November 1: the day that every teacher in the country prays for the day off. Every child in America has eaten and will be eating more candy in a single 24-hour period than they would normally eat in a month. Now, I’m no fan of Halloween, but I want you to know that I am so very proud of my church family at First Baptist Church of Dadeville. We opened our hearts and our doors to our city, gave out tons of candy, and fed chili and crackers to about 2,000 people. You want to talk about a miracle of multiplication – we didn’t run out of anything last night. God is so good!
But as the “multitudes” came past our “Trunk,” decorated as Noah’s Ark, my heart broke for many reasons. I looked at the children, youth, and adults and I knew that many of them had little or no idea of what the true grace of God is all about. If statistics apply in our community, and I fear that they do, 60% of the people that passed through our facilities are spiritually lost and even more than that have less than a solid relationship with a church. Then, as I sat there passing out candy, laughing at the costumes, and teasing the children, I heard this more than once. More than three times. More than six times. “What is that?” They were asking about my boat with animals walking up the boarding ramp. Laughingly I replied, “That’s Noah’s Ark,” believing that answered the question. It didn’t. They had never heard the story of Noah’s Ark. This wasn’t in an earthquake-devastated village in Nepal or a tropical jungle in Belmopan, Belize. This was in Dadeville, Alabama – the heart of the Bible belt. The questions came from young and old, black and white and Hispanic. And the majority of them came from just a few miles away from our church.
So, as excited as I am about the number of compassionate touches offered by my church family to the people of this community and as excited as I am about hearing some of our youth inviting other youth to join them in their DNow weekend and as excited as I am to know that most of these people received something that had the gospel written on it, I am heartbroken for my city. When Jesus described the people of Jerusalem as “sheep without a shepherd,” He could have been talking about Dadeville. They are hopeless and helpless, and the saddest part of it all is that most of the people don’t even realize they are in need. In need of a Shepherd? Yes. In need of a church family? Absolutely. In need of someone like you or me to befriend them, build a relationship with them, live the Christian life in front of them, and earn the right to share the gospel with them? YES! YES! YES! And that my friends is the only way they are going to find hope.
One more thing. We are approaching Election Day 2018. In fact, in just a few minutes, our county poll workers will be meeting in our sanctuary for training. And everyone is yelling, “Vote Democrat!” “Vote Republican!” Can I make a suggestion? If you don’t want to read about my political opinions, stop reading here. Failure to stop reading at this point will expose you to a truth that you may not like and may offend you. I will not be held liable for your feelings because you have been warned!
Okay. Here is my suggestion. When you go to your polling place on Tuesday, “Vote JESUS!” Just as He is the only way to find hope in our lives, He is also the ONLY answer to the political mess our country is in. What do I mean by “Vote JESUS?” Think about what He taught and how He lived, and ask yourself, “Would Jesus vote for this person/issue/amendment?” Be careful though. Make sure you are thinking about the Jesus of the Bible and not the Jesus you have created in your own mind.
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I just cannot convey to you the emotions that I experienced yesterday. I was totally overwhelmed by all of the gracious words and compliments that you offered throughout the day, and then when Sonya and I sat down and read your cards and saw your generous gifts…. I just cannot express to you how you made me feel, but I will try. I felt great joy because I know that God has used me in some way to impact your lives, but I also felt such guilt because I don’t deserve the praises that were lavished on me. All glory goes to our Heavenly Father because He is the only One worthy of our praise. And I felt such gratitude that He would bring Sonya and me to be a part of this loving church family. I cannot begin to thank Him enough. Bro. Dick, I can’t agree with you when you say that we have a perfect church, but it is the closest thing to a perfect church that I have experienced in 36 years of ministry. And that is NOT ministerially speaking!
Wasn’t the worship service yesterday just out of this world GREAT! The music was amazing with the Children’s Choir and the Sanctuary Choir joining together. Addie Caldwell and Mike Kilgore both sang down glory from Heaven. And didn’t Curt preach a great message? I’ve never enjoyed being called a Pharisee as much as I did yesterday. Thanks, Curt, for reminding us why we are here.
Now, then. How many of you were able to do what I asked of you in my Thursday’s Thoughts e-mail? I hope that you are still praying about what God would have you to become involved in, but as soon as you know where He is calling you to serve, let me know. Your staff is ready to step in and support, equip, and join you in the work of the ministry whatever it may be. We are already working on plans to make sure that no member of this church ever falls through the cracks when they need our help, and after the business meeting last night, I felt convicted that we need to immediately begin to reach into our church membership rolls and find out where our inactive members are both physically and spiritually. I will be putting together some ideas of how to do that, so if you have suggestions, let me know quickly because I want to get on this as soon as possible.
We are rapidly moving into the busiest time of year for a church because of the holiday season. There will be lots of programs and parties, and I am excited about every one of these, but let’s not lose sight of the reasons that we celebrate the seasons. Thanksgiving is all about our gratitude to the Father for the blessings He has given us. I am grateful that our Good Father knows how to give good gifts and always provides for our needs. And one of the greatest provisions He made was to send His Son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem so that we would have a Savior who would give Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. So, no matter how busy we get over the next two months, let’s keep our focus on the One Who gave Himself for us so that we can focus on our ONE that He has placed in our paths who needs us to build a relationship with him/her so that we can earn the right to share the gospel with them. There is no greater time to share our faith than during the time of year when everyone is “sort of” focused on spiritual things.
