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.
It is Time
These words evoke an avalanche of thoughts and memories. Some are welcome; others come creeping back in when we least want them to. We will always remember when Sonya was pregnant with our children. When the time came for Jennifer to enter the world, we were young, in college, and completely clueless. When the time came, we didn’t know if Sonya was in labor or just nauseated. We talked to Granny, Sonya’s mom, and asked what she thought. Then we called the nurse, and she said, “It is time to head to the hospital.” When the time came for Ashley to be born two years later, we were far more knowledgeable about the process, so the only problem was waking Ben. But when Sonya said, “It is time,” everything changed.
Then the years quickly passed, and the calls came in. We have no greater memories than hearing the words over the telephone from our precious daughters, “It is time. The baby is coming.” What an adventure. New life was coming — it was time.
We will never forget the days we had to say goodbye to our mothers. For Ben, it was a day following a night of heavy snow. We made our way from our hotel room to the hospital in Kentucky. We knew that the machines keeping his mom alive were to be turned off. When most of the family had gathered around her bed, the decision was made. It was time to say goodbye. For Sonya, it was a day spent in the nursing home with her 95-year-old mother. We knew that God was ending her journey with us soon. We just didn’t know when. We whispered our goodbyes, hugged and kissed her, and held her for a moment knowing that when we walked away, it would be for the last time — the final goodbye.
We have served in the ministry for more than 35 years, and during those years, these words have meant so many things. It is time: for new programs, new buildings, new life to come into this world and the next, new members coming into the church, and new friends becoming part of our lives. Every one of these moments added worth and value as they became part of our story.
Just last week we said it again. “It is time to put away the Christmas decorations.” This week, it was time to flip the calendar page and ring in a new year. And with the turning of that page, we found our lives to be at a pivotal moment. All of us do – or at least we should. For some, it is time to put off the old ways and dress in the new garments that Christ has prepared for us by choosing to surrender our lives to Him. For others, it is time to address the areas of life that have been neglected and allowed to become so full of unnecessary things – wrong things. For all of us, it is a time for new beginnings. There is something deep inside of all of us that is filled with hope and awe with the striking of midnight on December 31. Even though there is not really anything different about January 1– it is just a day: a day off work, a day of football, or if you stayed up late, maybe a day to sleep in and lounge around in your pajamas. But the hope is there. And the possibilities are there if we are willing to take the time to see them and do something about them.
So, as you flip through the pages of your calendar and see all of the empty days waiting to be filled with activities and events and gatherings, be sure to plan for the most important moments of life – moments of change through worship and praise of our Creator God. As you stare at the blank pages, prepare yourself to be amazed at the memories that our Savior wants to write into your life knowing that on some of those days He will write in blessings and complete joy. But also know that there will be days of terrific pain and deep disappointment which He will walk you through if you will let Him. And through it all, know that if you celebrate both of these kinds of moments as part of God’s plan for your life, then His Amazing Grace will not have been wasted. His efforts to grow you into Christlikeness will not have been for nothing. And you will arrive at the day when you hear those words once again: “It is time. Come home, precious child. Rest with Me from all your labors.”
Ben and Sonya
Several months ago, I decided that I wanted to change up an old table that we used in our kitchen. This table had already been in another home, and it is not unlikely that we were its third home by now. In other words, it was well-used and well-loved, but change is one of those things that we embrace around our house, so I thought to myself, “How hard could this be? Hey, I have watched enough HGTV and other DIY programs. Just how difficult could this redo be?”
First, it took several conversations with Ben in order to get started. You see, Ben is not into furniture restoration, and as long as the table will hold up under the weight of a family-style meal, it’s good enough. In other words, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I had scoured Pinterest in order to get ideas of what I wanted to do, and I decided that I wanted paint on the table. That was the second part of our conversation. When I mentioned paint, Ben’s reply was less than encouraging. (In all fairness, I, Ben, like the look of woodgrain). So, because I wanted this to be something we would both love, I began my search for a reddish stain. Nothing struck my fancy, but I settled for red mahogany. I sanded and sanded and sanded some more. I felt confident that the time had come for the first coat of stain. Yikes! Half of the table looked great; and the other half? Not so good. It looked like the wood was rejecting the stain. So, I waited and sanded and tried the stain again. Same results. The next thing I did was to snap a picture and posted it on Facebook asking for thoughts. I got answers, and I got questions for which I did not have answers.
You may be wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, the truth is that you can learn quite a few lessons when tackling a project that you know little about. Don’t misunderstand. This was not my first round at redoing furniture, but it was my most complicated.
