Tag Archives: Jesus

Missionary Position

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boys fightingOnce upon a time, I was a new Christian determined to win the world for Jesus. I thought everyone should go to Heaven and I was the one to show them the way. I had ALL the answers to anything anyone could ever ask me about faith. Then, eight years ago, Papa John died and I didn’t have answers for MY questions, and when I finally had those pieces of life somewhat reorganized, Mama died and dumped my apple cart again. I went to a seriously dark place emotionally and mentally and almost gave up on everything.

A year later, I’m still recovering, but I’m a different person. I still believe Jesus is our savior, sacrifice, lord and the ONLY means of salvation and eternal life. (Wonder how many followers THAT lost me?) I still want to go to Heaven . . . especially if it means I’ll see Mama again. I’m still “on the firing line” as the old gospel song says, but . . . BUT, I understand a few things differently now. For instance, everyone doesn’t WANT to go to Heaven. Lots of people could care less about Heaven or Jesus too for that matter. I know there’s a difference between civil rights and religious teachings. I’m different and I’m scarred now, and because of that, I have a better missionary position than before.

I’ve developed my position around three critical ideas: a perceived interest, a perceived need, and/or an established relationship. First, I have a willingness to discuss the story of my faith in Christ and what He’s done for me with anyone who shows even the remotest interest. I believe all Christians should be willing and able to do the same because we are admonished to “always be ready to give a defense or reason for the hope we have in us.” I also think it’s important to pay attention to the person I’m talking to. If I see the reptilian haze begin to fuzz over their eyes or they seem to bristle at the name of Jesus, then it’s time to talk about the weather or football or — God forbid — politics.

Second, I’m willing to start a conversation about Christ and faith with anyone (even a stranger) who seems to be in a state of physical or emotional turmoil or pain. Some people might see that approach as intrusive or offensive, but I see such a conversation in the same light as a compassionate nurse or doctor checking on someone he saw take a tumble or having a little trouble breathing. I like to help people; I want everyone to go to Heaven, and I have the skill set for such a conversation. If they seem open, I go as far as inviting them to church one Saturday night or Sunday morning; if I sense pushback, fine – it’s a perfectly legitimate choice on their part and we’ll just leave it at that. It never hurts to care about people, though.Finally, I’ll initiate faith discussions – often intense ones – with non-believers I have an established relationship with. The key is ESTABLISHED. I’m not going to ask a person if he’s a Christian on our first meeting unless he brings it up. Football is much safer for a conversation starter. I’m talking about people I’ve known and interacted with over a lengthy period of time. It could be a friend, but I’ve also had these faith discussions with my regular waitress at restaurants I frequent. These are people who know a decent amount about me. Hopefully, they can tell I’m a Christian before I even bring it up; if they can’t, I’ve got a bigger problem because my life isn’t a reflection of Whom I serve.

Discussions like these, however, are YEARS forming and they are not without hazards – I’ve lost touch with a couple of people I considered good friends over tension between our beliefs, but such is the risk anyone who wants to point people towards God’s Kingdom must be willing to take. It doesn’t feel great and it certainly doesn’t make me some sort of martyr to lose a friend over my faith, but if you put yourself out there, it’s likely to happen at some point. In the end, all I can do is show the way; I can’t walk the path for them. My grandmother-in-law had a saying I think of often: “We must let people go to Hell in their own way.”

Now just as I have three key ideas I live by for sharing my faith, I also have three things I avoid. For one, I will NOT “debate” religion in a comments section of a website or in posts on Facebook. Text is a poor way to debate ideas because so much communication and meaning relies on non-verbal cues. It is extremely difficult to gauge someone’s state of mind or read his intent on a message board. I see online religious “discussions” as THE fastest way to obtain proof of Godwin’s Law, Poe’s Law, and – most profoundly – John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Theory, often all in a single comment or post. Remember, don’t feed the trolls.

The second thing I will not do is participate in any sort of mass “direct evangelism.” For those who didn’t grow up in the South, direct evangelism is going door to door in neighborhoods, trailer parks, and shopping malls to ask random people to sit down and discuss their salvation. This kind of missionary position is not the exclusive domain of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, but they’ve made it famous; however, I know of several “regular” churches where one night per week is “visitation night” or “outreach night.” I know this human faith wave has produced fruit, but I also know it’s created more bad press for Christians than good. No one wants to deal with telemarketers, even if the product is salvation, and knocking on the wrong doors these days is a quick way to meet Jesus in person via a 9 mm slug to the head.

My final taboo is “Christian merchandising.” My cars do not sport chrome fish or any other Christian device. I do not own a Christian t-shirt. I don’t carry a reference or study bible with me wherever I go. None of this is due to my shame at being a Christian; it’s the polar opposite. Before chrome fish, we didn’t have chrome fish with feet, chrome fish eating chrome fish with feet or vice versa, or chrome flying spaghetti monsters. Also, I know how I drive and ESPECIALLY how my Budge drives. I don’t want to embarrass Christ with our road rage. I can’t think of a worse witness for Jesus than cutting someone off with a huge chrome fish on your bumper THEN giving them the finger when they blow their horns at you.