One final thought on this beautiful Monday morning. I hope that you know how much I love each and every one of you. I have been called by God and you to be your pastor, and so have James and Curt. Would you please allow us to fulfill our calling by making sure we know when you go into the hospital or have a need of any kind? It would be our honor to minister to you during those times in your lives. That’s what we do. And as I say to every new member who joins our church, “If I (or we) can’t be there for you, there’s a church full of family members who will.” I don’t just say that. I mean it!
All my love to a wonderful body of believers,
Do you remember the old chorus, “God is so good!”? I’ve been singing that in my head since yesterday. I love to watch what happens when God moves on His people and they reach out in ministry to people in need. I praise the Lord for your outpouring of support for little James Carr and the whole family as they travel this week to Boston for James’ surgery. Pray for this little boy and his family every day this week because even though the surgery is scheduled for Friday, there will be lots going on between now and then. We will make every effort to keep you all informed every step of the way. Several have asked about the surgery. Glinda posted the link to the YouTube video that Kerri made to explain what was going on. If you didn’t see it, click on this link and watch: https://youtu.be/Dz8Pi94c2gU. And please keep praying for Chapel, Brittany, and Misha (hope the spelling is correct) that the council will meet and approve the certificate they need to finalize this process. Dear friends, you made this pastor proud by the way you prayed and ministered to both of these families yesterday.
What more can I say? Lots! Bro. Dick blessed our hearts with his singing. The choir knocked it out of the park with their special. From start to finish, our worship service was fantastic. You won’t believe this, but we had so much going on that I forgot to mention that we had another great day in Sunday School with 211 in attendance. Praise the Lord! I also received word from one of our small groups that everyone was in attendance and having a great time. I love to hear those kinds of reports because they tell me that we are right on track with what God wants to do in our church.
Now, to discuss what God wants to do in our church, we are having a Town Hall meeting in the fellowship hall at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday. I would encourage you to sign up for the meal prior to the meeting because it will be great. Then stay with us for the next hour as we talk about what God is doing and what you want to see God do in the future right here at FBC Dadeville. Your Strategic Planning Team will begin by sharing briefly about what we have been discussing, but the major focus for this meeting will be for us to listen to you. We want to hear what God has been saying to you about our church. I need to ask you to do me one huge favor: let’s keep this positive as we focus on how we can best minister to our community and to our members. The way that our Team started this process was to think about the future without any limitations because anything is possible if it comes from God. Then we started looking at what it would take to get to that point, and that is what I want you to do. Ask God to show you His vision for our church, and then let’s map out a way to get there.
I want to remind you of two things concerning this Sunday: we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper in our morning worship service, and we will have our regular business meeting in the evening service. We will meet at 5:00 p.m. for our potluck supper and then take care of the business of the church. Make sure you attend both services.
We are about to get into the busy time of our year with the holidays coming up, and I’m not talking about Halloween – even though that is going to be a great opportunity for us to reach out to our community. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming quickly, and I am excited about sharing this holiday season with you. This is going to be a great time to worship our Heavenly Father and to get to know each other better, and both of these are key to growing spiritually as well as building the Kingdom of God. So, let’s make this a celebration that we will never forget at FBC Dadeville as we put the emphasis where it belongs – on the Father. So here is what I am asking you to do.
Thank you, church, for being a great church, and thank you for letting me be your pastor.
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We have sown the wind, and now we are reaping the whirlwind. That’s biblical, you know. Every action we take has consequences. Every word we speak has consequences. That’s why I sit here typing with great trepidation. I know that some will misread what I’m trying to convey. Some will just get mad and write me off as another Bible-thumping preacher. By the way, I hope everyone thinks I’m a Bible-thumping preacher; I would wear that title as a badge of honor. So, some will get mad. Others will shout amen, but they will totally miss my point. Hopefully, a few of you will get it. We have sown the wind, and now we are reaping the whirlwind.
Let me get right to the point. We don’t have a political problem in this country. We have a spiritual one. When you systematically remove every facet of our Judeo-Christian heritage from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of our government, what do you expect? Ethical behavior? Moral governance? Common rules of decency? If you do, I have a bridge that I would love to sell you. Nothing says, “I’m naïve” more than believing that you can remove every precept and tenet of the biblical foundations upon which this country was established and remain a civil society. Look at the horrific behaviors perpetrated on people throughout history when empires grew to power without this basic system of morality God gave to His people on Mt. Sinai. We call them the Ten Commandments. The Mosaic Law. Whatever you call them, our Heavenly Father taught His people that two things are vitally important if you are going to have a civil society: love God and love your neighbor. We don’t have a political problem in this country. We have a spiritual one.
