Look around you today: you can complain about what needs to be changed or you can get busy. Two days ago walking with Sharon on the road in front of our house, I complained about all the trash on the shoulders of the road. Four miles from our house is one of our county’s recycling centers and it is where locals haul their trash. Obviously, from my assessment not all of it makes it to its proper destination. I said something like if I didn’t have to walk the dogs I could pick up some of the trash. My wife simply said: why can’t you do both? Her sermons are shorter than mine and this one like most of hers motivated me to action. For the past two days equipped with a plastic bag, leather gloves, and my bright yellow walking shirt so as not to be confused with others who are occasionally assigned such chores by the court I have been out on the road just after sun-rise to combine exercise with making our roadways look better. In two days I have learned I am walking less for now but bending, stooping, and stretching more. My collection confirms that as Americans we eat too much fast food, super size drinks included. I have found the location where homework and some school papers come to hide. Apparently, in the early morning, people rely on coffee and an occasional Mountain Dew to pick them up. My recent find of a Jose Cuervo Tequila Gold bottle has me more concerned. God gave us as humans a divine assignment to be earthly caretakers of the earth. I had a choice to make: complain about the trash or pick up the trash.
Our first grandchild was born June 21 in Starkville, Mississippi.
R.J. (Robert Jonathan) weighed in at 6 pounds and 14 ounces and is 19.5 inches long. It was a very blessed moment for Sharon and I to be present for his welcome to this world. Holding our newborn grand child ( I like the sound of that word) I am reminded of the miracle of birth and how great is our God in giving us the wonderful gift of our children and grandchildren.
The songwriter expresses it well: How sweet to hold a newborn baby and feel the pride and joy He gives; but greater still the calm assurance, this child can face uncertain days because He lives.
In the coming weeks, I am looking forward to spending some quality time with this newest member of our family. We hope to introduce him to our Haddock church family sometime in August.
Like many children I grew up singing the familiar tune: “Red, and yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” But while that was music in our ears the melody didn’t always match the behavior of those who sang those songs. In fact, in our nation, we still have work to do before we can see people like Jesus does.
Perhaps that is why in part, it is always a special experience when our congregation hosts the Haddock Thanksgiving Community Worship service on the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving where we welcome all the churches of our area to our church sanctuary. This service is one which our congregation looks forward to each year and it is one in which people often comment that they feel and sense the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes- I know that we have different styles of worship and no doubt our tastes in music and preaching may vary- but the common bond that draws us together is that we desire to worship God together in spirit and in truth. Thanks be to God for this dynamic worship experience.
This year marks the tenth year that Haddock Baptist Church has participated in Operation Christmas Child sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse Ministry. This ministry sends gift-wrapped shoe boxes filled with small gifts packed by individuals and churches like ours to children around the globe. These shoe boxes packed with love are a wonderful reminder of how a small gift can make a tremendous difference in the life of another person.
It was a special blessing to watch children bring boxes to the altar this past week. The scene reminds me that God desires for us to give him what we have. In the Gospel story of John 6, no one except Jesus believed a small boy’s lunch could feed a multitude. The story reminds us that no gift is insignificant when placed in the hands of Jesus.
The school bells rang again on Sunday afternoon, November 6, 2011 as alumni from the Haddock School gathered on the grounds of our church for their first ever class reunion. On property now owned by our church, the original Haddock Academy was constructed in 1907 and opened its doors the following year for students in grades 1-12. In 1934 Jones County received federal funds to remodel and expand the existing building into a premier primary school and model junior high school. Beginning in 1948 the Haddock School provided education for elementary students of our area until 1967 in its final year when it housed middle school students in sixth and seventh grades. When the school closed, Cherokee Products, Inc. purchased the school property and would later donate the property to the Haddock Baptist Church in 1976. The church transformed the old school building into a sanctuary and the completed building was celebrated on Homecoming and Dedication Day on October 29, 1978. After our current sanctuary was completed in May 2005 the former church sanctuary/school building was renovated for space for our youth center.
It was great to welcome back the former Haddock students along with their friends and family this past week. Our church appreciates all the members who were involved in working to make the old building look its best for this special day. Thanks also to the alumni and the work of the Jones County History and Heritage Committee for the gift of the historical marker. Most of all, thanks be to God whose loving and gentle hands have been present on this sacred site to teach and shape young minds past, present, and future.
I went into the local bank in Haddock to close our account this morning. No, I am not moving away but the bank will close its doors in just a few weeks after being in business for over 100 years. It marks the end of an era. Without question, the folks who will miss it the most are the elderly who made going to the bank and post office a part of their weekly ritual. The first time I went into the bank with my wife to open the account they were rather suspicious of these strangers coming in to open a new account. However, once we identified ourselves we were welcomed with open arms and the explanation, “the last time strangers came in the bank they robbed us.” Now, some would suggest the only robbery taking place is being done by the Texas bank that purchased the oldest bank in the county a few years ago and now has decided it serves their purpose no more. Thus, current and future residents will be robbed of this central ingredient of small town living.
