When You Are Weary of the Dying

I was only a few weeks into the pastorate of my first church. Riley walked into my office – a man in his 80’s who wanted to “get to know” his new 23 year old pastor. It was quickly apparent that Riley was a little lonely and just wanted to talk. It wasn’t long until he began to tell me about family and friends who had passed away – many of whom had been faithful members of the church. Honestly, I don’t remember the specifics, but I do remember clearly a statement he made: “Pastor, there reaches a point where you have more over there than you have left down here.” That statement stuck with me. For some reason, I came back to it in recent days.

For many years of my life and ministry, dying was not something I dealt with frequently. Like most pastors, I serve a church with a large number of senior adults and deaths among our church family happen fairly frequently. Having reached middle age now means that deaths of family members, friends, and close family members of friends are now commonplace. Even if I were not a pastor, Becky and I would be attending far more funerals than at any point in our lives. These trends were there before the terrible COVID-19 pandemic happened. This most recent wave of the “Delta variant” has taken more lives of people I personally know than all of the other stages of the pandemic combined. Just this week, on the day that Becky and I attended the funeral of a 50 year old COVID victim and longtime friend in Tennessee, I received word that the husband of a high school classmate passed away from COVID. In recent months, dying has been constantly before me.

I am weary of the dying.

I thought of my friend, Riley, who reached the point where he had more “over there” than he had left here. Now I understand better what he meant. In the last year, I have buried some of the best friends, encouragers, and mentors of my life and ministry. The other day, I pulled up the contacts of my cell phone and there next to the number I was seeking sat the number of one of those great friends and mentors. He went to be with the Lord several months back, but his number is still in my phone. With tears in my eyes, I wished I could call him one more time.

I am weary of the dying. Maybe you are too.

Perhaps the most beloved verse in all of the Bible is John 3:16…

““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)

For my entire life and ministry I have focused my attention on the first two themes of that verse. I focused on the love of God for every single person. We are sinners, but God loves us with His great love. I have focused on the hope of salvation for any person who will believe – “whoever believes in him.” Lately, I have focused more on the last theme: “…should not perish but have eternal life.” ETERNAL LIFE. Ten times in the Gospel of John alone we find that phrase.

ETERNAL LIFE. Literally it is “life in the age to come.” For the unbeliever who has never met Christ, eternity will be an eternal death in the fires of hell. However, for those who have “believed in him” eternal life with be theirs. Eternal life is spending eternity with our Savior – the One who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Eternal life is spending eternity in a perfect place with a perfect, glorified body where the taint of sin is gone and the tears of this life are wiped away. In the words of the great Casting Crowns song, the only scars in Heaven will be on the hands of the One holding us. ETERNAL LIFE. For the believer, that is our future. That is our hope. Furthermore, this life eternal is absolutely guaranteed by the blood of the Lamb and the authority of his Word. All who believe have eternal life. NO exceptions. Praise God!

Many know the name John Newton because he wrote the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” Some know the name John Newton because of his righteous work to end slavery. Recently, I read what several sources say were John Newton’s last words on earth as he lay dying…

“I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon.”

Soon after speaking those words and taking his last breath, John Newton entered the land of the living. His last words are a needed word for all of us in this season who are weary of the dying. The heartaches, tears, and loses of this life demonstrate that we truly are in the land of the dying. We are headed for the land of the living! Those in Christ that we love and miss so deeply are in the land of the living. We will join in them one day and lay aside the tears of this life.

Dear friend, when you are weary of the dying, focus on the land of the living.

Personal thoughts on the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention

Since returning from Nashville, I have been asked about the convention by several members of the church I serve, as well as friends and family. Some indicated they had been keeping up through the news media – which frightens me! Others indicated they had heard the convention was “going liberal.” In an effort to communicate with as broad an audience as possible and (hopefully) provide accurate information, I would like to share my personal thoughts on the just concluded SBC annual meeting and where we are as a denomination. After attending the 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville and being present for almost every key moment, I offer my thoughts…

There is greater unity than you might think. There were four men nominated for SBC president and, leading up to the convention, there was some very public conflict between SBC leaders. Social media was howling about all the problems and attendance at the meeting spiked to the highest number since 1996. Late on Tuesday afternoon (after the presidential election was settled after a run off and other controversial issues had come to the floor) I ran into a friend of mine who was attending his first convention. “This hasn’t been nearly as bad as I was expecting,” he said. He had been getting his information from social media. While there were certainly moments of passionate disagreement, the overall feeling of the messengers present was positive and loving. How could this be? We all agree on the most important matters – our love for the Lord Jesus and His church, our belief in the inerrant Word of God, our commitment to share the gospel and make disciples, our cooperation together in missions. As the convention was drawing to a close, I saw two SBC pastors who were publicly and passionately on opposite sides of the SBC presidential race. They were eating Nashville hot chicken together at a restaurant and enjoying good fellowship. That is the SBC.

I do not see evidence that the SBC is “going liberal.” The convention took NO steps to alter our statement of faith – the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message – that guides all of the entities in our convention. In fact, nothing along those lines was even mentioned. All four candidates for SBC president openly describe themselves as theological conservatives. While some media outlets describe Ed Litton, our new SBC president, as the “moderate” candidate, I believe that description is unfortunate and doesn’t accurately portray Ed. While I do not know Ed Litton personally, he has faithfully served as pastor of the same Alabama Baptist church for over 25 years and I have no reason to believe he is anything but solid overall in terms of both his character and his theology. The presidents of all six of our seminaries are staunch defenders of the inerrancy of scripture and require all professors to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. We have our problems in the SBC, but I personally do not see going liberal being one of them.

