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The Day of a Godly Person’s Death

8 Sep

Our church family at Lakeside has been touched profoundly by death this week. First of all, a beloved 33 year-old member of our church died after six months in the heart transplant unit at UAB hospital. On Wednesday, a wonderful 37 year old teacher at one of our local schools passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was (and had been) the teacher of several of our Lakeside children. I do not write this blog post because I have answers. I do not. Only the Lord knows why. Tonight my mind went to a little known sermon by a well known preacher.

Jonathan Edwards was a preacher the Lord used mightily. He is most famous for his well known sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. However, my personal favorite sermon   from Edwards is a sermon on death.  It’s good to share it for many of us this week…

“The Day of a Godly Person’s Death Is Better Than the Day of Their Birth”
Ecclesiastes  7:1

A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1, NASB95

1.  They receive a better and more blessed life.

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”” (John 6:49–51, NASB95)

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”” (1 Corinthians 15:53–55, NASB95)

2.   They enter into a better world.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:1–4, NASB95)

Listen to Edward’s own words on this point…

The world that a man comes into on the day of his birth is a world of low, earthly, and mean enjoyment. But the world that the soul of a godly man is born into on the day of his death is a world of spiritual and divine enjoyments. This is a world of fading, vanishing pleasures but that is a world of substantial, durable joys and delights. There are pleasures forevermore.

 The world that men come into on the day of their birth is a world of sin and vanity and trouble. But the world that a godly man enters into on the day of his death is a world of perfection and holiness, of light and joy without any mixture of sin and sorrow.

 On the day of a person’s birth, he is born into a world that is under a curse and has no guard against it; but on the day of his death he enters into a world that is blessed of God, where there is no curse, but only joy and happiness, a world that is blessed continually with the glorious presence of God and the perfect manifestation and full enjoyment of God’s love. It’s a world filled with the boundless love of God which doth as a river of life satisfy all the inhabitants thereof.

3.   They are received by a better parent.

“And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18, NASB95)

4.   They receive a better inheritance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NASB95)

At the end of the message, Edwards urges us to make some important applications…

  • This truth should help the grief of those who have lost friends and loved ones.

 

  • This truth should inspire us all to prepare spiritually for death

 

  • We should rejoice because we need not fear death.

 

 

Why I have a picture of Spurgeon in my office

15 Mar

spurgeon_chair

Not long ago, a pastor friend of mine was surprised to see a portrait of the great English pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon on the wall of my office near my desk. “You’re not a Calvinist, why do you have a picture of Spurgeon?”  It was a good question. It was also my joy to explain to him why I have his picture in my office even though I am not a Calvinist. Spurgeon was a famous pastor in London who died in 1892. His sermons and books are still in print today and influencing hundreds of thousands of people around the world. While pursuing my doctoral studies, I was required to do an academic paper on an evangelism and revival leader. The professor distributed a list of famous names like Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, W.A. Criswell, and Bill Bright – urging us to choose one.  I chose Spurgeon because he was the one on the list I knew the least about even though I saw him quoted constantly.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I read five biographies of Spurgeon and wrote a thirty page paper on his life and ministry. To say that was transformative in my life and ministry would be an understatement. Every time I look at the picture of Spurgeon in my office, I am reminded of the reasons why I so admire him and why he has impacted my life and ministry so greatly.

1.  Spurgeon is a great example of love for Christ and exalting Christ in preaching. That is the one characteristic that stands out most to me about Spurgeon; if anyone has ever loved Christ, it was Charles Spurgeon. His love for Christ bleeds through in every sermon. I don’t believe I have read a Spurgeon sermon that did not explicitly and clearly call people to place their faith in Christ.  He once described his preaching style as “starting at any text and running to the cross.”

2.  Spurgeon is a great example of faithful Bible preaching. Week after week from the pulpit of his church, Spurgeon opened his Bible and preached. As he grew older, his sermons grew in Biblical and theological depth.

3.  Spurgeon is a great example of soul winning and evangelism. He literally wept for souls and was not satisfied if people weren’t coming to Christ. He was willing to lead his church to change in order to reach people. For instance, when the original facility of his church became inadequate, he lead the church to move its services to a theater – a very controversial decision at that time.

