Congratulations to new Alabama Baptist convention officers

Looking forward to partnering in ministry with the new Alabama Baptist State Convention officers, elected Nov. 14:

ABSC new officers 2018-19

(Photo by Tracy Riggs, courtesy of The Alabama Baptist)

 

President Tim Cox (center, being choked … ha!) — pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Chelsea.

First Vice President Buddy Champion (left) — pastor of First Baptist Church, Trussville.

Second Vice President Morgan Bailey (right) — pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, Bessemer.

Dedicated group of pastors for sure — and lots of fun as well.

A note of congrats also goes out to John Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pell City, who wrapped up his time as convention president Nov. 14. Prior to his final act as president, Thweatt shared with The Alabama Baptist some of what he learned during his time in the role.

Alabama Baptists have a lot of thriving, “incredible” ministries, and watching them at work was a good reminder to keep the Great Commission central and work together to accomplish it, he said.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

 

Honoring veterans by living lives worthy of the sacrifice

The retired serviceman’s sincere, straightforward approach to his time in the military intrigued me. And the more I thought on his words, the more I realized the depth and intensity of what he was saying.

“When I’ve been in uniform throughout my career, random people have walked up to thank me for my service or buy my lunch,” he said. “There also have been times when applause broke out as I walked through a restaurant or an airport.

“While I appreciate their appreciation, what I really wanted to say was, ‘Don’t thank me. Don’t buy me lunch. Don’t applaud me. Just live a life worthy of living so my service and the sacrifices I made for you were not in vain.’”

Millions have served sacrificially

The U.S. military was officially established by Congress at the urging of President Washington in 1789. 

With hundreds of thousands of people serving in the early days and more than 2.5 million combined active and reserves serving today, my mind can’t quite grasp exactly how many individual people have dedicated their lives during these past 229 years. 

Each of those men and women served sacrificially. Many saw and experienced horrific events that they carried or will carry for their entire lives. Most choose to protect the rest of us from the worst of the details and are hesitant to even admit how heavy the load really is. 

In many cases, those who served are now sentenced to a life of attempting to manage post-traumatic stress disorder, continual nightmares and/or difficulty assimilating back into civilian life. Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates among former military personnel continue to climb. Family relationships and friendships will never be the same for them. Some find a way to push through and quietly battle their internal demons while balancing a loving and caring relationship with family who could never understand. Some do better in isolation or at least by keeping a defined distance from others.

Millions of our fellow Americans stood in the gap for us in past years. Millions more are serving right now or are within days, weeks or months of taking their turn to serve. They have protected and continue to protect the freedoms and way of life we enjoy as U.S. citizens. 

Do we take those sacrifices for granted?

But how often do we really think about the sacrifices so many have made for us?

Military families are typically the best at honoring those in service, caring for those returning and being sensitive to the reality of the situations. And most of us likely have a family member, at least an extended family member, who has served at some point.

It is good to honor those who have served on Veterans Day. We also remember those who died in service on Memorial Day. Most often the 4th of July includes a shoutout to our current military and Lee Greenwood’s famous “God Bless the USA” is sung with sincere gusto.

But outside of those three holidays, how often do we remember the men and women who fought and in some cases died for our freedom? Do we actually grasp and respect the concept of true freedom?

Are we living lives worthy of all those who sacrificed for us? 

Are we making the United States better because we are citizens? 

Responsibility of citizenship

And for those of us who are believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, do we fully grasp the sacrifice He made for us? 

Are we living lives worthy of Him? Do we allow His love and grace to shine through us as He describes in Matthew 5:14–16?

Does our faith journey showcase the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22–23 — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?

Being an eternal citizen of heaven along with our current citizenship in the U.S. both bring great privilege and blessings and with both come great responsibility. 

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Avoiding the cynical path

Path

The path leads one of two ways I was told — in our service through Christian communications, the only options are to become deeply pious or doggedly cynical.