Years ago, I stopped watching Fox News because I realized that I was becoming cynical, frustrated, depressed, and discouraged. After a few weeks, I noticed a significant change in my outlook. Please don’t take this as an attack on Fox News. I’m just stating facts evident in my life. Yesterday, as I was doing the laundry, I decided to tune into Fox News and find out what was going on with the Senate Judiciary Committee as they prepared to vote on moving Judge Cavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court out of the committee and onto the floor of the Senate. I was captivated by what I saw. So much so that when I had to go to the grocery store, I tuned it in on the radio so that I wouldn’t miss a beat. I watched and listened off and on all afternoon and even when I went to bed. And I woke up this morning to watch again. And I found myself cynical, frustrated, depressed, and discouraged about the future of our country. My thoughts became, “What have we done? What have we allowed to happen? How can I look into the faces of my granddaughters and tell them that this is the nation that we are leaving to them?” A nation where “victims” are victimized further for political gain (no affirmation or denial concerning Dr. Blasey-Ford) and a man’s good name and reputation and family are destroyed by uncorroborated accusations (again, no affirmation or denial concerning Judge Cavanaugh). Read this carefully: I do not know whether Dr. Blasey-Ford is telling the truth or not. I do not know whether Judge Cavanaugh is telling the truth or not. And if you are honest with yourself, you will be forced to admit that you don’t either. Not 100%. Why? Because men and women lie every day. Because all of us are sinners. Because deep down we know that this is not a political problem; it is a spiritual one.
That’s why God reminded me this morning that we have the power to change things. I don’t mean through the political system. I fear that our government is broken, and it may be broken beyond repair. Yes, I will continue to vote and encourage others to do the same. I will continue to call my Congressmen and encourage others to do the same. I will continue to love this country, stand for the national anthem, pledge my allegiance to the flag, and if necessary, fight to defend her. I will pray for all those in authority knowing that it is my Christian duty to do so. But the power to change things comes from God. We call it Spiritual Awakening because what is necessary is for Christians to wake up out of our spiritual slumber, recognize that the locusts have come (see 2 Chronicles 7), and cry out to the Father in repentance that comes from godly sorrow over our own sin first and then the sins of our nation. This is not about lost people getting saved; this is about saved people getting serious with God about who we are spiritually – His children – and understanding that this battle must be fought on our knees.
So, what do we do? The only thing that we can do when the whirlwind is heading our way. We pray! I would also encourage you to do what I have done: turn off the television. Yes, you need to keep up with what is going on, but just don’t focus on it. Instead, pray about it. Then, go out and love on your neighbors. If you are a Republican, that means go out and love on some Democrats. And if you are a Democrat, go out and love on some Republicans. Or better yet, just go out and love on people and show them that man-made titles and barriers mean nothing in this spiritual war in which we find ourselves. Our only hope is Jesus, and He told us that our only job is to love God and love on people. That’s what I’m going to do, and I hope that you will join me.
For my birthday this year, Ben gave me a wonderful gift: a new camera with all of the bells and whistles. My daughter, Ashley, followed that with an online photography class. According to the class instructor the lessons are so in-depth that upon the completion of the course, I will have the equivalent of an Associates degree. I am very skeptical about that claim, but I will have to wait and see. My only goal is to learn as much as possible about my new bells and whistles.
You can find a life-lesson in almost everything, and to prove that, let me share something I gleaned from the most recent photography class. The instructor focused on the different camera lenses – several came with my camera — and the “hows” and “whys” for which you would use them. Unfortunately for my “degree,” the instructor made a point that distracted my thoughts, and, of course, I chased them down a bit of a rabbit trail. This rabbit-chasing venture was one of many in my life; it is something that I experience on a pretty regular basis. In all honesty, it has been a problem for me since I was in elementary school. Or maybe it started when I realized my mother could not read my thoughts during one of her instructive talks. Either way, these little journeys often take me to places that no one else dares to go, but most of the time, they are enjoyable and often educational.
Now back to camera lenses and what the instructor had to say: “The human angle of view is 130 degrees wide, but the focus area of view is limited to 50 degrees.” As is often the case, this statement took my thoughts to the Christian life and walk. As the children of God, we have the opportunity to stand and look back over our lives and see God’s promises fulfilled. We can see where and when we stumbled — even where we failed – and then how our Loving Father restores us. We can see blessing after blessing flow from His throne. We can see hope restored, illness healed, and sin cast as far as the east is from the west. Our spiritual angle of view is quite wide as we stand and gaze back over our lives, but where do we find our attention most of the time? Too often we are focused in a narrow view field that sees only the hardships of life, crying out comments like, “Where are you, God?” “Why, God?” And in this narrow angle of view, we find ourselves forgetting the broader picture and, instead, listening to the enemy as he whispers doubt and anguish into our hearts. During those times, we refuse to believe our spiritual eyes that show us that the God of past deliverance is still the God of our present situation.
What else do we fail to see with our narrow spiritual angle of view? Sadly, we often miss seeing “how white the fields are unto harvest.” Sometimes we simply walk past the person who would be tremendously blessed by a simple cup of cold water. We seldom miss seeing the “horrible” situation of the world in which we live, and we are often overwhelmed by the fact that we cannot change it. But that’s because we see only ourselves with our limited abilities, and we focus on the narrow view discounting the fact that we have been told by the Holy Flesh of God to look at the big picture — to see the field as it is and then to just start at the end of our row focusing intently on the harvest we can reach.
Ever since Curt Mize introduced me to Andrew Peterson’s “Is He Worthy?,” I have watched it dozens of times. I cannot get enough of it, and as I watch it, tears of joy come to my eyes and I lift my hands in praise because He is worthy. He is the Lion of Judah and the Lamb that was slain, and because of Him, I have eternal life that is filled with only the shadow of the true blessings that await me. And the same is true for you if you have entered into a love relationship with the Father that begins with His grace and culminates with your decision to 1) believe that Jesus died for your sins and was raised from the dead and 2)confess with your mouth that He is Lord of your life.