4.  Spurgeon is a great example of pastoral leadership and hard work. He visited his flock. He organized ministries. He met needs. He led the leaders. He answered inquirers. He traveled and preached extensively. He invested in young preachers. He lead his church to send out missionaries. He read six books per week. Yet, he never neglected the pulpit ministry at his church.

5.  Spurgeon is a great example of love for people and encouragement. He loved his church. He loved the people in the city of London. He loved fellow Christians and pastors even if they didn’t agree on every issue.

6.  Spurgeon is a great example of being willing to stand for truth at great personal cost. In his early years, Spurgeon was a phenomenon. In his latter years, he was an outcast among many.  His warnings of theological drift during what became known as the Downgrade Controversy proved prophetic, but they largely fell on deaf ears and earned him the scorn of many. When it came to his convictions, Spurgeon would not bend.

7.  Spurgeon is a great example of perseverance during great personal stress. At the height of his popularity, his ministry endured a great tragedy that Spurgeon never completely got over. After the birth of their twin sons, his wife was largely homebound and was never well again. Yet, by all accounts Spurgeon remained a faithful husband and father. Spurgeon developed health problems himself and suffered greatly during the last two decades of his life. The only thing worse than his physical suffering was his emotional suffering. Spurgeon struggled with depression for many years and spent many days in the depths of despair even though he had an undeniably strong faith in Christ.

On June 7, 1891 the mighty preacher took to the pulpit for the last time. Wracked with physical pain and the weakest he had ever been, Spurgeon ended his last sermon with these words. These are the last words Spurgeon spoke from a pulpit. They capture his heart….

Those who have no master are slaves to themselves. Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ, either self or the Saviour. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains.

“There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These 40 years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another 40 years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen.”

For more information about Spurgeon visit http://www.spurgeoncenter.com

It’s well worth your time to watch this great film about his life…http://www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com/

 

To everything there is a season…

12 Feb

2-3-briarwood-boys-basketball

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

That Bible verse echoed in my mind last night in the gymnasium of Homewood High School as a season in my son’s life and the life of our family ended.  Our Briarwood Lions lost to Pelham in the area tournament, ending our season and the high school basketball career of our oldest son, David.  It was not the easiest of nights for our family.  You cannot understand it until you have a night like that one.

It was an emotional night. On the way to the game, Becky and I talked about the first time David played basketball – in 2nd grade Upward Basketball. He did so well that the next year he got recruited to play on an RA basketball league team!  Every winter for the last ten years, we have been in the stands cheering for our son and his team. It’s just been part of our life. We do not know anything else. There has always been another season – “next season maybe we can…” Now it’s over. There is no next season. That’s hard.  The looks on the faces of the other senior parents (and the tears) told me they were feeling the same emotions.

It was a night to remember and celebrate our son. We remembered that undefeated RA team back in 3rd grade – with David being one of the leading scorers. We remembered that three-pointer David made at the buzzer in 8th grade against Whitesburg Middle. We remembered the night up at Skyline he was chosen All-Area as a 9th grader.  We remembered his 34 point 20 rebound game as a 10th grader at Paint Rock Valley.  We remembered his tw0-handed slam dunk in a game against Shelby County in 11th grade.

It was a night to see once more how basketball has helped my son grow up.  He learned to play on a team.  He learned to respect authority and accept instruction from his coaches. He learned that life (officiating) isn’t always fair, and you get mistreated. He learned to come back from failure after losses, and not to take success for granted after wins.  Our family moved to Birmingham after David’s 10th grade year, which meant he moved from playing 1A basketball to playing 6A basketball.  The players were bigger, stronger, and faster.  Points and rebounds were much harder to get. He wasn’t “the man” on this team. His new team played a different style, and was filled with experienced players who had been in the program for years. He struggled at first – and his playing time reflected that struggle. However, David hung in there, kept working and became a good contributor off the bench during the last few games of his junior year. This season, he started every game and was a key player at a 6A school.  Yes, David learned about basketball, but he mostly learned about life. He grew up. You can’t put a price tag on that.

It was a night to be grateful for coaches and teammates. We don’t have coach horror stories. Every coach David has had loved him and influenced him in a positive way.  David played many years with the same set of teammates up in Huntsville at Whitesburg Christian Academy. The memories made with those young men will never be forgotten. They are a treasure. Fittingly, those boys played their last game last night as well. David, Tanner, and Andrew went out together – just a few miles apart. When David walked through the doors of Briarwood Christian School his new teammates immediately accepted him even though most of them had been together for years. They let David into the circle, and their kindness to him at an awkward time will never be forgotten.  David’s teammates at Briarwood are some of the finest young men I know, and I am proud he got to go to battle with them.