I will miss the little bank. No, I told a new staff member once, they don’t have an ATM machine but I don’t need an ATM machine. I just go to the bank during their hours and ask for money without even having to show my ID. Nor did I have a debit card until the big bank entered town. But I have been known to go into the bank to make a deposit without the requisite deposit slip and begin to apologize and one of the tellers would quickly begin to call out my account number so she could help me finish my banking transaction. They knew my account number even when I did not- I’d like to see a TV commercial about that! The first time I went into the bank years ago to make a loan to buy a vehicle, I asked the bank president what paperwork I would need to complete in order to get a loan. He looked at me with a quizzical look and said go get the car and come in and sign the papers- no application papers are necessary.
Thinking about the bank leaving town is not really a surprise as most customers saw it coming. What are other changes coming for small towns and communities like Haddock? It is a phenomenon of our society- Walmart comes to town and smaller stores disappear. We call it progress. As I reflect on what this all means for the Church I realize that in many places, especially urban centers smaller neighborhood churches have succumbed to the mega-churches that are larger than the shopping malls of my youth. I’m sure these churches have terrific ministries and have a vital purpose in the Kingdom. But I like a church where the pastor and staff know my name. I like to enter the doors and recognize familiar faces and I feel especially loved when a kindergarten child runs to embrace me because I am their friend. It is a special environment to be in a deacon’s meeting where kinfolks, neighbors, and friends discuss what’s best for the future of our church. There’s something special about multiple generations sitting on the same pew and strangers becoming like family because of the connection we have in Christ. By the way, I have it on good authority the Church of Jesus Christ will not be closing, it’s guaranteed to remain open in the Good Book.
This is the time of the year when many people are preparing their gardens for planting. My experience as a farmer is limited, but I have had some experience growing a successful garden that flourished. Over 25 years ago and shortly after moving to Kentucky, we had a good-sized garden. I was attending school full-time almost two hours from home each way, serving as pastor, and we had two preschool children under age 3. We canned and ate a lot of homegrown vegetables and I had church members weekly telling me when to weed, water, or harvest.
I also know a bit about planting gardens that were essentially much less productive. I have had my share of springtimes since that one when my efforts failed miserably.
Perhaps there are many secrets to successful gardening- one essential ingredient is good soil and the right location, especially the right amount of sun. If you want a good garden most people will use some sort of supplement to the soil: compost, nutrients or fertilizer to create the right mixture which will allow growth to come.
One of the things we forget about at times as Christians is we are to be growing as disciples. It’s not automatic- weeds are automatic! I can plow ground- fertilize the area- but I’m unlikely to get butterbeans or tomatoes, unless I sow the seed or plant the plant and care and nurture it by weeding, watering, etc.
During this time of Lent- (spring) I will be talking about spiritual disciplines on Wednesday evenings during prayer meeting time. Think of them as fertilizer for your soul. One does not plant tomatoes tomorrow and harvest them next week to eat on a sandwich. Spiritual disciplines are about sustained habits and behaviors that bring about wonderful and rich results in time. Join me in a time of reviewing the classic book by Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.
Mention New York City to most people and you usually get one of two responses. A negative response is common since these persons envision thoughts of crime or imagine the great crowds of people that one routinely expects to encounter in such a large urban center. On the other hand, many respond quite positively. They see the beauty of the location, the plethora of activities from Broadway shows to landmark sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, or Times Square. Is your reaction positive or negative when you hear the words: “New York City?”
Twelve spies were commissioned in the Old Testament to investigate the Promised Land and bring back a report to the people of what they saw. The majority of the spies reported the land was full of giants. They saw the negative in 3D. Their overwhelming recommendation was to change course and find an easier way. The minority report, largely overlooked, was silenced by the voices of the majority. Those in the minority did not deny the risks and dangers but in the midst of looking the land over they called it a place “ flowing with milk and honey.”
A few weeks ago I traveled to New York City with seven Baptist leaders on a guided missions tour. We stayed on the 4th floor of Metro Baptist Church in Hell’s Kitchen located at 410 W. 40th across the street from the Port Authority of New York City and next to the Lincoln Tunnel. A dorm-like setting has been provided to house mission groups who come to work in the area.
We saw dedicated church leaders who were called by God to this city and ministry. They are investing their lives in trying to make a significant impact for Christ on a daily basis. Metro Baptist Church and its ministry center, Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries are making a difference to the residents of this area 24/7. The congregation led by pastors Alan Sherouse and Tiffany Triplett Henkel are engaged in ministries which include: worship, a food pantry, teen center, HIV support group, ESOL classes, summer camps, and more. A Head Start program uses one floor of the aging building originally the home of a Polish Catholic Church until the mid 1980’s when the Metro Baptist Church began.