So, that’s my take on sharing my faith. I want everyone to go to Heaven, but I’m not naïve enough to believe everyone will make it in. Hell, some days (LOTS of days) I have serious doubts about myself! Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

Giving Thanks in 2013

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thanksgiving-eventAnyone who reads GB&GSF regularly knows this holiday season is incredibly difficult for me. It’s hard to believe it’s our first Thanksgiving without Mama. Mama loved to cook and she loved to eat, but the last few years, she hadn’t been able to do either. Still, instead of dwelling on the pain, I’m going to get through the day by following the advice attributed to one of one of the wisest men I’ve ever read — Dr. Seuss — who said, “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” With that in mind, instead of spending the day in tears heartbroken because Mama is gone, I’m going to give thanks for the 42 Thanksgivings I was blessed to spend with her. I’m thankful for all the Thanksgiving dinners Mama cooked and when she got tired of cooking, I’m thankful for all the cooks and waitresses at Ryan’s Family Restaurant and Cracker Barrel for giving some of their holiday to wait on us and feed us.

I’m thankful for all the Thanksgiving suppers my Granny Wham made for us over the years she was with us. I’m thankful for all the times I listened to Papa Wham as he bowed his head to say the grace I still remember to this day, “Father please pardon us for all of our sins and we thank you for these and all our other many blessings in Christ’s name, amen.”

I’m thankful for my family and friends still with me. I’ve lost many of them over the years and I figure to lose many more before it’s my turn to journey across Jordan. In just a few hours, I’ll be thankful to sit down at a table FULL of food prepared by my loving “second wife” Laura and other members of her (and by adoption and extension, my) family. I’m thankful for Laura herself and her precious real husband, Cameron and my ersatz nephew Jacob.

I’m also thankful for my beloved Budge and the 17 Thanksgivings she has endured me and my sometimes stormy moods around the holidays. I could never have guessed a simple Hummer ride up a washboard mountain road would turn out to be the beginning of a much longer and sometimes stranger trip.

I’m thankful for all the men and women whose duties won’t allow them to spend a quiet day with their families — our soldiers, sailors, and airmen stationed here and across the world providing safety and security for our nation and many other nations across the globe. Also, I’m thankful for our doctors, nurses, and medical technicians who are staffing our hospitals ready to treat the various injuries and illnesses a day of overeating, overexertion, and — sometimes — overexposure to family can bring.

Finally, I’m thankful that one day I’ll get to rejoin Mama and my other loved ones around another table at a marriage supper and I’m thankful for the One who made that possible by His sacrifice that redeemed Mama, Granny, Papa, Budge, me, and so many millions more down the centuries. Our world was in a mess and without any hope, but Jesus came and by His sacrifice, set right everything Adam screwed up. I know not everyone who reads my blog believes Jesus even existed, much less lived and died to save a doomed humanity, but . . . well, He did and my life is living proof as anyone who knew me “back when” can attest to.

I’m also thankful for all of you who read my blog and who’ve encouraged me over the years. Remember I love all y’all and keep those feet clean as you “gobble til you wobble” today!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Easter Means Even More This Year

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12097112-jesus-resurrectionOne of the last things I told Mama before she lapsed into unconsciousness from which she would not awaken in this world was, “Mama, I’m not sure Heaven has special holidays, but if they do, I bet Easter is a huge one and you are going to be home in time for Easter, Mama.” At her funeral, I shared with everyone the hope of Easter and as Christians, Easter is our hope. Baby Jesus lying in a manger may be sentimental and precious to everyone, but the power and glory of the Gospel is not in Christmas, but in Easter.

Christmas doesn’t bother people all that much either. After all, thousands of people are born every second. The earth has over seven billion people on it and they were all born. Atheists and agnostics find it humorous that Christians believe a Child could be born of a virgin, but since they like to get gifts as well, Christmas gets a pass. Over time, it’s even become increasingly secularized.

Whereas a birth doesn’t cause much consternation, a death — now that’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one. People die in droves each moment; it’s not that hard to wrap a brain around. So Good Friday brings more good-natured ribbing from unbelievers who can’t fathom anyone willing to die as hideous a death as crucifixion in order to save the world from something as banal as “sin.” It doesn’t bother the scientific types that someone deluded enough to call Himself the Son of God died on a cross twenty centuries ago.

Easter doesn’t let anyone off the hook that easily. Now the unbelievers begin to rage and howl and use what Granny Wham would call “ugly language” if she were still with us. Easter takes that virgin born Child from Christmas who was killed on the Cross around 33 Good Fridays later and puts Him in a borrowed tomb THEN we Christians have the unmitigated gall to claim that three days later, that Good Friday Crucified, Virgin Born Christmas Child actually ROSE FROM THE DEAD.