The SBC messengers were determined to see the convention do better in terms of dealing with sexual abuse. All Southern Baptists are in full agreement that every church should implement child protection policies and do everything it can to be a safe place for everyone. That isn’t the issue. All Southern Baptists are in full agreement that every church should report accusations of abuse to authorities. That isn’t the issue. The well publicized issues have revolved around what the denomination can do at the national level to deal with past instances of abuse and prevent future abuse. There has also been deep concern about how some SBC leaders have responded to some abuse victims. Due to the polity of our denomination – each church is independent and there is no “top down” authority structure – then dealing with these issues on a national level is much more difficult. From my seat, the clear message sent by the messengers was “We expect you to do much better than you have done so far. Get back to work on it right now!”

The SBC does not subscribe to Critical Race Theory but DOES care deeply about racial reconciliation. In recent months, the influence of Critical Race Theory has been a heated topic within the SBC and in American culture at large. In several different ways, the 2021 SBC convention made clear that the SBC does not support or teach Critical Race Theory. In addition, the convention passed Resolution #2 titled “The Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation” which was, in my opinion, a very strong and very well done resolution. I loved how prominent SBC seminary professor Dr. Hershael York summed up this issue: “Southern Baptists do not like Critical Race Theory but they also don’t like being told that caring deeply about racial reconciliation is CRT. They know the difference.” To that statement, I add my “amen.”

The SBC is becoming more diverse and less focused only in the deep south. It might surprise you to learn that 20% of our SBC churches are ethnic or “non-anglo” churches. That is 1 out of 5 of our churches. Our convention continues to see more diversity in our leadership and participation. We have churches in all fifty states and in some states outside the south we are planting churches rapidly. A Hispanic pastor is preaching the convention sermon in 2022. I say “BRAVO!!” to all of these facts.

The greatest reason to be Southern Baptist remains our two mission boards. One of the first things that happened in Nashville was a Sending Celebration where the International Mission Board (IMB) commissioned 65 new missionaries headed to all regions of the world. Paul Chitwood is giving splendid leadership, and we are slowly rebuilding our international missions force after some tough years a while back. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is planting churches all over the country, coordinating disaster relief, and emphasizing evangelism. Both IMB and NAMB are doing some exceptional work and I applaud them. 73% of the national Cooperative Program budget goes to these two entities.

The areas of greatest conflict represent a tiny fraction of our SBC work. I talked with a friend of mine who had only seen news reports and social media posts. He thought the whole SBC was about to blow up, seeing reports of conflict regarding the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Executive Committee. What if I told you that the the combined budgets of the ERLC and the Executive Committee represent less than 5% of the SBC budget? That isn’t a typo. Remember our two mission boards receive 73% of the budget and our six seminaries receive 22% for a total of 95%. The overwhelming majority of the conflict and consternation leading up to this year’s convention involved SBC organizations that receive less than 5% of the budget. To be clear, I am not making light of the serious issues involving both the ERLC and the EC, but I am simply pointing out that the work of our convention is vast and goes on every single day regardless of what conflict may be in the news.

Some on both sides of conflicts have not represented Christ well in public. I am amazed to see people who claim to be Christ followers and, on top of that, pastors and church leaders so easily disparage and attack their brothers and sisters publicly and persistently. In this age of social media, more and more people think nothing of going on the attack immediately. It is ungodly, harms our witness, and brings harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ. NO, I am not taking a “side.” Both sides of the recent conflicts in the SBC are guilty. At the convention, we often heard “the world is watching.” Yes the world is watching. What it sees sometimes isn’t pretty. We must do better.

48% voted for Mike Stone in the runoff. Present SBC leaders would do well to remember this fact in coming months. Like Ed Litton, Mike Stone is a faithful pastor who has served at the same SBC church for many years. There are many good and legitimate reasons why so many supported him. There are many good, faithful Southern Baptists who supported him and voted for him. They should not be marginalized for doing so.

We need to brush up on our Baptist polity. The national SBC has ZERO control or authority over any local church. The state convention and local association has ZERO control or authority over any local church. Each SBC church owns its own property, calls its own leaders, and makes its own decisions. That’s right. Each SBC church is an independent church. What about all of that money that we talked about earlier? The money that funds our mission boards and seminaries. Every penny of that money is given VOLUNTARILY by the churches. No SBC church is compelled to give to the denomination. Even if the national SBC made a decision that my local church felt was wrong, it would have no binding effect on my local church. None. The other side of that coin helps us understand why the actions of a handful of churches do not represent the whole SBC.

Our SBC entities exist to serve our churches. Our churches do not exist to serve our entities. Count this as a healthy reminder for all of us. We need it.

In conclusion…

One wise SBC leader many years ago declared, “SBC headquarters is the local church.” That statement is accurate. Over 15,000 of us gathered in Nashville for the SBC Annual Meeting. We made some important decisions. Then we all went home to the MOST important work. I think long time Texas pastor Jack Graham said it best after the convention was over…

Remember this about the Southern Baptist Convention. We are a local church movement. After a well publicized annual meeting we are returning to our church fields ready to fulfill the Great Commission and make an eternal difference in people’s lives. I’m glad to be a Southern Baptist.” – Jack Graham

Amen, Jack!

