My statement on #Charlottesville during worship on Sunday:
One of the blessings of summer for me is attending the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting. We are a gathering of autonomous, theologically aligned (for the most part) churches who pool resources together for cooperative missions and ministry. We believe that like-minded congregations can do more together than they can separately through efforts such as national and international missions, theological education, and public advocacy, as well as disaster relief. The 2 day annual meeting (preceded by a pastors conference) takes place in a major U.S. city each year, usually on a rotating regional basis. This year’s annual meeting was held in Phoenix.
Upon landing in Phoenix, the first view you’ll notice is that the city is surrounded by desert mountains. I attended the last convention here in 2011, but had forgotten just how majestic those mountains really are. Perhaps the most famous of these landmarks is Camelback Mountain, aptly named because of its appearance. It’s located between Phoenix and Scottsdale. You can climb it if you drink enough water (and are in good enough shape). It’s hot here, but not with humidity. Instead of feeling like you’re in a sauna, it’s more like being in an oven. It’s not too bad, as long as you don’t stay directly exposed to the sunlight.
One of my favorite experiences here last time was visiting the Grand Canyon, so I went again this year for a second viewing. It never disappoints. We drove through Sedona (which is the way to go) with a great view of the Red Rocks and climbed the scenic mountain drive to Flagstaff. From there, we drove to the Grand Canyon (after getting detoured by a road closing due to a wildfire - we ended up on a memorable dirt road for about two miles). I didn’t take any photos this time, because the photos I took last time didn’t do it justice. You have to see it for yourself. It’s breathtakingly spectacular.
Undoubtedly, the best part about attending the annual meeting is reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones. This is my 12th Annual Meeting to attend (off and on since St. Louis 2002) and I’ve never left without making new friends. Among the highlights:
THE YOUNG LEADERS ADVISORY COUNCIL (YLAC) Dinner
The YLAC is a small group of young pastors and ministry leaders appointed by Dr. Frank Page to discuss ways and means toward bringing the next generation of leaders to the denominational table. We first met over inauguration weekend in ATL and had dinner together while in Phoenix. I’ve really enjoyed meeting each of these guys (and their respective spouses who attended the dinner). They’re sharp, kingdom-minded, and engaged in SBC life. They’ve been an encouragement to me. With folks like these serving across our country, I feel there is much hope for the future.
COMMITTEE ON COMMITTEES
I’ve served on the associational (local) and state level, but this year was my first committee assignment on the national level (Yes, I know, Baptists do have a “Committee on Committees,” I’ve heard and made the jokes). The C of C actually does some legit work because we are responsible for appointing the Committee on Nominations, who then name the next slate of trustees for all SBC agencies and entities. In the past, the appointments weren’t considered a big deal, but when the authority of the Bible became challenged, conservative SBC leaders began ensuring that conservative appointments were made, a quarter century process commonly known as the “Conservative Resurgence.” I had the privilege of representing the Commonwealth of Kentucky this year, along with my colleague Nick Sandefur. I also got to stand on the SBC stage for the first time. That was fun. I wanted to take a selfie in front of the masses but feared that Steve Gaines or Barry McCarty might tackle me. One of my friends in the audience ended up taking a photo and sending it my way (thanks, Jacob!).
THE “SWORDSMEN” GATHERING
At the top of the list each year is our annual get-together of "Swordsmen,” men and women who have been called out to vocational ministry from Glendale Baptist Church under the 57 year leadership of our pastor, Bro. Richard P. Oldham (now with the Lord). It’s always great to hang with my tribe. I love these folks. They are family.
INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD (IMB) COMMISSIONING
This year the IMB held a commissioning ceremony for missionaries and their families. They are being sent all over the world for 3 year terms, and most of them won’t get to see their stateside families at all during this time. There were several missionaries commissioned in the background whose faces were dimmed by the lights because the countries where they are going are hostile to gospel witness. What a scene to see these brothers and sisters giving up everything to share about Jesus. It’s an incredibly moving time.
The SBC annual meeting usually generates press articles regularly during its sessions, but social media has given us a new challenge. This year, some extremists on the alt-right began posting extremely racist rhetoric while using the #sbc17 hashtag. After a couple of initial missteps, the Committee on Resolutions returned with a statement condemning racism while also proclaiming the gospel for all who would repent. It passed overwhelmingly and received a standing ovation. The best moment for me was looking back and seeing some of our African-American brothers and sisters in joyful tears over its passing. A convention founded in part on slavery now sits at the table of brotherhood with their descendants. Praise God.
This section isn’t nearly as much as the title makes it out to be. My return flight had a brief layover in Vegas. I saw the city (in the middle of the desert), viewed about 30 slot machines at the gate, then got back on the plane. What happens here...
VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL (VBS)
One of the most encouraging things to me of the entire trip was the drive from Nashville (where I landed) to Hawesville. I saw no less than 3 different VBS meetings at various churches taking place. If we can keep the main thing, the main thing, I like our chances. The gospel always beats the odds.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone begin a conversation with: "I’m not the typical pastor" or “pastor’s wife.” "I’m a Christian, but not the stereotypical kind.” "I’m not that kind of person.” Fill in the blank with your own unique role. Beyond consuming ungodly amounts of fried chicken (pastor), deftly mastering the piano hymnal (pastor’s wife), or pre-empting the notion of appearing judgmental (stereotypical Christian), something about our nature wants to communicate that we’re different from the typecasts the culture envisions or the stage roles society thrusts upon us. Deep within the human heart is the desire to be accepted while being "authentic," to be recognized while standing out.
I wonder sometimes, beneath the edifice of these surface phrases, if there doesn’t lie a subtle form of pride. We all know rebels who like to "go against the system" and admire those who "tell it like it is” or "stick it to the man,” but the Biblical notion of submission and identity goes beyond job descriptions, marketplace labels, or gender norms. The Gospel account of two men praying condemns the self-righteous Pharisee (God, thank you that I’m not like everyone else) while commending the humble tax collector (God, be merciful to me a sinner). Instead of constantly navigating the perennially unchartered waters of non-conformity, the Scriptures call us rather to a kind of conformity that looks less like dictionary definitions and more like calloused hands of a carpenter king. The king who laid aside his divine lineage and became a man, just like one of us. The carpenter who found his identity not by rebelling against the status quo but by transcending it. One of his best friends, John, later wrote about his experiences and meditated on what it would like to be reunited with him one day, along with everyone else who believed in his message and took up his cross: "Beloved, we know not what we shall be, but we know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
I pray that the older I become, the less worried I’ll be about other’s perceptions of my role, stage in life, or acceptance of my beliefs; I hope I’ll just want to be like Jesus, and see him as he is. Try fitting that scene in a box.
