A Season for the Ages – the 2019 Briarwood Lions Football team

26 Jan

It is only now that I am able to write about the experience that was the 2019 football season at Briarwood Christian School. Unless you had a son on the team or you were involved coaching or otherwise, you really can’t understand how special it was. It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s worth trying.

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THE BRIARWOOD WAY

In order to understand the 2019 season, you have to understand the 26 seasons that came before it: 26 straight seasons of making the playoffs, 3 state championships, 6 appearances in the state championship game, and 12 appearances in the semi-finals. THAT is tradition.  Football coaches have told me Briarwood teams are known for two things:  being extremely well coached and disciplined while playing extremely hard no matter the score. It’s the Briarwood Way.

In December 2018,  Coach Fred Yancey, the man who coached all 26 of those teams and the man who more than any other helped create the Briarwood Way, announced his retirement.  Coach Yancey is by any measure a hall of fame coach, but he is also a hall of fame man. His retirement was big news.  After searching for a few weeks, the school announced that Coach Matthew Forester, a former Briarwood player and present defensive coordinator, would become the head coach.  Known as one of the great defensive coaches in the state and popular with the players, Coach Forester stepped into the role of head coach on December 26, 2018.

As a result of the coaching transition, 2019 began with much more uncertainty than normal for Briarwood.  There was a new head coach for the first time since George H.W. Bush was in the White House.  The new head coach in his first head coaching job.  The team hit hard in key places by graduation with no clear replacements.  As one Briarwood parent said to me in the spring: “It’s going to be interesting!”  We both chuckled when he made that statement – having no idea how prophetic it would be.

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DISASTER

To say the 2019 season did not start out as planned would be an understatement. A harbinger of things to come happened in the opening moments of the first day of practice in pads:  a starting receiver went down with a season ending knee injury in a non-contact drill.  Other injuries mounted.  The clock was ticking toward the season opener against big-time rival the Chelsea Hornets and apprehension was in the air. Still, there was the Briarwood Way and the belief that somehow, someway we would find a way to win.

That belief was shaken in a terrible opening game loss to Chelsea – a 17-14 defeat on our home field that we had many opportunities to win.  No sooner had the stadium lights dimmed than reports started coming in about how good our second opponent was. The Pleasant Grove Spartans would bring a much better team than Chelsea to Lions Pride Stadium the next Friday night.  It was a big region game sure to have playoff implications.

Most coaches say that a team makes its most dramatic improvement from game one to game two. That was certainly the case for Briarwood as the Lions played much better against an exceptionally talented opponent. After going toe to toe with the Spartans for much of the game, the Lions faltered and Pleasant Grove pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 26-14 win.  The Lions were 0-2 – and that wasn’t the worst part.  During the game, our starting quarterback and our starting nose guard were lost with what would be season ending injuries.  The backup quarterback who came in was 14 years old – a freshman.  Yes, a very talented freshman, but, still, a fourteen year old freshman.

Among the parents and fans, there was a sense of doom bordering on despair. There was talk of a losing season when taking an honest look at the remaining opponents.  The Lions would likely be big underdogs in at least four of the games left.  The playoff streak was certainly in jeopardy.  There was a degree of panic setting in around the program.

There were two places that panic did not set in – the Briarwood coaches offices and the Briarwood locker room.

GETTING A “W” AND TURNING IT AROUND

When you are 0-2, any win is a good win. The Woodlawn Colonels came to Lions Pride Stadium and the Lions beat a struggling team 38-20.  There was relief to get a win, but not much else. No one felt the team played particularly well. Besides, the first road game loomed – against the always tough Wenonah Dragons.  It was that first road game at Wenonah that saw the season turn.  On paper, that game only shows a rather pedestrian 16-7 Briarwood victory, but several of the players will tell you that is when the season began to turn and the team gained its first real shot of confidence.

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GETTING ON A ROLL

The always tough, class 6A power Hartselle Tigers were the game five opponent. The Briarwood defense smothered Hartselle all night and the young offense showed signs of coming into its own in a solid 21-10 Lions victory.  The team’s confidence was growing and things were beginning to gell. Solid victories over John Carroll and Parker followed. Suddenly, the Lions had won five in a row and a winning season and playoff birth looked assured.

The eighth game was “The Ramsay Game.”  That is how it will be referred to in Briarwood lore.  It was a game no one who was there will ever forget. It deserves a blog post all its own.  For the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that Ramsay was the top ranked team in 5A with a roster filled with major college prospects – several with multiple SEC offers.  At halftime, the Lions trailed 20-6 and starting running back Luke Prewett had gone out of the game with a shoulder injury and would not return. NO ONE in the stadium thought the Lions would come back – except the coaches and the 60+ players in the locker room at halftime.  With a series of spectacular plays and a blocked field goal as time expired, the Lions roared back and pulled out a 21-20 win that would give them the region championship.

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The season concluded with two tough road games.  The first was a solid win against a very talented Fairfield team. The season ended with a 7-0 win against previously undefeated 6A Hueytown.  It was time for the playoffs. Year 27 of the playoffs to be exact.

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The Playoffs

The playoffs opened with the Lions on an eight game winning streak with a 9-1 record. How is that?  Chelsea was penalized by the AHSAA for using an ineligble player in their first few games, meaning they forfeited the opening game.  The Lions were on a roll and the question was “How far can they go?”

