The Parable of the Enlightened Christian

leap of faith

Her most treasured photo, Dana calls this, “Leap of Faith.” I call it, “Enlightened Man.” Near Casablanca, Morocco.

“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth, he confesses, resulting in salvation.” ~ Romans 10:9-10

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All photos by Dana Hoggard Watkins

Two men.

Aydin, at 71, rests in a hospital bed. He’s just come to terms with an incurable diagnosis. It will take his life in days, if not, weeks.

Nabal is a Christian pastor, who for the last 40 years dedicated his life in service to the Lord. He’s led many flocks, built many churches. He updates his resume twice a year with an endless list of accomplishments for which he’s tirelessly worked. There’s a kingdom to build out there, and it requires a lot of work.

Circumstances prompt a meeting between the two men in Hospital Room 2008, and they form a kinship.

In the precious days to follow, Aydin opens up to Nabal. He describes a life of regret. Booze. Women. Foul language, and everything else you can throw into the kitchen sink. Aydin wishes his time had been more well spent.

But Nabal replies with a message of hope.

“What’s important is this moment,” the spiritual veteran says. “Have you made the decision to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life? We can say a prayer right now and your scarlet sins will become white as snow.”

“I’m not ready, but maybe I will be soon,” Aydin replies. “I just need to think on things some more.”

Good News: Aydin now owns his sins and shortcomings.

No-So-Good-News: He’s still got baggage, and he’s carrying it around. Everywhere. And it’s heavy.

sunset near casablanca, morocco

Sunset near Casablanca, Morocco.

And so Nabal plants a seed. In the waning hours, the seed takes root, and grows in Aydin’s heart.

Days pass. Friends and family come to Aydin’s bedside for what everybody knows may be their final visit. The times are pleasant, good memories shared. There’s even laughter, and everyone who leaves Hospital Room 2008 senses something different. Something they can’t quite comprehend.

Despite the dire circumstances, Aydin seems relaxed, peaceful, happy, and not quite his former self. There’s a newness about him. Transparency. Freedom, if you will.

Three days later, something rouses in Aydin’s spirit. His new-found freedom stirs thoughts to acknowledgement, and acknowledgement, to action.

Aydin tells his faithful wife of 47 years he wants to be baptized.

And so Aydin’s wife, beside herself with joy, calls Nabal requesting that he come to the hospital right quick. No explanation of why. Just come, Nabal. Please come.

Nabal puts it on his list of priorities, but first preaches his Sunday sermon because he carries an obligation to his flock. He’s been charged with a duty he takes most seriously, and first things first.

He rushes through the normally relaxed three-point message, shakes a few hands on the way out and heads directly to Hospital Room 2008 where Aydin awaits.

Aydin’s faithful wife, meets Nabal outside the door.

over the skies of Greece

Somewhere over the skies of Greece.

“He wants to be baptized,” she says, smiling, knowing nothing else to say beyond just that.

“That’s wonderful. Praise the Lord,” Nabal replies, all the while, Aydin awaits anxiously in the bed inside Hospital Room 2008. “We’ll make the arrangements.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she says. “He wants to do it right now. He’s asked the entire family to come and witness, and everyone’s on the way.”

And Nabal goes silent. It’s a long silence before he offers a reply.

A baptism’s not possible in Hospital Room 2008, he says, because the Bible specifies the proper procedure, and it includes a “full-immersion.”

Aydin’s wife looks confused.

“We don’t care about the full immersion,” she says. “A sprinkling will be fine. He just wants to make the public profession of faith, and everyone’s on the way.”

“But he can’t be fully immersed,” Nabal responds. “I don’t conduct baptism with a sprinkling, or anything short of full immersion. It’s our doctrine.”

“But this is just for him,” she says. “It’s what he wants, and we don’t know how much longer he has left. It’s time.”

“I can’t do it,” he said. “He can’t be fully immersed.”

And Nabal returns to his home, and his flock. And he never sees Aydin’s family again.

Four days later, Aydin died, but he’s never been more alive.