A couple of months back, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention's Young Leaders Advisory Council in ATL. Glad to be a part of this discussion, and hoping we can engage many younger leaders on the value of working together for cooperative missions. Full article here:
THE CHURCH WITH A HEART FOR GIVING
Our church loves to give. It’s a tradition established long before any of us arrived on the scene, when a pioneer group of people moving to a frontier town along the Ohio chartered a small body of like-minded believers in 1836, the year before our town was officially founded in 1837. Their sacrifice has led to 180 years of gospel ministry.
We’ve given in good times and in bad. We’ve given when we’ve had plenty to give and when we’ve had nothing. We continued to give even at the turn of the 20th century when we were nearly forced to close our doors because there were no people and no money, but faithful people gave anyway. God blessed them for it.
Sometimes giving can be measured, but most often can only be weighed by the scales of eternity. Just this month we collected a grand total of 204 Christmas shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child between our two campuses. That’s the most we’ve ever collected. Who but knows of the children and families who will be impacted by the gospel through these gifts. 3 of those children who once received these boxes overseas now sit in our church every Sunday.
We’ve given thousands of dollars for adoptions and missionaries, had five figure checks written to cover transportation and facility costs, and, when we needed a demonstration of faith to step into the reality of a new building 3 years ago, God met us with $89,000 in a single day. The little church that could, thanks to a big God.
This past Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention in Florence, several churches were recognized for milestone Cooperative Program giving (toward national / international missions, disaster relief, seminary education, etc.), usually at the $1 million, $2 million marks, etc. Out of curiosity, we called the state convention office to see how much our congregation has given over the years. Since 1928, beginning with $179, HBC has given $1,449,648.23 to missions through CP giving. This small band of believers in a small town with small means have nevertheless believed in the provision of a faithful God, for nothing is impossible with God. So we give, knowing that God will use our 5 loaves and small fish to feed multitudes.
Around here, though, giving isn’t just about money, although that’s certainly a part of our equation. We give in other ways too. We give through Worship, asking God that our worship and work be acceptable as an offering unto him; we give through Relationships and through Discipleship, seeking to invest in one another and in the next generation so that they might tell the story of the God who works through ordinary people in extraordinary ways; and we give through Ministry, showing God’s love to our community and our world so that we might share his love with others. We give to Jesus by serving his church and serving those he came to save.
If it’s true that you are never more like Jesus than than when you give, thanks for being like Jesus, church.
Barry E. Fields - Philippians 1:3-6
If the recent election has taught us anything, it is the antithesis of Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that catapulted the then Illinois state senator to the national radar screen: the dividing lines are not between Red State and Blue State America, but between urban and rural America. So many from the working class went relatively unaccounted for in both national and state polling, so much so that we’ve arguably just experienced the biggest presidential upset since the infamous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline of 1948.
Therein is a lesson for the church, as well. I grew up 1.5 miles outside the city limits of Bowling Green, KY, a city/county/university region of roughly 100,000 people at the time, but I’ve spent the last 9 years pastoring in rural areas, first in agricultural Larue County, KY, (population 14,000) and currently in industrial Hancock County, KY and Perry County, IN, where we have church campuses (combined population of 27,500). During this past decade, I’ve met some great people in these settings, folks who I consider to be “salt of the earth,” but I’ve also had to adapt much of the city-oriented methodology I’ve been taught over the years to work in the contexts where God has placed me.
My situation is not unique. In fact, of the roughly 50,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the vast majority of these congregations are located in rural areas. Even as people continue to migrate toward the cities at one of the greatest rates in recorded history, the “backbone” of our denomination, including Cooperative Program giving and on the ground resources, continue to reside in town and country rather than metros and suburbs. Most of the aspiring pastors graduating from our seminaries will more than likely spend a significant amount (it not all) of their ministry within these secluded settings.
Yet, the availability of educational resources to rural pastors is relatively low. Take a trip to a Lifeway bookstore or browse through Amazon and see how many books or studies offer assistance to the country or county seat church. Pastor’s conferences frequently advertised as “How to Turnaround Your Congregation” or “Ministering Within Your Community” address the needs of hipsters and urbanites while neglecting those serving the rural South and the Rust Belt. While I am incredibly thankful our mission boards are making a major push to infiltrate our cities with gospel witness, I’m also concerned that many of the 8 out of 10 churches that are stagnant or in decline in our denomination will be left behind, because the tools offered to them don’t fit within their respective mission fields.
I want to call our pastors, seminary professors, and denominational leaders to consider marshaling resources for churches outside the freeways and beltways. There is much untapped potential within these communities. Seminary students who are aspiring to move to a church located next to a Starbucks (and I get it): consider the regional impact you can have on a church off the beaten path. If the congregation you pastor can by God’s grace experience revitalization, could you not offer assistance to other churches within your association, churches that may not otherwise merit attention? What if God used you to not only shepherd your own congregation, but to offer life support to churches about to close their doors nearby? That’s what happened within our context along the Ohio River. A sister SBC congregation in Perry County, IN, was about to fold, but the Lord graciously worked a partnership between us so that we were able to relaunch it as the Indiana campus of our Kentucky congregation. We’ve gone from 12 to 70 in about a year in a county where that church was the only SBC presence for 19,000 people. There’s work to be done elsewhere.
Believe me, I understand the appeal of the glamorous lights of the city and the convenience of the suburbs, and there are times when I strongly miss living in that type of setting. When I look to the ministry of Christ in the Gospels, though, most of his shepherding took place in the out of the way, backwoods paths of Galilee, yet out of those communities disciples were reached who carried the salvific luster of salt and light to the regions beyond. I don’t know if there’s another Billy Graham out here, waiting to hear that message, but if he is, I intend to find him. God uses people like that to turn the world upside down.
Spent some time today at the Oak Forest Chapel in Riverside, KY, today, better known as the “Old Log Church,” the mission of my home church, Glendale Baptist in Bowling Green, since 1971. John Deakins the III has served as Missions Director at Glendale for several decades and has also served as pastor of the Old Log Church since Glendale began holding services there.
