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Depression and the Christian

17 Jul

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

The Step Not Taken

25 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Prayer that Won’t Give Up

25 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaiming the JOY of Christmas

23 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repeat, repeat the sounding JOY!  Merry Christmas!

 

Reflections from a Reunion

22 Aug

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

30 Year Class Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handling conflict like Christians

12 Jul

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

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

How do we deal with conflict like Christians?

I CAN CONFRONT YOU.

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

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

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

I CAN FORGIVE YOU.

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

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

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

I CAN BEAR WITH YOU.

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

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

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

I MUST LOVE YOU AND PRAY FOR YOU.

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

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

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

Let me conclude this post with several observations and exhortations…

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Which version of the Bible is best?

21 Jun

This question is one that pastors still get asked frequently.  At the risk of starting an argument, I want to give my personal answer to this question.

First of all, there are two equally bad extremes when it comes to the issue of Bible translations:

1.  Believing that only one translation is “the” one

2.  Believing that any translation is fine

Why do I say this?   For many readers of this blog, we grew up in churches where the King James Version was the only accepted version.  Some of us were taught that the KJV was the ONLY true translation and therefore the KJV alone was the Word of God.  The purpose of this post is not to debate that issue, but I will say that the first King James Bible was printed in 1611. I have seen a copy of that true 1611 version.  You would be hard pressed to read it due to the changes in the English language since then.  It is certainly much different than the KJV you can buy at your local LifeWay store today.  My point is that there are “versions” of the King James Version.  On the other hand, some religious groups have printed their own versions of the Bible that change key passages to suit their own heretical theology.  Just look up the history of the New World Translation to see an example of what I am talking about.  So, we want to avoid the two equally bad extremes. Our favorite translation isn’t the only good one, but every translation isn’t a good one either.

With the rise of computers and technology there are more Bible translations available today than ever before.  Why are there different versions of the Bible anyway? How do we sort through the maze of Bible translations today?   Let me help you.

When translating from one language to another there are two basic issues:   1.  Literally expressing the words of the original language in the new language.  2. Making the new translation readable and understandable.   There are always choices to make.  For instance, an absolutely literal translation of John 1:1 would read “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word.”   However, if you look at your favorite Bible version, it will read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”   Why is that? Because translators made the choice there to express the clear meaning of the language in a more understandable way in English.  Choices like this are made in almost every verse of the Bible in every version. Sometimes there isn’t an exact correlation between a Greek or Hebrew word and any word in the English language.

What does all of this have to do with versions of the Bible?  Some versions lean more toward being literal (meaning they aren’t as easy to read) and other versions place a greater emphasis on being readable (meaning they can’t be as much word for word).  It’s not that one is right and the other is wrong; it’s just that the translators made different choices for different reasons.  In my opinion, this is why it’s healthy to read from multiple versions of the Bible.

In light of this discussion, what are some good versions of the Bible on the market today?

The King James (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV)  Many of us were raised with the KJV and learned most of the Bible verses we know in the old KJV. If the KJV is your favorite, don’t feel bad. It is an excellent translation that is very literal in its approach.  Unfortunately, it is not the easiest to read. The NKJV attempted to smooth out much of this difficulty while keeping the distinctive voice of the KJV.   As a matter of fact, I preach from the NKJV for two reasons:  It is an excellent translation and it is still familiar to so many who have the KJV.

The 2011 New International Version (NIV)  A revision of the original 1984 NIV, this version favors readability over being literal.  As a result, it has received some criticism. The Southern Baptist Convention even convened a task force of SBC scholars to evaluate whether or not LifeWay stores should sell this translation. Their recommendation was unanimous that it should.  The very conservative and well known pastor/Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur even offers the MacArthur Study Bible in this version.  I have read through it in its entirety. Bottom line for me:  it’s a good translation but far from the best.

The New American Standard 1995 (NASB) Long considered the “gold standard” in terms of being the most literal of the major translations.  However, it is not the easiest to read, which is likely one of the reasons why it never became the most popular. The NASB remains a favorite of many scholars, pastors, and serious Bible students – including yours truly.

The English Standard Version (ESV)  Published in 2001, the ESV is just as literal as the NASB but is somewhat easier to read. As a result, it has quickly earned a very large following across the board – both in the pews and in academia.

