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A Mighty Warrior & Special Friend Has Gone Home

22 Sep

“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

24 Apr

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

14 Apr

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.

12 Apr

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

28 Mar

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)

 

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

26 Jan

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

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THE BRIARWOOD WAY

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

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

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

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DISASTER

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

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

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

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

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

GETTING A “W” AND TURNING IT AROUND

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

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GETTING ON A ROLL

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

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

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

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The Playoffs

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

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

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

The End

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

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

A season for the ages was over.

PERSPECTIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks to God

25 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give thanks to God for His complete goodness.

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

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

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

Give thanks to God for His everlasting mercy.

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

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

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

Give thanks to God for His unchanging truth.

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

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

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

                        -From the Treasury of David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Words about “The Budget”

24 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Depression and the Christian

17 Jul

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

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)