After easily disposing of Marbury in the opening round, a long road trip to south Alabama to take on the always tough Jackson Aggies loomed. Briarwood had lots of fairly recent history playing at Jackson – some positive, some negative.  The 2019 Lions marched into Jackson’s Legion Field stadium, ignoring the long bus ride, the freezing cold, and the talent on the other side of the field for a dominant 24-14 win that served notice to the rest of the state the Lions were for real.

Round three saw the undefeated Bibb County Choctaws come to Lions Pride Stadium. They brought a rugged running game that helped them average 30 points per game and a fast, physical defense.  What followed was an old fashioned, physical battle between two really good teams. The Lions prevailed 7-3 and held the Choctaws to less than 100 yards of offense. Briarwood was on to the semi-finals, brimming with confidence.  The postgame celebration was passionate, but a little subdued.  A semi-final rematch with the Pleasant Grove Spartans was a week away.

The End

The Pleasant Grove Spartans made their return trip to Lions Pride Stadium with an awful lot of confidence themselves. They had multiple players with multiple D1 offers.  They had just avenged their only loss of the season by blowing out Ramsay in round three.  They were solid and fast on defense and they were a juggernaut on offense with an experienced quarterback and multiple receivers with D1 offers.  The Spartans and Lions would play for a shot at the state championship.

What unfolded can only be described as a defensive performance for the ages. The Lions held the Spartans to 16 points – their lowest total of the season.  The offense made some plays and the Lions held a 14-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Opportunities came to add to the lead, but drives stalled out. The Spartans put a drive together late in the fourth quarter and pulled out a 16-14 win.  Even on that drive, the Lions almost stopped them multiple times.

A season for the ages was over.

PERSPECTIVE

That Pleasant Grove loss will always sting for anyone associated with Briarwood football. We were agonizingly close to playing for a state title. However, a few weeks time has given opportunity for all of us to begin to put the season in perspective and appreciate the season for what it was:  a season for the ages.

Over 32,000 young men played high school in Alabama in 2019. Most them got the great experience of being on a team, persevering, winning the game, celebrating with the family, and a hug from the girlfriend afterward.

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However, only 60 or so young men got to experience being part of the 2019 Briarwood Lions. As a father, I am so very grateful that my son (#32) got to be part of this team and this season. He has memories that will last a lifetime.  So do I  and so do many others.

What made this team so special?  It was not that 11 game winning streak – although that didn’t hurt! Honestly, I believe what made this team special was its CHARACTER.  Certainly that character enabled the team to persevere through crushing adversity early in the season.  However, this team did far more than just “not quit.”  I watched intently all season and never saw a hint of dissension on this team on the sidelines or on the practice field – even during the early loses. I have heard several of the players say that this was the “closest” team they had ever played on. Yes, they worked hard. Yes, they persevered. Yes, they won.  They loved each other too.  An incredible senior class embraced an incredible junior class and together they brought along everyone.

As a dad, it was a joy to watch unfold.  I will always treasure this team. Each young man on the team. Each coach.  I am so very grateful that my son got to be part of it. I am so very grateful for the young men he went to battle with and the coaches who led so well. I am so very grateful that my son has memories of this season that will never fade.  He will appreciate that more in a few years.

The 2019 Briarwood Lions. Yes, on one hand, I wish we could have pulled out that Pleasant Grove game.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t change anything!

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks to God

25 Nov

A mother and her little four year old girl were walking through a fruit market and the man running the orange stand thought the little girl was so cute that he just handed her an orange. Seeing an opportunity to teach one of those life lessons, the mother looks at the little girl and says “Honey, now what do you say to the nice man?”  After a short pause, the little girl holds up the orange and says “Now, peel it!”

That’s a funny story but I hope all of us desire to be a little more thankful than that. At some point this week, all of us will probably gather around a table somewhere with our family and at some point we will probably even pray “Thank you Lord for my family.”  “Thank you Lord for your blessings.”  “Thank you Lord for our home and my job.”  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do think it is important to point out that words are cheap. It is possible to pray that way at Thanksgiving and then never give it another thought the rest of the year. That is why the Bible presents thanksgiving as more than just words.  In the Bible, thanksgiving is an attitude of the heart that overflows into words.

Probably the greatest teaching about giving thanks in the entire Bible is found here in Psalm 100. It has been appreciated by the church through the centuries. In fact, the great Charles Spurgeon once said that one of the everyday expressions of the Christian church of his day was “Let us sing the Old Hundredth.” The Old Hundredth. It starts out with a familiar whallop that we have all read and heard quoted.

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:1–3, NKJV)

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” (Psalm 100:4, NKJV)

All of these things are great, but what we may have overlooked is verse 5.

For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5, NKJV)

Verse 5 gives us the reason for verses 1-4. Verse 5 teaches us something that we often forget at Thanksgiving: there is a theological basis for our thanksgiving. There is truth that, when comprehended, drives us to give thanks. It is found here in the truths taught about God in verse 5. From this verse, I want us to see three truths about God that are the source of all true thanksgiving…

Give thanks to God for His complete goodness.

 “For the Lord is good….”  God is good. He is completely good. There is absolutely nothing that comes up short with Him. This Hebrew word is a little three letter word tob, but it is rich with meaning. Most of the time in the KJV of the Bible, it is translated simply “good”, but there are 8 times that it is translated “best.”  On two occasions, it is rendered “fine.” I like that one!  On two others, it simply says “beautiful” and four times in the OT, it says “precious.”  God is good. He’s fine!  He’s the best. He’s beautiful. He’s precious!  