A Pastor’s Reflections on 2020

On Sunday January 5, 2020 I walked to the pulpit at Lakeside Baptist Church and preached a message entitled “Power for 2020.” The message was the beginning of a series through the book of Acts and the focus was on how we need the power of the Lord in our day more than anything else. 2019 had been a very good year in the life of our church family with so much good news to celebrate and many trends moving in the right direction. As a pastor, I was hopeful, encouraged, and anticipating what I believed to be a banner year. I told the church that. Little did I know that, even as I preached on January 5th, a microscopic virus that would come to be known as COVID-19 was already circling the globe and chaos was not far behind. I won’t further traumatize you with a recap of all of the chaos that 2020 brought to us. Every reader of this blog can well describe it. My goal for this post is to reflect and look ahead. Please allow me to share my personal reflections on 2020…

The pandemic has been the first event in my lifetime that has affected everyone. As a child of the 70’s, I have seen recessions, wars, political crises, social unrest, huge natural disasters, and the like. However, the affects of those crises often depended on where you lived or your family’s socioeconomic status. Many people were largely unaffected by even the harshest events. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single person profoundly. Intertwined with a global pandemic, we have also experienced a recession, social unrest, political crises, and huge natural disasters. Because of this fact, I am led to a related conclusion…

2020 will prove to be a transformational year. Because of all that has happened due to COVID-19, profound and enduring changes have taken place. Every single business person I talk with tells me that all of this has profoundly altered HOW they do business and think about the future of their business. Every single one. Same with doctors and educators. Yes, it’s also the same with pastors and church leaders. While I am hopeful that some point in 2021 will find us able to go about our lives without fear of COVID-19, I am absolutely confident that 2021 will bring into focus the lasting changes that this year has wrought. Yes, we will get back to “normal” but it will be a “NEW normal.” Our places of employment, our schools, our churches and everything else will never again be exactly like they were in February 2020.

2020 has acquainted us with profound grief that we need to acknowledge. We grieve what we have lost. Certainly, many many are grieving due to the death of loved ones due to COVID-19 or other reasons. Others are grieving the loss of their business or the loss of their career. Our nation has grieved together over the death of George Floyd and a number of other well publicized cases where deaths seemed unjust or senseless. Certainly, the toxic political and moral climate of our country is a source of grief. I recently had a senior adult in our church tell me, “Pastor, I am grieving the loss of my country.” To a lesser degree, but no less real is our grief over the loss of so many milestone events. Having Christmas by ZOOM brings a sense of grief all its own. Now, think about adding all of this together and bundling it into one year. At first the word for 2020 was FEAR, but I personally wonder if it has been supplanted by GRIEF.

Social media magnifies how we experience everything. I am convinced that one reason 2020 has found so many of us struggling with our mental health is that we have spent most of the year glued to our smart phones. It’s one thing to read about horrible events on the front page of a newspaper. It’s another to experience them in almost real time from one feed refresh to the next. It’s even another thing to experience the immediate (and often toxic) feedback that comes with every single event. No matter the occasion, we see it, feel it, and discuss it in ways that were unthinkable only a few years ago. This fact isn’t necessarily a healthy one for us all.

The church’s resilience in 2020 must be channeled for opportunity in 2021. Like many churches, our church at Lakeside has navigated 2020 continuing to worship, make disciples, live in community with one another, and serving our community. I would never say the Lord has brought our church through 2020 unscathed, but I do believe the Lord has brought our church (and many others) through 2020 in a way that has prepared us for the work we have to do in 2021. Count me as one who believes that the church has a great opportunity before it in 2021. The Lord has us alive and serving Him at this time in history. We must be faithful and move forward in 2021 toward greater prayer, greater effectiveness, greater connections with our communities, and deeper community among believers. As people weary from months of isolation become more comfortable congregating and gathering with one another again in months to come, the church has an opportunity to connect with people in a fresh way. Yes, we will welcome many of our church members back to church, but we have an opportunity to reach many new people who will be searching for personal connection.

We must have the courage to revision and reshape our churches in key ways. I used to say “If your church is waiting on the 1950’s to come back, it has no future.” Now I will say, “If your church is waiting on February 2020 to come back, it has no future.” Any church who thinks that they can just wait on the pandemic to be over so that they can resume business as usual is sorely mistaken. Why do I say that? Because business as usual isn’t coming back. Ever. We must get a fresh wind of the Spirit, fueling fresh commitment and fresh vision for the future. As a pastor of a local church, COVID-19 brought clarity in many ways. The strengths of our church and areas of health became clear very quickly. In the same way, it also became clear that a significant portion of what we were doing was having very little real impact. We were only doing it because we had done it for so long or because we didn’t want to upset people. In 2021, our church (and all others who want to have a future) must put more prayer, effort, and resources in activities that make the most impact, and have the courage to not bring back activities that accomplished very little.

If we haven’t fasted and prayed for revival in America, it’s time to start. 2020 has laid bare the utter brokenness of our country. In my lifetime, our country has never been more divided in every way. In the brokenness and chaos of our land, a mighty revival can come. A heaven sent, Holy Spirit empowered revival is the only thing that can change our country.

I choose to enter 2021 with hope because my hope is in the Lord. Even though 2020 has been the most difficult year of our lifetime, we are not alone in experiencing such anguish and heartache. The prophet Jeremiah had experienced the horrendous year of 586 B.C. and, with destruction all around him, Jeremiah chose hope…

“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”” (Lamentations 3:21–24, NASB95)

Take heart, dear friend. Great is HIS faithfulness.

The Last Season

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV)

WILL WE EVEN PLAY?