TOMORROW: “The Parable of the Enlightened Church.”

For related posts see:

Days and My Dad

Forty Things You Feel 40 Days After Your Dad Dies

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Dreams and Visions: Is There a Difference?

I just began wondering about this.

I’d search the internet for a profound quote, but here’s what I think:

“A dream is something hoped for. A vision is a dream pursued.”

For years “in church” I heard people talk about having visions. I never put much stock in it until I had two of my own over the last couple of years. They were so profound and personal, I’ve never shared them with anyone other than my wife, and I’ll probably keep it that way. But they were true visions from God, and I believe that.

But beyond that realm, I’ve dreamed about a lot of things and had visions for certain dreams. A realized vision is a dream come true.

I dreamed about running a 26-mile race one time. Then I envisioned its possibility and pursued its reality.

As a kid, I dreamed about adventures in foreign lands. Not until I actually pursued an adventure in Ecuador four months ago did I envision its possibility, and now we

Dana with some young friends we made in Puerto Cayo.

are actively pursing that dream. I could see it the moment we arrived and now I realize it in the weekly photos I receive from 5,000 miles away.

Four years ago, I never dreamed my vision for a small publishing business would fail and leave me dead broke, busted, but it happened.

Truly, I do dream about a day when racism and segregation will be wiped off the face of the planet, but stories like this http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/us/mississippi-black-couple-wedding/index.html don’t give me the slightest vision for it happening or what I can do about it short of the rapture.

For many years, I dreamed my dad would know his forgiveness and I’d see him in Heaven one day. Now, to the best I of my comprehension, I envision him basking in God’s light every day.

Many years ago I dreamed I’d have kids who lived out their God-given potential and become all they were meant to be. Now, I get to see them live that out every day, and I’m so proud.

My daughter, Sophie, second lane from right, helping her team to a conference championship.

So this is my prayer for today:

Lord, You are the dreamer of all dreamers,

You give us the gift of dreams to live out, and visions to pursue.

Thank you for the gifts you give us. Encourage us to pursue the light of your holy truth;

Enlighten us with your dreams for us,

And grant us grace to see things through.

In the name of the  Son of Light,

In the name of your Son, Jesus, we pray.”

Amen.

An additional post on my primary blog today may be viewed here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-ui

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The Black and White of Dark and Light: Self-Segregation in the Church of the South

(Blogger’s Note: One of the things I’ve learned along the book publishing journey is that controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve also learned it’s a good idea to sometimes test those controversial topics. This is a sample chapter idea I had early yesterday morning for my current work “Light Wins.” I’d welcome any thoughts. ~ steve)

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“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

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“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free,  there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~ Galations 3:28

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I live in the South.

We don’t have a history of being the most enlightened people in the world, but I’ve always taken a certain pride in being a Southerner. In the South, we drink sweet tea, say “yes ma’am” and we go to church.

Oh, how we go to church.

In the South, we’ve come a long way. Or so I thought until a “church experience” just yesterday. Here’s some background on how it began:

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Four days ago I learned about the death of a colleague who was a local television news icon. Jack Hill was the lead anchor for KAIT Channel 8 in Jonesboro during the 1980s.

Hill was an investigative journalist during my years as a teen, and a man for whom I had great respect. When I learned of his death, I was compelled to write a short post about his career that can be viewed through this short link: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-py

Jack Hill and Ray Scales (right) in their prime as investigative journalists.

The post wouldn’t have been complete without interviewing Ray Scales, Hill’s go-to camera man for a decade, and a man who was a mentor of sorts to me when I was a greenhorn reporter at The Jonesboro Sun from 1988-1998.

Scales was gracious to take an early morning Saturday phone call and share some thoughts about Hill’s intriguing career.

Now the lead pastor at New Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Scales is an influential leader and civil rights champion. He chairs our town’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade each year.

Speaking with Scales Saturday brought back many good memories, and I decided I’d attend his church service the following day. For many reasons, it was an enlightening experience.