This place has so much meaning to me. We attended Vacation Bible School here every year as children (in addition to the Kids Krusade at Glendale), with accompanying revival services following the daily VBS in the evenings. I preached one of my very first sermons here at age 13, and often preached a night or two of the revival every year as a teenager, along with lots of other “preacher boys” out of Glendale. I also had the privilege of helping teach VBS classes here for several years (I mainly came, though, for the free cookies and kool-aid).
If you’ll look to the right of the church, those outer buildings are what the older generation refers to as “out houses.” That’s the only restrooms you’ll find at the Old Log Church, and during the summer time, we even entertained wasps as guests there. In the back is a well-worn cemetery, along with the shady oak forest, some of the oldest trees in Warren County. One of the ground graves used to be up very close to the right of the church along the back window (it has since been removed), and each night prior to the revival service we would kneel out there with our pastor, Bro. Richard P. Oldham, Bro. Johnny, and whoever else wanted to pray with us.
The two outside doors represent a time (1800s) when men and women both entered and sat separately during worship times. The building dates from the 19th century, and the wood on the inside is original. The wood floor slopes now, the piano needs tuning, and there are holes in the ceiling where a certain boy used to place the pointy end of the American flag pole during the pledges (don’t judge), but the spirit of God is present here. This is a place where many people have surrendered to Christ and been obedient to gospel ministry. It may not seem like much, but it is holy ground to those who have walked it. Thank God for the Old Log Church and for the community of Riverside, Warren County, KY.
I remember sitting on the couch in our family living room as a 13 year old middle schooler in the Fall of 1998. Our family had gathered around the tv to watch President Bill Clinton give a special address to the nation, confessing to both adultery and to bearing false witness. We weren’t alone. Our pastor, Richard P. Oldham, who served as shepherd of our congregation for 57 years before his death, was also present with us, since he didn’t own a television set and preferred watching the Oval Office speech rather than tuning the radio. I had a profound respect for this man of God, even as a young boy. He often remarked in his sermons about being a “Franklin Roosevelt-Harry Truman Democrat,” even though he hadn’t voted Democrat in decades, as he regularly qualified those remarks with, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic party left me.” I found myself visually split-screening the room watching the president and observing my pastor, trying to gauge his reaction. I expected to see anger on his face, but I saw something else instead: not anger, just a profound sense of disappointment. This man who had grown up in the Great Depression, whose brothers had fought in WW2, whose parents had no more than 8th grade educations between them but had lived to see their 5 children all earn master’s degrees and live out the American Dream, was now watching the political leader of our "shining city on a hill" taint its moral luster.
He told his young people that what we did in private mattered just as much, if not more, as what we did in public, because the secret things of the heart would one day be revealed, and how one’s private life was conducted illuminated one’s public credentials, as well. We knew we wouldn’t be voting on pastoral qualifications for elective office, but we would be voting on people of character. We sensed deep in our souls that if a candidate’s wife could not trust his fidelity, how could his constituents possibly do so?
So many evangelical figures who we millennials grew up admiring, men and women who echoed these same values (several of whom attempted to impeach President Clinton) now seem prepared to abdicate those principles (at least in this election cycle) for what they describe as the “lesser of two evils.” They argue that Donald Trump, with all of his flaws, will somehow be a better president than Hillary Clinton, and surely we want to salvage what is left of the Supreme Court, they implore. I’ve never voted for someone who supports abortion in my life and never will as long as God gives me breath, but if I’m truly going to be pro-life in every area of life, neither can I endorse someone who condones sexual assault, who openly boasts of his sexual conquests and rates women on scales of 1-10, who consistently makes racist, homophobic, and misogynistic remarks, who’s been successful precisely because he has preyed on the working class and the poor through his bankrupt casinos and shady real estate transactions, who is now trying to convince those same people to vote for the very man who helped drag down this nation in large part because he “played by the rules," who energizes his constituency by manipulating their emotions of anger and fear rather than offering concrete plans and visionary hope, who has displayed no genuine evidence of contrition or repentance on any of these charges, is nevertheless worthy of our ballots because “he’s not her.” Can I just ask the religious right and moral majority: at what point are you gaining the world while losing your soul? Is it really all that different from selling your birthright for a bowl of stale stew?
For those of you considering voting for Donald Trump, please know that I am not referring to you as “ignorant," nor am I calling you a “loser,” though “Mr. Trump" would certainly do that to me if I had more influence and name recognition. In fact, I hope we can remain on cordial terms regardless of the direction you end up voting. Anyone, though, who says "we cannot afford to sit this election out," had better be prepared to consider just how many principles they are willing to sacrifice in order to "win," principles for which our forefathers died. There are some things worse than losing an election, and that is sinning against one's conscience. My ultimate referendum is not standing before an independent ballot box, but standing before the judgment seat of Christ.
If character mattered then, surely it matters now.
The shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, & Dallas this past week (and Orlando a few weeks earlier) reveal the reality of living in a fallen world, of creation groaning under the weight of its own unrest. Two gruesome videos were followed by the deadliest day for law enforcement since 9/11. The racial wounds in this country remain unhealed. The only path toward racial harmony is through relational harmony, and the only perfect relationship that has ever existed is the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, & God the Holy Spirit. Relational harmony is best viewed through the lens of the Trinity: 1) the Image of God, 2) the Imitation of Christ, & 3) the Indwelling of the Spirit.
The Image of God
God does something different when forming human beings than when fashioning the plant and animal kingdom. Rather than speaking humanity into existence, God forms us from the dust of the ground and breathes into us the breath of life. Before you could breathe, God first had to breathe into you. He also declares that every human life is made in the image of God. The reason that mistreatment and murder of others is wrong is not simply because it is against the law, but because you are dehumanizing and taking a life that does not belong to you. Those created in the image of God belong to God. The creator has left his imprint on the creature. When you don’t see others as created in the image of God, you are going to devalue human life. That’s why the shooting of a gorilla gets way more coverage than the 44 people on average murdered in this country every day, or the 3,600 lives we lose daily to abortion. Even the gun control debate neglects the obvious: the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. James sums up this understanding well in his epistle: you desire, and you do not have, so you murder.