This was the question hanging over the 2020 Briarwood Lions football season. The COVID-19 pandemic had affected everyone and everything. The total shut down that came in the spring had given way to gradual reopening in the summer. Even summer workouts were far from normal with strict COVID protocols and no 7 on 7 or camps. There was an air of uncertainty and apprehension over everything in June & July – high school football programs included. More than one Briarwood coach stated to me that there were several points along the way that they did not think we would play at all, but they didn’t say that to the players. More than one player has said to me “The coaches didn’t say we weren’t going to get to play, but we knew.”

There was a also a degree of guilt when talking about playing football. After all, people were dying, many others were sick, healthcare workers were overwhelmed, 30 million people had lost jobs in America alone, the daily lives of everyone had been disrupted. No one knew if kids were going back to school in the Fall. There was no end in sight. Why was football season even on my radar at all? One simple reason….

I have a SENIOR.

Daniel Corbin had waited his entire life to be out there on Friday nights playing high school football. He had started every game of his junior year – a magical season that you can read about here… https://gregcorbin.com/2020/01/26/a-season-for-the-ages-the-2019-briarwood-lions-football-team/

When I wrote those words, I had no idea that a microscopic virus was already circling the globe and would wreck havoc on everything. The thought of Daniel and his teammates not being able to have a senior season was difficult to even think about. Finally, the word came down from the Alabama High School Athletic Association: football season would start as scheduled on August 21st. It was welcome news, but it was blunted by reality: maybe we can get in a couple of games before it gets shut down again. There was little to no optimism that we would make it through an entire season. However, we did, and what a season it turned out to be!

All football action shots courtesy of Todd Kwarcinsky at TK Photography

THE 2020 BRIARWOOD LIONS SEASON

In addition to the myriad “COVID questions” surrounding the season, the Lions entered the 2020 season with a host of question marks – the biggest regarding the move up to 6A Region 5. After a trip to the 5A semifinals the previous season, the Lions would move up a class and move into one of the toughest regions in 6A along with Mountain Brook (who moved down from 7A), always tough Homewood and Shades Valley, constant rival Chelsea, Huffman, and Woodlawn. How would the Lions replace a great senior class off last year’s team? Would new playmakers step up? Could we avoid injuries in key places where we were obviously thin? As we drove up I-59 to Fort Payne on August 21st, these questions were on the minds of many Lions supporters.

BRIARWOOD 28 FORT PAYNE 20 The Lions blitzed the Wildcats early and held off a late Fort Payne rally. A solid start against a quality opponent that gave everyone some confidence and optimism.

SPAIN PARK 21 BRIARWOOD 14 The Lions couldn’t hold on after leading 14-0 at the half. This game was a confidence booster as everyone felt we should have beaten a solid 7A foe.

BRIARWOOD 43 WOODLAWN 0 Due to the week to week uncertainty of playing thanks to COVID-19, senior night was moved to the first home game. The highlight was the pre-game ceremony with players from both teams side by side holding American flags – on September 11.

BRIARWOOD 28 HUFFMAN 16 The Lions put together one of their best overall games of the season to defeat the uber talented Huffman Vikings.

BRIARWOOD forfeit win over MORTIMER JORDAN. The Blue Devils had to forfeit due to COVID-19.

BRIARWOOD 42 SHADES VALLEY 19 In what would become a pattern in the second half of the season, the Lions started slowly and fell behind before exploding. Three Briarwood touchdowns in :90 seconds of game clock time sealed the Mounties’ fate on this night. This game also clinched a playoff spot for the 28th consecutive season.

MOUNTAIN BROOK 17 BRIARWOOD 7 The Lions played the best team they had faced (to this point of the season) and did not play their best game. In typical 2020 fashion, the game was moved to Thursday night due to a hurricane coming through the state! This loss cost the Lions a region championship.

BRIARWOOD 28 HOMEWOOD 6 The Lions absolutely dominated the second half in every phase of the game. This win enabled the Lions to claim the second seed in the region and host a first round playoff game.

BRIARWOOD 42 CORNER 7 A huge Corner team was no match for Briarwood speed and toughness as the Lions cruised to a big homecoming win. In typical 2020 fashion, due to ANOTHER hurricane coming through the state earlier in the week and mass power outages, the stadium lights were only restored about an hour before game time!

BRIARWOOD 31 HARTSELLE 17 (1st Round Playoffs) The Lions were down 14-3 after a lackluster first half. The Briarwood seniors were not going out in that fashion and spearheaded what can only be described as a second half obliteration and dominance of a good, solid team. Tyler Waugh had a game for the ages in what proved to be the Lions last home game.

THE 2020 SEASON ENDS

OXFORD 35 BRIARWOOD 14 The Lions did not fare well against the defending 6A State Champions who had their sights clearly set on a repeat. It was a disappointing way to end, but it cannot take away from the season as a whole.

A 9-3 season in class 6A and a global pandemic is a TERRIFIC season by any measure.

“THANK YOU” ISN’T ENOUGH

I want to express my deep, heartfelt appreciation to ALL of the Briarwood coaches, staff, players, and football families who absolutely went above and beyond the call of duty in order to help this 2020 season happen. As the parent of a senior, you will always have my gratitude for what you did in making this season happen.