It was a night to treasure friends. Parents of athletes have a special bond. You spend so many hours together in the stands. You eat so many meals together after road games.  You live and die together every time the whistle blows.  As the clock ticked down last night, I treasured the many games I sat by my great Huntsville friend Eddie Richardson as we – ahem – educated officials on some of the finer points of the game of basketball. I also treasured the looks on our wives faces! Here at Briarwood, the “pre-game analysis” with Ricky Miskelley and the detailed x’s and o’s breakdowns with Jeff Travis have been priceless.

Finally, it was a night to look ahead to the next season. It won’t be a basketball season, but the next season of life for our son and our family. It won’t be like this season that just ended, but I am praying it will be just as blessed and just as rewarding. God is good.

 

 

 

 

 

Five reasons why you should see WOODLAWN as soon as you can!

16 Oct

Woodlawn

(1)  WOODLAWN is the true story of the spiritual awakening that happened among the 1973-74 football team at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham.  It is the true of story of how Tony Nathan became a household name in Alabama and the nation.

(2)  The gospel is clear in the movie.  This is no generic “believe in God” piece.  There is a clear call for salvation & change. In fact, this is a great opportunity to bring a friend who doesn’t know Christ.  I am praying that many thousands are brought to Christ through this movie.

(3)  WOODLAWN isn’t a football movie. You read that sentence right. It is a movie about the power of the gospel to bring racial reconciliation and love for others. THAT is the heart of WOODLAWN.  It just so happens that the gospel brought racial reconciliation and love to a high school football team. The message doesn’t get lost in the football.

(4)  There are familiar faces and locations.  WOODLAWN was filmed on location in Birmingham.  You actually see Woodlawn High School, Legion Field, and Birmingham neighborhoods.  Birmingham’s own Caleb Castille has the lead role. Caleb is the son of Alabama great Jeremiah Castille, and played high school football at Briarwood Christian, as well as college football with the Crimson Tide.  Finally, it’s worth the cost of your ticket to see Jon Voight play Bear Bryant. To say it’s “spot on” is an understatement.

(5)  WOODLAWN is an absolutely incredible movie!  It looks great. It’s well acted. It’s paced well. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of the screen for two hours.  You might catch yourself standing up and cheering before it’s over!

 

Put it on your calendar now and go see WOODLAWN!

14 Aug

Woodlawn

I want to use this space today to urge you to go see a movie the weekend of October 16-18, 2015.  That is the premiere weekend for the movie Woodlawn in theaters.  Last night, I was invited by a friend to attend a private screening of the movie with several members of the team and other local pastors.  I must say that I was stunned (in a good way) by what I saw. Woodlawn isn’t just the best Christian-themed movie I have seen, but Woodlawn is one of the best movies I have ever seen, period.

Most importantly, Woodlawn is a true story of what happened with the 1973-74 football teams at Woodlawn High School and how it affected the entire city of Birmingham.  Yes, there is the football. Tony Nathan rose from obscurity to become a football legend in the state of Alabama. There is the climactic 1974 Woodlawn vs. Banks game that to this day holds the record for the largest crowd ever to attend a high school football game in Alabama.  In addition, Caleb Castille, the son of Alabama great Jeremiah Castille, has the lead role playing Tony Nathan. The football scenes are intense and startlingly realistic. The movie was filmed on location here in Birmingham, so we actually see Legion Field, Woodlawn High School, etc.

However, football is not the message of the movie, nor is it the message of the 1973-74 Woodlawn football team. That message is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A great spiritual awakening and movement of God that began among the football team spread throughout the city. During a time of great tension, the only thing that could bring true racial reconciliation and love for one another was the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Lives were changed. The city of Birmingham was changed.

This movie absolutely doesn’t flinch. It not only shows the brutality of the game of football, but it also shows the ugliness of racism, abuse, and mistrust. It shows the struggle for teens to grow up in a fallen world. It shows the soul searching of our own individual hearts regarding our own prejudices.  It shows the struggle to forgive. Most of all, it shows the hope of a better way – the love that only comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.  It does all of this with a $25 million production budget – meaning that the production quality is completely on par with any Hollywood blockbuster.