If you know the Lord, then you know the only One who is good.  I love Psalm 34:8, do you know what it says?  “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  When you get to know the Lord, then you will come to know with all of your heart that God is good.  His absolute goodness will shine through.

Someone once said that God is good all the time and all the time, God is good!  I like that. God may be good all the time, but life is not always good. Each day may even be good or bad. There’s a song that says “Life is hard, but God is good.”  I like that. Maybe you are reading this blog and your life is hard. You are burdened and discouraged. It appears that nothing is working out – or maybe it looks like everything is falling apart. Your God is GOOD.  Now, I want us to see a second truth about God from Psalm 100…

Give thanks to God for His everlasting mercy.

 Psalm 100:5 says that “His mercy is everlasting.”  Now God is a just God, but thankfully He is also a God that is filled with mercy. Mercy means that God looks at us and sees lost, sinful human beings – people who deserve eternity in Hell – but He still loves us. But mercy does not end there. Mercy means that God extends mercy to us. It means more than He simply feels sorry for us. It means that He gives us a chance. It means that He makes a way.  He offers us the opportunity to be forgiven. He extends His mercy to us.

Did you know that in the Bible, our salvation is always tied to God’s mercy? Jesus told an interesting story in Luke 18:9-14. A pharisee and a tax collector go up to the temple to pray.  The pharisee approaches the Lord thanking him that he “isn’t like other people” and specifically mentions the tax collector – a hated group of people in that culture. However, the tax collector simply cried out to God, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.”  To the absolute astonishment of everyone listening, Jesus stated that the tax collector went home right with God – not the pharisee!

That man was made right with God because He came to place where he simply gave up and left himself up to the mercy of God. That is the only way that any person will ever be made right with God. To say “Lord, I am nothing and I can earn nothing, I simply beg for your forgiveness and mercy.”  The good news is that if any person ever throws themselves on the mercy of God – then His mercy is everlasting. Isn’t that good?  Praise God!  Now, I want us to see a third truth about God…

Give thanks to God for His unchanging truth.

 Psalm 100:5 says that God’s truth “endures to all generations.”  Many versions say “His faithfulness endures….” The Hebrew word has the idea of “proving to be firm.” “trustworthy”  “steadfast”  Sometimes the OT translates this word “faithful” and sometimes it translates it “true.” If a person is faithful, their word is true. The truth of God endures to all generations.

I believe that God’s truth endures to all generations in two respects.  First, God’s truth endures to all generations in that God never changes or breaks His word.   Charles Spurgeon takes this approach…

“No fickle being is he, promising and forgetting. He has entered into covenant with his people, and he will never revoke it, nor alter the thing that has gone out of his lips. As our fathers found him faithful, so will our sons, and their seed for ever. A changeable God would be a terror to the righteous, they would have no sure anchorage, and amid a changing world they would be driven to and fro in perpetual fear of shipwreck.”

                        -From the Treasury of David

Aren’t you glad that in a world that is filled with war, terror, deceit, lies, and unfaithfulness that we serve a God who has NEVER broken His word?  His truth endures to all generations.

Now, there is a second way that His truth endures to all generations. His truth endures to all generations because His Word is always true. We live in a time when people want to say that there are no absolutes.  They say things like “What’s right for you is right you, but I determine what is right for me.”  That is the view that there is no absolute right and wrong.  Then we have people who say “Well all religions are headed to the same place.”  That means that they do not believe that there is absolute truth in religion and salvation.

All religions are not equally true. All books are not inspired the way the Bible is. Only the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. There is one name given under Heaven among men whereby we must be saved – our Lord Jesus Christ. There are not many ways to Heaven, there is one way to Heaven: the Lord Jesus Christ.

His truth endures to all generations. Whether they believe it or not. Whether they accept it or not. Whether they persecute it or not. Whether they ignore it or not. It’s still true!   His truth endures to all generations.

We have seen that the source of all true thanksgiving is the character of God.  We can be thankful because of His complete goodness, His everlasting mercy, and His unchanging truth.  Remember that earlier I told you that the church has sung Psalm 100 down through the centuries. Some Bible historians point out that the ancient Jews sang this Psalm as they brought what was called the peace offering or the offering of thanks. As a matter of fact, if you read Leviticus chapter 7, the Bible says that thanksgiving was what that offering was really all about anyway.  If you study the OT, you will find out that God told them to have several offerings. For instance, there was the sin offering and burnt offering. Each offering pointed to a great truth of salvation through Jesus Christ. However, the last one mentioned is the thanks offering. I do not believe that is an accident. From the very beginning, God intended for thanksgiving to flow from a heart that is overwhelmed with realization of all that He has done for it.

This week, if we are going to truly going to experience thanksgiving, we must get back to the source of all true thanksgiving – our great God and all that He has done for us. Look back with me at Psalm 100 one more time. Remember, v. 5 gives us the reason for v. 1-4. Think of it this way….

the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations – so Make a joyful shout to the Lord, serve the Lord with gladness

the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations – so enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise

 the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations – so be thankful unto Him and bless His name! 

In Germany in the late 1930s, young Dr. Herbert Gezork was fortunate that he was sentenced to exile instead of execution. Yet the night before his departure for America, he wandered the streets of Hamburg in deep despair. He kept asking, “What hope is there in a world where demonic forces are triumphing?”

Then Gezork heard music coming from a church. He walked in and listened as the organist played the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The words of one stanza rang out to the depths of his soul… “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.” Gradually the truth of the lyrics sank into his soul and brought him peace.  (Our Daily Bread, March 14, 1999)

If you are reading this blog and you are a Christian, you can GIVE THANKS  because your God is a mighty fortress and, no matter what you are going through, God has willed His truth to triumph through you!