I couldn’t quite grasp what my mentor was saying. After all I had only recently stepped into my first position with The Alabama Baptist newspaper and was still warming up to the fact that I did have a calling in the area of communications.

How that would look over time I did not know, but I knew I would give it everything I had at every point. For me, it has always been a calling to the concept and goal of communications — specifically within a faith-based arena — not necessarily to a position.

The positions have been there and I’m always grateful for them, but the heart of what we do in striving to effectively connect people, build relationships and share information is what has kept me motivated. 

Now I can look back and see what my mentor meant all those years ago. 

Danger lies ahead

Developing an attitude of cynicism is a real danger — not only because we work in an area where we often see behind the curtain of ministry life but also because of the endless opportunities to be hurt by others. Of course, this isn’t necessarily different than any other area of work or life.

The fight to keep optimism alive and to stay positive is sometimes hard enough on our own, but when we are called to motivate and lead others to do the same, then it truly requires digging down deep and staying intimately connected to God to make it happen.

Think about how many people in your circles regularly complain, show frustration or spew angry sentiments. And think about how much energy you use absorbing all of it. 

While we can technically be cynical without being ugly, cynicism typically brings a negative attitude and general “what’s the use” spirit. After all, everyone is out for him- or herself, right? There’s no hope left for humanity, right? 

Distrust, suspicion, disgust and frustration are related feelings. When these traits are present, peace and joy get squashed and overshadowed — and our general presence definitely is not winning any popularity contests. 

Grasping the power of peace and joy

Without peace and joy, we start down a path of negativity, selfishness and maybe even ugliness. And without a steady diet of God’s word and connection with Him, our defenses will weaken over time.

Many of us say we are tired of the divisive culture we’ve found ourselves in, but what are we doing to change it? Are we willing to evaluate our own hearts first?

Are we willing to challenge others to be the best they can be by believing in their potential even when they can’t find the strength to do it themselves?

It is sometimes hard to love others and believe in them, but think about the possibilities if we keep trying. 

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Stepping out in confidence

IMG_20180929_213016

September 1993

The weeks leading up to my arrival on the missions field in the early 1990s were filled with the normal activities of packing, researching the area where I was headed and saying goodbye to friends and family.

While it was only a two-year missions position, the decision to go was major for me. I had turned down several tempting job opportunities following graduation from the University of Alabama in May of that year and said yes to serving the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean.

The position definitely matched my training and educational experience in communications, but my exposure to the world outside the Southeast — and missions work in general — was pretty limited.

The internal battle was fierce. Fear of the unknown, moving outside my comfort zone, conceding to uncertain living conditions and a deep feeling of inadequacy in working alongside career missionaries surfaced daily.

But each time anxiety threatened to convince me to bail on the plan, the peace that drew me to the decision in the beginning returned and washed over the fears. Sometimes there isn’t a logical explanation, but when God calls, draws and directs, we know what we need to do.

And so I answered and many stood with me.IMG_20180929_212720

Churches raised money to assist with the needed resources and committed to pray as I served. My pastor, Sammy Taylor, and home church, Mountain View Baptist in Phil Campbell, prepared me for service and made sure I never forgot they were home holding the ropes while I was on the field.

My friends and family supported, prayed and stayed connected through the two years. My mom researched the types of clothes and other items I would need and made sure I had plenty of options. My dad put me to work with him on the farm between college graduation and leaving day — for a much-needed therapeutic mental break.

IMG_20180929_214429_edit

My sweet peers on the missions field in the early 1990s. We all went in different directions after our terms ended but not before becoming lifelong friends.

When I left Phil Campbell 25 years ago this month (September 1993) I had no idea what would happen next. God taught me so much about life, others, missions and ministry. He certainly expanded my world and drew me to Him like I had never experienced before.

The years since then have brought a whole lot of life — good, bad and everything in between — and through it all God has been faithful, providing the peace, confidence and strength I needed at every point.

As I enter the next season of the journey with the coming new position at The Alabama Baptist, I step with excitement, anticipation and confidence not only because of the clarity of the call and a peace from the Lord but also because of the strength, support and encouragement of those surrounding me.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Could people of faith be the answer?