I’ve never seen anything like it.  I wept. I cheered.  I can’t wait to watch it with my sons.  Join me in praying that the message of this movie will bring hope to our hurting country. The directors of the movie are praying for 3 million Christians to buy tickets the weekend of October 16-18.  It is on my calendar, and unless we are providentially hindered, my family will be there. I intend to encourage my church family to be there and bring anyone they know who will come.  Due to the Birmingham connection, I have no doubt it will be big in the Birmingham area, but it needs to be big in places like Huntsville, Nashville, Mobile, Memphis, and Atlanta.

Tell everyone you know. Put it on your calendar. Pray hard. Believe that God is up to something great with this film. Here is the link to the website for more information…http://woodlawnmovie.com/

 

Being a friend to your pastor (or a staff member)

20 Apr

As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17, NKJV)

Recently Becky and I went out to dinner with a couple from our church with whom we have become friends.  It was a couple of hours filled with laughter, stories, and great food.  It wasn’t a sermon or a Sunday School class; it was just two couples having dinner like all of the other people in the restaurant.  Like everyone else, pastors and church staff members really need those times. Over the years, I have been blessed to have very good friends in every church I have served. It doesn’t threaten me when I see our staff members developing friendships with church members either. Many readers of this blog do not attend the church I serve. Please let me share a few thoughts about being a friend to your pastor (or a staff member).

(1)  Be faithful to pray. Some of the most treasured friends are those we know pray for us on a regular basis. There have been times the Lord has used the encouragement of a praying friend in a great way.

(2) Feel free to have fun & talk about “normal” stuff. Sometimes people think since they are talking with a pastor the conversation must be about spiritual things or the church. Those things are certainly important – eternally important – and we are glad to talk about them.  However, the truth is that we “do church” all the time, but we enjoy far more than just the church. We enjoy talking about college football, favorite vacation spots, hobbies, or a host of other things. We enjoy laughing, hearing your stories, and telling our stories!

(3) Be a “safe place.”    As I write these words I am thinking of a family in a previous church who had us over to their home on several occasions. The very first time we went to their home, the wife told us as soon as we arrived: “Here you are just our friends, Greg & Becky.”  That was her way of saying that they intended for their home to be a safe place for our family, and it was. There was never an agenda and never an expectation of anything other than friendship. Those were times filled with love, laughter, and generosity that I will never forget.

(4) Disagree but remain a friend. In one church I served I could always count on one phone call when the proposed budget for the next year was distributed: a call from one of my best friends. Every year he was bent out of shape about something in the budget and he would give me an earful.  Then it was over. He disagreed, but he remained my close friend. Our friendship meant far more to him than a line item in a budget or an item on the agenda of a business meeting.

(5) Understand when we can’t share.  One time we were having dinner with close friends and a particularly sensitive issue in the church were we serving at that time came up in the conversation. Realizing the position she had put me in, the wife looked at me and said, “I’m sorry; I know you can’t go there.”  Every pastor and staff member has things they cannot share with even their closest friends due to confidentiality, etc. A good friend respects that even if it means we can’t tell them.

Every pastor and staff member needs friends. I am so very grateful for the gift of friends for life.

 

 

The Greatest Generation

6 Mar

This week I visited a church member in the ICU of a local hospital. Even though he had been through a rough time, he was able to talk with me and in our conversation he referred to his time in combat during World War II.  As I talked with him, I was humbled and a little overwhelmed to be the pastor of a man who had given so much for his country.  As I walked to my car, I couldn’t help but think of others in the church I serve who are also World War II veterans.  In the short time I have been pastor here, we have buried several of these veterans.  A number of years back, news anchor Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the World War II generation and he titled it “The Greatest Generation.”   I believe Tom Brokaw had it right; this generation is the greatest generation in American history.  Please allow me to share why I believe this statement is true.

1)  The World War II generation is a generation of deep faith.  Not every member of this generation is a born again Christian, but many are. Some came to faith during the war, while others came to Christ later in life, but the reality is that many of this generation came to a deep and abiding Christian faith. Practically every evangelical church in the post World War II decades has been filled with faithful members from this generation.