This song is a very powerful song, and I challenge you to watch the YouTube video at the link above. But I must admit that I was shocked to find out that the day after this video was released that Mr. Peterson experienced a lot of criticism because everyone in the video is white. I was proud of the man for the brokenness that he experienced over this and the deep sorrow that he expressed for letting this happen even when it wasn’t his fault. He demonstrated true grace under fire, but that is not the point of this article. My point is that racism runs rampant even in “Christian” circles. Please know that I am not accusing Mr. Peterson of racism; I believe that he has been the victim of what some would call “reverse racism,” but that is a term that should not even exist. It is racist in and of itself. Racism should be simply defined as prejudice that arises from a feeling of superiority over a person of a different race, and if you agree with that definition, then you must agree that reverse racism is a meaningless, prejudicial phrase.
I have written about this topic on several occasions, and I must admit to you that I was born and raised in the South – well as South as Northeast Florida – but I have never considered myself to be nor have I ever been accused of being racist. And let me state very strongly that racism of any kind should NOT be tolerated anywhere but most especially in the church. Jesus made that clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan though most people miss the point entirely. Jesus wasn’t telling us that we ought to be helpful and do good things for people even though in other Scripture that is exactly His point. In this particular parable, He is showing us that racial differences don’t matter. People are people, and we are to love them no matter what they look like.
But until we get to the point that we no longer see the color of a person’s skin but do as Martin Luther King, Jr. taught – judge people by “the content of their character” — racism will continue to flourish in a society that is already way too divided. Divided by politics. Divided by sports. Divided by denominations/religions. You see, if we look hard enough, we can probably find enough criteria that would divide us to the point that we become a group of 1. “Just me and nobody else because I am superior.” But when you get down to it, people are people, and the outward differences come about simply because of the amount of melanin in our skin. Isn’t that a crazy reason to find ourselves superior to other people?
Here’s what I think: If Jesus Christ is worthy – and I believe He is — then He is worthy to be praised by people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and cultures. And I can guarantee you that when we get to heaven, those same people that seemed so different from us here on Earth will be standing right next to us singing, “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 (NKJV)
I (Sonya) am a Pinterest junkie at times. For those that do not know Pinterest like I know Pinterest, let me explain. Pinterest is a site that will make you believe you are the next HGTV star, the next Cake Boss and a cross between Martha Stewart and Julia Childs. In my obsession, I have not become any of those, but that does not keep me from pinning away and creating new boards for some future use.
As many of my friends and loved ones know I have been battling shingles; this has left me with time to indulge in HGTV, Hallmark movies, and Pinterest. I like to cook, but since the children have left home, I do not indulge in this as often as I once did. Back to Pinterest: in my search, I found a crockpot manicotti that sounded easy enough and yummy enough to make it worth my while. And the added bonus us that it created enough meals to last us several lunches. The manicotti shells are not cooked ahead of time, and the recipe called for the world famous chef to use a gallon Ziploc bag to fill the shells. Here’s how that is supposed to go. You fill the bag with the filling mixture, snip a corner of the bag, and squeeze the mixture into the shell. Well, I have unsuccessfully tried this trick many times in the past with other recipes without success. But given the fact that I have limited resources in my kitchen currently, how hard could it be to move this thick mixture of cheesy yumminess from the bag to the shells. Let me say, it was just as messy as you might imagine. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. It’s true. I had worked through five minutes of insanity before I whipped out a spoon and began shoveling the mixture into the shells.
This caused me to begin thinking about my Christian walk. Was it the manicotti or the Ziploc bag that inspired me? Maybe both. Maybe neither. In my walk as a Christian — and especially as a pastor’s wife — I have often served in areas where no one else wanted to serve. I will tell you up front that I did not want them either. I can remember at one church how it happened. The Sunday after Ben was voted in as pastor, the Nominating Committee chairperson called me and asked, “Sonya, we have an opening for a 4 & 5 year old Sunday school teacher; will you serve?” What can you say to the new church? I said yes, of course, and after one Sunday I knew why no one wanted the class. There was this one child that had never been disciplined correctly. The best I can say is that he was out of control and needed a good anointing. With a belt! The biggest problem, however, was not the child. The biggest problem was that I served out of obligation and not out of a sense of calling or an area of giftedness. I could not wait until those twelve long months ended. It broke my heart, but I knew that if those children were going to ever have a relationship with Jesus, someone else was going to lead them.
There are often times that I quip, “Well, I am not sure what I am good at, but I know what I am not good at.” Using Ziploc bags with corners clipped is certainly something I am not good at. That matter aside, it is a sad truth that too often we have not listened to the Father closely enough to know what we are good at or what we have been gifted for or where we should serve. As a child of the King, we should always sit still at His feet long enough to know this. It is not a hard task. He tells us that as sheep of the Shepherd, we know His voice. All we have to do is sit and listen; He will not withhold such valuable information from us.