I cannot and will not repeat the crudities I’ve seen written in comment threads all over the internet if someone made the audacious mistake of claiming Jesus was Resurrected and now lives and will return and reign. A favorite among lower class trolls is to refer to Him as “Zombie Jesus” and accompany the words with all sorts of offal remarks.

I try to stay calm and turn the other keyboard because I know something they won’t admit — Jesus did rise from the dead on that first Easter morning and I’m dead level certain of it because Christianity survived 2000 years for me to become a convert. Lies and mythmaking could possibly have kept a fake Messiah’s message going for a few years, maybe even some decades. Some false religions, as long as they are tolerant, can survive centuries.

But a religion that demands you base the safety of your immortal soul on the absolute fact a dead man rose from the dead? If that’s a lie, that movement is going to die off as soon as all the gullible people in Jerusalem who didn’t take the time to stop by an empty tomb die themselves. If Christianity is false, it is the greatest, most consistent, and most elaborately testified to hoax in history and from what I’ve seen of humanity, it is much easier for me to believe Jesus rose from the dead than to believe a bunch of humans, no matter how intelligent, could ever come up with something remotely resembling Christianity.

My Mama is dead to this world, but because He lives, so does she and because of that reality, I am not in the fetal position sobbing and thrashing about. I am looking forward to seeing her again one day . . . maybe soon.

Maranatha!

Love y’all!

Happy Birthday #60, Mama!

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Me and Mama when I was in 5th Grade.

Me and Mama when I was in 5th Grade.

Today has been my beloved Mama’s sixtieth birthday. She completed her sixth decade in spite of fighting a terrible battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD that saw her hospitalized for two weeks with two bouts that left her very near death’s door. More than once, I thought I was going to lose her.

Anyone who has known me more than an hour will know how much Mama means to me. She has been the one guiding star and constant throughout my life. Some people take being called a “mama’s boy” as an insult, but I’ve worn it as a badge of pride all my days.

One facet of our relationship that’s made our bond so strong is for many years at many times, we were all each other had. Mama and Daddy separated when I was five and finalized the divorce when I was eight. Today, people don’t think much about divorces but at that time (1977) in such a small town, I was the only one of my friends who entered kindergarten with divorced parents. Of course, by the time we graduated high school, several of my friends joined me on the Split Up Family Express, and I found out later I’d gone to school with other divorced kids, but I didn’t know any of them as friends so it wasn’t a great help to me.

The divorce was hard — way hard — on Mama. People didn’t know nearly as much about depression and its effects in those days as they do now. I have an early memory of sitting on her lap with her sobbing uncontrollably and I put my hands up to her face and said, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.” Today, 35 years later, when she has an anxiety attack and starts smothering, I still put my — now much bigger — hands around her face and say, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.”

What a lot of people don’t understand about Mama and me is how much I’ve felt her sacrifice throughout my life. In the picture of us on this page, I’m in 5th grade so Mama would’ve been about 28, which isn’t too old to start over by any scale and as you can plainly see, she was a beautiful woman. She had numerous suitors vying for her affection, but she always brought me out immediately in the conversation and any man who balked hit the bricks. She had more than one man of wealth who would have loved to marry her and make her life much simpler and easy, but she always put me before herself and my happiness before hers so she never took that risk. Security was one of the wonderful gifts Mama gave me.

Of all the things Mama gave me, though, the greatest was her faith. Mama gave her life to the Lord when I was barely three and it guides her still. I have a crystal clear memory of being six years old. It was summer. We were in the first trailer Daddy and Mama had bought and put on the homeplace in Gray Court where Mama still lives. I was playing in the floor in the living room putting together Lego blocks and I heard Mama crying in her bedroom down the hall. Like I always did when I heard Mama crying, I went to be beside her, but when I got to her bedroom door something made me stop. Mama was kneeling at the foot of the bed with her head resting on an open bible, sobbing. Through the tears, I could make out one sentence over and over, “I can’t raise him alone; You have to help me. He belongs to You, not me.”

Folks, I’ll be as honest as I know how. I’ve done a multitude of things I won’t mention. I’ve been a terrible person. I’ve been drunk, high, and stoned out of my mind. I’ve hurt people and been hurt myself, but no matter where I’ve been; what I’ve been through, or what I’ve done, I’ve never been able to get that scene out of my mind. More than anything else in this entire messed up life of mine, the reason I believe there is a God, a man called Jesus, and a place called Heaven is they’ve lived in my mother’s eyes since I was three years old.

One day, maybe sooner, maybe later, I’ll stand beside a pink casket over an empty grave next to Papa John’s in Cannon Memorial Gardens. I’ll read the 23 Psalm and the 31st Chapter of Proverbs before I say a prayer for Mama’s soul, and while I am completely certain my heart will be broken into shards t0o many and too fine to number, I’ll have the knowledge that I will see her again. Until then, however, I’ll cherish every moment with her.

I love her. She’s my Mama.

Love all of you, too! Keep those feet clean.