The temptation is to not see the problem at all. Satan is the most devoted racist you will ever meet, and one of the greatest lies he would have you believe is that racism does not exist. Racism does exist because evil exists. He seeks to divide us between black and white, rich and poor, young and old, male and female, so that he might take the throne of our hearts for himself. Our own Southern Baptist Convention bears this sad reality through its own founding (in order for missionaries to retain slaves), a founding from which we have repented and sought reconciliation. Whatever our political affiliations, we need to understand that we have African American brothers and sisters in this country who live in fear for their lives. Whenever you deny the problem, you become part of the problem.
The Imitation of Christ
How should we respond to these tragic events? By following the example of our Lord, who commanded us to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s, to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. We know that there are police officers who abuse their power, just as there are preachers who abuse their pulpits, and politicians who abuse their policies. But for every corrupt officer, there are thousands of good officers, men and women who put their lives on the line daily. These officers are the ministers of God to us; law enforcement is for our good. We need to treat police officers with respect, thank them for their service, and pray for them. I’ve admired the courage of Dallas Police Chief Brown during these days. Chief Brown lost his son, brother, and partner to tragic circumstances surrounding shootings and substance abuse. He has repeatedly declared that these divisions between law enforcement and citizens must cease. He has also taken this issue personally. Until we realize that this is our problem, nothing will change. Brothers and sisters, if you truly believe this is not your problem, remember that you are a sinner, and that automatically makes you a part of the problem. Jesus is the solution: our job is to live in such a way that points people to him. I’m glad Jesus didn’t think the way we sometimes do. He could’ve said "Humanity’s not my problem," but instead he took on the problem by becoming one of us. So when you see someone of another race, treat them with dignity and respect. When you see someone being mistreated, stand up for them. Have conversations and build friendships with people of other races and ethnicities. Learn from their experiences. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. See the world through their eyes, then see it through the eyes of Christ (who was himself Jewish and didn’t speak English).
The Indwelling of the Spirit
Finally, we must have an absolute dependence upon God’s Spirit to bring about change. When our forefathers and mothers faced times of national crisis, they got down on their knees, and they didn’t get back up until the Spirit of God came down. I want to call us to that same desperation for the movement of God, that same commitment for the things of Christ, that same longing for the power of the Spirit. The whole point of Christianity is that God has reconciled us to himself through Christ. Now, our job is to be made right with one another and to share his gospel (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Remember, somebody’s son, somebody’s spouse, somebody’s father, somebody’s brother was killed in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas this past week. Let’s pray for the day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream, for on that day when the Lord shall appear, there will no longer be black and white, rich and poor, young and old, male and female, but we will all be one in Christ Jesus.
To listen to last Sunday's sermon on this message, click here:
For a previous post on our family friend Joe Goldring (and how we attempted to model these thoughts), click here:
Faith is a wrestle with doubt, for true faith demands reason. Indeed, one of the problems in the Protestant world today is our prideful lack of engaging Biblical & cultural issues with our minds, which ironically is one of the ways our Lord commands his followers to love him. Noted Notre Dame historian Mark Noll addresses this modern shortcoming in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Sadly, in many church circles it has become meritorious not to critically assess and understand Scriptural doctrines and confessions, doctrines and confessions for which many of our forebears (not to mention our Savior) gave their lives. While informational availability is at all-time high, Biblical literacy is at an historic low. Contrary to popular belief, our faith is not "blind.” Jesus made sure there were witnesses who attested to his bodily resurrection. The New Testament authors compel us to “search the Scriptures,” to always be able to give a reason for the hope that lies within us. It is to our shameful neglect when we do not "desire the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby."
Yet, even the most reasoned and experienced believers struggle with their faith from time to time. Spiritual discouragement comes to the best of us. Legend has it that D.L. Moody, the world-famous evangelist based out of Chicago in the latter 19th century, was once approached by a woman who smugly told him that she had never once doubted her salvation, to which Moody reportedly replied, “Madam, I doubt you are saved.” Matthew, the tax collector turned gospel writer, records an account of John the Baptist, whom Jesus lauds as the greatest born of women, nevertheless struggling with his own grasp of the gospel. John had preached repentance in the wilderness, letting loose his righteous condemnation of the Pharisees as a “brood of vipers” who should “flee the wrath to come.” He had boldly gotten in King Herod’s face when Herod took his brother’s wife as his own, committing adultery. As a result of his rebuke, the Jewish tetrarch had him thrown in prison. It was from that prison cell that John began to doubt. Much like Christian’s low disposition after encountering the Giant of Despair upon arrival at Doubting Castle (John Bunyan's Pilgrim’s Progress), the voice crying in the wilderness suddenly became overcome with spiritual laryngitis. Finally, he sent word to Jesus through his own disciples: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
I know what it’s like to ask that question. At the age of 15, I underwent the most profound period of doubt I have ever known. I had struggled off and on for years with making sure I had “done everything right” in seeking the Lord’s salvation. Oh, I had seen him work and had known the power of answered prayers, even having the privilege of having led several people to faith myself by that age, but to really know that I could fully trust God was a concept I just had trouble grasping. I suspect others have been there. Did I really confess and repent of my sins, was I trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, and if perfect love casts out fear, why was I still afraid? Dad tried to reason with me from the Scriptures (this John the Baptist passage from Matthew 11 was one of his favorites to teach in the Youth Sunday School class I was in). On the way home from church one night, he said to me in frustration, "Son, you're going to wake up one day and find yourself pleasantly surprised that you made it to heaven." I sure hoped so. I walked in on Mom one time and found her in tears over my spiritual depression. I spent a lot of time in Scripture and prayer during my sophomore year of high school, asking God to deliver me from doubt.
Out of all the circumstances my pastor walked me through during his life (and there were MANY), this one still stands out above the others. He read me numerous Scripture passages, then said something that has stood with me: the only people who really doubt their salvation are those who truly know God or are truly seeking him. Otherwise, why does someone who doesn’t know God or isn’t seeking him have any reason to doubt what they don’t possess and don’t seek? They don’t doubt precisely because they don’t believe. He then asked, “Barry, are you willing to trust God with everything you have, whatever the consequences? Heaven or hell, sing or swim, your faith is in him.” I told him I was. He responded, “Why don’t you tell him that?” So I did. The peace of God overwhelmed my heart, assuring me that I was his child.