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) Published in 2017, the CSB is the newest major translation, and it is an extremely good one that you should consider.  I personally know two of the scholars who led the translation oversight committee on this version and they are deeply conservative, faithful scholars.  I am reading through the CSB this year in my personal devotional time and I find it to be extremely strong and perhaps even on pace to supplant the NASB as my personal favorite.

So, there you have six good versions of the Bible that I personally have read and recommend to people. Are there other good versions out there? Yes, but these are six that I have the most personal experience with and use every week in my own study.  In fact, when I am preparing to preach on a passage, I usually read it in these six versions early on in the study process.

Drum roll please…now for the moment you have all been reading for!  The answer to my original question:  Which version of the Bible is best?

Within the parameters of these six versions I have listed, THE BEST VERSION OF THE BIBLE IS THE ONE YOU WILL READ.

 

 

 

 

Southern Baptist Convention 2018 – an honest evaluation.

16 Jun

testifylogo

It was a blessing to be able to attend the 2018 SBC in Dallas.  Considering the well publicized issues and conflicts that were in the air heading into the convention, I am grateful that the convention ended with a minimum of open conflict and with a good deal of unity as we move forward. For those interested, here is my evaluation of what happened and where things stand now that the convention is over.

1.   J.D. Greear is our president and we should pray for and support him. J.D. won the election with 68% of the vote. At age 45 he is one of the youngest SBC presidents in history and his election certainly represents a new generation of SBC leadership. His election is the culmination of trends in SBC life that have occurred over the last 10 years. He represents a new style and new vision of SBC leadership. Personally, I don’t think this  is a bad thing. I believe J.D. Greear is sound theologically. His church baptizes hundreds and plants dozens of churches each year. Count me as one who will pray for him and give him a chance to lead.

2.   The SBC is becoming more diverse.  Each year at the convention, I am blessed to see evidence of this fact. As a denomination, we cannot reach a rapidly diversifying country if this isn’t a priority.  Recently, I read that 20% of our SBC churches are now predominately ethnic churches. Praise the Lord for progress in this area and may it continue.  The SBC is now leading the way in calling for churches and church leaders to make more tangible steps toward racial unity. It isn’t enough just “not to be racist.”  Count me as one who is grateful for this trend.

3.   The SBC is committed to solid, Biblical theology.  With the well publicized issues regarding handling of abuse, moral failure, and treatment of women, the SBC entities and churches are asking hard questions and taking a hard look in the mirror. It’s one thing to come to the convention and talk about the sins of people outside the church, but it is quite another thing when judgment begins at the house of God. As painful as this may be, it is much needed and healthy. However, some have attempted to link a Biblical, complementarian view of gender roles, marriage, and church leadership with abuse, misogyny, and poor attitudes toward women.  Many secular news outlets view our convictions on these issues as outdated and even dangerous.  It was good to see several of our entity heads reiterate a commitment to complementarian teaching on these issues – even in the face of great cultural pressure.  For those concerned, I don’t see any sign of compromise on these issues among our SBC leaders.

4.   Southwestern Seminary is hurting now, but better days are coming. The controversial firing of Paige Patterson was the most heated issue to come to the floor of the convention.  Bart Barber’s point of personal privilege and his remarks might just be the most dramatic moment I have personally ever witnessed at an SBC convention. Regardless of how anyone feels about Patterson’s firing, the seminary is hurting and new leadership is coming.  I believe that new leadership can help the seminary community heal and see better days.  The SBC needs a strong Southwestern for so many reasons.  Even though I am not a graduate, I have friends who attend and teach there. Count me as one who is believing God for a great turnaround at Southwestern.

5.  The generational divide in the SBC is real and its leaders need to make great efforts to avoid being out of touch with the majority of pastors and churches.
In my opinion, the points of division in the SBC aren’t theological as much as generational and methodological.  Nowhere was this more evident than the newly elected SBC president J.D. Greear on stage with outgoing president Steve Gaines. Gaines was wearing a nice suit and tie.  Greear was wearing jeans and sneakers with a jacket.  I am not being critical of J.D. on this point.  He dresses in keeping with who he is and his ministry context.  My point is the juxtaposition of that moment and what it represents. A new generation of Southern Baptist young leaders has risen – which is a very good thing for the future. They tend to lean more Reformed in their theology than previous generations. They tend to dress more casually in almost every setting. They came of age with social media and use it constantly and effectively.  They are extremely smart and theologically astute.  They bring a fresh (and needed) perspective to so many issues.  They are not content with the status quo. Beards and baby strollers are everywhere. The Millennials have come to faith in Christ and they have come to the SBC annual meeting!