After the church service with my admired friend, Dr. Ray Scales, pastor of New Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

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In the South, we still have what we casually refer to as “black churches.” I’m not sure why, because I’ve never heard a church referred to as a “white church.” Nevertheless, we have no qualms about making the “black church” reference.

New Mt. Zion is a black church. Most anyone would acknowledge that. In yesterday’s church service I was the only white man in the house.

And I’ve never had a more enjoyable “church” experience.

We were greeted with pure love, open arms and grateful hearts. Ray acknowledged my family as special guests, and at the service’s conclusion he even asked me to say a few words. I was so honored to be a part of their service … it was uninhibited worship at its very best. The New Mt. Zion Choir is nothing less than spectacular, and Scales’ message delivery was captivating.

But I was the only white guy in the house, and it really got me thinking.

VIEW FROM THE BACK PEW: Enjoying the praise and worship of the New Mt. Zion Baptist Choir. They make a joyful noise!

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It’s crazy that we even conceive the notion of “black” and “white” churches.

Is the South still that much in the dark?

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Two years ago, my wife and I had a short career stint in Mountain Home, Arkansas. For the time we were there, we wanted a church home and our first visit was to a large denominational church where many of the townspeople worshipped.

We had two distinct observations. There wasn’t an African-American in the house, and not a single person said “hi” to us.

We were dumbfounded no one spoke a word of welcome.

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Caught up as I was in New Mt. Zion’s wonderful service yesterday, my mind drifted. I just kept wondering if any of their church members would have been as welcomed in a “white” church as we were there. And, moreover, as Southerners, why do we self-segregate, black and white, as a body of believers. We’re doing this to ourselves. If there’s one place we should come together as one body, it’s the church, is it not?

My hope is that we’re on the path to making some progress.

An introspective process now ongoing by two of the South’s largest denominations offers that hope.

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At its most recent national gathering, the Southern Baptist Convention elected new president Fred Luter as the first African-American leader in its 167-year history. Luter’s election signals an important statement in the SBC’s effort to distant itself from its racist past.

The SBC was founded in 1845 when Baptists split over the issue of slave ownership in the pre-civil war years.

“It’s been said that Southern Baptists are very old and very white.” ~ Tim Burcham, Pastor FBC of Lindale, Georgia.

The SBC’s debate over a possible name change to “Great Commission Baptists” is ongoing.

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Likewise, at its 2012 general conference, United Methodists considered a number of changes in operational standards to lessen the group’s bureaucratic structure and reach out to a more diverse following. The issue of homosexual membership and pastoral leadership is a debate that continues for the group.

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We’ve certainly lived out the circumstance of our own Dark Ages here in the South. I wonder if we’re making progress, or if we continue to live in the shadow of our past.

For a semi-related post about Ray Scales and Jack Hill you may view some thoughts on my secondary blog here: http://wp.me/p2wzTk-2m

Related articles:

Creating a Movement: Great Leaders Know How to Dance

“Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.” ~ Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

The right sidebar on my home page features a widget that says simply, “Come Along.”

It’s an invitation to anyone who comes across this site to subscribe to my blog posts by e-mail and become a “follower” of sorts. In the four months I’ve been blogging on wordpress.com my blog’s had about 5,500 hits with about 100 followers.

For any blogger, it’s an honor when his/her post is read. Without readers i.e. “followers” it would all be for nothing. There’s something instilled in all of us to be leaders. But what of the followers?

Is leadership overglorified?

Generally, I think we’d all agree the goal of every leader is, in some form, to create a movement. Something with momentum. Something, that somehow, creates its own synergy.

Aside from vision, leaders must have guts, they must be vulnerable, but most of all they must be easy to follow.

You see, the followers are the key, and the most important aspect of any movement.

A leader without followers stands amidst nothingness but hope. And true leaders don’t hope, they lead with magnetism. Leaders nurture their first followers as equals. Again, they make themselves easy to follow.

In creating the original greatest movement, Jesus said, “Follow me” 23 times in the New Testament. Without his inner circle and the “followship” of Peter, James and John, Jesus would have had a more significant challenge on his hands in taking the Christian movement forward. The three original followers simply dropped their nets and followed him.