Like me, many of us get plugged into a ministry often by default — or guilt. Sometimes we do actually find that this place of ministry really does match what we have been gifted to do. Many times, it is just the opposite; we suffer and are miserable and do a lousy job. (I speak from personal experience). One of the things we often forget is that God will gift us through our passions, or He will give us a passion for what He is passionate about in our part of the world. You need to know that is okay to say “no” to a church committee, but it is never okay to say “no” to God. There is place for each of us in Kingdom work; we are all gifted and we all have a responsibility to serve out of the abundance that God has given us. It is often said that “God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called.” This is true in the fact that if you are a child of God, you have been called and qualified. You have been given particular spiritual gifts to use for the work of the Kingdom.
Sometimes the Ziploc bag is a useful tool for more than storage, but for me it will never be a piping bag. Lesson learned! The manicotti smells amazing and it appears that the yummy cheese mixture has stayed in the shells.
I am heartbroken! I was caught totally off-guard by a Facebook post linking to a news story about Dr. Frank Page stepping down as the Executive Director of the Southern Baptist Convention due to a “morally inappropriate relationship.” I was certain that it was “fake news,” so I went to Google to verify my belief. Sadly, the story is true, and I am certain that Dr. Page will be vilified by Southern Baptists and non-Southern Baptists alike. I cannot imagine what non-believers will say because I know what believers will say. All I can do is to pray for Dr. Page, his family, and our beloved Convention.
Let me be clear: I am appalled that Dr. Page had a “morally inappropriate relationship,” but every one of us needs to declare that “but by the grace of God” we would be the guilty ones. In no way do I excuse his behavior, but it must be incredibly difficult for a man to stay grounded and focused on His walk with the Lord while receiving the accolades and praise of millions of people around the world. Billy Graham did it, but it was because he followed a strict set of guidelines that kept him guarded and accountable at all times. I’m sure that was not the case with Dr. Page as he traveled, and this should serve as a warning to the rest of us.
Dr. Page doesn’t need my advice, and he doesn’t need the condemnation that will no doubt be heaped upon him. While he doesn’t deserve any praise, and I certainly don’t mean to give him any, I am impressed by his transparency. He could have continued to work all the while hiding his sin, hoping that no one would ever know. He could have simply retired without saying a word (as he did at first) and take a chance that we would be none the wiser. Instead, he realized that his sinful behavior would most likely become public and that required public acknowledgement. I may be giving him too much credit, but I believe that Dr. Page “fell on his sword” to protect the reputation of the Southern Baptist Convention that he loves.
There is a lesson that all of us can learn from this because too often we miss out on this important step (public confession) for spiritual healing. Yes, the Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us….” Forgiveness comes through the grace of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ His Son, and confession is what it takes to access that forgiveness. I could be wrong, but I feel certain that Dr. Page has taken care of this and has stopped his “morally inappropriate relationship.” So why did he go public other than the reason I stated above? Because according to James 5:16, in order for healing to take place, sometimes we have to “confess our trespasses one to another.” King David tried to hold it all in believing his sin with Bathsheba could be hidden, but he says that it was as if his bones were being crushed and he was wasting away (Psalm 32). Some would immediately reply that David felt he had only sinned against God and was confessing to God, but the proof is in the fact that we have at least 2 psalms (Psalm 51 is the other) publicly acknowledging his sin.
I am not a psychologist, but I know that guilt is a destroyer. It eats away at you from the inside. It causes physical, emotional, and spiritual problems that can all be resolved through forgiveness, and sometimes, it doesn’t even require forgiveness – just confession. While God is faithful to forgive a truly repentant person, sometimes people aren’t as gracious. Sometimes they want to hold on to their anger and bitterness, so they refuse to forgive. That is their problem – one we cannot do anything about. However, we can do what Scripture requires: confess, repent, and ask for forgiveness. And that, my friends, will go a long way to restoring joy into your life. But let me offer you some guidance about confession: confess your sins and nobody else’s.
So, even though Dr. Page will probably never see this, I want him to know two things. First, I want him to know that I am disappointed in him. I have looked up to him for years as the epitome of servant leadership as he guided our convention through difficult times, and he knew better than to behave this way. By the way, we all know better, so I do not say this with condemnation in my heart. But I also want him to know that I admire him for his repentant, transparent heart. Once again he has shown us that being a Christian doesn’t mean that we are perfect; just forgiven.
Thank you, sir, for your years of faithful service, and know this Southern Baptist pastor will be praying for you and your family.
Having a background in Psychology and Counseling, I (Sonya) have gone through quite a bit of training in emotional well-being. In my recent studies of the Bible, I have realized how many different emotions Jesus displayed. Read through the gospels, and you will find that Jesus displayed affection, agitation, anguish, anger, compassion, distress, exhaustion, gladness, grief, indignation, joy, love, and sadness. You can probably find others, but this is just for starters. And the exciting thing about this is that these emotions are simply another revelation that we are like Jesus. The rock group, Three Dog Night, recorded a song titled “One.” The famous line that we all know: “One is the loneliest number you will ever do.” Many counselors will tell you that people often say that they are seeking counseling because no one understands their emotional state of being. Imagine how Jesus must have felt. He came to Earth as the greatest gift ever, and He was disrespected by even those that were called to lift up His name in praise. He was surrounded by men that swung from every emotional branch of understanding to the next; yet, He patiently stuck with them. He had become one of us, experiencing our emotions, feeling everything we have ever felt or will feel, all to prove His love for us. And ironically, it is even through these emotions that we see His holiness manifested.