A Few Words about “The Budget”

24 Oct

For most pastors, there a few times of the year with more anxiety than when “the budget” is presented to the church for adoption.  Most churches have some type of open discussion time regarding the budget prior to the vote to adopt the budget. That can get interesting! At times, this is a point of great conflict in a church.  For most churches, there is always an undercurrent of some dissatisfaction with the budget. Even if it isn’t openly expressed, there are always “rumblings.” This is also the time of year when budgets are presented in local associations, and state conventions. The same issues apply in those settings too.  After years of being involved with budgets on all of these levels, please allow me to share what I pray are helpful thoughts about “the budget.”

1.  The goal of the budget is not to please everyone. The goal of the budget is to provide unity and accountability. I have served at a church with a $75,000 budget and I have served at a church with a $7 million budget. The budget served the same role in both of those churches. There are really only two alternatives to having a budget. One alternative would be to allow one person or a handful of people to spend the money however they see fit with no accountability. Count me OUT for that one!  The other alternative would be for the church to hash out and vote on EVERY single expenditure.  Count me OUT for that one too!  A budget is your church or organization’s statement that it wants to define its ministry spending so that everyone can see where the money goes and work together. A budget is also a statement of accountability: as the money comes in, it will be spent in this way. A budget does two things:  it enhances unity and it provides accountability.

2.   Accept the fact that you will not agree with everything in the budget.  The Corbin household has a budget.  As the husband/father/head of the household, I do not agree with everything in my own family budget.  Why?  Because there are other people that I love in my family.  There are some things that they need/desire to spend money on that I don’t understand or see the real value in. Yet, we spend the money because it’s important to THEM and I LOVE THEM.  If that is true in my own personal budget, then it will absolutely be true for my church budget, association budget, or state convention budget. We are family.  Just because it’s not important to me doesn’t mean it’s not important to them.  That line item is in the budget because it is/was important to someone(s).

3.   Resist the temptation to believe that everyone agrees with you and your friends. How many pastors have had a conversation that starts out something like this….”Pastor, a lot of people in the church are really upset about this part of the budget….”  Many times, “a lot of people in the church” is actually that person’s group of friends who discussed the issue over Sunday lunch at their favorite restaurant.  Issues become divisive quickly when a group of people insist on having their way and don’t comprehend (or don’t care) that other groups of people don’t see the issue the same way.  Again, we are family. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity.  Sadly, I have seen pastors who despise being treated this way in their church turn around and act this very same way when it comes to matters with their association or state convention. Resist the temptation to believe that everyone agrees with you and your friends.

4.   Resist the temptation to begin designating your money.  Every pastor has had the conversation with the church member who is upset about something in the budget and states, “Well, I will stop giving to the budget and designate my money to….”   The thinking is that by designating to their favorite area of the budget they get a double victory: funding what is important to them while simultaneously de funding what they don’t like.  My answer to this statement is always the same:  “What if everyone in our church took that approach?”  The answer is clear:  our church would quickly descend into tribalism, we wouldn’t have a budget for long, and EVERYTHING funded by our church budget would suffer greatly in the long run.  Is that really really what you want?  Designating your money over something you don’t like in the budget fosters a tribalism that, if it spreads, will ultimately destroy any church or organization. Think about it.

5.   Giving is a statement of investment in the mission & ministry. When Becky and I give our tithes and offerings to our church, it isn’t a statement that we agree with everything in the budget.  In fact, there are several places in our budget at Lakeside that I would change if it were only up to me. The same is true for our local association, our state convention budget, and the national SBC budget.  If Greg Corbin were totally “in charge” some places in each of those budgets would look differently – or so I think!  Our giving to our church’s budget isn’t a statement that we agree with every dollar our church spends. It is a statement that we are INVESTED in the church and its mission and ministry.

6.   Budget changes that come over time are usually healthiest. Please DO NOT hear me saying that we should never give input to our leaders and we should just accept the budget “as is” without ever asking questions or making suggestions for the future.  I can assure you that almost every single pastor and finance team sincerely wants to do what is best for their church or organization. They spend tons of time, energy, prayers, and, occasionally, tears in these efforts.  They evaluate and hear from people all year long. Over the years I have seen many healthy budget changes happen through God’s people giving and receiving honest, humble input, deciding together what is best, and then fleshing that out in adjustments to the budget over time.  Yes, sometimes this means that the changes aren’t as drastic or as fast as we might like.  Almost always, the budget changes that come gradually over time are the healthiest because they are not the result of power plays or one group seeking to the hold the church hostage over their pet issue or project.

7.    Most churches and organizations should focus more on accountability and “checks and balances” rather than fighting about lines in the budget. We fixate so much on the budget that it is easy to overlook our systems, policies, and procedures. The best budget is no match for a lack of oversight and accountability.  Tragically, every year brings new headlines of churches and other organizations becoming the victims of fraud or embezzlement. How is money handled?  What are the policies for distributing the money?  What checks and balances are in place for everyone?  What internal controls does your church or organization have?  You will answer those questions sooner or later. The time to answer those questions is when you DO NOT have a problem. Be proactive.  No amount of proper budgeting can make up for a lack of accountability.  Tell your church or organization about these proactive steps you have taken. It will build confidence and trust – encouraging generosity.