So what of the follower and his/her importance in the movement?

Simply this: If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the “spark” to the fire.

“Followship” may be the most under-appreciated form of leadership.

When a leader publicly shows the first follower “how to follow,” it’s no longer about him or her, it’s about them.

A crowd is a movement, and a movement is news … and news has legs, and it takes many legs to sustain a movement.

For a great example, take a look at this video, simply titled: First Follower – and you’ll get the point.

I’m not a huge music video buff, but the one video I carry on my phone is a Nickleback video titled, “If Everyone Cared.” This video carries an incredible message on movement leadership, and it’s my all-time favorite.

Just for the record, a great read on movement leadership is Malcom Gladwell‘s, The Tipping Point.

The next time you think about creating a movement, think first to who might follow – and embrace them.

You can check out today’s post on my secondary blog at: http://wp.me/p2tJ80-16

Prologue to “Light Wins!”

(Blogger’s Note: The following text is the draft prologue to my first book: “Light Wins! …and the darkness is defeated forever.” This non-fiction work is now about 50% complete. After a two-month book-writing drought, I’m ready to get back on the keyboard and finish the manuscript with a target publishing date of Easter 2013. The book will be printed in hard copy and will also be available electronically on Amazon.com I’d surely welcome your fair comment and criticism.)

PROLOGUE

“The only book that should ever be written is one that flows up from the heart, forced out by the inward pressure. When such a work has gestated within a man, it is almost certain that it will be written. The man who is thus charged with a message will not be turned back by any blase’ consideration. His book will be to him, not only imperative, it will be inevitable.” ~ A.W. Tozier.

Oftentimes, a book is, in fact, judged by its cover. If you saw this cover on a bookstore shelf, would it draw your attention? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For the moment, this isolated workshop where I write is a place of intentional seclusion.

I’m in self-eclipse mode for the next three days.

And there’s a surprising irony that I’ve done the very thing so many others about whom you’ll read in this book have also done at different points in their lives. I’ve gone away to be alone.

Like them, I have come to this place to tie all the loose ends together. To make sense of it all. To draw conclusions, and to share with you something of benefit. And yes, to shed some light on the places where we all see, feel and perceive the darkness.

This workshop is a special place. The very place where the story begins.

My dad, in one of his finest moments.

Little more than seven weeks ago, this workshop was my dad’s refuge, and it’s now a place where I’m surrounded by his lingering tangible memories.

Sitting now before his desk in a well-cushioned chair, I see his personal handwritten notes on last year’s calendar. His collection of hats on the top shelf now collects dust. There are enough tools in this place to build a fortress. And just beyond reach are the dozens of remaining oxygen inhalers that provided his temporary relief from chronic COPD which ultimately took his life.

The memories are here, but no longer is he. Though he feels close, he is yet just beyond my reach on the other side of a thinly-veiled realm we call Heaven, basking in newfound light.

There was a valuable lesson learned in this place six years ago. On December 5, 2005 I woke up in a panic wondering what I would get dad on his 65th birthday. I wanted it to be something meaningful, and so I sought something that might offer ultimate discernment in his life. Randy Alcorn‘s Heaven, jumped out as I walked down the aisles of a local bookstore. If he could be convinced to read that book, I thought, maybe it would lead to a deeper conversation that I so longed to have with him.

When I found him in this workshop later that morning, he was thankful for the gift and asked me to stay around a while and talk. I shared with him my personal takeaway from Alcorn’s work, and told him how many things it helped me understand.

“I just hope I’ll be able to go there one day,” he said, “but I’ve done so many bad things.”

God didn’t care about the past, I told him. All he wants is for you to ask him into your heart. Don’t make it more complicated than it is, I said. It’s a simple thing.

Dad had a hard time letting go of the past. Alcoholism, bad choices and a sense of self-worthlessness born out of a dysfunctional childhood were things he could never seem to release. When he told me that day that his father actually threatened to kill him on more than one occasion, I could only try to understand.

