morning oil change). By the way, Fred Anderson Toyota in Charleston is a great place to buy a car. 

Instead of a sunburn, I got some relaxing study time in while on this break. Now I’m just looking forward to preaching on Sunday!

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Filed under Food, places, Relationships and Family, Vacation

Meant for Evil, Turned to Praise

A Second Visit

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

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

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


But First…

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

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

My Observations (in no particular order)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

De Nyew Testament 

Once again I am composing a post upon my old iPhone (would someone set up a GoFundAnthony account and buy me an iPhone 6?). 

I’m sitting in a school bus, under a bridge, all alone, after dropping off a bunch of kids on a summer field trip. They are riding the Riverboat while I sit here waiting. But, it’s a great opportunity to read and study. 


One of the treasures I picked up the last time I was in Charleston was a new Bible. But this Bible is a little different – no, it’s a LOT different – from others I have: it’s in a different language! And I am reading it! 

De Nyew Testament is a translation of the New Testament into the Gullah language. No, it’s not a paraphrase or a for-fun parody of the KJV; it’s a literal translation of the NT into a genuine language. Gullah (also known as Geechee or Sea Island Creole) is a language “traditionally spoken along the coastal area of South Carolina and Georgia.” 

According to the preface, it took more than 25 years for folks from Wycliffe Bible Translators and the American Bible Society to pull this translation together. And let me tell you something: it’s worth getting. 

If you are a fluent reader of English, then you can read Gullah. It will take some practice, but you’ll get used to it and start to pick up on its rhythm. 

So, here I was under a bridge, in a school bus, next to the riverfront, reading a little from the Gullah version of the NT, when tears filled my eyes. And because of that, I wanted to write this post so I could share with you the particular verse of Scripture that got me. Read it through a few times, then let me know if it blessed you the way it blessed me 🙂 

“Look yah! We oughta study pon how de Fada da bless we wid e lob! E da lob we sommuch dat e call we e own chullun, an we e chullun fa true. People ob de wol ain been know who God da, an cause ob dat, dey ain know we.” 1 John 3:1 (Gullah)

“Look yah!” We ought to be studyin’ about how the Father has done blessed us with His love! Glory be to God! 




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

Visiting Charleston (Part 3)


One thing is for sure, Charleston is full of history. The harbor is full of stories dating back long before the Civil War, even before the Revolution. Battery Point (White Point Garden) has beautiful, massive homes still in use that were built before this country was even a nation! Pictures don’t do this place justice.

Then, of course, there are places like Fort Sumter (where the Civil War began), Patriots Point (home of the USS Yorktown), the Charleston City Market, the H. L. Hunley Museum (the world’s first successful combat submarine), and even The Confederate Museum.

Confederate Controversy

Speaking of the Confederacy, my youngest and I took a few minutes and toured the small Confederate Museum in Market Hall. Originally a place where business was conducted, in 1899 this building was turned into a museum by those who actually fought for Charleston during the Civil War, thereby making the museum historic in its own right.

photo (57)Some of you reading this may have felt uneasy going into the Confederate Museum, and that is unfortunate. So much has been done since the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E Church to sponge away any remnant or reminder of Confederate history, yet what happened back in the 1860’s is part of the fabric of our nation. Much honor is to be found in the stories of the brave young men who fought for their homeland.

Back when there were no cell phones, television, or internet, the average young man’s world was a small one, limited to just a few miles in any direction from the very place he was born. All he would have known; all the people he would have known; everything pertinent to his universe would have been right there in his community, or, at most, his state. How could he be compelled to take up arms against his home?

The Flag Letter

Among the many stunning artifacts from when the Civil War enveloped Charleston was a signal flag – not your stereotypical Confederate battle flag –  a single, simple, signal flag used during the evacuation of Fort Sumter. Attached to this flag was a small letter from the original owner. I will paraphrase part of what it said:

“You may not consider this flag much more than a trinket, but it means much more than that to me. It represents the best years of a patriotic young boy’s life, from age 16 to 20.”