Fortunately, we have the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139. He was a man who was certain that God knew him, understood where he had come from and where he was going, and trusted that he was well- protected by God. In spite of his humble origins, the Psalmist knew that he was not alone no matter his circumstances because he was always on the mind of God. The writer of this psalm was a man of courage and boldness, and yet, he was filled with desperation over his situation, wanting his trial to end now – desiring for God to work through the fear and anxious thoughts he was feeling. The writer had finally come to terms with the truth that the enemy – his enemy — was God’s enemy, the one standing against the living God who was also alive in the hearts of men.
Three Dog Night’s song goes on to state that “two can be as bad as one.” Relationships are messy and complicated at times. Often, as believers, when we want something or the times are tough, we run to a passage of scripture like Mark 11: 22-26 and try to order the mountain into the sea. Then we open our eyes and our mountain is still there. Why? Because we fail to look with understanding at the rest of the passage. Jesus tells us that we have two responsibilities. First we must believe without doubt. As tough as that sometimes is, the second responsibility may be more difficult than the first. Verse 25 may not be the verse we are prone to pull out the highlighter for, and it is surely not one we commit to memory and hope for a chance to share with a struggling brother or sister. Our responsibility to forgive may be harder to accomplish than having true faith.
Before mountains crumble, we have to understand our responsibility in this relationship with Christ and others. When you believe the lyrics that two can be as lonely as one, it’s because somebody is not doing their part in keeping the relationship alive and healthy. So why are so many mountains still standing? Because we don’t understand the importance of forgiveness. The lack of forgiveness is a major obstacle in relationships remaining healthy. We see it in divorce court; we see it in family court; and we see it in criminal court. Sadly, we see it in Christian circles too. When we opt to stay in a relationship of one, believing our rights and ways have to be guarded and protected at all costs, when we refuse to obey the Savior pointing out what we need to do in our relationships, the mountains will stand and relationships will crumble. We will remain lonely and isolated; we will sing songs with sad and hopeless lyrics. Either we are the lonely one left or we are part of the just-as-bad-two doing nothing to move the mountains. And we certainly will never understand the Psalmist’s trust of the Father.
Are mountains standing strong and firm in your path? Let me offer a couple of suggestions. First, determine in your heart to believe without doubt that this mountain will move, and then second, humble yourself to carry out what God has commanded of you: forgive. Relationships are too valuable because they are necessary in this life for us to become full and whole. One might be the loneliest number, but Oneness with the Father brings the completeness of all we are called to be.
Beginning in February, Sonya and I entered into a new ministry. I have accepted the call to become the pastor of First Baptist Church Dadeville. In making this transition, we have discovered some things that we knew but have come to realize with greater intensity. Our home in Decatur is approximately 1800 sq. feet with three bedrooms; we are currently living a great adventure in a condo that also has three bedrooms, but it is only 1100 sq. feet – give or take a few.
Please don’t understand this as a complaint in any way, but we are missing 700 sq. feet of living space. You may think 700 sq. feet is not that much, but believe me, you can and will miss the space if you ever downsize. We have brought with us what Sonya has deemed “the basic essentials;” this could be another post all its own. We have shoved aside items that have been left in the furnished condo so that our essentials could find a home. Until our house in Decatur sells, we have traded places and spaces to create a new home. There are some things we miss in our temporary living situation. The other day Sonya missed her cast iron skillet, and I missed it because it meant there was no cornbread to go with my chicken and dumplings. There are other items that are not absolute necessities, but they are things that we used often and we find ourselves saying, “Oh, that is still in a box.”
Why is it that we seldom pay attention to the dimensions of our lives until everything shifts? Sometimes the movement is good and sometimes it’s bad. In recent news, tragedies have resulted in major upheavals for too many people: deaths due to the flu epidemic, deaths due to shootings, diagnoses of terrible diseases, and many other life changing events. Each one of these life-changing moments, whether joyful occasions like our recent move or a devastating tragedy like the shooting in Florida, shifts the dimensions. How we respond to this shifting depends totally on 18 inches — more or less. I have heard it said that the people who miss Heaven do so by 18 inches – the average distance between our hearts and our brains, but it isn’t only in matters of salvation that this saying applies.
When our world of order and reason shifts due to dramatic change, we have to understand and rely on the One who has ordered our steps. If you have only a head knowledge of Jesus, when confusion and change come at you, your first instinct is going to look for someone to blame, anyone other than self. “If guns….” “If they….” “If only….” The problem is that this type of thinking never comforts a broken heart or provides answers to a confused mind. If, on the other hand, you have a head knowledge of Jesus as well as a heart knowledge, you will find the peace that passes all understanding. You will trust that the One Who created the universe and formed you in your mother’s womb is present in the changes that have occurred. You won’t necessarily find answers to all of your questions, but you will find a degree of comfort in knowing that each event has been filtered through the holy fingers of God. We have learned that this does not completely take away the grief that comes from tragedy; it will not immediately increase cabinet space for all of those necessities. But it will give you hope and assurance that the Father has something much better waiting for you.