And So This Is Christmas

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A_Christmas_CarolI just finished watching my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. In this rendition, Captain Jean Luc Picard plays the part of Scrooge and brings such a weightiness and excellent acting to the part that I tape the version each year to watch on Christmas Eve. As I told a friend of mine while chatting on Facebook tonight, I believe Dickens’ novella is the greatest story of a man finding redemption to be had outside the pages of the Bible. He starts the movie a hard-hearted miserly old . . . well, SCROOGE, but four ghosts later, he is a changed man who knows the meaning of Christmas isn’t presents or even family. The true meaning of Christmas is redemption.

Scrooge can find redemption for the same reason we all can, because a little over two thousand years ago, God was born in the flesh to a teenage virgin girl huddled with her betrothed in a dank odoriferous cave converted into a makeshift stable behind a cheap motel in the backwater town of Bethlehem in the equally backwater region of Palestine. That girl then wrapped God — creator of the Universe — in clean, but frayed cloths and laid Him in a feed trough and probably sang Him to sleep. Royal robes to old rags; angelic choir to a mother’s lullaby. All so that He could undo the tremendous mess His most prized creation had gotten the world into. He came as a baby with one purpose in sight — to die on a cross and save the world. Everyone born WILL die; He was born TO die . . . and save us all.

Atheists, scientists, other religions’ leaders down the centuries have tried to disprove that teenage girl ever had a child named Jesus. They’ve tried through time to say He never existed, and when they failed in that, they tried to say He existed, but He wasn’t God. I think they’ve failed at that as well.

See, the name of the holiday (holiday = holy day) is Christmas. Literally, that means Mass of Christ. Now I’m not going into all the theological historical arguments about Christmas being a usurpation of the pagan Saturnalia and Jesus not being born in December. I know all of those arguments and if you insist on hashing them out, give me an email in the comments and we’ll talk. Now, back to the name. A mass is a celebration so Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. It’s right there in the name.

The name isn’t “Toymas.”

It’s not “Santamas”

It’s not “Treemas” or “Partymas” or “Frostymas.”

It’s not called “Shoppingmas” or “Retailmas” or “Giftmas.”

We don’t sing about “O Shopping Night” or “The First Black Friday.”

We don’t because no matter how much the rising tide of secularization tries to wash away anything Christian to do with Christmas, they haven’t thought to change the name. They’ve tried a time or two. Years ago it started with “Seasons’ Greetings” and today the most PC among us go with “Happy Holidays” (again:  holiday = holy day). Christmas is still on the calendar though. The name of the Federal holiday (holy day) is “Christmas” and not “Winter Holiday.”

The Roman Empire was one of the mightiest political entities ever. They tried to kill the holiday in the womb and stamp out Christianity, but they couldn’t get it done. Neither could Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, or Mao and they ALL had more power than any of our Presidents have ever possessed.

Every gift you run around buying? You are constantly reenacting a central part of the Christmas story — the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child. Every scrap of “holiday” music you listen to from Halloween to December 26th? Reenacting the angelic host announcing to the shepherds the birth of the Christ child. Wrapping all those gifts? Just like Mary wrapped our ultimate gift.

So try to stamp it out. Try to humbug it like Scrooge did, but at the end of it all, despite the best efforts of generation after generation of genuises, the message of Christmas is still Christ is Born. To quote the greatest showman wrestler of all time, Mr. Richard Fleer, aka Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair, “Whether you LIKE it, or DON’T LIKE it, sit down and LOOK at it, because it’s the best thing going today!”

Can I get a “whooooo?”

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and Merry Christmas.

 

Why I Still Believe: Reason 2

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Granny Wham on her last Christmas with us.

Granny Wham on her last Christmas with us.

Granny Wham started teaching Sunday School when she was 18 and only quit over 50 years later because a stroke left her too weak to stand long enough to deliver the weekly lesson. She started teaching Sunday School at Dials United Methodist Church down Highway 101 where she grew up, but the bulk of her teaching years were given to Beulah Baptist Church in Greenpond. By the time I was born, the Sunday School Committee honored her by naming a class after her. “The Martha Wham Bible Class” exists to this day unless it’s changed and no one told me.

Her teaching Sunday School, however, doesn’t force me to still believe the truth of Christianity even in my darkest times. Not her teaching, not the beautiful hymns she used to sing with the choir, not the way she taught me personally about what Jesus expected of me. None of that. What is burned in my mind and scribed on my heart from a childhood spent at her knee is her faith.

Granny Wham had the purest faith of any Christian — man or woman, adult or child, clergy or laity — I’ve ever known. She believed the Bible was the Word of God. It was black (and some red) words on white pages and gray didn’t enter the equation. Granny’s faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ was a rock solid, steel strong backbone for her whole life.

Granny didn’t develop her faith living some cupcake life on easy street. Of The Greatest Generation who came of age during the Great Depression, she worked in the house with her sister — my great-Aunt Mary — and in the fields with her two half-brothers, Uncle Gordon and Uncle Henry. When old enough, she worked in the sweatshop conditions of a textile mill for a time. Her childhood and youth weren’t easy, but her faith endured those hard early years.