I stood there with my daughter and read aloud the full letter describing the history of the flag written by the one who raised it in victory, then lowered it in defeat. This young man didn’t sound like a slave owner, or a bigot, or a murderer. These were just the words of a patriotic young man who did what he was called to do when his home was threatened.

I’m not ashamed of the South. What I am ashamed of are those who, for political expediency or “white guilt,” want to erase the heritage of a strong, dignified, loyal people without even setting foot on our soil. I am ashamed of those who forget that it was the soldiers who fought each other that came together after the war to heal their wounds and erect monuments to each other’s bravery. I am ashamed of Americans who choose make all Southerners out to be something we are not.

Forgiven His-Story

The folks in the news media only want ratings; they don’t care about truth. Sure, there are bad people, bigoted people out there, but there are also good people – and a lot more of them than the other.

There in the City Market I talked with a black lady about all that had been going on after the shooting at the church. It was at her church that the last of the funerals were to be held that afternoon. It was from her that I bought a New Testament written in the Gullah language (the language of the low country). We talked for a long time about the contrasts between people who chose to forgive and those who chose to burn down their cities. We talked about race, about how the media only wants to further divide us, and how that God loves us all. We talked about Jesus, about loving each other, and then hugged as we parted.

Two strangers in a market…a market in a town that could have gone the way of Baltimore and Ferguson, but didn’t…because people chose to show forgiveness…because good people didn’t resort to painting everyone else with a broad brush.

Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that real Southerners are ones who’ve learned how to grow up, admit our mistakes, and move on. We don’t need the modern PC police trying to score political points by opening up old wounds. We can’t change what happened 150 years ago, but we can forgive…as Christ forgives us…and be better people than the history revisionist want us to be.

Now that South Carolina has voted in the house and senate to remove the Confederate flag and “move it to a museum,” I hope they don’t forget to go visit it once in a while. Those who once flew that flag in war were the very same ones who came back together to heal this nation.

I’m just glad my little girl got to see how history can become His-story before all the history is history.

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Visiting Charleston, S.C. (Part 2)

The Plan

photo 1 (3)Even though it was already planned that we would visit our daughter in Charleston, as soon as I heard the tragic news of the shooting, I knew I needed to visit (Mother) Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The original plan was to go with friends on a cheap vacation to the beach, stroll through the downtown market, and visit family, but on June 17 the agenda changed.

In a text to Roy Cavender, a friend who was already planning to go with us on vacation, I said, “My plan while in Charleston is to visit Emanuel AME Church and pray. You down with that?

His reply was short and simple: “You know it!!!

So that is what we did.

The Memorials

photo 2 (3)It wasn’t that difficult to know when we had arrived at Emanuel A.M.E., for the flowers and memorials of all kinds were neatly stacked against the sturdy black iron fence separating the front of the church building from the sidewalk.

But it was more than just the flowers and trinkets that caused me to pause; it was the trees and the fire hydrant, all of them covered completely with condolences, names, and Scripture references written with colored Sharpie pens.

It took me a while to find a small, clear place on one of the trees, but when I did, I had to reach as high as I could without a stool. With a red Sharpie I simply wrote: John 17.

You see, unlike in the days after other tragedies, the people of Charleston, along with so many around the country, came together in a way that put evil to shame. This was especially evident by the support shown by the other churches all over the city. It was evident in the way people talked, put together fund raisers, and even in the way they welcomed the prayers from a total stranger.

The Prayer

Now, let me say up front that I did not originally pose for the accompanying photo of me praying. Let me explain what happened.

Like I said, I determined early on that I wanted to go pray on location at Emanuel A.M.E. What I did not go seeking, however, was a photo opportunity. However, it was only after I was given permission to kneel and pray on the front steps that a couple of ladies (members, I suppose), decided to take my picture – with several cameras.

As soon as I finished praying – praying that the name of Jesus Christ would be proclaimed through the deaths of His saints and the love of those who forgave – I started to stand. As I turned to me right, there was this lady with a camera phone saying, “Oh, I’m sorry…could you keep praying? I was trying to take a picture.” Once again I knelt down and prayed aloud.

photo 1 (4)As soon as I finished praying a second time, there was another woman with another cell phone: “I’m so sorry, sir, but could you pray some more? Please?” What was I supposed to do? So, of course I knelt once more and prayed…aloud…for real.