Prison reform, prison overcrowding, funding for new prison facilities, prison problems, prisons, prisons, prisons — we’ve heard it, read about it and watched the news clips on it until we can’t process it any more. 

I’m not sure many people even notice the media reports, legislative debates and pleas for help any longer. They have become white noise nagging at our consciences but easy enough to ignore if we aren’t personally affected. Plus when it comes down to it, the numbers, options for help and degree of hopelessness are all truly overwhelming.

But if we as Christians believe what we say we believe about the gospel, about grace, about forgiveness, about being a new creation in Christ, then why are we not walking alongside every single inmate striving to truly change? Why are we not knocking down the prison gates trying to make a difference?

Yes, discernment, appropriate boundaries and wisdom are needed in this area. Learning the dos and don’ts are a must. 

But with nearly 1 million names on the rolls of the more than 3,200 Alabama Baptist churches, what type of reforms would naturally take place in the correctional system if every church was intentional about making a difference? If every church decided to focus on even one specific item needed by one specific chaplain at one specific prison facility? If each church saw the closest prison facility to them as a missions field?

Grace and forgiveness

What if church members prayed for those in prison by name? What if volunteers from the churches consistently showed kindness to those behind bars, sharing the gospel with unbelievers and encouraging believers? What if they intentionally built relationships, sincere relationships, with those on the inside?

And what if churches became an immediate and automatic support system for those in their congregations who have a family member in prison or jail? What if the church culture was a safe place without fear of shame for those families as they shoulder the pain and daily difficulties of having an incarcerated family member? 

What if those same churches encouraged, mentored, loved on and discipled the incarcerated men and women who are seeking forgiveness and grace? And what if the church was present during court hearings, on visitation days and when those returning citizens walked outside the prison gates?

The re-entry period is critical, prison ministry advocates contend. Attempting to transition from behind bars alone most often is disastrous, they say, noting reports and statistics that prove the greater the support system, the greater the chance of becoming a positive, contributing member of society.

With more than half of those released from prison returning for parole violations or new crimes, it seems logical that an easy place to start on solving the overcrowding problem is at re-entry.

The federal government agrees, said a Prison Fellowship representative, noting billions of dollars a year go into re-entry programs. But the money, which is funded by taxpayers, is basically wasted when there’s no one to walk with and mentor the returning citizen. He described it like teaching someone to drive, giving them the tools to build a car and helping them build it, but then forgetting to provide a road on which to drive.

“We’ve got to provide the opportunity for people to know what they owe, pay it, be accountable … and live in a world where punishment has an end, where men and women with a criminal record are valued and can give back to their communities at their highest potential,” he said.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Hooyah says it all

I struggle to remember the various team names of my nephews and nieces, but I’m convinced I will never forget the Wild Boars youth soccer team from Thailand’s Chiang Rai province — a group of kids I had never heard of before June 23. I’m guessing you know them now too.

The latest extraordinary survival story truly captured the heart of a global audience. And the ability and willingness of a community to share the story through the news media and various social media outlets as it unfolded allowed all of us to be up close and personal with the situation.

Thai cave boys 

Thai Cave boys screen grab

Thai cave boys when they were discovered alive by two British divers July 1, 2018. (Screen grab from video shared with news media outlets)

Twelve boys and their coach — the Thai cave boys as they are known — became our nephews, our sons, our grandsons, our neighbor’s kids and our students. It didn’t matter how or why they were in that cave; all that mattered was that they all came out alive.

Rescuers, medical personnel, governmental leaders and other experts focused and showcased crisis management at its best. The odds were stacked against the operation and the loss of 38-year-old former Navy Seal diver Lieutenant Commander Saman Gunan in the operation reminded a watching world just how impossible the mission seemed.

It’s no surprise the Thai Navy Seals posted on Facebook when it was all over: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, science, or what.”