Her faith endured watching those brothers go off to war, one to the Army and one to the shipyards. During that awful war she started exchanging letters with a nice young man from a nearby community. That nice (and handsome) young soldier eventually became Papa Wham and her faith and prayers helped bring him and all her loved ones home safely.

Her faith would not forsake her when Papa Wham came in to her hospital room late on a cold night in January 1948, gently took her by the hand and told her their precious infant child — a little girl she never got to hold — had passed away. I’ve lived to see the death of a child rip marriages to shreds and reduce the strongest faith to agnosticism, but it did not overcome Granny. She grieved, and in some very powerful ways, Aunt Judy’s death would mark Granny — and through her, all of us — for the rest of her life, but as the writer said of Job, “Through all this, [s]he never lost her integrity, nor blamed God foolishly.”

Granny’s faith endured some of worst trials through her other two children. Daddy especially was singled out for her unceasing prayers when he was sent to Vietnam for 13 months to fight. I’ve heard how drawn and pale and haggard Granny looked over those months of waiting, never knowing if the knock on the door would reveal an Army officer and a chaplain with the awful news so many mothers received in those terrible years. It wasn’t to be though, and Granny’s faith was rewarded with Daddy’s safe return.

The latter half of Granny’s life gave a multitude of trials. Mama and Daddy’s divorce was a crushing blow to Granny’s heart because is was bitter torture for her to see her family torn. Later, when my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s had to endure some growing pains in their early years, Granny prayed hard for them too. When Aunt Cathy was so very sick through two extremely difficult pregnancies, Granny stood by constantly to help and to pray. Of all Granny endured, however, one night nearly 20 years ago stands clearest testament to her trust in her Lord.

It was December 1995; Papa had passed away in July on the day after Granny suffered a stroke. For months she had battled to talk clearly and to walk unaided, but worst of all after 49 years — just 6 months shy of 50 — Granny was alone. This night, we’d eaten at Daddy and Teresa’s. I was on the couch with Budge and Granny watching The Trip to Bountiful which reminded me so much of what Granny had endured I was teary-eyed before the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” began to play.

I thought Granny might have dozed off until I heard a voice — not the strong alto that sang to me, read to me, and prayed for me all of my childhood and beyond — a thin voice, a tremulous voice, but for all that, a perfectly clear voice singing softly, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation; purchase of God. Born of His spirit; washing in His blood. This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long.” Laid low by a stroke, no longer independent, and bereft of the love of her life, Granny Wham still sang her praises to the One who had never forsaken her, Blessed Assurance truly was her story and her song.

Granny is gone  now. I wish she’d been peacefully at the home she and Papa built together, but in her last years, she required more care than we could give her. She was never happy in the nursing home, but her love of us kept her here until she missed Papa more than she needed to stay and “look after us.” So, with Aunt Cathy gently holding her hand she slipped away to join the loves of her life — Papa Wham and Jesus Christ, and that is why she is a powerful reason I still believe.

PurchasePurchasing – Purchasing refers to a business or organization attempting for acquiring goods or services to accomplish the goals of the enterprise.

Why I Still Believe: Reason 1

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You have to draw your own conclusions, but let me know when you do.

In my previous post, I mentioned my spiritual crisis the last six years and how it brought me to the brink of atheism. I also promised to give reasons why, plagued by questions and doubts, I still believe in God. The first reason is I witnessed a bona fide, verifiable miracle.

In early 1998, a new couple — Brother and Sister Baldwin — came to Abundant Life Church of God where Budge and I attended.  Brother Baldwin had been a pastor for years, serving eight churches across the southeast. He and Sister Baldwin had retired to a house Brother Baldwin built himself in Greer. They had not planned on retiring because Brother Baldwin was only 65 and Sister Baldwin two years younger, not especially old in a denomination where pastors and evangelists routinely minister well into their 80s and the occasional nonagenarian will deliver a message of a Sunday. Unfortunately, the Baldwins had no choice. Sister Baldwin had a virulent strain of lymphoma. Doctors had tried chemotherapy and radiation both but neither had proven effective. Surgery was out because the cancer had spread throughout her body before it was discovered. Sister Baldwin had come home to die.

I dearly loved the Baldwins. Brother Baldwin was “intellectual” which isn’t a common trait in Pentecostal or Charismatic circles. To this day, he is the only person who would sit with me and answer my theological questions until I got tired of talking and that is truly saying a great deal. Sister Baldwin was precious. She had obviously been a great beauty in her day and her eyes still sparkled out of a face gone drawn and pale under the ravages of chemotherapy. She wore a beautiful headscarf to church  to cover the few wisps of snow white hair her fight  had left her.