Believe it or not, just as soon as I said “amen” and started to stand, there the woman was again! This time, however, she had a 35mm camera in hand! I said, “OK, look, if I’m going to keep doing this, at least take MY phone and take a picture; I’d like a keepsake.”

“Of course!” she said. “This is something you should want to remember!”

The Big Picture

For many years to come people will be asking the same question: “Why?” Why did God allow a murderous young man full of hate to snuff out the lives of nine people during a Bible study? We may never know all the answers, for God’s ways are higher than our ways. However, a quick study of a small word in the New Testament could lend some understanding.

You see, the word translated “witnesses” in Acts 1:8 is the Greek word μάρτυς (pronounced mä’r-tüs). It is also the word from which we get the English word “martyr.”

“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

When we look at what has happened since June 17, I cannot help but believe the deaths of those precious nine people were not in vain. Their “witnesses” in death, along with the “love that passeth all understanding” shown by their families, have been nothing less than a fulfillment of Jesus’ words as recorded in Acts 1:8!

What the Devil meant for harm, God has changed to good! Those who died in that church may have never had much of an impact outside of Charleston, but the ripple effects of their deaths have been felt to “the uttermost part of the earth!”

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Folks, as evil becomes more and more prevalent in this world, the love of Jesus can bring healing to our cities, unity to the Body of Christ, and dumbfound the world. May the families of Emanuel A.M.E. be a testimony to that fact. Keep them in your prayers. 

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Filed under Bible Study, Christian Unity, current events, Life/Death, Vacation

Visiting Charleston, S.C. (Part 1)

Vacation (or Holiday, for you Brits)

Last week my family went on vacation. With the exception of Katie, the daughter who stayed home and watched the house and dogs (and used too much laundry soap), we all loaded up and drove to Charleston, South Carolina, to stay with our oldest daughter, Alicia, and her husband, Josh.

But it wasn’t just family. Roy and Esther Cavender (close friends from Hopkinsville, KY) also endured the long, 8-hour drive in our mini-van to Charleston. In case you’re counting, that’s four adults and one teenager in a single vehicle for the equivalent of a regular work day.

Have you ever gone on vacation with another family to another family’s house in a distant location? Let me clue you in to a fact of life – you’d better be REALLLLLY good friends.

Happily Married

One thing about going on vacation with people that are not in your immediate family is that you come to appreciate why you are married to whom. In other words, we all have differences which we can appreciate (Isn’t that “reyeght” Roy & Esther and Alicia & Josh?).

For example, my wife and I know how to get along (most of the time). We know what the other one likes and dislikes (most of the time); we know how certain situations make us feel (OK, I’m stretching it); and we know what is most likely to tick the other one off (Sure do!). That’s not the case with friends and family that don’t live under the same roof all the time. Vacationing can be a learning curve…with disputing GPS’s.

Staying in someone’s house, as opposed to a hotel, can save money and offer more time to spend together, but it sure has the potential for stress. Don’t get me wrong – we’d do it again! It’s just now that it’s all over, I like the way my wife and I do things. I’m pretty sure everyone else feels the same way.

We Had a Good Time

But even though there were some awkward and tense moments in and on the way to Charleston, we did have a fun and enriching time. We got to spend quality time with friends and family, meet new people, eat new foods, see new places, and experience the time away we so desperately needed. I even made a fish fly.

So, in the next few posts I will share my thoughts on some things I saw and did while in Charleston, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • photo 1 (6)The Confederate Museum
  • Shooting machine guns with my son-in-law
  • Going to the beach
  • Alligators in the back yard
  • Shopping
  • Visiting the Emanuel A.M.E. Church

Have I piqued your curiosity? Let me know if there’s something specific about which you’d like to hear.

I’ve got a lot of stories, it’s just a matter of narrowing them down to the magic 500 words or less, you know.

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Filed under Life Lessons, places, Relationships and Family, Vacation