8.   Make sure you care more about Jesus and making disciples than you do about the budget.  Let’s face it. If I talk to more people about the budget than I do about Jesus, than I need to take a serious look in the spiritual mirror.  If I succeed in getting my favorite part of the budget changed but do not make a single disciple, then I have FAILED and I have been DISOBEDIENT to Christ’s mission.

As my friend Mike Shaw likes to say, “I will see you in church!”

 

 

Depression and the Christian

17 Jul

As a pastor, one of the most common issues that I walk with people through is depression.  Questions are all over the map.  Is it wrong for a Christian to be depressed?  Doesn’t going to a counselor mean I don’t have enough faith?  What about medication?  Back in January, I preached a message on the subject of depression and tried to answer many of these questions.  For some reason, I felt impressed to share it today. May it offer hope to someone today.

Incredible Week in Brazil

4 Jun

Last week was one of the most impactful weeks I have had in some time.  I was part of a team that traveled to Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil, for a week of ministry.  Our team left on Saturday, May 25th with ten folks from Lakeside, five from Valleydale Baptist and four from McElwain Baptist. Here is a photo of the team….

The focus of this ministry effort was constructing of a church building. Brasilia was started literally from scratch in 1960 when a new capital was established there. The city grew up around the capital and is now a city of 4 million people. In response to such rapid growth, the Brazilian Baptist Convention has been actively helping to start churches in new areas of development and in areas that lacked an evangelical church. The idea is to gather a group of believers in an area, begin meeting together and eventually form a congregation.  After that, buildings and/or land is purchased so that a visible, permanent home for the congregation can be constructed. Beginning with a partnership with the Birmingham Baptist Association in 1989, over 150 churches have been started in Brasilia with the overwhelming majority of them having a building constructed by Birmingham Baptist churches. This is where Lakeside comes in. Since the first trip involving Lakeside members in 1991, Lakeside has helped to construct 29 churches in Brasilia. Here was our focus for the week….

As you can see, the foundation and roof structure was already in place. We just needed to build the walls. After scrapping up the money to purchase the property, the churches biggest obstacle is always construction costs. Lakeside and McElwain completely covered the cost for this phase of construction. The church had been meeting in the small, cramped building just behind this one. It is located in a poor area, plagued by high crime and many broken families.  Several bars in the neighborhood around the church stay busy.  The church wanted a visible witness for Christ on this street.  It was a joy to watch the project come together.

     

       

The week culminated on Friday evening with a dedication service in the building we just built. It got started at 8:00 p.m. – that’s the Brazilian culture!  The church was packed and dozens of people stood outside looking into the doors and windows. Pastor Jose baptized two precious adults and Fatima Garcia, our Brazilian contact and coordinator, provided excellent interpretation from Portuguese to English, and vice versa!

   

 

The Brazilians presented plaques from the Presidential Palace recognizing and thanking Lakeside members Jerry Cross and Lamar Miller for their incredible work in Brazil. Together these two men have been part of building 29 churches in Brazil. It was a true honor for me to go on this trip with them and see the literal work of their hands. Jerry is a Korean veteran and Lamar is actually a WWII vet. Their generation doesn’t stop easily!

           

I had the privilege of preaching, and we saw 17 precious souls give their lives to Christ.  The Holy Spirit was moving with power and many tears of joy were shed. It was one of the most powerful services I have been part of years. Praise God!  It was a privilege to be a small part of it.  When we go back next year, on Sunday evening we will begin our trip with a service in this building and see the progress this little church has made. Then we will build another building and have the dedication service in it on Friday evening.  Let me share some of my thoughts after this week in Brazil.

1.  The American church is too often comfortable and prayerless. It’s so easy for those of us in American churches to focus on “what we want” and “how we think church should be” when we need to focus on the mission. As a result, too many churches are filled with people who are focused on themselves. To see what the Brazilians have accomplished with meager resources is convicting. Could it be because they tap into another resource?  When the Brazilian Baptists see a need for a church, they begin to PRAY and ask God to provide.

2.  Lasting relationships are built on mission trips.

         

The picture on the left is Jerry Cross with a Brazilian family in the hotel lobby.  The husband and wife were children in 1991 when Jerry Cross and Lakeside made their first trip to Brasilia. Several children came to Christ during that trip – this couple was among them. Now, they are parents, raising their children to live for Christ.   The opportunity to build relationships with the Brazilians over years is enriching and encouraging.  The picture on the right is my son talking with Lamar Miller before the Friday evening service. Even though we have been part of the same church for over five years, Daniel had never really talked with him. Now they are buddies!  Inter generational relationships happen naturally on mission trips.  Sometimes, friends for life are made on these trips.  McElwain member Joe Meads served as the trip leader and did a phenomenal job. Both Joe and I feel that have each made a new significant friend through this trip.

3.  Sometimes once in a lifetime moments come along.

     

Fatima Garcia arranged for us to tour “The Palace” in Brasilia, the executive offices of the President of Brazil. Later in the day, we visited his official residence several miles away and Fatima received word that the President would be arriving soon. Long story short, they got word to President Jair Bolsonaro that a group of Americans doing Christian work in Brazil was at the gate and wanted to meet him. He stopped and greeted the group. Yes, we met the President of the fifth largest country in the world!

4.   It’s good to “get out of your comfort zone” and GO!  Every single time I go on a mission trip, I come back determined to do more at home. Every single time. Every time I go on a mission trip, I return with a greater hunger for God and His mission. Every single time. Don’t believe me?  Try it.