Although at times we can more easily sense the working of God than at others, faith is ultimately not dependent on our feelings, but on what we believe, in whom we choose to trust, and it’s not until we believe that we begin to understand. Noble Augustine, in his own struggle with faith, remarked that he used to attempt to understand in order to believe, but he finally came to the point where he believed in order to understand. Despite all the evidence in the world at our disposal, one must still place their visible trust in the invisible God. I love how Jesus doesn’t give John a straight yes or no answer in his response: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” The implication: I am the one you are seeking. Trust in me.
After his crucifixion, the disciples of Christ are holed up in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem, their leader presumably gone. Jesus miraculously appears to them in bodily form, displaying his resurrected body. But one of them, Thomas, was missing. When the others tell Thomas that they have seen the risen Lord, Thomas infamously replies, “Unless I see his pierced hands and side, I won’t believe.” The following week, with Thomas in tow, Jesus once again manifests his physical glory in their presence. He invites Thomas to see his pierced hands and to feel his pierced side, to which the disciple replies, “My Lord and my God!” And then, in case we’re also tempted to doubt, Jesus turns directly to you and me: Thomas, you have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. The New Testament writers summarize it well a few years later: whom having not seen, you love.
So take heart, believer, because it’s not nearly as important how much faith you have, as who your faith is in that moves mountains. Thanks be to God for granting childlike faith to the least of these, including me.
I took some time to tour Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn). I walked down to the East Side and came across the easily recognizable UN building along the riverfront. The entire area was blocked off by barricades and security, which I expected. What I did not expect was the inscription engraved across the street, taken from Isaiah 2:4:
"And he went out, not knowing where he was going." The writer of Hebrews 11 uses those words to describe Abraham's journey of faith, the patriarch lauded in Biblical history for believing God, even when every possible circumstance told him not to. He left his homeland as a senior citizen, journeyed to a barren desert, and lived as an upper class camper for the rest of his life. He was an heir of the promise, but a promise that went beyond earthly terrain, "For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." His family didn't even see the completion of that promise, instead dying in faith, "having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3). God called him to go to a foreign land, to believe in a foreign promise, to have a child at a foreign age, to die a foreign death, and to do it all by a foreign faith.
"And he went out, not knowing where he was going." I wonder if that phrase doesn't describe every believer's life, including my own. Yesterday, I took a young pastor in the area to lunch. We met several years before in Louisville when he was a student at Boyce College and I was working on my master's at Southern Seminary. He told me he was from Hawesville, KY. I had gone 22 years of life without hearing of that town, and really didn't think much of that conversation until 5 years later, when I received a call from a pastor search committee there. That was 3.5 years ago. I now know where Hawesville is.
The same was true for my previous pastorate in Buffalo (KY, not NY). The only times I had traveled through Buffalo were for our family's annual Thanksgiving trips to my aunt and uncle's house, in which we inevitably got lost. We really didn't know where we were going. I ended up preaching there nearly 5 years.
"And he went out, not knowing where he was going." In my case, I would add to that phrase, "And he went out, not knowing what he was doing." I remember wondering how in the world I was going to be able to preach consistently week after week. It was stressful enough just to prepare one message, much less one every 7 days. Yet, the Lord provided the study and the words. How would we pay off the building debt inherited with few people and with little financial support? Then I watched God miraculously reduce that debt by more than $100K in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression. I thought under my leadership the church would die, but God grew it. A few years later, under different circumstances and a new location, how would we build a building that kept literally shifting ground on us, and how would we pay for all the extra costs? Then God gave us the largest one day offering in the 177 year history of the church (almost $90K). Would our congregation ever consider worshiping in that multipurpose facility so that we might have an opportunity to reach more people? Then we did.
I used to drive all over Tell City, Indiana, praying that God would open a door for ministry in Perry County, not having a clue how to go about finding that open door. Finally, we put a post-it note on an actual door, when God led us to a congregation that desperately needed help, and he has since sent many new people and is changing lives in demonstrable ways. In 8.5 years of pastoral ministry, I've seen families reconciled that I never thought would be reconciled, I've seen people come to Christ who I wasn't sure would ever come to faith, and I've seen God use people I had no idea he would use, least of all me.
I think if people asked me to nail down the one overarching burden I face as a pastor on a regular basis, they would probably be surprised at my response: the sheer inadequacy I feel daily in serving as an under-shepherd of God's flock and attempting to lead his people in the direction he would have us go. Yet, that seems to be exactly his way of training his disciples. Some use 1 Corinthians 10 to say that "God won't give you more than you can handle." I believe the opposite to be true: God will give you more than you handle to cause you to utterly and completely depend on him. It's what the Apostle Paul describes as strength in weakness, the power of God working in jars of clay.
I could not have imagined knowing where I was going when I committed to follow the will of God, especially the darker parts of the journey, from watching my family be destroyed, moving to rural areas for the past decade and losing the immediate comforts of city life, to an engagement that I thought was the will of God that ended up not being the will of God, to relationships gone unreconciled, to seeing people suffer but feeling helpless to comfort them and to ease their afflictions, to pleading with others not to fall away: if I knew where I was going in this earthly life, I'm convinced I wouldn't make it. The writer of Hebrews makes a similar argument with Abraham and the others mentioned in his 11th chapter: "if they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God..." All I know is that the Lord has prepared for me, and for every other follower of Jesus, a city, a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
So take heart, believer, if you don't know where you are going or what you are doing in this earthly life, because as long as you know who you are following, he will make your paths straight.
(My Ordination Service at Glendale, April 2008)
I can hear his voice, echoing hundreds of times through thousands of sermons I sat under during his ministry:
“Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time” and “The only thing greater than greatness is the ability to recognize greatness.”
Every time my pastor uttered those words I stared at the very person who embodied their meaning, because Richard Oldham was the greatest man I ever knew. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know him. I knew him as my pastor, the only one I’ve had. Glendale Baptist Church was my church, and Bro. Richard was my shepherd. I knew him as my teacher. Anchored Christian School was my school, and RPO taught daily Bible classes and led twice weekly chapels for my entire K-12 progression. He handed me both my kindergarten certificate and my high school diploma. I knew him as my family member, for Pastor Oldham could often be found at our home on his birthday or special holiday occasions. How we loved him. I knew him as my friend, for I cannot count the number of times I've been on visits and journeys with him, or the times I’ve sought his counsel on every matter imaginable, from trusting in the Lord for salvation to how to ask a girl out on a date (yep).