Our group also spent a day with Pastor Kenneth Bogan who serves as pastor of the Greater Restoration Baptist Church in Brooklyn in the Crown Heights community. This is a diverse community with Hasidic Jews, Caribbean, and African American cultures seeking to live in close proximity geographically though culturally they are often divided and separated. Pastor Bogan works with many community-based ministries seeking to end gun violence and bring harmony where it is easier to see differences rather than similarities. One recent local project has brought Jewish and African American teenagers together to write a cookbook celebrating their cultural diversity by highlighting the cuisine of their respective cultures.
One afternoon we went up on the roof of the Metro Baptist Church with Pastor Sherouse to see the beautiful New York skyline. Here he shared one of the dreams for the future as he spoke about the possibilities of constructing a rooftop garden here in the middle of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. This garden in the midst of a bustling city would not only provide needed produce to area residents but it would be a symbol of a land brimming with milk and honey.
Many foreign visitors have entered the shores of the New York harbor looking for their Promised Land. As tourists and ministers from the deep South, we approached the city primarily searching for ways to connect our local churches with future mission possibilities. Certainly like in our own neighborhoods, there are giants that abound. There may be obstacles that first appear to be overwhelming until we remember that the God we serve delights in taking down giants.
I believe New York City is a land of “milk and honey”, a land ripe with opportunities to serve the Lord from working in VBS, children’s clubs, building repairs, providing holiday meals or school supplies, or bringing toys or winter clothing. Working alongside the partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship we can be the hands and feet of Christ to those who live in this great Promised Land.
Saturday, the day before Father’s Day, my family surprised me by taking me on a kayaking/canoe trip on the Ocmulgee River out of Macon. I had made a random comment to Sharon a few weeks ago after hearing a church member was going on a several day excursion to canoe the rivers of Georgia. I said I’d like to try kayaking sometime. My wife listens to me better than I listen to her obviously. No surprise there, right?
It was an extremely warm June afternoon but we had a great time. Kimberly, our youngest daughter, and Rob, her husband were able to join our expedition. The current was just right and in just a little over 2 hours we covered the four miles or so in the wonderfully cool waters of the Ocmulgee. I hope it will not be our last trip- it was very relaxing and quite fun for a man who has reached the age where adventure is usually defined as a “new” restaurant.
Sunday morning, less than 12 hours after this trip, I awoke with the following epiphany. We were handed an oar as we entered the water and given instructions briefly about how to turn and maneuver the kayak and canoe. Or the guides said we could just let the current carry us downstream.
When folks become a part of the church, they can use their “oar” to steer the vessel in the direction they desire to go. This is a good thing if everyone is rowing together but if there is not some harmony about where you desire to go it can cause a mishap or worse. And some folks are just content to come aboard the ship called the church as if it were a cruise ship. They expect others to get them to their destination but they surely don’t expect to have to expend any effort or energy to get there.
In Section 211 of Ted Turner Field yesterday afternoon, I witnessed along with six pastor friends of mine, and some 21,000 other fans the best baseball game I have ever seen. It was a beautiful spring day for baseball with temperatures in the mid-80’s. Our seats were in the shade about 50 rows or so behind the Braves dugout. The game did not begin well for the home town team as the visiting Reds went up on the Braves 8-0 after just two innings. As the game went along we enjoyed the atmosphere to talk and catch up with one another as we had all taken the day off. Meanwhile, the game was moving along but it did not look very promising as the bottom of the ninth inning began with the Braves behind 9-3. Then the seemingly impossible happened. The Braves scored several runs and the Reds made several errors allowing the Braves to load the bases and close the gap to 9-6 with yet another Reds pitcher sent in to try and close out the game. Then pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad came to the plate and hit an opposite-field ball high and deep to the left field wall. At first, it appeared to us from the distance and to Conrad the ball had been caught, but in just a moment we all came to the same realization. Conrad had hit his first walk-off grand slam of his major league career and the Braves had won an improbable game that few would have thought they had a chance to win. We joined the crowd in high-fiving, shouting, and yelling with everyone in the stadium along with the players on the field who seemed equally shocked and surprised.
I have thought about that game now for 24 hours- and one thing stands out in my mind as I relate that scene to the church today. It seems we keep score in a similar way: attendance, budget, baptisms and the like. Members and ministers alike can have highs and lows based on watching the scoreboard. Morale can suffer in the church when we get behind on the budget or a church family leaves or attendance is off. Maybe we need to just play the game. And let God keep the score. After all we are on the winning team!