5.  It’s better to go on mission with family.  Becky and Daniel went with me on this mission trip. We experienced the week together.  One couple brought their eleven year old daughter and a man brought his eleven year old son on this trip. Talk about making memories!  It most definitely was NOT a vacation, but it was better than a vacation in so many ways!  Don’t believe me?  Try it.

 

 

 

 

The Step Not Taken

25 Apr

The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NASB95)

The year was 2001.  I was a young husband and father and in a season of feeling “unsettled” at the church where I was serving as pastor.  One day my phone rang and it was the chairman of a search committee from another church. A friend had told them about me. It was a larger church with a larger budget and better facilities. The church had a highly visible location in a major metropolitan area. The area had great schools for our son (and future son).  On the surface, it looked like exactly what I wanted and where I wanted it.  Becky and I met with the entire search team one evening. They wanted me to be their pastor.  Yet, neither Becky nor I could sense the Lord’s peace to go.  Everything in me wanted to go. Still, I turned them down and stayed where I was.  Sometimes the hardest step is the one you don’t take.

Recently, I was in the vicinity of that church.  For some reason, I turned off the highway into the parking lot.  Even though the building is still there and all of the external factors are still positive around it, that church no longer exists.  It hasn’t moved. It is gone. A church of another denomination has taken the building and is flourishing.  I honestly do not know what happened or why.

As I sat in the parking lot and prayed for a few moments, my thoughts were truly not “Lord, I am glad I didn’t come here.”  Rather, my thoughts went to the people I might not have led to Christ had I gone there and the people I have shepherded since. The deep friendships I have made. The wonderful churches I have had the privilege of serving.  I couldn’t help but think about how my life and ministry might have been very different had I gone there.

The mind of Greg planned my way, but the Lord directed my steps.  He directed me not to take one.

Now that I am farther down the road of life and ministry, I have learned that some of the most significant steps I have taken have been those I didn’t take.  At some point during that season, I talked with Dr. Jimmy Jackson who has long been essentially my pastor.  He looked at me and said, “Greg, you need to learn to bloom where you are planted.”  I am glad I did.  By God’s grace, I went back where I was serving and had three more good years there before God led clearly to take another step.

Yes, there are absolutely times where God leads to take a step and we must do it by faith. I could write about some of those times too!  However, many of us struggle with a restless spirit.  This is true of pastors, but it is also true of many others in business, marriage, athletics, education, etc.   Many times, we get restless and plan our next step when we really need to “bloom where we are planted,” put our hands to the plow and be faithful for another season where we are.  Rather than focusing on the “next step” try focusing on faithfulness right now, right now where you are.  The Lord honors a simple faithfulness.  He knows where you are.  He will make the next step clear when it’s time.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

 

Prayer that Won’t Give Up

25 Jan

This week in my Bible reading, I was blessed anew by a parable of Jesus that I had read hundreds of times.  It is what is commonly known as the “Parable of the Unjust Judge” in Luke 18….

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. “There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ “For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”” (Luke 18:1–8, NASB95)

In this parable, Jesus gives us the lesson and application up front:  he is giving this parable so that people will constantly pray and not lose heart in their praying. Then he unfolds the parable, and the interpretation of it must flow through the opening verse. Let’s draw four important applications from this parable….

We can be tempted to “lose heart” when our prayers are not answered. Certainly all of us have been there at some point along life’s way. We have prayed and prayed – to no avail. What we have asked God for has gotten worse or seems like more of an impossibility.  In these situations, we tend to grow weary, frustrated, and, yes, even angry with God. We lose heart. We stop praying, or at least stop praying as often or as specifically as we once did.  This parable is given as an antidote for this situation.

We pray to the God who has loved us and saved us.  It’s easy to overlook the contrast Jesus draws between the unjust judge and our Heavenly Father. That is really the heart of the parable. This widow kept on asking a judge who did not know the Lord. How much more should we persevere in prayer to the One who has saved us?  “His elect” are those the Lord has redeemed in Jesus.  That is me and you.  When we pray, we pray to the God who has saved us, and always acts for our good and His glory.

We can be confident that God hears our prayers.  We “cry to him day and night” and see no change, but we can be certain that our prayers are not just dissipating into the air. They are traveling straight to the ears of the God of the universe, our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer.  Because God has not acted, does not imply that He has not heard. Keep praying.

We should be determined to be found praying when Jesus comes. The last verse of the parable contains a question for the second coming: “…will He find faith on the earth?”  In other words, will he find people of faith calling on the name of the Lord in prayer?  The short answer is “YES, he will.”  There will absolutely people of great faith praying when Jesus returns. They may be few in number, but they will be here. Will YOU be one of them?   Yes, you may die before Jesus comes, but, if not, be determined to be found praying – even if your answer has never come.  How can we do that?  See the first three applications!

Friend, take heart.  Even though the situation is heart breaking and that mountain hasn’t moved yet, you can absolutely know for sure that every single prayer has been heard by your Heavenly Father.  If a widow can keep asking an ungodly judge, then you can ask the Lord (who loves you and saved you) one more time.  Pray, and don’t lose heart!

Reclaiming the JOY of Christmas

23 Dec

As I have so many times before, I arose this Sunday morning and headed to church with my Christmas message prayed over, prepared, and ready to go.  However, this year the Sunday before Christmas was different for me.  In the early years of my ministry, I walked with families through tremendous pain and difficulty during the Christmas season. My heart was touched and I truly cared, however, I was able to minister from a place of safety because everything was like I wanted it in my own life.  I would pray with someone experiencing “the first Christmas without….” and then I would head to my own family Christmas and everyone was there. We had all of our people and all of our beloved Christmas traditions. Even after the death of my grandfather, Cecil Corbin, in 2000, our hearts broke the first time we had Christmas without him, but all of the traditions were intact. Every year, I would look at his picture on the wall of my grandparents house on Christmas Eve and I would miss him terribly, but everything and everyone else was still there.