The “diamond effect” of a solar eclipse, a theme used throughout my book.

Do you believe in Jesus, I asked. And do you believe he was God’s own son who died on the cross for your sins, I went on…

Yes, I do, he said. Well, it’s that simple dad.

That day he prayed with me and asked Jesus to become the lord of his life. We laughed, cried, hugged and two hours later I left so happy. Dad had embraced the light.

I had done it, I thought. What a magnificent thing to share God’s forgiveness with your very own dad. I was so proud. Things would be different now.

But the lesson was yet to be learned.

God showed us all several weeks ago that He is the one who ultimately performs the most magnificent of works. He’s the one who issues the invitation and sheds light into every man’s heart. It’s his perfect timing that created the heavens and the earth, and in his time, he will offer the light of his truth.

Saul had a profound experience along the Damascus road. The light of the truth forever changed him. We all travel down the similar paths Saul experienced. The unknown twists and turns leave us searching for the right way en route to a given destination, when all we need to do is search out the light.

It’s always there. Always has been. Always will be.

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You may check out my secondary blog at: http://wp.me/2tJ80

Should a pastor act like a CEO, calling the shots and running the church like an organization that he controls? Or should the living, present Jesus Christ be the One who is allowed to active control and direct the church?

Reblogged as an original work from my friend, Steve Simms of Nashville. Please click on the link below:

 

Should a pastor act like a CEO, calling the shots and running the church like an organization that he controls? Or should the living, present Jesus Christ be the One who is allowed to active control and direct the church?.

The Holy Spirit: Our Bastard Stepchild?

“It is better for you that I go away. If I do not go away, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will not come to you. If I go away, I will send Him to you.” ~ John 16:7

Notice the last sentence in that verse. “I will send HIM to you.”

God the Father.

God the Son.

God the Holy Spirit.

Seems the Spirit is the last one to get our attention. We put Him at the bottom of the list.

We count the Spirit as one of the Trinity because the Bible tells us to do so. But why do we so often view Him as the lesser of the three, an occasional afterthought, when John tells us in the verse above that it is better for Jesus to go and the Spirit to come.

Another translation of that verse says: “It is expedient for you that I go away.”

Though Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, it’s the goal of most Christians to follow Him and to become more like Him. How do we know Jesus if he’s away in the Heavenly realm and we’re here on earth, and why was it better for Him to go away?

Jesus’ task on earth was completed on the cross. It is a finished work. The job was done, and thank goodness for that.

But we do well to remember that God himself took on our humanity as Jesus the Son, and by His own choice He limited himself by becoming man. Jesus (as man) could not be all things to all people, in all places at all times.

In other words, if the Lord Jesus were here today in His human body, He couldn’t be where I am now and where you are at the same time.

But there is one who can, and is.

If the “headline” on this post makes you uncomfortable, I join with you in that discomfort. I mean no harm and no disrespect. It makes me uncomfortable because it points out my failure, and moreover, my sin.

So many times, I’ve heard people in church say … ‘the Holy Spirit was really present in our service today.’

Are we guilty of viewing the Spirit as some magical energy force, more powerful at one time than another, choosing to “show up” at one moment and not the next? Is He just some heavenly fog that we eagerly await to descend upon us and transfigure the moment? Is He just some spiritual portal through which we must pass to touch the face of God?

I’m guilty.

A pastor in my hometown was courageous enough to ask this question to his congregation last  Sunday. His question stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks. Why would I long for the Spirit to show up and do a great work in my life when he’s already right there, all the time? He lives inside of me.

He grieves when I violate my moral consciousness. He disciplines me in love when I go against His will, but He stands beside me at all times and loves me because I belong to Him. The deal is done.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten things wrong. We’ve bought into the idea that the Spirit is some transcendent force or power – some notion just beyond our grasp and reach. We hope and pray that He will show up and move us on Sundays.

We’ve learned it all wrong, and so now, we have a lot to un-learn.

I know I do.

Thank goodness for the Better Way, and let the lessons of un-learning begin.