I watched Sister Baldwin grow weaker and weaker, but her spirit never faltered. Brother Baldwin had the resigned look of a man who was watching the light of his life go out before his eyes, but neither ever complained or railed against the God they had so faithfully served for 40 years. Sister Baldwin was getting worse, however, and the oncologist at Greenville Memorial Hospital told her she likely had less than a year to live. He took several x-rays showing the ravaging path the disease was taking through her body. Keep those x-rays in mind. They are extremely important in a minute.

An ancient tradition of the Churches of God during the week of July 4th is the annual Campmeeting at the state campground in Mauldin. People from all over South Carolina converged on Mauldin for six days of preaching, teaching, and wonderful Southern Gospel Music. Sister Baldwin wanted more than anything to attend the 1998 Campmeeting as she knew it would be her last. Even though she was weak, Brother Baldwin brought her, and the ushering team — of which I was a member in those days — would find her a seat where she could see the stage from her wheelchair.

Friday night, a quartet from down in the lower part of the state was singing “Jesus on the Mainline” as the band was playing about 90 miles per hour. The State Tabernacle was electric and in the middle of all the excitement I saw Sister Jeannette Vance making her way towards Sister Baldwin. I know it was Sister Vance because it’s impossible to miss Sister Vance in any crowd as she’s the very definition of “statuesque” at 6’3″ tall.

She knelt by Sister Baldwin (and still towered over her) and laid her hands on Sister Baldwin’s shoulders and began to pray earnestly. Several other pastors’ wives from around the tabernacle came and formed a circle around Sister Vance and Sister Baldwin. When Budge and I left around 11:00 Pm that night, Sister Vance was still praying and the circle of ladies was still around them holding hands and praying as well. I will say right here I didn’t see anything “supernatural” occur. No sparks. No one “falling out” like some Benny Hinn nonsense. Just one precious Christian lady asking God to spare the life of another precious Christian lady.

Sunday morning, Sister Baldwin came to church, stood up and told us all gathered there she no longer had cancer. God had healed her. I said this was verifiable and provable. It is. The next week, Brother and Sister Baldwin went to the oncologist and told HIM God healed her and they wanted x-rays. He obliged with a very cynical smile according to Brother Baldwin. The man wasn’t cynical when he came back though. In one hand was the x-ray from January all covered with cancerous shadows; in the other was the x-ray he had just processed. Behind him was a radiologist and the two of them were steadily talking and shaking heads. The oncologist stuck the x-rays on the light box and it was obvious one was full of cancer. The other, however, was crystal clear. Not a single spot of cancer anywhere to be found and not one but TWO board certified specialists, both of whom admitted they were agnostic and did not believe in miracles, verified the fact. Sister Baldwin brought the x-rays with her to church the next Sunday and I put them on the projector in front of 300 people.

Sister Baldwin, sadly, has left us, but not in 1998 of cancer. It wasn’t 1999 for that matter. Sister Baldwin passed away April 23,2012. She wasn’t 63; she was 77. For those keeping up, that’s 14 years after she was supposed to die. Now you might convince me nothing happened but explain to me how you’re going to convince those two x-rays?

So that’s the first reason I’m still hanging on to my faith.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and check back for more reasons why.

 

They’re K5, Dude; Chill Out

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The indefatigable Sea Lions returned to the win column today after a rain out last week. What made this morning’s victory especially enjoyable was our competition. For the first time all year, Coach Thomas and I finally got to play a team whose coach shares the same philosophy about Upward Soccer as we do — we’re all here to have a good time, learn a little about soccer, and enjoy some sunshine.

I wish he could get such admirable sentiments across to the rest of the coaches in the league.

I am not the smartest and certainly not the wisest of men, but I am somewhat observational and one thing I have seen at every level of sports I have ever participated in as a player, coach, or spectator is take-it-to-the-bank guaranteed — any team is a DIRECT reflection of its coaching staff, be it a staff of one or twelve. Simply put, if the coach is a jerk, most of the team will be jerks too, with the opposite being thankfully true as well.

Take our first game for instance. We were way overmatched. The opposing team had athletes, not players. Sometimes, that happens in randomly assigned teams, but what doesn’t happen is a team of K5 and 1st graders who were out for blood and victory. This bunch didn’t try anything but scoring. Each of their seven players was an athletic prodigy. I won’t be at all surprised to see any of the seven playing some sport at the pro level in ten to fifteen years. What was obvious to me by the first water break was this group’s mentality was to stomp us flat on Saturday . . . they could learn about Jesus tomorrow. Their coach was on the field (allowed and encouraged in Upward sports) berating any player who happened to lose possession of the ball to one of our little ones. We lost by a lot but there’s only one problem with that

KEEPING OPEN SCORE IS A VIOLATION OF THE SPIRIT OF UPWARD LEAGUES.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of these people who thinks everyone needs a trophy and life isn’t about winners and losers. I believe we need leagues where the goal IS winning so kids whom that matters to have a place to go. Upwards, however, isn’t that place. Here, everybody — by rule — gets equal playing time, everybody gets stickers after the game, and — most of all — everybody has a devotion at practice and at halftime of all the games. These leagues are supposed to foster what their name implies UPWARD focus. The games are supposed to be all about instruction in the sport and learning about Jesus.