(RPO eating breakfast at our home, circa 1994)
I can see his gaze, a look from someone who consistently viewed the world through the eyes of Christ. I remember growing up with a profound respect for this man of God. I wasn’t the only one who revered him. There was a holiness and authority about his life that you couldn’t help but recognize if you spent just a moment in his presence. When he pointed his finger at me from the pulpit one Sunday and said, “Barry, you need to tithe,” this 10 year old boy immediately began putting 10% in the offering plate, knowing that God himself had a count on my piggy bank. Even people who didn’t attend his church sensed his calling. Waitresses, grocery baggers, and hospital workers alike all addressed him as “Bro. Richard,” even if they weren’t particularly zealous in faith. To this day, I can’t bring myself to call him by his first name. When I strolled into church one Sunday night without a tie on, amid the congregational singing, he motioned me to the platform, leaned into my ear, and told me there were a number of ties on the back door of his office and that I was welcome to any of them. I went and put one on. I was 19. Age wasn’t a factor when it came to reverence for him though. I’ve seen grown men with grandchildren revert back to childhood in his presence, pastors of thousands and presidents of educational institutions reduced to mere students in Bro. Richard’s classroom of ministry.
(After I preached Southern Seminary's chapel service, April 2010)
I can feel his touch, the paradox of his plier-like grip and the steady thumping of his fist into my chest set against the warm embrace of his genuine compassion. He didn’t especially like to hug (though he frequently did), but he loved to help, particularly those in need. He had a gift of perfect timing when he spoke to you, for his words so often resounded like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11). When I was 7, too young to participate in the youth festivities but overly eager to partake in the pizza they received, their rejection left me in tears. Bro. Richard found out about it, sat me down, and encouraged me to remember how it felt, and when I saw someone else in the same situation, not to let it happen to them (he then made sure I got one of those slices).
At 15, after undergoing some profound doubting of my salvation, RPO knelt with me in his office, asked me if I was willing to trust in the Lord, heaven or hell, sink or swim, and to commit my life to Him regardless of the consequences. I laid my burden down that night, and the peace of God overwhelmed my heart. His heart for others goes far beyond my life. I’ve watched him walk around with a shopping cart at Winn-Dixie, stuff it with food till it was overflowing, and take it to a single mom with four kids living in a run-down motel room because their dad had just kicked them out that day. How often he would say to a young person, “God has his hand on you.” He had an ability to speak into people's lives and call into existence character traits and spiritual qualities that simply were not present beforehand.
Those cast aside by the world and even the church found the trajectory of their lives forever altered after an encounter with the Lord’s recruiter.
I’ve never seen anyone minister with the love of God to individual people as effectively as Richard Oldham did. No one.
(Kentucky Baptist Convention Youth Bible Drill, 2000)
I can taste his zeal, the zealousness of one who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, one who had tasted and seen that the Lord was good. He had a holy boldness reserved only for God’s select giants of faith. When a gunman entered our sanctuary and attempted to halt the morning worship service during my 4th grade year, I remember RPO staring him down, pointing his finger in his direction, calling on the Lord to protect his flock, and refusing to stop preaching: “No sir, you will not!” The deacons of the church gathered around the pulpit, surrounding my pastor, and the gunman surrendered. His heart did not fear. I went visiting with him one night in college to see a man who had just left his wife. He insisted that there was no one else involved, but Bro. Richard looked him in the eye and said, “____, I wasn’t born yesterday, and if you're seeing someone else, then you're in sin, and God will judge you one day.” It was as if the Holy Spirit vacuumed the oxygen out of that room.
Surely the prophets of old must have had this same anointing; yet, his zeal was coupled with deep humility.
When I went to men’s prayer breakfasts on Saturdays with my father (more for the breakfast than the prayer for an elementary kid), I heard my pastor pray, “God forgive me for my wicked heart.” If his heart was wicked, mine was desperately so. Before I preached in the chapel service at Southern Seminary, Dr. Mohler recognized RPO as the pastor who had raised up more preachers than anyone he knew in North America. Even as he rose to accept the ovation of recognition, his head remained down, his posture bent, recalling his life verse: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). God’s holy anointing rested in a humble vessel.
(RPO being recognized by Dr. Mohler at Southern Seminary, April 2010)
I can sense his eccentricities, even though some of the aspects of his life I probably found more ironic than he did. He ALWAYS wore a tie. Always. He mowed his yard in a tie (complete with work suit). He helped build the Living Christmas Tree in a tie. On the annual summer mission trips to Mexico, he labored in a tie (and so did everyone else), in sweltering heat. He wore a tie underneath his hospital gown. Sometimes, he even wore his tie to bed. Whenever someone asked to go on a prayer breakfast in Bible class, RPO would immediately schedule it for the next day, and Shoney’s would be bombarded by adolescence. One of our favorite events was to have him “fix” our desserts at the buffet bar. He would take a large plate and top it with everything imaginable until it overflowed with ice cream, cookies, and a colossal portion of toppings. He loved to fellowship with young people. He gave out upwards of 50 bonus points on his tests because he wanted everyone to make an “A." Although the teachers didn’t care much for this practice, students loved him for it. He taught every last one of us how to lead music, even if we couldn’t sing at all, because he wanted us to have the ability to lead churches in every aspect of ministry if necessary. I couldn’t have known then how that skill would come in handy for many of us. Every year, the junior high and high school took a two day trip to Mammoth Cave. The rest of the world calls that type of event a “retreat." RPO called it an “advance," because "Christians don’t retreat" (he also took us to the Parthenon replica in Nashville, the Hermitage [Andrew Jackson’s estate], the Red River Meeting House, My Old Kentucky Home, and a host of other places). He paid my first speeding ticket when I took him to help his sister Edith move out of her apartment in Louisville. He also didn’t tell a soul. Mom and Dad had no idea (and probably still don’t until this post). His command of Scripture was immense, which gave him a full repertoire of Biblical allusions, as he mentioned to me on several occasions that I drove like the charioteer Jehu (“furiously" in KJV parlance). He was one to talk, as Bro. Richard rarely obeyed the speed limit (“The Lord’s work requireth haste,” he often remarked). When Christmas time came around, watching our pastor open presents was an event. He refused to tear wrapping paper and would save it for future years (“I grew up in the depression…”). He rarely threw away anything. He never owned a television set nor did he use the internet. His preferred method of communication was an old electronic typewriter, letters from which must number in the thousands. He had proficient letter writing, eloquent speech and diction, and unmatched presence. He was a Shakespearean character, an other-worldly figure from an era long gone by, one from which we have much to learn.