World showed up

People from around the world showed up to give everything they had to pull the rescue mission off. A glimmer of hope remained despite the constant obstacles — more rain coming, oxygen levels dropping, boys can’t swim, navigating route out of cave treacherous even for experienced divers, etc., etc., etc.

But all involved were committed, invested and going to see the operation through until the end. They knew their individual assignments well and worked to deliver their best to the team and overall effort. Deep concern for the boys, fears of what could be, compassion for the families, sheer determination, a never-give-up attitude and a tightly clenched hold to pure hope unified the people and the effort. 

And while I am among the 1,727,707 people who have now visited the Thai Navy Seal Facebook page and add my own thumbs up to their Seals’ affirmative “#Hooyah” response to the mission, the effort also included an army of ordinary people who stepped up in the process.

Ordinary people, extraordinary effort

Media reports indicate individuals in the community found specific roles they could play to be productive and helpful. Some made sure access to food was easily available to the rescuers, strategists and media. Some used their own vehicles and gas to transport those leading the effort to where they needed to go in the area. Some even voluntarily cleaned the portable toilets — can you imagine the selfless nature of the sweet people who determined that is where they could best serve?

All of this certainly indicates a movie will be produced soon and the layers of story lines might prove difficult to narrow. I also sense a strong sermon series could be developed from what we all watched and felt for those nearly three weeks in late June and early July.

Two aspects I hope are included in whatever way this story becomes historically documented are:

—How the world came together and put aside differences to fight for, cheer on and pray for the boys, the rescuers, the families and the situation in general.

Media reports allowed all of us to remain front and center, be informed, know how to pray, understand the situation and determine what roles we could play. We focused on the situation and the overall goal — not worrying about which news media brought us the story or calling each other names, not pushing our own agendas in the midst of a crisis, not determining someone’s political alignment or faith background before stepping up to do the right thing, instead basically working together, showing compassion and understanding what really mattered in the moment.

—How the parents reached out to Coach Ake through the message they sent him in the cave. “Don’t blame yourself. … The mums and dads, none of them are angry at you,” the letter to the coach said. The parents said they were glad he was there, asked him to take care of their boys and made sure he knew they also were concerned about his safety.

What a showing of forgiveness and grace in the midst of what had to be many moments of fighting off their greatest fears.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Walking the lonely path of regret

 

 

Regret — it can be a tortuous wave of despair that keeps on rolling over and over through our lives.

Whether it be one momentary lapse of good judgment or a season of unhealthy patterns that form the perfect storm, the actual event that leads to regret changes everything. And it is rarely ever a solo punch.

Most often the lives of everyone connected to the person suffering from regret are changed in some way — and some forever.

It is more than being disappointed about getting caught or offering false remorse for receiving negative pushback. It is a genuine feeling of repentance that grips us at the center of our soul.

Regret is a true feeling of remorse, deep repentance and extreme sadness over what has happened. You will know it when you see it. The humility, the despair, the brokenness seep from the person’s pores.

Surviving the initial blow, humiliation and blowback is the first step. And while that first step is hard the lonely journey that follows might be even harder for the truly repentant.

Space for grace

But brokenness leaves the regret-filled person with a choice just as it offers those around them an opportunity.

For the person walking through regret, it can provide a space for God to show us His grace in a way never experienced before. When we know more of the depth of our sin and brokenness, we can marvel even more at the unfathomable love and forgiveness offered to us through Christ.

Power in the pain

But we have to make that choice. We have to choose to let those painful memories drive us to worship and experience gratitude for our forgiveness. We have to choose to let our pain push us toward Christ and away from deeper sin.

And for people who are surrounding the person carrying regret, it’s a chance to remember God’s grace and remember our own sins too.

None of us is perfect. We all have the ability to dive headlong into sin. We have to call each other to right choices, but when someone is truly repentant, we can choose to walk alongside our broken brother or sister in love.

That’s who we are. We strive for holiness. We repent with sincere hearts. We bind up our wounded. The key is real repentance — and real love.

—Jennifer Davis Rash