The Hug I’ll Never Forget

Embrace

I don’t know if you realize this or not, but there are just about an endless combination of types of Baptists here in my neck of the woods. Some are predominately traditional and others more contemporary.  Some prefer a tie and coat while others like jeans and a t-shirt.  Some Baptists rival a few other denominations (not-to-be named) in their tendency to express less than zero emotion at church.  While, on the other end of that spectrum, a few Baptists sound more like their Pentecostal friends at church (just all in the same language of course).  Some Baptists like the formality and order of high church worship while some of their counterparts would just assume have no order to worship to “let the Spirit move, amen?!” Indeed, along these lines and others, one of my favorite traits about being a Baptist — and one of our tenets — is our diversity on so many levels.

One of those most endearing traits for many Baptists is that they are proudly “huggin’ folk.”  You know, those good-hearted types who are more likely to pull you in for a bear hug than shake your hand during the greeting time, right?  Those folks that don’t know any such thing as a stranger and express that with a friendly embrace.  I’m honored to pastor one of those churches that is full of “huggin’ Baptists.”  We have kind-spirited, down-to-earth, friendly folks who truly do know how to make you sense a welcoming presence with a warm hug.*

So, among such a group of huggin’ folk, a hug that stands out should not be forgotten.  A few days ago, I shared here how much fun the first year at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church has been for us. One of the search committee members, Curt Whitley wrote in response,

“The moment for me was, when after all three services, the votes were tallied, we met with you & Diana in the conference room, shared the results, and formally extended the call. Then Pastor Michael entered the room. You and he shared a warm, prolonged embrace with great joy and mega tears. Not a dry eye in the room. I wished the entire congregation could have witnessed that moment. God has and continues to be so faithful to His church.”

I won’t forget that moment or that hug.  Our retiring pastor, Michael Barrett, who had so faithfully guided Pleasant Garden to that point of transition walked into the room with the search committee and my wife and me.  As he congratulated me with that embrace and tears, he wrapped me in the warm grip of Godly mentorship, prayer, and love. 

In the 12 months following that embrace of celebration and transition that day, he has continued to envelop me with encouragement, prayer, support, and investment.  He’s been a listening ear from time to time, a source of advice, and a faithful support for God’s continued movement here at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church.

That hug embodied a powerful gift that “Pastor Mike” committed to me as we transitioned.  He said, “Robert, I’ll help you.  I’ll pray with you.  I’ll pray for you.”  And how he has!  Can we do any better for those around us?  Isn’t the command “to love one another” that’s woven through the entire Bible displayed in that type of expression to those God places along our path? Isn’t that exactly what God would hope “huggin’ folk” would do for one another?

I won’t forget that hug.  But, more than that, I’m striving to pass it along.  I want to hand off that same support, prayer, encouragement, and help that I’ve been so graciously given to others who need it.

So, be a hugger if that’s you. But, more importantly, be a helper, a support, and an investor in others around you. Perhaps you’ll give a hug–or a help–that won’t be forgotten!


*On a lighter note, I realize some out there are keep-your-hugs-to-yourself folk who are just as kind-hearted and down to earth, but at arms length 😉

Time Flies when You’re Having Fun!

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I’ve heard that phrase my whole life. I’ll never forget the first time I realized how true it was. I must’ve been 11 or 12. Our church was heading to Carowinds for what would be my first trip around those twists, loops, and hills at breathtaking speeds. I can still remember lying awake, tossing and turning in eager anticipation, barely sleeping a wink that night. The next day was simply a blur. The fun went by as fast as the very roller coasters I hopped on for the first time that day.

Well, time’s been flying again! One year ago this week, I stood before Pleasant Garden Baptist Church to preach in view of a call. Three sermons that morning later, I was called by a 99% vote, and we hit the ground running.