(Dr. Al Mohler, RPO, Rev. Raymond Ward, & Dr. Hershael York, April 2010)
I owe everything in my life to Richard P. Oldham because of the Lord he so faithfully served. So many memories are too numerous to mention. The streets of heaven are crowded tonight, for there are thousands of lives within its gates who have been touched by his ministry. Although my pastor was far from perfect and was as much in need of Christ as any of us, at times I looked into his life and thought: Surely, this is what the Lord must be like.
Somehow, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was witnessing a glimpse into the character of God.
Richard Oldham represents the kind of life I want to live, the kind of church I want to lead, and the kind of man I want to be. I thank my God upon every remembrance of thee.
For more info on Bro. Richard's life and ministry, click on the links below:
(my tribute begins around the 26 minute mark)
RPO presenting me with my kindergarten certificate, May 1991
In Front of Glendale BC, Circa 1992
At the grave of RPO's parents, Bruce and Lessie Oldham, in New Castle, August 2013
Celebrating RPO's 75th birthday at our home, June 13, 2005
Dr. Mohler recognizing RPO at Southern Seminary, April 2010
RPO with some of the men called into ministry under him. Front Row, L to R: Johnny Deakins, Lonnie Mattingly, Eric Martin, and Jerry Adamson. Back Row: Barry Fields, Ed Snider, Daniel Bates, Brian Berkley, and Chris Turpin. He also received an honorary doctorate from Shawnee Baptist College that evening and preached the graduation commencement ceremony, May 2006.
Glendale Baptist Church album, circa 1975
Learned tonight that a lifelong friend of our family has passed away. Joe was at every get-together (Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, etc.) we had on Mom's side for as long as I can remember. In addition to his job working for the highway road crew, Joe also labored on the farm and milked cows for my Aunt Pearl & Cousin Charles Lee. He mowed the yard for my great-grandmother, Bessie Ashbaugh (Granny), Aunt Pearl's sister, for decades. He would fix things around the house for her, never taking a dime, though she offered to pay him many times. Joe brought Granny Kentucky Fried Chicken every Saturday. Whenever Granny cooked, she always cooked enough for him. He brought her mail in every day and would fuss at her when she got it herself. He often took Granny and Aunt Pearl to the beauty parlor and grocery store in what must have appeared to outsiders as a modern-day Driving Miss Daisy arrangement. He usually drove a Cadillac because that was his favorite car. Joe could frequently be found hanging around High Grove Grocery because of his love of people. He would carry grocery bags for folks, calling them by name. He used to give my little sister quarters just because he knew she hated holding change (the germs freaked her out). He would regularly sit out in the barn with my cousin & a group of men that would gather around from the different farms & shoot the breeze. I called them the world-problem solvers. Watching him try to work an iPhone he purchased a couple of years back was an experience as I attempted to show him how to use it. He was always amazed when someone showed him or told him something new. He just had a natural curiosity about him, coupled with a generous spirit. His surname was Goldring, but it might as well have been Goldheart. Though not related to any of us genetically or by marriage, he was as much a part of our family as anyone. In fact, Granny’s children, Betty & Patsy (my grandmother and aunt), referred to him as “brother." Granny often remarked that Joe was as good to her as a son would have been. In a world often torn apart by racial & ethnic divisions, Joe's love for us and ours for him represented what humanity can be, what the Apostle Paul describes in Galatians 3:28: there is neither black nor white, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus. I can't imagine not having you around in this life. Rest in peace, my friend.
I never met Louise Pinkston, but I knew her. I never spoke to Louise Pinkston, but I heard her. I never saw Louise Pinkston, but I encountered her. I knew her through the youngest son she raised, Matthew Brandon. I heard her gentle and quiet spirit through his prayers, pleas of quiet desperation for a movement from almighty God. I encountered her humility through his demeanor, a simple desire to be faithful to his Lord.
Most of us don't know that Matt scored a 31 on his ACT or that he graduated as valedictorian of his more than 500 member class. Matt wouldn't want you to know because those kind of accomplishments aren't important to him. His mother raised him to acquire his approval from the Lord, not from men. Rather than using his degree and background in pursuit of the almighty dollar, Matt instead chose to pursue a calling from the Almighty.
Mothers play a crucial role in the lives of their sons, perhaps most crucial. Their years of love and support provide invaluable physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual stability. Louise knew her role. Even as Matt was born late in the lives of her and Gene, Louise attended every band recital and ball game imaginable in order to cheer her son as he played the tuba. Her years of support led to great blessing for the church he serves, as he now leads our worship gatherings every week.
I knew her through the many students who came to Matt on a weekly basis. I heard her through the countless algebra & geometry problems they brought to his desk, the benefit of having a student pastor with a background in engineering (an opportunity I only wish I could have had). I saw her through the wise counsel and truth in love he gave to middle and high school folks who sometimes sought Matt out in their dilemma before their parents, such was their trust in his character. Louise was there. She was right there.
I knew her as a newly called pastor, for her son has provided a servant's heart and has taken on numerous responsibilities during this time of transition. Her desire to serve rather than be served was plainly evident in the life of her son. His determination to be in Henderson as often as possible to check on and care for his parents demonstrated a life seeking to help others rather than himself. He learned that from somewhere. He learned that from someone.
The writer of Proverbs reminds us that a mother is praised when her children rise up and call her blessed. Today, all heaven is ringing with applause, as one of God's choice servants has completed her mission. Oh, we may have never met her, but we knew her. We sure knew her.
Note: Louise Pinkston went to be with the Lord on Tuesday, March 26th, 2013. Her son Matthew is Pastor of Students & Worship at Hawesville Baptist Church.
LETTER: Gay marriage debate continues
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 10:37 am
For the better part of the past two decades, the debate over the definition of marriage has steadily intensified. Numerous states have undergone public referendums banning homosexual arrangements or, contrarily, allowing civil unions. Recently, our president came out in favor of gay marriage, offering his personal support. As a pastor, I have had to ask, "How should the church of God respond?"
I believe the answer is twofold. As Christians, we must decide if we desire to be obedient to the culture or to be obedient to the scriptures. The Bible makes clear that marriage is not simply a legal contract, but rather a covenantal union between one man and one woman, an earthly portrayal and representation of Christ and his bride, the church. Believers must stand firm in their convictions about a relationship that defines the very core of family identity and the continuation of society through procreation. The definition of marriage has remained unaltered for thousands of years, and it seems unwise for our civilization to disengage from that historical pattern.