Not many of the coaches seem to have gotten that memo even though Ms. Becky stressed the point many times at the organizational meeting before we even got our teams. Besides, I believe if your self-esteem and worth as a man depends AT ALL on the score of a 36 minute soccer game between children just barely old enough to stay up til dark during the week, you have issues they make several nice pills for.

Take our last game two weeks ago. The coach of the other team was INSANE. I’ve never been so happy to win a game. He was a Rule Nazi who didn’t know the rules. For example, he called Coach Thomas’ daughter for being offsides and took the ball away from her.  If this maniac had read his rulebook, he would know this league DOESN’T HAVE OFFSIDES!! We only play 4 on 4 at a time and the fields are the size of a big living room. Goalkeeping isn’t even allowed so how in the world can someone be offsides? Lauren was crushed — and crushed needlessly. Thankfully, Thomas is a much better man than I or the league would be short one coach.

This week was nice though. The opposite coach was a big bear of a guy recently moved down from Pennsylvania. I knew he was different immediately because of two important missing pieces of his equipment. First, he didn’t wear sunglasses and second, he didn’t have on a visor like the Second Coming of Steve Spurrier. He smiled constantly. His team lacked a few players at the very start (pretty common actually) but he insisted we play our 4 on his 3. Thankfully a fourth player showed up for him just at kickoff and his whole team was there by halftime.

He was great. He helped OUR players just as much as his team. When his team scored he cheered and high-fived everyone BUT when OUR team scored a goal he ALSO high-fived and cheered them as well. Our kids noticed the difference as well, which is something EVERYONE needs to remember. Kids are the greatest judge of character in the world. They can spot a phony or a faker in a skinny minute and they WILL call you out. Any time you see players our kids’ ages hugging their coach, you know he must be doing something right. When it was time for the halftime “Sunday School lesson” he sat with his team and constantly tapped and patted to keep them quiet and attentive to the speaker. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep SEVEN itty bitties still and quiet for a seven minute lesson? He did it though.

So if you lead children, remember — they are children, not little adults. Let them have fun and go easy on the pressure and nit-picking. The “real world” will be slapping them in the face soon enough so allow them some joy while they can enjoy it!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean . . . and warm! Fall is here!

Easter 2012

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He said to them, "I am the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes on Me, even if he dies, he shall live."

This is one of my posts that my atheist friends would probably just as soon skip. Having issued that caveat, Happy Easter everyone! I realize most of you are probably reading this after an Easter lunch that may or may not have included a follow-up Easter Egg Hunt because Easter Sunday means one thing all over — you are going to church!

Easter draws us to church like the Moon draws the oceans to make the tides. It’s the one Sunday of the year when anyone who has ever professed some sort of attachment to Christianity at some point in their lives knows that this Sunday he cannot get up and play golf (unless he is in the final round of The Masters) and she cannot lay in late to get extra beauty sleep.

Easter is the Sunday of beautiful new dresses, patent leather shoes, and really big, ornate hats. It is the Sunday of shirts with collars too tight and suits smelling of mothballs. Easter is the one Sunday out of the year when pastors, priests, and parishioners alike know and have known for years what the sermon or homily will be this morning. Some will sit in the pew or upon the folding chairs and wonder to themselves as they do each year, “Is any of what this person is saying real?”

My answer to that question is simple; “If — somewhere deep within you — you don’t believe any of this, then why are you here on this beautiful spring morning and not at the lake?” Christmas may have been overwhelmed by the culture to the point that only the most devout hold on to its true meaning, but not Easter. All the cute little bunnies and brightly colored eggs in the world can’t erase the real meaning of this day. People like Richard “The God Delusion” Dawkins may mock it, David Letterman may laugh at it, and many in the pews may question it, but EVERYONE knows that behind Easter is one simple, incomprehensible fact . . .

Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

For over 2000 years, skeptics have tried to tear down the Resurrection. They have advanced theory after theory about how Jesus didn’t really die on the cross or Jesus didn’t really exist at all or the Apostle Paul made the whole thing up. So far, they haven’t done a very good job because the Resurrection continues to resurrect lost lives.

I will be plainly honest with everyone. For the last several years, I’ve been plagued by doubts about nearly every aspect of my own personal faith. I’ve tossed out all my beliefs and rebuilt them. I’ve teetered on the edge of the chasm of atheism myself all because of several personal struggles that I’ve endured in recent years. Many times I’ve wondered if there’s really anything to any of it. Every time though, when my belief has reached its lowest ebb and my faith is in tatters and I wonder who really is right, one thing and only one thing burns in my mind as the one “doubt” that keeps me going. What is it?

Where’s the body?

Romans and Jews in the ancient world and a slew of modern cults and scientists have EVERYTHING to gain if Jesus really stayed dead. Think about it, Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire. You thought the barbarians did that, didn’t you? Well, guess what? The barbarians that sacked Rome were Christians. They were Arianist and had a few things off in their Christology, but they were Christians.