Recently something hit me in my study of the book of Mark. It was in the story of the friends who carried their paralyzed friend through the dusty streets, up the ladder to the roof, and then made a huge hole in order to get to Jesus. More than anything, they wanted that man to walk. They wanted him to experience what they all thought would be the most wonderful gift ever. And yes, for a person that had never walked, this would be a wonderful gift. Little did they know that Jesus wanted to give him something greater: forgiveness of sin. Now, He also gave him the ability to get up and walk, but the greatest need of his life was to experience an intimate love relationship with the Father. You see, this man had lived on his mat every day of his life. No doubt, he wanted to trade that tiny space for what seemed like the greatest thing possible. He thought that walking would be the answer to all his problems – no more having to beg or rely on his friends to get him where he needed to be. But Jesus had an even greater space for him; He had eternity reserved for this paralyzed man who had a head knowledge of Jesus. From all that he had heard about our Lord, Jesus had the power to heal him as He had healed others, but what transpired was beyond his wildest imagination. He left home that morning with a head knowledge that he exchanged for a relationship, and he traded a worn-out mat for a space before the Father’s throne.
One day, our old home will belong to someone else – a new owner. And our boxes will be unpacked and there will be a place in our new home for all the stuff that we are learning to live without. In the in-between space, we will learn to cope, and we will be forever grateful that as our spaces continue to shift on this Earth that we know there is a space in heaven reserved for us that will never change. We know this to be true because we know Jesus — not just in our heads but in our hearts.
Ben and Sonya
“Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!” This is what comes to my mind every time I hear about another mass shooting like what took place at Parkland High School in Florida. I am so tired of picking up a newspaper or hearing another story about an individual picking up a weapon and killing innocent children in a place where there should be an expectation of safety and security. My heart breaks for these students and their families. We pray for healing and recovery for the injured and for peace for the families of those slain.
I am also so very tired of the political heads who use these occasions to call for stricter gun control laws – as if that will fix everything. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Cain didn’t need a gun to kill Abel. His descendant, Lamech, didn’t need a gun either. And all you have to do is look to Chicago to see that gun control does not stop bad people from getting guns and doing bad things with them. I can remember when I was in high school in the late 1970s. There wasn’t a pickup truck in the parking lot of the high school that didn’t have at least one rifle or shotgun hanging in the back window. I can even remember seeing one of my friends talking to the principal of our school at his truck, taking out his new rifle, and demonstrating the action. And not one student was ever shot at our school.
I know that this is not terribly politically correct, and for those that are offended by this I want you to know that I love you with all of my hearts and I would die to defend your right to disagree with me – but before you do, would you finish reading my thoughts. Immediately after an incident like this, people start pointing fingers trying to assess blame. They target our educators who are often overworked and underpaid but who are expected to serve as parent, teacher, counselor, parole officer, and a dozen other jobs without receiving the support of a political system that will hang them out to dry if they say or do the “wrong thing.” If that isn’t enough, the next easy target is our mental health workers. Like the teachers, they are stretched so thin that it is no wonder that people slip through the cracks. They lack the resources – and sometimes the training – to do a thankless job that few of us would endeavor to do. Parents ultimately find themselves in the crosshairs, and for some, rightly so. The parenting skills of so many in our world today consist of putting your child in front of a television or video game screen where they are bombarded with images of violence and gore to the point that these young people become numb to it all and the value of any human life drops to zero. And we need to remember that the Bible places the ultimate responsibility for all of this squarely on the parent’s shoulders: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will never depart” (Proverbs 22:6). But we are at a point where the current generation of parents were not trained by their parents or their parents’ parents, and that results in a new generation that has no clue.
Target after target, the blame is cast — so much that surely something will stick somewhere. Even God becomes fair game. Why would a good God allow this to happen? Why doesn’t God do something about all of this? The answer to the first question will never satisfy most people because the same people that suggest God should take control of a shooter’s trigger finger would balk at the thought of Him forcing His will on them. How dare God force me to do this or that! And it is simply because God has given His ultimate creation the freedom to choose our actions that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve and has multiplied throughout the generations to the point that we are suffering the consequences of a sinful, sin-filled world. Yes, bad things do happen to good people because we are the inheritors of a sin nature that when left to itself will do bad things to good people.
The answer to the second question may be more offensive than my answer to the first: God did do something. Two thousand years ago, He sent His only begotten Son to die on a cross, taking the sins of all mankind upon Himself – becoming sin itself so that it would be put to death on the cross – so that all who would accept that sacrifice as being for their sins, believe that Jesus died on the cross but rose again on the third day, and confess that He is Sovereign Lord over all creation, but more importantly, over their own lives, will be forgiven of sin and made into new creations where they then have the ability to stand against their own sin nature. That is good news, but along with that good news comes great responsibility. You see, the second half of the answer to that second question is that God has done something to combat the evil that would send a 17-year-old into a school with a semi-automatic rifle to kill innocent children. He saved you and me. He saved us and He commanded us to go into the world and make disciples teaching them to observe all the things that He has commanded us to do. It is our responsibility to come alongside these parents and these mental health workers and these educators reminding them that this isn’t a gun problem. It’s a sin problem. The only hope that we have of changing this is to recognize that this is a spiritual battle that will only be won in the spiritual realm. We must take up the weapons of our warfare (Ephesians 6) and fight the battle on our knees and in our churches and in our homes and in our schools. We must share the gospel to win the lost to Christ and then we must disciple/train parents to train their children in the ways they should go, and when they are older, they will not pick up a gun to shoot innocent children.
