Tag Archives: Warthen

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

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

Precious

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

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

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

Picturesque

Now, let’s talk about Georgia…

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

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

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

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

People know Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Or do they?

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

Whited Sepulchers 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in YOUR walls?

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Filed under Church, General Observations, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Listen to the Locals

“In the Middle Of…”

When I first traveled down to this part of Georgia, having no knowledge of what was around, I used a common term to describe the area. I told others it was “in the middle of nowhere.”

Since then, I have felt bad about saying that. First, unless Warthen was in the middle of nowhere – like some outpost in the middle of Antarctica – the term could be considered derogatory. Coming across as bigoted isn’t helpful.

Secondly, nowhere is actually nowhere; everywhere is somewhere because God is there. In reality, I’m right in the middle of where I’m supposed to be.

So, there’s that.

Listen to the Locals

But when it comes to getting around and finding what you need, the somewhere might not be “nowhere,” but finding anywhere when you’re there can prove difficult, if not leave you stranded with an empty gas tank and no filling station for miles. That is why before you start exploring, listen to the locals!

One of the first things that bothered me (and, I know, this is more of a first-world problem) was that there seemed to be no restaurants. My wife and I had pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that there would be no nice place to go on a date. But what we came to find out was that if we were only willing to drive a few minutes, and if we were willing to trust our local guides, we would find exactly what we were looking for.

For example, last week a couple from our church invited us to join them for a movie and dinner. After the movie, they took us to a steak house. But if we had not trusted the suggestion of our new friends, we wouldn’t have even given the place a chance. I mean this place was the quintessential example of “hole in the wall.” It was literally a steak house.

In front of Tumpies, the “Best little steakhouse this side of Texas.” It’s not too far away in Dublin, GA. It was a house built in the 1880s, but now a great place to eat!

But the food was some of the best I have ever had – ever. It will be a destination when we host friends from out of town.

Another thing that bothered me was that I didn’t think there were any coffee shops around. Again, when I listened to the locals I found out about a great coffee place not far away from where I will be meeting a new preacher friend every week to talk shop.

So, no, my place in the middle of Georgia might not be Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, or the like, but it has everything I thought I was going to miss and everything I need. I mean, come on, it’s got steak and coffee!

Been Where We’re Going

You know, the children of Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, were faced with a similar situation when they were about to cross over the Jordan River. In chapter 3, the Lord told Joshua to send the Levites and the Ark of the Covenant ahead of the people. The reason was pretty clear.

“But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.” – Joshua 3:4 (CSB)

If there is there anyone we should listen to, it’s the Lord. Do you realize there is not a place He has never walked? Do you know there is not a place, not a situation, not a wilderness, where He has not already worn the straight and narrow path?

Think how much time and effort I saved after listening to the locals who’ve lived in this little town for years and years! How much more would all of us benefit if we’d just trust the One who’s already been where we’re going?

If you can trust the locals, you can certainly trust the Lord – He knows where everything is.

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Filed under Christianity, Church, community, Faith, Food, God, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Food and Fur

It’s still a work in progress, but take a look at my new writing spot!

It’s not the most comfortable seating position (in relation to the keyboard), but I think I’ll get used to it… Oh, cool! I just lowered my chair and the keyboard’s in a better position! Sweet!

Anyway, it’s been a really long while since I sat down to write a brand new post, so here it goes!

Culture Shocks

Moving to a new city and a new culture brings with it a multitude of “shocks.” You’d think that a distance of 250 miles (201 as the crow flies) wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but you’d be wrong. Life in rural middle Georgia compared to metropolitan Chattanooga (Gig City) is totally different, and some adjustments are easier than others.

For instance, back in the Chattanooga area there are tons of restaurants, and not just the fast-food variety. There, for instance, you can find several very good barbecue restaurants, all within a few miles of each other. Yet, when my wife and I decided we wanted to find some barbecue down here, we had to drive 45 minutes to a place that was open only on Fridays and Saturdays, had outdoor bathrooms, had no air conditioning, and the floor was sawdust.

I asked a lady sitting quietly nearby, “So, tell me about this place.” With matter-of-fact tone and an attitude that gave me the impression she didn’t enjoy strangers asking stupid questions, she replied, “My daddy woke up one day and decided he wanted to sell barbecue, so he did.”

Hey, the food wasn’t bad, but even more, you didn’t have to worry about slipping and falling!

As we find other culinary establishments to visit, I’ll be sure to keep you updated. Should you come visit and get tired of my wife’s cooking, you’ll be better aware of your options.

Critter Shocks

We left not only our daughters behind when we moved away, but we left two little dogs we loved, too. However, even though I have no wagging tails to great me when I walk in the door; there are plenty of wagging tails on the outside.