2) The World War II generation is a generation of hard work & sacrifice.  Many of them were children during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and grew up in families working hard just to survive. After the war was over, they came home, got married and began their careers and families.  In a very real sense, this generation built the America we know today. They built businesses, communities, churches, etc. Even in their retirement years, the World War II generation has stayed busy. They have worked until they were not physically able to work any more. That is no coincidence. Work is all they have known.

3)  The World War II generation is a generation of a healthy patriotism. I have never met a World War II veteran who thought America was perfect. However, each one loves their country.  Many of them have seen first hand the results of evil and despotism.  They take the phrase “land of the free and the home of the brave” to heart.  They came up in a time when the American flag transcended Democrat or Republican  – it was a symbol of our whole country and what it stands for. Certainly, we do not worship America, but the Greatest Generation shows us how to love America in a healthy way.

According to the National World War II museum, 16 million Americans served in World War II.  Today only about 855,000 remain alive. They are dying at the rate of 492 each day.  In Alabama, there are only 12,700 left alive in the entire state.   Let’s take the time to thank and honor those members of the Greatest Generation that we know. Unfortunately, we do not have very long to do so.

Grateful for Whitesburg Christian Academy

23 May

Yesterday was a bittersweet day for the Corbin family.  It was the last day of school at Whitesburg Christian Academy – literally for the Corbin family. Because I began serving at Lakeside already three months into the school year, we made the decision to let Becky and the boys finish the school year out in Huntsville.  To have moved the boys at the Christmas break would have also meant removing David from the varsity basketball team in the middle of their season. So, since the end of October, Becky and the boys have been in Huntsville Monday-Friday each week finishing school and I have been getting my feet on the ground in Birmingham as Pastor at Lakeside. It has not always been easy, but we are grateful we made the decision to let them finish out the school year.  So, yesterday was bittersweet in that we are excited to finally be in a position where all of us will be together full-time in Birmingham where God has called us to serve, but we are saddened to see a wonderful chapter in our lives end and leave many wonderful friends.

For the last seven years, Whitesburg Christian Academy has been an integral part of our lives.  Seven years ago, David went to his first day of 4th grade as a new kid not knowing anyone. At that time, there were around 150 students and the entire school shared facilities with Whitesburg Baptist Church. Today, the Academy is blessed to have this wonderful facility with more on the way…

WCA

So, David has spent the last seven school years at the Academy.  Daniel came into the Academy as a 1st grader and he just completed his fifth year.  My wife, Becky spent the last six school years as a 6th grade teacher.  During these last seven years of growth and change for the Academy, it has been part of the Corbin’s lives and the Corbins have been part of the Academy’s life.  It has a been a wonderful blessing to our family.  I am so very grateful for Whitesburg Christian Academy.  Please allow me to share why.

First of all, I am grateful for the blessing that the Academy has been to our sons.  Every single day that I have sent David and Daniel to school there, I have been confident that they were receiving a great education from a Christian worldview.  Every single day that I have sent David and Daniel to school there, I have been confident that they were loved and cared for by teachers and administration that had their best interests at heart.  The influences on the lives of my children have been overwhelmingly Christ honoring and positive, all while receiving a great education.

I am also grateful for Whitesburg Christiian Academy because of what it stands for.  The stated purpose of the school is “Developing students who are passionate followers of Christ and well-trained servant leaders…”   The Academy is serious about that purpose and it permeates the school.  In a culture filled with rapidly changing moral views and a Christian landscape too often filled with compromise, the Academy seeks to stand on the authority of Scripture and promote the historic, Biblical Christian faith.  That is no easy task in today’s world, but Whitesburg Christian Academy strives to do it out of conviction.

I am grateful for the people who are the Whitesburg Christian Academy family.  Certainly, our sons have friends for life from the Academy.  However, Becky and I both have friends for life there too.  As important as moving into the new building was for the school, the Academy’s two most important assets are its Lord and its people. Some of the greatest people in the world work, attend, and volunteer at Whitesburg Christian Academy.  It’s truly a family.  Like every family, there are occasionally some tough times when there is conflict, misunderstanding, and sin.  When these times come, the Academy seeks to handle them in a Christ honoring, redemptive way.  It’s a family.

Finally, I am grateful for Whitesburg Christian Academy because of its future. I truly believe that the best days are ahead.  I have utmost confidence in Headmaster Jerry Reeder and the leadership team he has assembled. They will continue to lead well.  However, the reasons I am bullish about the future of Whitesburg Christian Academy is because God is at work there; He has his hand on the Academy.  Trust me, in the last seven years, I have seen God do the miraculous at this school on more than one occasion – most of which I am not free to write about publicly.  The only reason that the Academy is still going and prospering is because of the blessing of God. Therefore, it has a bright future!