I also want to express my thanks and appreciation to the Briarwood football family. Daniel got the opportunity to play at one of the state’s top football programs for one of the greatest to ever do it (retired Coach Fred Yancey) one of the most respected “up and coming” coaches in the state (current Coach Matthew Forester). Daniel was in uniform at Bryant Denny Stadium for the 2017 5A State Championship Game. Daniel started every game in the 2019 playoff run. He has been part of some of the greatest games in Briarwood history and some of the most exciting high school football games in recent memory i.e. the 2017 St. Clair County game & the 2019 Ramsay game. It was an honor and privilege for Daniel to be part of Briarwood football. He will carry the memories for the rest of his life.

I also want to thank the boys Daniel played with. If you look at that top photo of the senior football players, Daniel went to battle with those guys for seven straight seasons. Having moved here when Daniel was in sixth grade, I still remember taking him to his first practice with the Cahaba Valley Lions and Daniel not knowing a soul. Those coaches and those boys accepted Daniel from day one – even though most of them had been together since kindergarten. As a dad, I will always be grateful for that fact. Beginning with their 7th grade year, this group moved up and began to officially play for the school. They were winners – compiling a 63-12 record in their Briarwood football career. Most of all, they were the greatest young men. Absolutely could not have asked for a better group of young men for my son to grow up with and go to battle with on the field. “THANK YOU” truly isn’t enough.

A SEASON OF LIFE ENDS & ANOTHER BEGINS

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, ESV)

As we drove home from the playoff game at Oxford, I could not get this scripture off my mind. The end of the 2020 football season marks the end of a season of life for the Corbin family. You see, Becky and I have been watching one of our sons play ball every single year since 2003. We have braved the elements at baseball parks, traveled to basketball gyms all over the southeast, and parked at dozens of football stadiums because one of our sons was playing. When one season ended, we looked forward to the next season. There was always a next season – until now. The 2020 football season ended a season in the life of our family. It has a been a season filled with great joy and excitement. We have loved every single minute of it all. No one has enjoyed watching their boys play more than Greg & Becky Corbin. Never again will I wake up on Friday morning, lean over to Becky and say “It’s GAME DAY!!!” Here we are greeting Daniel after his last home game…

It’s also the end of a season and the beginning of a new season in Daniel’s life. Now final college decisions are being made and the countdown to high school graduation begins in earnest. Daniel’s football and high school sports career is over, but he has a good head on his shoulders and knows that a new season of his life looms with its own joys and opportunities. Here are Daniel’s own words in a social media post summing up his Briarwood football career…

“Wouldn’t change a thing. Thankful for all the lessons learned and the memories made. Love all my brothers.”

That pretty much says it all. The following pictures say a lot about Daniel. You may have already noticed that in some pictures he is #32 and in others he is #50. The reason is that early in this season, the team needed Daniel to step in and play offensive line for a few games. That necessitated a number change according to the rules. Daniel was a good senior soldier during those weeks – doing his very best, not complaining, and exhausting himself playing on both sides of the ball. He was all about the team and all about helping the team win. Thankfully, during the second half of the season, things were more settled on the offensive line – enabling Daniel to move back exclusively to defense and his beloved #32. Through it all, he was a leader and a warrior in every sense of the word.

Certainly, there may have been more talented ball players.

But there has never been a player who enjoyed playing ball more than Daniel Corbin.

It’s been a joy to be there for every single moment of it.

Daniel, your mom and I are so very proud of you. We look forward to walking with you into the next season of life.

A Mighty Warrior & Special Friend Has Gone Home

“Hey, Greg, this is your old, old, old, old, old, friend calling…..” So began the voicemail from Dick Thomassian on my cell phone at 12:44 p.m. on July 9, 2020. Later that day, I called him back and we had a long, encouraging talk. Little did I know that would be the last time I talked with Dick Thomassian – one of the great encouragers in my life and in the lives of so many others. The picture above was taken here in Birmingham in 2015. Dick and Lois were in town and we met them for a meal. Every time I talked with him after that day, Dick never failed to mention it and say that we had to do it again. I will always treasure that day and that picture.

As I sat down to type this post, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I met Dick Thomassian. Growing up in Northeast Alabama, I had seen him many times on television leading worship at Whitesburg Baptist Church. However, I first met him in New Orleans in June 1996 as a seminary student taking an evangelism class during the Crossover New Orleans evangelistic effort prior to the Southern Baptist Convention. I arrived on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to get my assignment for the week, having no idea where or with whom I would be working. It was a blessing to learn I had been assigned to do block parties and street evangelism with Whitesburg Baptist Church.

The first day of Crossover New Orleans we did an evangelistic block party in one of the most crime ridden housing projects in the city. I didn’t have to wonder what to do – Dick told me! Everyone had a job and everyone worked hard. No one went harder than Dick. When it came time to share the gospel and call people to be saved, he shifted into another gear! After a tiring day, I was looking forward to resting that night. That is when I found out that some of us were doing more evangelistic work that evening and Dick had assigned me to go. To my amazement, Dick took several of us to Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter at night. He had a puppet team set up on the square and he gave me a handful of gospel tracts. “Here, pass these out and witness to people who stop and listen,” Dick said. Then he started preaching right there on the street corner in Jackson Square and calling for people to place their faith in Jesus on the spot. Needless to say, Dick Thomassian made a giant first impression on me.

Dick Thomassian was not giant in stature, but he was larger than life. He absolutely took over any room he entered with his boundless energy, his passion for Jesus and seeing people saved, his love for people, his leadership and organizational skills, his stubborn determination, his sense of humor, his ever present smile, and that laugh. Oh, that laugh. His ministry was invested in people. For thirty years he served as Minister of Music at Whitesburg and then ten more years as Minister of Missions – forty years total at that church. Once while speaking in chapel at Whitesburg Christian Academy, he brought an old worn out pair of shoes into chapel and told the students that these shoes had preached the gospel on every continent except Antarctica. He then told them he was getting old and asked who would step into those shoes and preach the gospel all over the world. That was Dick. Always investing. Always looking to the work of the gospel.