Imagine waking up your first morning in a new house, sitting down on your front porch to enjoy the cool, misty air while you sip a cup of coffee and read your Bible. Then, imagine looking up to see two dogs trotting down the quiet two-lane road, one with a shoe hanging from its mouth by the strings. With only the sound of a few birds singing in the trees and the faint squeak of the antique glider you’re sitting on going back and forth, imagine saying to yourself – as I did, “Well, that’s different.”

Here in the equivalent of Mayberry, the dogs are happy, wander the neighborhood, enjoy being petted, and steal any shoe left overnight on a front porch. Literally, the very next morning this same dog came from the opposite direction with a different shoe … only this time she came into my yard and dropped it long enough lick my hand and roll on her back to greet me. A neighbor, out for a walk at the same time, hollered from the street, “She’s the community dog … she doesn’t belong to anybody, but she’s a good watchdog … her name is Dog.”

…There’s also the gnats.

Did you know there was such a thing as the “Gnat Belt”?

Well, we are in it!

Continued Observations

Honestly, there’s a lot more I’d like to tell you, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome. If I bore you now, you might not come back. How sad would that be?

I mean, I’ve left my hometown; I’d hate to lose you guys!

So, hug the ones you love, thank the Lord for His blessings, and be on the lookout for some more posts. What I’m learning I’ll certainly share with you 🙂

God bless!

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Filed under animals, blogging, community, Food, General Observations, places, writing

Thursday Thoughts and Updates

Hello, friends!

You don’t know how much I’ve been wanting to get back to regularly writing on this blog! Just last night, as we were getting in bed, I told my wife, “Do you want to know how busy I’ve been and how little energy I’ve had? I have hardly written anything on my blog in weeks!”

It’s not a “diary” thing, you know. I could get on here and do what I am doing right now, just spill my guts in some random outpouring of emotion. Yet, good blog posts – the kind that attract readers and have a life of their own – must be crafted.

This is just a pitiful attempt to let those who are interested know that I am still alive.

So, how have things been going? Let me hit some highlights.

First, becoming pastor of Bethlehem Baptist has been a thrill, even though leaving all I knew and the family and friends I love was excruciatingly painful. However, as time is passing by, I’m beginning to adjust and grow to love the people who were nothing more than strangers less than a month ago.

Second, I’ve been amazed at how God has put me in a place where I fit so well. One preacher who spoke on the Sunday before I came reminded the congregation that they were calling “the man” for this place. It’s both encouraging and humbling, along with terrifying, at the same time. And, again, as I was talking with my wife about things going on around here, I am continually amazed that people are literally quoting me! They are regularly saying things like, “Like the pastor said,…” That just blows my mind.

Last (there could be a lot more), there is a funeral in town, today. Shortly after my first day on the job, I decided to go meet the local sheriff. Since I had been a chaplain with our Sheriff’s department back in Chattanooga (Hamilton County), I wanted to introduce myself, especially since I was the new pastor in town. So, I got to meet Sheriff Thomas Smith and talked with him for about 1o minutes. What I regret was that I didn’t ask to take the time to pray with/for him before I left – he committed suicide the very next week.

Because Sheriff Smith was so beloved around these parts, even around the whole State of Georgia, thousands of people are going to be flooding the tiny town of Tennille, GA, and the even tinier Methodist Church where the services will be held. Sheriffs from over 100 counties are going to be here, along with dignitaries of all shapes and sizes, including past and present governors. Literally, there is no street into the town that is not blocked, and overflow locations range from larger churches to local school cafeterias. After over 20 years of honest, dedicated service, he will be greatly missed.

But did you catch what I said earlier? He committed suicide. There were a lot of things at play that led to Sheriff Smith taking his own life, even though there is now so much evidence he was greatly loved and appreciated. However, never underestimate the stresses leadership, physical pains, and leadership can bring upon a person, especially those who face evil every day.

Just remember the following verses:

Proverbs 22:1 – A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.
Ecclesiastes 7:1  – A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

God bless you guys, and I hope to have more time to write very soon.

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Filed under community, current events

A Last and a First: Closing One Ministry and Beginning Another

As many of you know, I am now the pastor of a church down in Warthen, Georgia. You probably also know that I used to pastor South Soddy Baptist in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee.

Well, I thought it might be of interest to some of you to listen to two different sermons – one from my last day at South Soddy, and the other from my first day at Bethlehem Baptist.

But the reason I am sharing both of these back-to-back is so that hopefully you will notice a similarity between them. What I hope you will notice, despite the sadness of one and the excitement of the other, is a common thread of hope and assurance that God is still at work and the work for us to do is not done.

God bless you all, and I hope to get back to writing very soon – there sure is a lot to talk about!

Click on the pictures below for links to sermons.

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Filed under baptist, Church, Do not judge, Life/Death, ministry, Preaching, worship