However, SBC leaders would do well to realize that the majority of the room at the SBC annual meeting is a totally different thing than the majority of our SBC churches. For instance, I recently read that the majority of our SBC pastors are over 50 years of age. The average SBC church is a small church in a small place with a small budget, but it is doing BIG work by faithfully sharing the gospel and seeking to reach people each week. Its pastor isn’t writing books or speaking at conferences. He is preaching Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night at the church he pastors.  He makes visits almost daily to hospitals and nursing homes. He conducts multiple funerals each month. He counsels hurting people both within his church and in the community. He deals with benevolence needs. He relates to every age group in the church. He attends deacons meetings and committee meetings. His phone rings all the time. He seeks to win people to Jesus regularly.  This average SBC church gives almost 10% of its budget to the Cooperative Program (although that isn’t a lot of money) and faithfully collects both Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings in addition to CP.  For every Summit Church and City Church Tallahassee, there are literally hundreds of churches and pastors like I described. They don’t have a “brand” and they are not on the cutting edge, but they are on the front lines. They are the grassroots heart and soul of the SBC. Many of them feel that the national SBC is increasingly out of touch with them.

If we truly want to have a strong SBC going forward, then our leadership would be wise to put as much effort into including these largely forgotten churches and pastors as they have the younger leaders and new churches.  If they do, I truly believe that the next decade of SBC life can truly be characterized by unity and gospel advance across America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Legacy of Love

29 May

This week my good friend and a man I have long looked up to is celebrating 40 years of ministry and retiring as Senior Pastor at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville.

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“Bro. Jimmy” as most of us call him has been woven into the fabric of my life for many years.  The first time I knew of him was in the early 80’s on the rare occasions when my family was not at church on Sunday morning. We would watch the service of Whitesburg on one of the local Huntsville television channels. The first time I met him was in 1992, when a young pastor friend talked me into going with him to a service at one of Whitesburg’s Winter Bible Conferences.  Two young “preacher boys” evidently stood out to him from the platform and Jimmy made a beeline for us after the service.  He took a few minutes and greatly encouraged us when he did not have to.  In the years to come, as I served in ministry, I would make an appointment with him and he would graciously give me an hour of his time as I navigated life as a young husband, father, and pastor.  So, he was a mentor to me for a number of years. Then from 2007-2013, I had the privilege of serving on staff with him as Associate Pastor at Whitesburg.  After serving “up close and personal” with him for almost seven years, I had more respect for Jimmy Jackson than I did the day I started.  I make no apologies, I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for Jimmy Jackson. In many ways, he is still my pastor.

He is one of the wisest people I know.  Etched in my mind and heart are many things I heard him say repeatedly. Here are a few examples…

  • “God blesses what is right; He does not bless what is wrong.”
  • “The Bible says to forgive people, and there are some people I have had to forgive lots of times.”
  • “Bloom where you’re planted.”
  • “Stay steady.”
  • “Nothing builds people up like love.”

Very often when facing a situation in my own leadership, I quote one of these to myself or to others. His impact on me and my leadership is profound.

In today’s world, it is almost unheard of for a man to lead the same church for forty years, yet Jimmy Jackson has done just that at Whitesburg.  He has been faithful. He has been faithful through years when the church grew and prospered in astounding ways. He has been faithful through years when the church faced challenges and hardships. He has been faithful through personal tragedy and set backs that would have made most men quit. Through it all, week after week, he stepped to the pulpit of Whitesburg, opened his Bible, and preached from it. Week after week, he shepherded people and walked with them through their own valleys. Week after week, he consistently shared the gospel and sought to win souls. He is an example of Godly, steady faithfulness over decades. This past Sunday in his final message before becoming Pastor Emeritus, Bro. Jimmy told the church “Stay in the battle, no matter what comes. Be a sticker!”  That’s Jimmy Jackson in his own words.