In 1999, I was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Remlap and held revival services with a different preacher each night. I invited Dick to preach and he eagerly accepted. Unsurprisingly, he challenged our church to boldly share the gospel and win people to Jesus. He was kind, gracious, and encouraging to a young pastor – even remembering me from that New Orleans trip three years before. From then on whenever I would run into Dick at a state convention function, he would always talk to me and ask about my church and the ministry. We were friends.

In 2007, I was called to serve on staff at Whitesburg Baptist Church. On the Sunday morning I was introduced to the church, one of the first people to greet me was Dick Thomassian. Beside him (as always) was Lois. She didn’t say as many words, but her love and grace were just as apparent. Dick could not have done what he did without Lois. She was the perfect complement to him, and, occasionally, the only one he would listen to!

After coming to Whitesburg, I saw Dick all the time and grew close to him. He came to love my family – always wanting to see Becky and the boys. He was always asking the boys about their ball games and telling them stories from his childhood in New York City. We often met for lunch at one of his favorite places – Newk’s. Over lunch he would tell me stories of the 70s & 80s at Whitesburg and the Southern Baptist Convention. He would share about mission trips and times when they saw huge numbers of people come to Christ. Without fail, he would always ask me how I was doing and how Becky and the boys were doing. He was my friend.

It’s really impossible to remember all of the times that Dick Thomassian spoke life into me. Almost every time I preached at Whitesburg, Dick was there. He was always the first to encourage and affirm me afterward. A handful of moments stand out. During a tough, down season of my time at Whitesburg, I looked up and Dick was standing in my office door. He closed the door behind him, sat down, and talked to me like a father to a son. I will never forget those words of encouragement and steadfastness. Those few minutes were life giving to me. When I was leaving there to move to Birmingham, Dick’s words of affirmation and encouragement were just what I needed in that moment. He was my friend.

Since leaving Huntsville, I could count on hearing from Dick regularly. Several times per year, my cell phone would ring and he would say he “needed to hear my voice and lay eyeballs on me.” Then he would proceed to ask about Becky and the boys! He always wanted to know how the church was doing, but really he wanted to know how I was doing. He was my friend.

The truth is there are hundreds (more likely thousands) of people who could share very similar experiences with Dick Thomassian. He loved people and people loved him. He was a friend to so many all over the world. On every continent there are people who know Christ through the mission efforts of Dick Thomassian. Think about that. He was an innovator in his day and his legacy at Whitesburg Baptist Church is apparent in countless ways. He meant so much to so many. He did so much for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He accomplished so much in church work. He was a mighty gospel warrior if I have ever known one.

I am forever grateful that he became my friend.

I wish I would eat at Newk’s with him one more time. I wish I could talk to him on the phone one more time. I wish I could laugh out loud at one of his stories one more time. I wish I could hear him share the gospel and give an invitation one more time.

A mighty warrior and a special friend has gone home.

When We have More Questions than Answers

immutable

As I write these words, it’s Friday afternoon and another Sunday is approaching.  The seventh consecutive Sunday that the church I serve will not meet in person for worship. It’s hard to comprehend.  While talking to a pastor friend of mine this week, I joked that I keep waiting to wake up one morning and find out that the last six weeks have all been a season of “The Twilight Zone” and find that everything is reset back to February.  Not happening. All of this is very, very real.

As the leader of a local church, I have lots of questions.  When will we be able to gather again for worship on Sunday morning?  What on earth will that need to look like when we do?  What percentage of our people will even be comfortable coming anyway?  How do we keep people connected, growing spiritually, and feeling part of the church over an extended period of time when many will not be able to meet with us in person?  What can we do about Vacation Bible School this summer?   How badly will the economic devastation of the last few weeks affect our families long term?   What about planning for the Fall at church when school starts back?  Will school start back in August?   How will this affect our church long term?

Those are the questions in my corner of the world.  I have precious few answers.  OK, I have NO answers right now.

You may be reading this blog and your mind is filled with other questions – some weightier than the questions on my mind.  What will I do now that I have lost my job?  How long will I have a job?  Will my senior in high school be able to start college in August?  Will our wedding need to be postponed?  I was planning to retire this year, but can I afford to now?   How long will it be until I can hug my elderly parent?   We have a vacation planned in July, should we cancel it?  On and on and on it goes.  Question after question. Precious few, if any, answers.

What do we do when we have more questions than answers?  

What do we do when we have NO answers? 

In the interest of transparency, I have wrestled with those questions in my own heart lately.  Maybe more so than at any time in my life and ministry there are more questions with little to no answers.  Unfortunately, this is likely true for every reader of this blog. One aspect that has made all of this so disconcerting is the swiftness with which it came upon us.  On March 1st everything was rocking along pretty good and then with breathtaking speed, the whole country shut down, tens of thousands of people died, over 20 million people lost their jobs, and no one has any firm answers about anything.  EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED AND THERE ARE NO ANSWERS RIGHT NOW. As I wrestled with these issues in my own heart, one of the great truths of scripture echoed in my mind over and over again….

The IMMUTABILITY of God.

It is one of the most comforting attributes of God.  He doesn’t change. Nothing changes Him. This truth is taught over and over in scripture….