The Lord has called the Corbin family to leave Huntsville and Whitesburg Christian Academy and plant our lives in the metro Birmingham area. We look forward to staying in touch and seeing what God does in the future.  It’s been a great honor to be a small part of God’s work there.

The little church that could

7 Jul

This past week our family spent the week along with 24 other members of our church on a mission trip in the Williamsburg, Kentucky area.  As usual on a mission trip, I found myself immeasurably blessed by the folks that we went there to help. Each evening, our team helped Wolf Creek Baptist Church conduct Vacation Bible School. This church’s story is truly “a God thing” that blessed me and I wanted to share it with my readers.

WolfCreek

Wolf Creek Baptist Church is a 202 year old church (not a typo) in an extremely poor, rural community about seven miles outside of Williamsburg.  This part of the country sees the effects of generations of poverty, the breakdown of the family, abuse, drugs, and a host of other ills.  A number of years ago, Wolf Creek Baptist Church had only a handful of faithful attenders and was making little impact in its community.  Then Pastor John Justice had a vision. The Lord began to stir his heart to lead the church to minister to the children of the area. According to Pastor Justice, he saw children growing up in generational cycles of spiritual lostness, poverty, neglect, and pain.  According to members of Wolf Creek, Pastor Justice told the church, “If we don’t do something about it with the kids, nothing will ever change.”  That simple vision from the Lord was the beginning of great things. With few people, little to no money, and an old church van, Wolf Creek stepped out on faith and began its journey to make a difference.

Today, Wolf Creek has between 75-100 children and teenagers in attendance EACH SERVICE – Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. Very few of those kids are brought by their parents. Wolf Creek members use four vans to go get them and then take them home.  These kids, many of whom are growing up in situations that are heartbreaking, are loved unconditionally, taught the Word of God, and told of the difference the Lord Jesus can make in their lives.  Oh yes, because many of the kids do not get adequate food at home, the church FEEDS THEM EACH SERVICE.  That’s right.  Wolf Creek feeds 75-100 children and teenagers every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. The members of Wolf Creek say that they have to do that because meeting their physical needs must happen in order to meet their spiritual needs.  Wolf Creek consistently sees as many as forty of these kids come to faith in Christ each year. In fact, a couple of years ago, they were #10 in the entire Kentucky Baptist Convention in baptisms.

All of this ministry is carried out by a core of group of less than 30 adults who attend the church regularly. The bulk of the work is done by six or seven families – week in and week out. This is one reason why Whitesburg goes up there for Vacation Bible School each year. It gives these faithful families a welcome break from having to carry the whole load.  In addition to this small group of faithful members, Wolf Creek’s budget is small as well:  $600 per week ($31,200 per year).  The church rarely has a month when it meets its budget, but somehow its few bills get paid and the ministry is funded for another month. “When the money runs out and we don’t know what we are going to do, God provides,” is how one church leader described it to me.

The truth is that I went to be a blessing to Wolf Creek, but I was far more blessed to get to know them.  In fact, I was downright convicted and challenged by spending time with that little church. Wolf Creek has an old building that is totally inadequate for them in every way. They have few leaders and little money. They minister to children and families who live in circumstances that in many cases are almost unbelievable. Nothing they do is easy. Every single thing requires work.

Yet, I found the people of Wolf Creek Baptist Church to be extremely positive. All week long I kept hearing phrases such as, “God is at work” and “It’s His ministry not ours.” They were certainly grateful for the help, but they were eager to share what God was doing among them!  They steadfastly believe that one day God will provide a new building for them, and they aren’t discouraged at all that after two years the building fund only has $16,000.  God provides. They are generous – even though they have very little. They insisted on presenting our mission team with a gift.  One more amazing thing: Wolf Creek Baptist actually does mission trips. You read that right. This little church recently sent a mission team to help a church in another part of the country.