At his side every step of the way has been Bobbi Jackson, a faithful pastor’s wife.  Many times, I saw Bobbi meet needs in the church family in her behind the scenes way.  Only another pastor’s wife has any idea of the burdens and blessings involved in being the wife of the pastor. Maybe that is why my wife, Becky, loves Bobbi Jackson so much!  Like her husband, Bobbi Jackson has a legacy of faithfulness. I honor her as I honor him.

It’s hard to put into words what the Jacksons mean to the Corbin family.  Since leaving Whitesburg in the Fall of 2013, every time I have seen Jimmy or Bobbi Jackson each of them has asked about Becky and our boys. Every single time. They know our boys names. They love us and we love them. Literally thousands of people have the same story.  It’s no wonder that Whitesburg chose “A Legacy of Love” as the theme for the Jacksons’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday. It’s a fitting description.

Certainly, in forty years as pastor of Whitesburg, Jimmy Jackson has left a legacy of love in the lives of so many people. However, this legacy of love is only possible because of his own legacy of love. He has loved the Lord faithfully. He has loved his wife faithfully. He has loved his children and grandchildren faithfully. He has loved his church faithfully. He has loved his city faithfully. He has loved the Word of God faithfully. In a day when so many have fallen, he has stood. In a day when so many have quit, he has kept going.  In a day when so many are filled with anger, he is filled with love. He is a pastor I want to be like because he is a Christian I want to be like.

Unfortunately, Becky and I won’t be at the special service and reception on Sunday due to ministry responsibilities at the church we serve now. No doubt there will be a huge number there to express their love.  It’s a privilege to use this platform to express in a small way the love, respect, and appreciation we have for Jimmy and Bobbi Jackson.  “Bro. Jimmy and Bobbi” we love you, honor you, and celebrate with you. Congratulations. Well done. You are the best!

 

 

 

 

 

30 years ago – always an Ider Hornet

25 May

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As I saw social media posts from families who had graduates this week, I was reminded that it was 30 years ago this week when my classmates and I walked across the field at Wayne C. Hardman Stadium.  It’s hard to believe. Yes, I was part of the class of 1988 at Ider High School. There were 72 of us in our graduating class. As I look at this picture of my alma mater, I am filled with great memories and joy. I don’t remember the buildings; I remember the people. I remember my friends and classmates. I won’t even attempt to name them because I will leave someone out. There is a special sense of belonging among those you went to high school with. Occasionally, I run into one of my classmates and it’s always a joy. We are old enough now that it doesn’t matter who was in what group or who was popular. We are just glad to see one another – no matter who it is. Unfortunately some members of our class have passed away – some due to illness and some due to tragedy. The class of ’88 has been reminded to be thankful for every day of life.

As I look at this picture, I am reminded of just how much Ider High School has meant to my life. It was there that learned to do math and acquired critical thinking skills. It was there that I was taught to love writing. It was there that I played sports and learned the value of hard work and being on a team. It was there that I learned to respect authority – even if I didn’t understand or agree with it. It was there that I was taught to do my best and never settle for average. It was there that I learned to get along with people and function with others. It was there that I learned to type (yes they actually taught that!) It was there that I learned to be self-disciplined and study. In short, it was there that I grew up and came of age.

I will never forget Mr. Adams’ biology class or Mr. Fuller’s science class. History with Mr. Williams, drivers ed with Coach Allday and science with Coach Daniel will be forever etched in my mind. I can still see Mr. Hardman coming down the hall. I can still smell the locker room of the Gordon Scott Gymnasium, hear the cheers of the pep rallies, and feel the Fall breeze as I walked up to Hardman Stadium for Friday night football. I remember yearbook staff and AP English. I remember homecoming parades, scholars bowl, and 2nd in the state drama team! I remember the Hamricks and the Brooks families who opened their home (and their kitchen) to our entire class because they knew that teenagers needed a safe place to gather and hang out – but with adult supervision!

Were there negative things about high school. I am sure there were, but I choose to remember the best and forget the rest. I have often said that I am thankful I grew up on Sand Mountain. However, I want specifically and publicly to say that I am thankful I grew up in Ider, Alabama and went to Ider High School. I will always be an Ider Hornet. To any members of the class of ’88 who read this blog, I love each and every one of you, and I would love to hear from any and all of you!