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” (Psalm 102:25–27, ESV)

““For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6, ESV)

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17, ESV)

In his classic systematic theology textbooks, Dr. Wayne Grudem quotes another theologian on this subject….

The doctrine of God’s immutability is of the highest significance for religion. The contrast between being and becoming marks the difference between the Creator and the creature. Every creature is continually becoming. It is changeable, constantly striving, seeks rest and satisfaction, and finds this rest in God, in him alone, for only he is pure being and no becoming. Hence, in Scripture God is often called the Rock.…

Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 164). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

“Hence, in Scripture God is often called the Rock….”   Think about that truth.

What do we do when we have more questions than answers?  

What do we do when we have NO answers? 

WE STAND ON THE UNCHANGING ROCK OF OUR SALVATION AND TRUST HIM UNTIL THE WAY BECOMES MORE CLEAR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Needed Changes I am Hopeful This Season will Bring

Let me be clear up front:  I am NOT happy this COVID-19 pandemic has happened. The suffering in terms of life, health, fear, and economic disruption has been enormous. I am not happy this has happened and my heart breaks to see the devastation all of this has caused.  I fully understand that quoting Romans 8:28 will not make everyone feel better, and I am very conscious not to minimize the pain many are experiencing.  No one would have chosen to have our country and world go through this season.

However, since we are in the middle of this season of the COVID-19 pandemic, I choose to be hopeful.  First and foremost, I am hopeful because my hope is in Christ and no circumstances can take that away.  I also choose to be hopeful rather than focusing on doom and gloom – plenty of that around!  Honestly, I believe that this terrible season of pandemic can be a catalyst for some needed changes for our nation, our families, and our churches.

OUR NATION

1.  I believe this season can make people more open to the gospel and the truth of Christ. Recently, I read that surveys are showing that Americans are praying much more lately.  Times like this make people search for hope and think about life and death. Hearts may very well be more open to the gospel of Christ than they have been in some time. While I do not personally believe that this pandemic will lead to “revival,” I do believe it could have a positive spiritual impact.

2.  I believe this season can reinforce the sanctity of every life. The driving reason for taking the measures we have taken to combat COVID-19 is because of the potential threat to life it represents for several vulnerable groups.  That is a positive thing.  America still values life and that has been reinforced.  Now, if someone would point out that the same nation willing to shut down its economy to save hundreds of thousands of lives is the same nation that aborts 800,000 babies each year and thinks that is OK.

OUR FAMILIES

1. I believe this season can help our families rethink priorities. So many families were so busy going from one activity to the next that they gave precious little thought to priorities and what mattered most.  Now, all of the activities that consumed so much time, energy, and money are canceled.  Many of those activities are GOOD and we can’t wait for them to start back.  However, it’s been good to be home and learn to treasure one another more.  It’s been good to be home and learn all over again that we don’t have to eat out to have a good meal or spend a lot of money to have fun.

2. I believe this season can help our families grow spiritually. All of a sudden, families are worshiping together every Sunday – not just the Sundays they are in town. All of sudden families are praying and doing Bible studies together.  As parents engage with their children in spiritual matters, we grow and mature in our own faith.

OUR CHURCHES

1. I believe this season will help our people treasure gathering on Sunday more. Some have expressed a fear that “doing online church” will further encourage people to stay at home and watch even when they again have the opportunity to come to worship on Sunday.  I choose to believe this season will have the opposite affect. This season of ONLY having online services available has already shown us what a poor, inadequate substitute they are for gathered worship.  May we never take the joy of gathering for worship for granted again.

2.  I believe this season will help our churches renew their focus on what matters most. We made the decision to cancel our March 15 services late in that week. By the time I gathered with our staff leaders on Monday, March 16 it was apparent we were in for an extended period of not meeting and we had to get a plan together.  In one day, we got back to the absolute basics and essentials of being the church.  Our focus immediately became BEING the church, not programs.  Our programs are canceled, but our church has continued. In some ways, Lakeside has even thrived during this pandemic.

3. I believe this season will help our churches focus less on personal preferences. No one is complaining about the music now.  They are so happy to have music as part of the online service. No one is worried about what people are wearing. No one is worried about “their pew” or “their” parking spot.  No one is worried about a hundred other petty things that church folks tend to worry about.  When we are able to gather in worship again, no one will be worried about those things either. Everyone will just be so glad to be able to gather again.  Let’s help it stay that way for a long while!

4. I believe this season will help our churches become more flexible and more effective.  In my personal opinion, even when our churches are able to meet again, it is likely there will still be restrictions on large gatherings – meaning that churches of several hundred and larger won’t be able to have everyone on campus at the same time. In addition, we don’t know how comfortable people will be in a full worship center or shoulder to shoulder in the room with their small group. Even when churches are able to meet again, it is likely that many will have to make significant adjustments for an extended period of time.  Many churches will step up and thrive during this time because the situation forces them to be flexible and think about people rather than programming.
 

An Easter without a Service is NOT an Easter without a Savior.

Lakeside2017        GardenTombexterior

Maybe the whirlwind of everything we have been dealing with surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from fully hitting home with me.  In the last couple of days, it hit home.  Our church and almost all churches will not be meeting on Easter Sunday 2020. Yes, we will be having online worship and using technology to connect. Thank the Lord for that ability!  It’s been good to worship together as families in our living rooms and connect with our Sunday School classes over ZOOM.  However, as good as these are, they have served to reinforce to us all over again the beauty of actually gathering with the people of God on the Lord’s Day.  This week, my heart has ached in a fresh way to gather with the people of on the Lord’s Day.   How I long for the day when we can gather again.

