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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will paraphrase them for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, we will!

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

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Filed under Apologetics, baptist, Bible Study, Christianity, Church, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Showers of Blessing

It’s Raining!

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

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

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

Praises!

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

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

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

Rain Will Come

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

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

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

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

 

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

5 Reasons to Stay Home On Wednesday Night

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

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

5 Reasons to Stay Home On Wednesday Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, I’m not serious.

 

 

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Filed under America, Church

Are You Glad?

Let’s go!

church glad to go

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Filed under Church, worship

What Is a “Blessing”?

Earlier this week I posted a question on Facebook:

If I could offer you your choice – if you’d just come to church just once – of either $1,000 or a blessing from God, would you come?

I got a few responses, but one friend, Michael Wheeler, decided to probe a little, asking if I could define what a “blessing” actually is.

The answer seems obvious, but how do you define “blessing”? That word is thrown around with no real meaning. – Michael Wheeler

I gave a typical tongue-in-cheek response:

True. I know a thousand dollars would surely BE a blessing right now 

Michael followed that response with how that he had asked “countless pastors and laypersons who overuse that word to define it, but have never gotten a satisfactory answer.” He then went on to say that the use of the word “sounds good,” but carries with it “no real meaning.”  “Other than salvation,” he proposed, “we have no other ‘blessings’ or promised things over what unbelievers experience.

Well, in fun I replied to Michael Wheeler’s question with:

Do you even own a box of crayons?

As expected (because Michael is usually a very serious kind of guy), he answered with:

Nope… Is that the extent of your definition of “blessing”?

That is when – after a brief distraction – I wrote the following:

No, not hardly. I got distracted by other things. I only asked that because sometimes I feel like you see things only in black and white – not as in truth claims, but in what you see. For instance, I never read fiction, but then I read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”…it added color to the pallet of my spiritual imagination. Lewis didn’t teach me any new truth, but he added shades of color to what I could already see.

Much of what I would call “blessings” are those moments when the Spirit opens the eyes of my understanding and allows me to see the beauty of a Truth in a new shade. In some ways, it’s like God takes me into His art gallery and amazes me with a new painting of the same scene. I’m speaking in terms of spiritual imagination, of course… the box of crayons.

We are blessed every day by the goodness of God. That goes for everyone who enjoys the providential care of the Creator (it rains on the just and the unjust). But we are also blessed in that we have a Father who not only gave us salvation but continues to give us bread instead of stones. He is the one who will one day bring us close to Himself and share with us that little white stone with a name on it only the two of us will know – that’s true intimacy. So, many blessings are no less than those moments when we enter into worship – corporately or privately – and sense the real presence of the Holy Spirit reassuring us of the truth that He will never leave us or forsake us, that His grace is sufficient for every need. I could go on and on.

If I had the time to sit down do a more meticulous study of the definition of “blessing,” I’m sure you’d find the result more satisfying to your particular taste. However, what I’ve just described for you is the practical and real-world look at how I see it. Simply put, many times getting a “blessing” may be nothing more than being brought the realization of how good, merciful, and gracious our Father is. If He throws in a thousand dollars, well, that’s a bonus.

Excellent answer,” wrote Mr. Wheeler.

That’s why I thought it would be worth sharing with you!

What do you think? How would you define a “blessing”? 

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Filed under Church, Love of God, salvation

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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Filed under Church, General Observations, ministry