As I drove to church this morning, I couldn’t help but think about how different Christmas 2018 is from all the others – and not in any way I would have chosen. I drove to church with much sadness today – and I’m the pastor!  Due to the declining health of some family members, several of our most beloved family Christmas traditions no longer happen.  In recent weeks, our family dealt with the critical illness and death of my mother-in-law, Peggy Mayes. We buried her on Saturday, December 15.  It’s been a tough and exhausting few weeks for everyone. On top of that, Becky and I were both very sick this week, and, while much better, I was still not 100% back to normal.  As I drove to Lakeside this morning, I was not in a place of joy.  All of these burdens and others rolled around in my mind.  No longer was I ministering from a place of safety with my own life exactly like I wanted it.  I would minister through tears, brokenness, fatigue, and grief.

This morning, the Lord reminded me of and blessed me with the truth of true joy.  The music was outstanding this morning and I was already uplifted by worship with my Lakeside church family. Then we moved into the famous Christmas song, “Joy to the World” and my mind immediately went to the angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth and the joy it brought…

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11, NASB95)

How many times had I preached on that passage?  Dozens.  Happiness comes and goes depending on what happens, but joy is found in Jesus.  Joy is an inside job.  We can choose joy even in the worst of times because Jesus is our joy.  The gospel is the most joyful message we can ever share with anyone.  The truth of scripture combined with the words of one of the greatest songs…

Joy to the world Joy to the world
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing
Joy to the world Joy to the world
Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy

The Lord encouraged and strengthened my heart in a matter of moments. By His grace, I talked with dozens of people at church today, led a wonderful couple in dedicating their little boy, sang and worshiped, brought a check and gave in the offering, preached the Word and the gospel, and then greeted guests and members after the service. It was all JOY.

I was reminded that the joy of Christmas was never really found in beloved traditions or happier circumstances – as great as those are!  The joy of Christmas has always been and always will be the JOY OF JESUS.  No matter how hard your Christmas may be, you can join me in reclaiming the joy of Christmas.  We can reclaim the joy of Christmas because the JOY OF JESUS has never changed and it has never left.

Repeat, repeat the sounding JOY!  Merry Christmas!

 

Reflections from a Reunion

22 Aug

This past weekend, Becky and I enjoyed attending my 30th high school class reunion. It was a joy to see friends that I grew up with.  It was a simple reunion – a couple of hours with barbecue catered in. There were lots of laughs and a few tears.

30 Year Class Reunion

I saw people I had not seen in 30 years.  Being a writer, I couldn’t help sharing a few thoughts on this occasion.

People are a treasure, not treasure. Perhaps it was the stage of life we have gotten to, but I heard very little talk about careers and houses.  There was much talk about families, children, and, yes, even grandchildren!  When asked to share the greatest thing about growing up at Ider High School, several classmates shared that growing up in a small place where you were known and you knew everyone else was a great blessing. This fact is why so many of us were able to pick right up and enjoy fellowship even though we had not seen one another in years.

Teachers and Coaches make a huge difference in young lives. Several classmates shared the reasons why a particular teacher was their favorite.  It was fascinating to read the responses. Some mentioned their high school coaches. Others quickly remembered one particular teacher who was very unorthodox in his approach, but who actually taught us a great deal.   Still others mentioned a beloved typing teacher (yes we had those) who was known for her kindness to students.  Thirty years later, our lives are still being shaped by the men and women who taught us and coached us.  For any teachers and coaches who read this blog, take heart.  You are making a far greater difference than you know.

Nothing comes close to the fun you have in high school. Recently a former player came back to speak to my son’s high school football team.  He played college football in the SEC and professionally in the NFL.  He told them, “I’ve done it all. High school is the greatest time. Nothing comes close.”  Yes, there is drama and problems in high school. For most, there is an awful lot of fun. Ball games, lunch break, pep rallies, favorite classes, dances, proms, homecoming parades, community fall festivals, parties, class night, running late to class, and hundreds of other “moments” make high school incredibly fun – at a time in life when most of the burdens of life haven’t taken hold.  This fact is why those at our class reunion didn’t immediately begin talking about the bad times – they immediately began talking about the fun times.

Life is short. Whatever you need to do – do it today!   We lost one member of our class in a tragic accident in 7th grade.  Since graduation, we have lost five others.  Yes, out of a graduating class of 72, we are now down to 67 surviving members of the Ider High School class of ’88.  On our graduation night, none of us would have dreamed that would be the case.  Members of our class have lost children. I know at least one member of our class has lost a spouse to cancer.  All of us know we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Some of my classmates know that truth in a deeply personal, painful way.  Whatever you need to do, do it today.

Graduation night will be the last time you are all together. Out of 67 classmates, we had 18 come to the reunion.  A similar number turned out for the 20 year reunion.  Truly, I was hoping for more.  Some were planning to come and had things that prevented it at the last minute.  Others let us know they were out of town, having to work, moving kids to college, or otherwise unable to attend.  I get it. People are very busy.  Here is the bottom line: your graduation night will be the last time your class will ever be all together.  For some reason, on our graduation night in May, 1988, it was important to me that I personally speak to and hug every member of our class on that night.  Fortunately, I was able to do just that, but I didn’t know why it mattered to me so much.  Now I know. After growing up together and spending countless hours together, that was the last time we were all together.