Yet, believers cannot simply end the conversation there. We must learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, for every person on this planet has been created in the image of God, including those with whom we disagree. While we cannot endorse homosexuality as a marital union, neither can we promote homophobia nor behave as if those who engage in homosexual acts are somehow less valued by the God who loves his creation. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I was in college at Western Kentucky University, I had the privilege of competing for the forensic (speech and debate) team. Within that community, I developed friendships with many individuals who identified themselves as gay or lesbian. I learned that the vast majority of these folks were upstanding citizens and most of them were kinder than many Christians I know. I discovered that they needed the message of Jesus Christ just as much as I did and our differences did not hinder our friendships. We must speak the truth, but we must speak that truth in love.
Let us endeavor to unapologetically declare God's word to a generation in need, and let us commit to a sacrifical love embodied by a carpenter from Nazareth who gave his life for those who disagreed with him. Speak the truth, in love.
Barry E. Fields
Mount Tabor Baptist Church
So far this week, we've been greeted with the news that former California governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar fathered a child out of wedlock with the family housekeeper a decade ago. Until just a few days ago, the movie star neglected to tell his wife and children, as well as the voting public. Over the weekend, International Monetary Fund (IMF) President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a man who has had a successful track record with this financial institution and who many considered to be a viable presidential candidate in his native France, was arrested and charged with raping a maid at the hotel where he was staying in New York City. These stories are not uncommon. How often have we learned of politicians, entertainers, athletes, and business tycoons who appear to have it all, only to throw it away for seemingly nothing? It seems that the more powerful one is or the more successful one becomes, the easier it is to fall.
Yet, underneath these scandalous headlines lies something far more common: the depravity of the human heart; the desire to turn away from the face of God. While we may not have the name recognition or run in the same influential circles as those mentioned above, the truth is that you and I face the same temptations every single day. We are constantly confronted with opportunities to be unfaithful to our spouses, dishonest with our families, or arrogant with our co-workers. In the Bible, Paul warns believers that anyone who thinks they stand better take heed lest they fall. Solomon lets us know in Proverbs that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It's not just the tabloid sins that get us in trouble. Every time we neglect prayer before making a major decision, place other priorities ahead of worshiping and serving the Lord, or value our comfort and entertainment over loving our neighbor, we are saying exactly the same phrase as these public figures in our hearts: "God, I don't need you. I can make it on my own." Even if the vices you are enjoying appear to be kept under the radar, rest assured that "the secret things of the heart will one day be revealed." Only through a careful and consistent dependence on the Spirit of God to work in our lives and a total saturation of his word can we have hope that the same fate met by these individuals does not also meet us.
God help us to stay close to and dependent on the Lord who sees and knows all.
See you Sunday,
Bro. Barry - Psalm 19:14
My friend’s getting married. This is the day in which my dear brother, Andrew Singh, is pledging himself to another. Surely, it is the biggest day of his 27 year life thus far. When he came to the United States for the first time over a decade ago, I know that he did not expect to be here for this moment. God certainly works in mysterious ways. For the past three years, I have watched a pastor who knows how to care for the souls of his flock, observed an international come into a rural area and embrace this community with his whole heart, and learned what it really means to walk with the Lord, day in and day out. Together, we have formed an unofficial duo, the “Bachelors of Buffalo.” Today, the plural becomes singular.
Andrew and I have had many experiences during our friendship. For starters, “Ghandi” (my affectionate nickname bestowed on him) is always singing to himself, and I have learned many Southern Gospel songs from an Indian. Then there’s the cell phone, which is constantly plugged to his ear: “How are you doing, my frieennnddd?!” There’s the Hindi / Southern accent, which is incredibly difficult to place. One day Andrew said to me, “Brother, people always know who I am when I call them. I don’t even have to say my name!” I wonder why, Reverend Singh! There’s the mispronounced syllables, wherein my foreign friend often replaces a “v” with a “w”. Andrew’s conversation with the minister yesterday at the rehearsal: “Pastor Carl, when I do remove her “whale”? (he meant to say “veil”). Perhaps Jonah will show up today, big fish in tow. Since he is an avowed Methodist and I am firmly Southern Baptist (missions AND potlucks), we often have theological “conversations.” We finally just settled on an introduction whenever we meet new people: “He sprinkles. I dunk. We’re still friends.” The looks we’ve received from folks have been priceless.
Then there’s the other, more serious side of my friend. Whenever I’ve had a tough day or a difficult situation at church, there’s always one person who is going to call and ask how things are going. When people are sick or feeble, you can bet there will be a man of God visiting them in the hospital or singing to them in the nursing home. Whenever our folks have surgery, I try to go the hospital and pray with them, then return later on to see how they’re doing. I thought that was pretty good until I observed my Methodist brother. Andrew will ride with them to the hospital, stay all day, and take them home that night. When two of his fellow seminary students were tragically killed in a car accident 18 months ago, Andrew preached their funeral and wrote a song commemorating their lives, telling everyone present that “Jesus is Lord.” I have met many people that have a heart after God, but most of the time they are older and have more experience. With Andrew Singh, though, you can sense the presence of the Lord just by being around him. That is unusual for someone his age.
Around two years ago, he began conversing on the phone with Arpita, his future bride. I could tell something was up by the way his face brightened when he spoke of her. Through providence, Arpita was able to come to Kentucky (the “Promised Land”) this past summer. She enrolled at Asbury and is working on her master’s in counseling. She’ll need it living with my absent-minded friend. Andrew’s mother was responsible for setting up the relationship (in Indian tradition, the parents often pick spouses for their children). As we were coming back from Elizabethtown one day, Andrew looked over my way and said, “Brother, I am going to find you a wife.” We all laughed, then Arpita stared back at him and responded, “Yeah, call your mom!” I think he’s met his match (we are currently in the bargaining stages for naming their future firstborn son ‘Barry’. It has a great ring to it, in my opinion).
Seeing them together the past few months, I believe the Lord most definitely has his hand on these two. Andrew’s first name is actually Arpan (Andrew is his middle name). In the Hindi language, Arpan and Arpita are the masculine and feminine words for the same meaning: “offering to God.” Today, they offer themselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12) to God’s kingdom work. The two become one.
My friend’s getting married. And I couldn’t be happier for him.