I know that some who read this will argue that mental disease is real and that spiritual solutions will not resolve this issue. First, I believe that some mental issues are the result of sin – original sin as well as the sins of the fathers and the children. If our mental health workers could recognize this and rely on those who understand the concept of spiritual warfare, they would find greater success in dealing with their patients. Second, I know that if Christians would truly be the hands and feet of Jesus, those suffering from true mental illness would find compassionate treatment and the help that they need before they arrive at the point where they commit murder. Either way, God has done something to stop these horrible events: He created you.
Most of you never knew Sonya’s mother – Granny is what everyone called her. She was an amazing lady. She could cook like you wouldn’t believe. She was a seamstress extra-ordinaire. She was full of wisdom and mischief and life. She was an amazing lady. One of the most amazing things about Granny is that she could talk. Oh, man, could she talk. Most of her family got the gift, too. I’ll never forget my first experience with the entire family of 9 children and countless grandchildren. There must have been four different conversations going on at the same time, and Granny was involved in all of them. She could talk to anybody – strangers, families, the mailman. I’ll never forget the times I sat with her in the doctor’s waiting area when, in a matter of minutes, she had struck up a conversation with a total stranger that lasted until one or the other was called back to the exam room. Then she found someone else to talk to. Sonya used to tease that when she called her mom, she had to say goodbye almost immediately so that her mom understood there was an end to the conversation coming. It didn’t really matter because most conversations lasted no less than 45 minutes after the first round of goodbyes. Sadly, in later years and especially after Granny’s stroke, the conversations did not last as long and the goodbyes came sooner. And it is the final goodbyes that are always the hardest.
But Scripture teaches us how to prepare for these goodbyes if we are willing students. We see in Enoch’s life that he walked every day in preparation for his final goodbye. We are simply told at the end that “Enoch was no more.” It’s always dangerous to argue from silence in the Scripture, but it seems that his family and friends were not distraught at his departure. We are not told that anyone went out looking for him; he was just no more because he had lived a life that was marked by a daily walk with God. He was a man prepared for his goodbye because of his relationship to the Father.
Abraham knew that before his goodbye would come that a promise had to be kept. So, he called in his most trusted servant and exacted a pledge to fulfill that promise God had given. Because he had experienced the fulfilment of promises in the past, he knew that they would be fulfilled in the future, as long as he followed God. God had given him a son that was a promise for the future. Isaac needed a wife, but he needed a wife from his own country. His goodbye was one of preparation that would secure the future that God had promised.
Some goodbyes are forced upon us – like Jephthah’s daughter. Because of the foolish actions and foolish words from her father, her goodbye came at an early age, in the glory of her youth. Because of a foolish vow, her life was cut short, but she was given three months to celebrate life with her friends and to grieve all that she would never experience.
Joseph’s life is a story of a second-chance to say goodbye. When his brothers sold him into slavery, he was cast into a role that God had planned for him, but he was forced to leave so much behind. Nevertheless, he persisted in his role and in his understanding that God held him in His hands. After many setbacks, he was placed in a secure position that would lead to a goodbye that would bring salvation and peace to his family. Sometimes, sudden, unplanned goodbyes bring about great blessings and secures the hope of many.
Whether or not we are able to prepare for our goodbyes, it is important to remember that as hard as it might be, it can be even harder to hold on – it might even be painful. Very few of us truly embrace change. Just recently, our 8 year old granddaughter, Hayes, experienced this truth. When she was just an infant, her parents bought a van. It was nothing fancy, but it took them on trips and provided hours of entertainment for her. Then, her daddy was in an accident and the insurance company deemed the vehicle totaled. Her dad asked her if she wanted to take one last ride before they dropped the van off at the insurance office, and with tears she said, “I am losing the van of my childhood.” She wanted to hold on to something that meant a great deal to her even though it was damaged and broken. Sometimes we have to know when to let go of broken dreams and broken things, and we have to embrace new hellos. Like the great big Ford F150 her daddy bought to replace it. She’s already in love.
Most people see goodbyes as a final moment – an ending. In our home, when our children leave after an extended stay, we call that day “goodbye day.” Even when we know the separation isn’t forever, there are tears and extra hugs and, of course, just one more kiss. Recently, someone said that the hardest part of the ministry is saying goodbye, and though this is true, one of the most exciting parts of the ministry is the joy of saying, “Hello.” Hello to new opportunities and challenges and people. And while we could talk about the countless goodbyes of Scripture — Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, the disciples leaving their families, Paul heading out on his missionary journeys, John exiled to the Isle of Patmos — we need to realize that without these goodbyes, there wouldn’t have been the fulfillment of prophecy or the spread of the gospel or the grand “hello to heaven” we read in the Book of Revelation.
I don’t think that God ever planned for our goodbyes to be completely comfortable, but we must never lose sight of the fact that they can be sweet: the aroma of life unto life, the reminder of a life well lived. Or they can be a signal that our actions can result in grave consequences. Either way, every goodbye should serve as a reminder that God has a grand purpose and a plan for each one of us if we will only see past the pain and embrace the joys of what is to come.