Friends really are friends forever. As children of the 80’s, we were influenced by contemporary Christian music in its early days. If our class had a theme song, it would have been the old “Friends” by Michael W. Smith.  We actually chose to sing this song on our class night a few days before graduation.  To be honest, I had not listened to this song in many, many years.  After our reunion, I did listen to it a couple of times – with a tear in my eye.

“Friends” by Michael W. Smith
Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter in your life is through
But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
With the faith and love God’s given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you’ll live in
Is the strength that now you show
But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
No, a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
Songwriters: Majid Hasan / Sean L. Foote / Barry Eugene White / Robert Taylor / Mary J. Blige / Tom Brock
Friends lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

Handling conflict like Christians

12 Jul

We tend to think of conflict in terms of warfare – when it’s REALLY bad.  The truth is that conflict comes in many forms and there are levels of conflict.  Has someone said something that “rubbed you the wrong way?”  That is a conflict.  Is there someone that you believe isn’t doing their job in your organization?  That’s a conflict.  Was there miscommunication that created frustration?  That’s a conflict.  Is someone talking about someone else?  That’s a conflict. Did you find out that someone is talking about you?  That’s a conflict. The truth is that every one of us deals with conflict every single day in various forms.  The real question is “How will we deal with it?”

How do we deal with conflict like Christians should?  Before I go further, I want to make a point crystal clear:  WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY DOES NOT APPLY TO INSTANCES OF ABUSE. Call the police in cases of sexual or physical abuse. Abuse isn’t a conflict; abuse is abuse.  Furthermore, I understand that we often operate where there are many people who aren’t believers and who aren’t the least bit interested in handling conflict like a Christian i.e. the workplace, the country club, the school.  What I am about to say applies first to conflict between Christians both in the church and as we interact with fellow Christians in a variety of settings.

How do we deal with conflict like Christians?

I CAN CONFRONT YOU.

It is Biblical to confront a conflict.  Scripture gives us the blueprint for dealing with a conflict among believers….

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17, NASB95)

Notice the three fold process outlined here.  First, there is an individual one-on-one face-to-face meeting.  If this doesn’t resolve the issue, then the offended party takes another person or two with them so that the issues can be made clear and worked through as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Finally, if these first steps fail, the issue is taken to the leadership of the church.  Please note, at every point along the way, the goal is reconciliation with our fellow Christian.  The point is never to be “right” or to “win.”

I CAN FORGIVE YOU.

It is just as Biblical to choose to forgive the person without a confrontation…

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NASB95)

Probably in the majority of instances, this is the best decision. Choose to forgive and move on.  Don’t confuse a lack of confrontation with forgiveness. Most of the time, we don’t confront AND we don’t forgive – resulting in unspoken bitterness, division, and anger.  Think of it this way:  If I choose not to confront, then I am making the decision to forgive and move on.

I CAN BEAR WITH YOU.

Sometimes a conflict happens and we say, “I guess they were having a bad day” or “They are a wonderful person but this happens sometimes.”  That communicates bearing with another person.  It’s Biblical to do that too.

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:13, NASB95)

Bearing with a person means that we simply recognize they are a broken human being like we are and we give them some grace.  After all, each of us has been given much grace on many occasions by many people.  Bearing with a person says, “I give grace because I have been given much grace.”

I MUST LOVE YOU AND PRAY FOR YOU.

This is maybe the most difficult one, but it is absolutely necessary….

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43–44, NASB95)

Don’t tell everyone else, tell Jesus on them!  If there is a conflict between us, I don’t have to be your best friend, but I do have to love you and pray for you.  Over the years, I have found that it is extremely difficult to talk badly about someone I am praying for. Think about it.

Let me conclude this post with several observations and exhortations…

1.  As a Pastor, one of the greatest needs I see among Christians is to learn to handle conflict as Christians should. Conflict is inevitable in all churches. The difference in churches is how they handle their conflicts.  When a church member comes to me and they are offended at a staff member or another church member, I always ask “Have you talked with them before you came to me?”  In 25 years as a pastor, the answer to this question in 95% of the instances has been “No.”  Think about that statement and let it sink in.

2.  As Christian parents, we have an obligation to model for our children how to handle conflict. Our kids are learning from us. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who works at a Christian school.  She said, “When their kids are unhappy, people don’t act like Christians.”  Sad but true. When there is the inevitable teenage drama, many parents get involved and act worse than the kids. Make no mistake, our kids are learning from us. The question is what they are learning.

3.   Have a big “so what” box and use it every day.  You know what goes in the “so what” box? The stuff that’s not worth fighting over. The stuff that is not worth being upset over. By the way, that’s a lot of stuff. When something comes up, just learn to say “so what” because it really isn’t the end of the world.  A big “so what” box is a big key to a healthy home and healthy church.

4.  “It’s a mighty thin pancake that doesn’t have two sides.”  Adrian Rogers said that one time, and I’ve never forgotten it. There are almost always two sides to every situation and that friend of yours only gave you one of them.  Be careful when engaging in conflict based on information from only one person or one side.

Finally, writing this blog post has been a reminder for me. Certainly, I have not always handled conflict in the best way. We have all made mistakes. We cannot go back and change how we have handled anything in the past. We can decide right now how we will handle the inevitable next conflict that will soon come. May each of us determine in our hearts that we will handle it according to scripture and in the spirit of Christ.