First lesson: I knew what I wanted, but I was willing to compromise on what we could both live with. It’s important to recognize that the best of plans may require that you make changes – especially when it comes to trying to make everybody happy. In this plan I made, I figured it would take no more than ten days. Oops! Second lesson: Allow plenty of time for the process to be completed. Even the simplest of projects can become complicated. This is true in our Christian walk, too. Most of the time, we do not get answers the way the Gideon did. We have no fleece to put out, and even if we did, God may not choose to respond to our request. God’s Word reminds us in many different places that this life is a process, and the process is going to be more complicated than we imagined, and even painful, at times. My furniture restoration project certainly was. It was hot. It was cold. It rained. It required sanding and sanding and more sanding. And the smell…. No one told me that the stain would stink, and it didn’t stink for just a day or two. It smelled for weeks. Third lesson: Much like when we dabble in things we should not be involved in, the smell of sin clings to us. The opposite is true, too. When we cling to God — when we worship Him in truth and power — we are a sweet-smelling aroma to the Father.
I really worked hard to pick the right product. I read the labels, and I sought to understand the instructions. However, without a teacher or advice from someone who did this sort of thing for a living, I was attacking this project with limited knowledge. So, I asked around, and I was pointed in the direction of gel stain. I have never used gel stain before, and though it seemed simple enough, it applied differently than other stains. Needless to say, I had a few problems with the stain. There was as much on me as was on the furniture — especially when I got to the chairs.
Fourth lesson: As believers, we have written instructions that we call the Bible. In that precious Book, we even have dire warnings that tell us that if the instructions are not followed, disaster will result. That is why it is imperative that we join ourselves with a body of believers who can help us understand God’s instructions and model for us how to live them out. You see, I asked for advice, and I tried my best to follow the advice given. But I am a novice when it comes to a project like mine. What I needed more than advice was lessons. I needed someone to come alongside and teach me. In the Christian life, we need people to come alongside us and teach us how to deal with tragedy. How am I supposed to react when I lose my job and face total financial meltdown? You may have never experienced any of these, but other believers have. We need those believers to come alongside and teach us the lessons they have learned. There will always be differences in our circumstances, but we can still gain valuable principles from their journeys. Sometimes just knowing that we aren’t the first (aren’t you glad you weren’t the first Job?) to go through a situation provides a little bit of comfort. And know this: One day, child of the King, you will get to be the one that comes alongside another brother or a sister and teach them the lessons you have learned in your journey of life.
Life “redos” take patience; that is a fruit of the Spirit most of us had rather not harvest. I could tell a difference in my work on the chairs from one to the other. The first chair was, and is still, kind of sad-looking. It could use a second redo, and maybe one day it will happen. But the good news is that I learned lessons as I worked. While working through the chairs, I realized that I needed a different kind of sander. I needed a Dremel, and about four chairs into the process, I remembered that we had one. I also concluded that if I had removed four screws from each chair that the process would have been a lot easier. Fifth lesson: We are all that way when it comes to our Christian walk. Sometimes God is saying, “I have given you all the tools you need. Why aren’t you using them?” In those moments, He is just asking us to take them up and start using them for Kingdom work. In the midst of this process, I also learned that sometimes something just has to go. Getting rid of, or removing things that interfere with the work is necessary or we will end up working twice as hard and still not have a satisfactory outcome.
(Lessons Learned was a collaborative effort by Ben and Sonya)
Have you ever spent time in prayer wondering about why you were created? A few years ago, I (Sonya) was inspired to do just that during a revival service. This is what I came up with:
I was created to inhale His Holy breath. I was created to leave my land and begin a journey to a new land full of hope and promise. I was created to serve the High Priest and learn His laws and decrees. I was created to trust in the light when life’s path is dark and all I can see is the pillar of fire. I was created to let His voice speak so all men can be drawn to Him. I was created to be brave and courageous — to seize the Promised Land to which He has brought me. I was created to have His law written on my heart. I was created to believe His prophecy. I was created to be redeemed by His blood. I was created to be a part of His work, to rebuild broken lives and wounded hearts. I was created to sing His praises. I was created to walk with Him through all seasons of life. I was created to seek His wisdom. I was created to seek after Him. I was created to allow Him to be the lover of my soul. I was created to seek His peace and to offer it to others. I was created to see Him in the fiery furnaces of life – to be willing to remain in the fire and be refined. I was created to see Him as an open door — my escape from sin. I was created to believe that He is faithful in all things at all times. I was created to join Him in the missionary call. I was created to embrace the Holy Spirit’s power. I was created to be cradled in His arms. I was created to walk in His promise of peace. I was created to respond to the call for revival.