Like those roller coaster rides decades ago, the next 12 months have flown! Week of Wonder (aka VBS on steroids), children’s camp, a transition overlapping with retiring Pastor Michael Barrett, our 85th Homecoming Celebration, Pastor Mike’s retirement, over $100,000 committed to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, a new year, a new part-time hire, a student pastor leaving to become a lead pastor, and a search process for his replacement would be just a few of the “big rides” marking my first 12 months. In between these fast twists and turns, we would sprinkle into all the excitement a few short conferences, visits, trainings, finance meetings, personnel meetings, pastoral care, counseling sessions, a few different sermon series, my first Christmas Sunday preaching (and my first Easter), staff meetings, prayer times, and a few trips to rest and reflect before jumping back in line for the next big ride.

It’s quite hard for me to believe it’s been a year already! It seems like just yesterday the search committee gathered around me to pray a little before 8:00 am on June 24, 2018, before I would preach my trial sermon that Sunday. Like the first time my stomach flipped in nervous anticipation as I felt the slow, clicking lurch of the roller coaster train climbing the first hill at Carowinds so many years ago, I can still feel my stomach doing flips during that prayer as I eagerly anticipated walking out to preach.  And well, just about like that ride was over in what felt like seconds the first time I bounced around those roller coaster tracks, this past year buzzed by too.

But hey, that’s just a reminder: time really does fly when you’re having fun!

Wait. It’s Always Worth It.

“The work of a true missionary is work indeed, often very monotonous, apparently not very successful, and carried on through a great and varied but unceasing difficulties.” Missionary to China, Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

Taylor made this statement regarding missionary work specifically, but his observations apply to disciples of Jesus everywhere. Life moves at a mundane pace. Evidences of success often elude even the most faithful of God’s followers. Difficulties and challenges distort perspective and drag zeal downward more often than most of us would care to admit.

Yet, each of these uncomfortable realities whisper hope to us if we’ll listen. The tedious monotony of life tests our patience inviting us to constantly trust the timing of the One who holds time in His hands. The evasiveness of visible success keeps us humbly trusting the only One who saves souls, heals lives, and breaks down strongholds. The frustrations of life’s trials reminds us that this world’s light and momentary existence pales in comparison to the eager, eternal anticipation of the place where “He will wipe away all tears.”

A pastor friend shared with me recently a truth he’d gleaned from Isaiah 40:31.

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

The word for “renew” there means, literally “to exchange.” Isaiah conveys a simple, powerful, and profound truth to the disciple of Jesus. God promises to “exchange” His strength with ours when we wait upon Him! Is your life tiring you in mundane monotony? Wait. He will exchange His strength for yours. Are you growing discouraged in the lack of fruit you see, even as you faithfully strive to keep your hand upon the plow He’s assigned you? Wait. He will exchange His strength for yours. Have the turmoils of life weighed you down, tempting you to give up, give in, or give out? Wait. He will exchange His strength for yours.

That same man, Hudson Taylor, who so accurately described the work of the missionary also understood the work, power, and might of God. Time and again, he trusted God and watched God faithfully empower the gospel work throughout China. One biographer recounts:

Hudson Taylor was the most widely used missionary in China’s history. During his 51 years of service there, his China Inland Mission established 20 mission stations, brought 849 missionaries to the field (968 by 1911), trained some 700 Chinese workers, raised four million dollars by faith (following Mueller’s example), and developed a witnessing Chinese church of 125,000. It has been said at least 35,000 were his own converts and that he baptized some 50,000. His gift for inspiring people to give themselves and their possessions to Christ was amazing.*

He had experienced the exchange of God’s mighty strength for his meager morsels. Those same whispers of hope burst into our ears as we contemplate some of his other words he’s left to us generations that have come after him. I leave you with these words from him that remind us of what I’ve been contemplating all morning. Wait on God. It’s always worth it.

“All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.”

“It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies — whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.”

“There are three stages to every great work of God; first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.”

“Depend on it. God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply. He is too wise a God to frustrate His purposes for lack of funds, and He can just as easily supply them ahead of time as afterwards, and He much prefers doing so.”

― Hudson Taylor

*https://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/biotaylor2.html