Where’s the body?

When the disciples started running around screaming about “He is risen, etc, etc”, Pilate and Caiaphas could have simply gone to the tomb with their escorts of guards, opened the tomb, put Jesus’ still dead body on a cart and wheeled it through the streets of Jerusalem. It would have been game, set, and match for this infant religion. When Peter caused such an uproar with his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the authorities just had to go to the tomb and drag out the body. You put Jesus’ body on display in or around 33 AD and the last 2000 years look a whole lot different.

But they’ve never been able to do it.

People have asked me before how someone so intelligent as I supposedly am in so many other facets of knowledge can be so terribly  backward and ignorant about “Zombie Jesus?” I always say the same thing, “Habeas Corpus” which is Latin for “bring forth the body.” I don’t have the certainty I had as a child about how God works. I’m not clear on a lot of theological issues anymore. Still, at the end of the day, there’s the Resurrection and that means there is hope.

Hope that all the suffering that’s gone on down here isn’t for nothing. Hope that I’ll get to see my Papas and Grannies again. Hope that putting Mama in the grave won’t be the end of it all. Hope for something I’ve always felt around the edges but never have been able to put my finger on.

I’ve been called a fool for believing in Zombie Jesus, but considering all the foolish things I’ve done in my life, that’s the least of my worries. 2000 years ago, a bunch of scared women ran into a gathering of scared men and said angels had told them Jesus was risen. A little while later, The Man Himself appeared to them all and said, more or less, “I told you I would only be gone a little while.”

In the 20 centuries since then, a lot of people have given up a lot of things, including their own lives just to hold on to that hope. If it was good enough for all of them, I see no reason to let go of all my hope now. When all else is a big ball of confusion, the Empty Tomb still echos with the words, “He is not here; He is risen, just as He said.”

That’s good enough for me.

Love y’all and have a blessed Easter.

 

Habeas Corpus

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Today is Easter Sunday.

Today, Christians the world over celebrate the most important event in the history of the world — Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead. The Resurrection is not only the most important event in history, but also the most ridiculed event in history as well. To adherents of other religions, including atheism and its current priestly triumvirate of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, the idea that a man can — and did — rise from the dead is mythology akin to Prometheus being bound in the Caucasus Mountains or Odin and his offspring riding down the Rainbow Bridge from Asgard to fight Ragnarok.

From time to time I have wrestled with doubts over the veracity of the Resurrection accounts, but one compelling and unanswerable detail has nailed me to my faith in Christ as surely as He was nailed to a Roman cross. If Jesus of Nazareth did not raise from the dead, where is His body?

The founders of other religions of the world are accounted for. Gautama the Buddha was cremated and containers of his ashes given as relics to shrines. Confucius is interred in Qufu, China, his hometown. The Mohammad lies beneath  the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina.

But wither the Carpenter of Nazareth? Where are the remains of He whom Pilate, a Roman provincial governor not prone to flights of superstition, named “REX IVDAEORVM” ? Where is the body of The Christ, the Holy One of God?

First, Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who died on a real cross at a real point in time in the very real and verifiable Roman province of Judea in or about 33 AD. Forget about “the search for Jesus” or “the historical Jesus”. We have the Gospels and they say He lived. We have Josephus and Philo and they say He lived. Still people want to dispute Jesus’ existence. To them I say, was Julius Caesar real? Prove it. Less contemporary material exists mentioning the would-be Roman emperor than mentions Christ by a magnitude of ten yet no one doubts Caesar’s life and deeds. Why must Christ’s life be called a myth? If we are going to play these reindeer games, let’s all play by the same rules for all historical persons.

So, where is His body?

The Resurrection DESTROYED the Roman Empire. It made Jews, sadly, a cast out and hunted people. Logic dictates that if either the Romans or the Jews had knowledge or possession of Jesus’ body, as soon as Christians like Peter started preaching in the streets, these men would have gone to a tomb, carted out Jesus’ body, unwrapped it and said, “Here is your ‘Savior'”.

Christianity would have come to a swift end.

But it didn’t.

Through reading I have settled on two unassailable facets of Roman life. First, the Romans were excellent record keepers. Second, the Romans were excellent killers. The Romans in Palestine who crucified Jesus didn’t “misplace” the body and they didn’t take Jesus down “alive” from the cross so that He “got better” then showed up later on. I don’t have the time or space to shoot those two arguments against the Resurrection as full of holes as they deserve to be, but luckily others have done that yeoman’s work in my place. My suggestion is to start with the thin book by Josh McDowell titled More than a Carpenter if you want to start exploring the arguments over the centuries around Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I must warn you, though, before you undertake such a journey. Many extremely passionate and intelligent men have set out to debunk Christianity’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead. None have succeeded and many have become believers and followers of Christ in the process.

Will you?

Love y’all and Happy Easter.

Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is Risen, just as He said He would.