I was created to soar when my journey causes me to be weak. I was created to worship Messiah. I was created for the fire from Heaven to change me. I was created to be seen by the Father’s eyes of mercy and grace. I was created to be bathed in love, to stand in the shadow of the cross, so that I could bend my knees before the throne of grace and forgiveness. I was created to have a servant’s heart. I was created to be a worker not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. I was created to trust the Master’s heart when I did not understand the movement of his hands. I was created to hear the Bridegroom say, “Come, my bride. It is time for the wedding feast.” I was created for everlasting praise and worship of my King. I was created for eternity.
Ben and Sonya Hayes
What do you mean, trust? You’ve heard it all before: trust jumps, trust falls, or “just trust me.” When my children were little, I (Ben) would tell them to jump and that I would catch them. They did it without question. As we get older, we go to team-building conferences that encourage us to trust our team members and fall into their arms. And then there is the one that we have all most likely heard: just trust me. I (Sonya) never learned to swim as a child and have not yet learned as an adult. I tried it once and discovered that it was not my instructor that I didn’t trust as much as it was a lack of trust in my own abilities.
In recent days, due to the terrible storms and wildfires that have ravaged our country, we have seen lots of people having to trust total strangers. These people have been clinging to trees, roof tops, and cars, yet in just a matter of a few moments they place their self in the trust of someone they did not know. As the fires approached their homes, people were forced to flee leaving their material possessions in the hands of firefighters. This past week, we watched as rescue workers dug through the rubble of earthquake-ravaged buildings in Mexico in their attempts to save a few survivors – all the while telling the victims of this natural disaster to “just trust me.”
In times of crisis, we often have no choice but to trust others. We are forced to wait and wonder if our trust will be rewarded with deliverance. But in our walk with Christ, we have a wonderful opportunity to trust Him not only in the difficult times of life but also in the every day circumstances we face. And there is a vast difference between the two. It is imperative that we learn to trust our Heavenly Father in the everyday moments. Read carefully Mark 9:17-24. A father came to Jesus on behalf of his demon-possessed son. He describes the situation that has plagued his son since childhood, and then he says, “…if you can do anything,….” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Jesus asked. ‘Anything is possible if a person believes.’” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
Can you relate? This is a prayer that I often find myself whispering from the depths of my heart during the everyday circumstances of life. And sometimes I even hear myself crying out these very words in the dark and difficult times. Throughout the gospels, there are times when the disciples were forced to trust in Jesus. Remember the storm in Mark 4? Our loving Savior was asleep in the boat, and the storm came up quickly. The hearts of these men were terrified, so they went to their sleeping Savior. Did they trust Him? Maybe. A little. They knew enough to awaken him, but they didn’t trust His heart completely. “Do you even care that we perish?” What a question! They did not yet realize the depth of the Savior’s love for them. They did not understand that He longed for a relationship with them that went beyond the moment.
When we are suffering, it is only human nature that we want to know the “whys” and the “hows” of what is happening to us. Like Job, we spend an endless amount of time trying to figure out what we have done wrong, asking ourselves, God, and anyone who will listen why we deserve such hardships. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I am certain that I never did grow in grace one half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.” In the midst of the pain, it’s hard to see the good. In the center of the storm, it’s easy to question God: Why did you let this happen? Where are you when I hurt? And once again, we cry out like the desperate father, “Oh! Help my unbelief!”
So, where is God when life hurts? Where is He when death is wrapping its cold fingers around the love of your life? Where is the Father when the child you have loved and sacrificed for runs wild? “Where is He?” we ask. Then, with a quiet whisper from the Holy Spirit, we find Him. Truthfully, we have known all along where God was because in His word we are reminded that he came to Earth and showed us His face. We have seen His heart touched by our grief, by the hunger that gnaws within us, and by the prodigal that is too often us. And since we serve a God that never changes, He is still moved today by all that hurts us; He suffers along with and beside us. God is where we are; He is waiting for us on the path to which pain has taken us. He is waiting and yet He is walking with us.
In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest . . . for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” When we move closer to the Father, maybe even crawl up onto His lap and lean into Him, we find the absolute promise of this verse fulfilled. Death may still come and the child may not return, but you will know without a doubt that in the midst of your hurt, the tears that flow are captured by God, and He will give you rest and peace.
Matt Redmon has a song titled Gracefully Broken. Listen to what it says:
Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
My heart stands in awe of Your name
Your mighty love stands strong to the end
You will fulfill Your purpose for me
You won’t forsake me, You will be with me
Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
When the hurt seems to never end, when the pain is excruciating, and when the night seems to go on forever, we are being Gracefully Broken for our good and His glory.
Ben and Sonya Hayes