It’s Easter Sunday, and we are not meeting at Lakeside.  At almost all churches, there is no Easter Sunday service to attend.  Many families have great traditions surrounding the Easter Sunday service. Many families attend the Easter service together at the same church each year. They make family pictures after the service and they gather with family and friends for a meal and fun.  Easter traditions abound for families. For a pastor, there is no Sunday like Easter Sunday.  Yes, the increased attendance is always nice, but most pastors love Easter Sunday for other reasons. It’s the one Sunday of the year when the entire focus of attention is on the resurrection of Christ.  The choir seems to sound even better on Easter Sunday.  The people are joyous. There are more people in the service who are new than any other service of the year.  The pastor studies longer, prays more in preparation.  Easter Sunday is special.  For the first time in my life, I will not be gathering on Easter Sunday with my church family. For many reading this blog, this will be the first Easter Sunday of your life when you will not gather with your church family.

However, an Easter without a service is NOT an Easter without a Savior.

Yesterday afternoon, my mind went to “the resurrection chapter”: 1 Corinthians 15.  This great chapter defines the gospel, shows the necessity of believing in Christ’s resurrection, and explains what His resurrection means to us.

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, NASB95)

There it is, the gospel defined in all of its simplicity and beauty.  Did you see what is at the heart of the gospel?  The resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–18, NASB95)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a linchpin of the Christian faith. No resurrection = no salvation.

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NASB95)

Without the hope of the resurrection, we have no hope to find in this life.

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead…” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NASB95)

Verse 20 is a transition statement. In the preceding verses, the Apostle Paul dealt with the hypothetical….”if Christ has not been raised.”   Now, in verse 20, he turns to the FACTUAL. The resurrection HAS happened.  Now Paul moves to bring to light the powerful truth of the salvation brought by our risen Savior.  Let the beauty of scripture speak us powerfully in these words….

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–28, NASB95)

What incredible truth!!!  The resurrection of Christ HAPPENED.  We have a risen SAVIOR.  Absolutely NOTHING can take that reality away. No pandemic. No job situation. No sickness. No family pain.  No depression.  No set backs.  No persecution.  NOTHING.

Today, we are not having an Easter with a service like we are accustomed. 

We will NEVER have an Easter without a Savior. 

Think about it. Drink that truth deep into your soul today.  Look up.  Worship.

It’s Easter.

 

Processing a Pandemic

pandemic

The breathtaking swiftness with which this virus pandemic has gripped us all is incredible.  On February 20th (a short five weeks ago) our staff lead team had an all day retreat.  One aspect of that day was conducting a SWOT analysis for our church – identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for Lakeside.  The word “virus” was not identified as a potential threat. In fact, the word “virus” was not uttered all day long.  Now, every single thing on the whiteboard in that staff retreat is GONE.  When I assembled on Monday, March 15th with that same group, everything on that same whiteboard came under the heading “What do we need to do RIGHT NOW?”  Everything had changed in a matter of days – for everyone.

The last two weeks have been heavy as I have been doing everything in my power to lead my team at Lakeside and take care of the church I am called to shepherd. In addition, I have been contacted by some fellow pastors – some seeking advice, some needing encouragement, etc.  Many of us have pastored during war, financial crises, and natural disasters. None of us have ever pastored during a pandemic.  Now, I am (mostly) working from home and my days are filled with study, prayer, ZOOM meetings, email, phone calls, and text messages. I jokingly say that one of the highlights of each day is now watching the daily press briefing from the Coronavirus Task Force!  As I was having my Bible reading and prayer time first thing this morning, I realized that things had finally settled down to the point that my mind and heart were beginning to process this situation. Here is where my mind went today…

1.   The Lord is sovereign.  This situation surprised us, but it did not surprise Him. This world, everyone in it, and everything in it is in His hand….

“The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers.”             (Psalm 24:1–2, NASB95)

I thought of this verse as I prayed this morning. If I did not believe this with all my heart, then I could never preach again.

2.  We don’t know “why?”  Answers fail us. This pandemic falls in the category of things we do not understand “why” God allows.  Every year there are horrendous natural disasters, horrific accidents and the like.  We can come at it from the Biblical teaching that we live in a fallen world, a world broken and marred by sin that is longing to be redeemed.  That Biblical truth explains in big picture terms why disasters and disease happen in our world.  However, they do not explain why one person lives and one person dies. Or one person loses their home and another person does not.

3.   When struggling with #2, see #1.  We can trust that our sovereign Lord is at work for our good and His glory – even in the situations that we do not understand.

4.    It is jarring for Americans to realize we are not sovereign. In an affluent country like America, are accustomed to at least FEELING like we are in control.  We live in the richest country in the world, with the greatest military in the world, with the greatest healthcare in the world, with the greatest technology in the world, with the greatest sports in the world, with the most opportunities in the world.  In the space of a few short days, all of that has been brought to a grinding halt by an invisible virus that didn’t exist when we celebrated Thanksgiving back in November.

5.    With all of the things we don’t know, let’s focus on the One we do know.  We don’t know when the virus will subside. We don’t know when life will return to “normal.” We don’t know how badly and for how long the economy will suffer. We don’t know when we will be able to gather for worship again.  However, we DO know that the LORD IS FAITHFUL and we DO know that NOTHING WILL EVER SEPARATE US FROM HIS LOVE.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39, NASB95)