As we headed back to Alabama on Friday, I left there amazed and humbled.  In all of my years of ministry, I have never seen a church that did more with less that I saw at Wolf Creek. They do it week in and week out with no pay, no recognition, and no sign that their work will get any easier. They do it by faith that God will provide, sometimes not knowing how the ministry will be funded for another month. Few people have ever heard of Wolf Creek Baptist, and far fewer have ever seen first hand what they do. However, I believe that Heaven knows exactly what is going on at Wolf Creek, and I believe that the Lord is smiling on it.  Why do I say that?  Because the Lord knows that Wolf Creek Baptist Church is rich in the things that really matter.

 

35 years at one church: A salute to my pastor

2 Jun

Today is a special day at Whitesburg.  We are celebrating with our pastor, Dr. Jimmy Jackson, on the occasion of his 35th anniversary as Senior Pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church. In today’s world, such a tenure is extremely rare.  In fact, just this week, I read that the average tenure of a Southern Baptist Convention pastor is 3.5 years.  Think about that. This fact means that the average Southern Baptist church has had 10 pastors during the time Jimmy Jackson has served at Whitesburg.

JimmyJackson

“Bro. Jimmy” as Whitesburg folks (and many from the community) refer to him is certainly deserving of every accolade given him. When I decided to write a blog post about him, one Bible verse kept coming to mind…

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Ephesians 4:11–12, NASB95)

Bible scholars point out that “pastors and teachers” refers to one office. In fact, it is not wrong to write it as “pastor/teacher” in order to emphasis two aspects of the same office. There are many reasons that he has been able serve through the ups and downs of 35 years at the same church, but I believe one of the many reasons is that he is a consummate pastor/teacher.  A pastor is a shepherd who leads, cares for, and protects his flock. A teacher is one who faithfully teaches his people the Word of God. Jimmy Jackson does both of those things extremely well.  He shepherds his people and he teaches them the Word of God. He has done that for me and my family as well as thousands of others.

I first met Jimmy Jackson in March 1993. I was new in ministry and going through a discouraging time. A friend talked me into attending revival services at Whitesburg on Monday night. The music and the message from Bill Stafford were uplifting, but the most uplifting time for me occurred at the end of the service.  Bro. Jimmy saw two young preachers sitting down near the front and made a bee line for us after the service. He spent a few minutes encouraging us and asking about our ministries. It really meant a lot to me that he took the time to speak to us. I left Whitesburg that night uplifted and encouraged.  What I did not know then was that was just Jimmy Jackson. He tends to just minister to folks as he meets them.

Since 2007, I have served as Associate Pastor with him at Whitesburg.  Now that I have worked closely with him for six years, I can honestly say that I have more respect for Jimmy Jackson today than I had when I arrived six years ago.  He prays for every member of our church by name on a regular basis. He prays for me as a staff member multiple times each week. He still visits people in the hospital, counsels the confused, sits in multiple meetings each week, and officiates at dozens of weddings and funeral each year. In fact, I am amazed at how available he is to the people, even though he is a “mega church pastor.” He does all of this when faithfully preparing to preach the Word verse by verse each week. I have never heard him preach, but that I did not get a fresh insight or nugget of truth from the Word.

In spite of being the pastor of a large church, and a Southern Baptist Convention leader on many levels, Bro. Jimmy remains down to earth and humble. He is a very successful pastor of one of the largest churches in one of the most highly educated areas of the United States.  Yet, at heart, Jimmy Jackson remains a country boy from Mississippi. His background and experience enable him to connect with people from all backgrounds.  He can meet with a powerful Huntsville business leader in the afternoon and then drive to preach in a small country church that night, and be effective in both places – wearing the same suit! Not many pastors can pull that off!  That’s Bro. Jimmy.

He is still my friend. He is my pastor. He is my boss, although it really doesn’t feel that way.  His genuine love for Christ and for people comes through every single day.  I don’t believe that he has ever called me into his office and said, “Now, I am going to teach you something you need to know….”  That’s just not his way. However, I have learned very much that I needed to know just by working with him and watching him over these years. His impact on my life has been immeasurable.  I am a better Christian, a better husband, a better father, and a better pastor from having him as part of my life.

This is why I join the rest of the Whitesburg family in saluting my pastor, our pastor on his 35th anniversary at Whitesburg.  Our prayers are daily with him, his loving wife, Bobbi, and the rest of the Jackson family. I look forward to continuing to serve alongside him as we enter his 36th year of ministry at Whitesburg.

Bro. Jimmy, you are truly the best, and I thank the Lord for you and pray for you each day!