It’s Vital. Are You Resting?

Schedules stopped. Travel derailed. Businesses halted. Visits postponed. For many, this season of “stay-at-home” has turned our routines upside down and sideways. Dads usually away are present—now for weeks—around the house. Students at school have become students in school from home. Many moms who would normally scurry to work or the regular routines errands out and about to care for their homes are landlocked.

Certainly, these freezes of schedule aren’t true for everyone. Many essential workers are making the country go, keeping the rest of us well, or seeing the stores are stocked. Many are working harder than ever and need our prayers and encouragement.

What is true for all of us though, is life as we knew it changed a few weeks ago. Life stopped so much so that sports organizations walked away from collective billions to social distance. Governmental leaders closed all types of businesses. Limits have been placed on the number of people who can gather in one place.

All these changes have had an interesting effect on my social media feeds. I’ve seen post after post of hikes through the woods or card games at the table or projects around the house. Families are together more than ever before.

Here’s a question I’m pondering and striving to answer personally, “Did it really take a virus to make us slow down?” What I do know is that time with my family these past few weeks (and the next few) are a gift. What I do know is that God designed us to work and to rest. What I do know is this season is inviting—actually imploring—many of us to rest.

2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis‬ ‭2:2-3 ESV)

8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. ‭‭(Exodus‬ ‭20:8-10‬ ESV‬)

Biblical rest (or Sabbath) has a variety of interpretations, and we don’t have space to address them all here. But we can draw a few practical implications from the Sabbath command to cease from our work that speak to right where we are now.

First, when we rest, we honor God by acknowledging His rest after creation. Rest is an act of worship when we chose it recognizing God’s rest. We can intentionally chose in portions of this season to “rest” worshipfully. In a walk around the neighborhood or on an open trail, take in the beauty of God’s creation and praise Him for it. Or write a prayer of gratitude for His ease on your schedule.

Second, when we rest, we recognize our limitations. God didn’t design us to burn the candle at both ends indefinitely. The Sabbath command reminded Israel that their bodies weren’t designed to go and go and go. Intentional rest honors our bodies as God’s gifts to us and cares for them with a healthy perspective on our abilities and limitations.

Third, when we rest, we refuse to make money or time a god. One of the reasons for the American pace of life is a chasing after money and success. Many in our nation act as if Wall Street never sleeps. And in doing so, they’ve traded worship of God for worship of the financial security or power or prestige that money can give. However, those are mere illusions. The halt to so many economic sectors in our nation and worldwide has unsettled many, and reminded us all that financial security is fleeting. When we rest from our work intentionally, giving away dollars to make, deals to secure, or connections that would benefit our bottom line, we realign our allegiance Godward affirming His place above our things.

Fourth, when we rest, we slow down to see one another rightly. Husband, do you know how hard your wife works to keep the house in order while you are at work? Child, do you see the effort your teachers are putting in to make school work as well as possible? Wife, do you recognize how diligently your husband longs to provide for your family well-being? Parent, do recognize the strengths (and limitations) of your student because you are watching them do school from home? Family, are you noticing the needs, expectations, and longings of one another because you actually have the chance to do so? Church member, do you see how important relationships are with one another when they are broken away?

This season is a gift to many. The change up in routine invites us to pause, reflect, rest. It’s vital. Are you resting?

Read more in this series:

It’s Quiet. Are You Listening?

It’s Unsettled. Are You Praying?

It’s Desperate. Are You Seeking?

It’s Important. Are You Connecting?

It’s Opportune. Are You Giving?

It’s Opportune. Are You Giving?

Every spectrum of life and work has been affected by this virus. Our economy has been turned upside down. The U.S. government has taken unprecedented steps to stem the impact on our economy. Blue collar, white collar, unemployed, and retired collectively hold their breath with a “wait and see” on the long term impact on job security, flow of income, or retirement.

It would be easy, even justified, for many of us to pause our giving in a season like this. But I do not believe that’s what God would have of us. Many of our normal channels for “giving” of ourselves have changed. Generosity and stewardship also include how we give our time and energy to others. In a season of “stay-at-home,” those types of ministries must be relegated to the phone or computer.

As I write this, I’m grateful for a church body that faithfully gives—and gives generously. We saw a record offering to Lottie Moon this past Christmas season. We exceeded budgeted giving last calendar year. We quickly and joyfully give to mission needs put before us. I’m also grateful for our church leadership and staff that wisely steward our resources. They’ve helped us prepare for this “rainy day” and will continue to guide us through this season to its end.

I share this with you just to bring before all of us what I believe God would invite us to prayerfully consider. He longs for us to sow generously.

6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians‬ ‭9:6-7‬ ESV‬‬)

I read this quote the other day, and it’s stayed with me, “Generosity flourishes when we don’t fear loss.” The truth is, many have already experienced (or may experience) “loss” financially from this season. The question for us is, “Do we fear that loss?”

If I’m honest, I’m tempted to fear that loss. I’m tempted to do more than just wisely save and steward. Fear of loss would tempt me to hold resources with a vice grip or hoard them for my own selfish benefit alone. God knows this temptation with me so He frequently pricks this part of my life and asks for me to let go of more. My wife and I evaluated and reset our finances beginning this past January. As a result, we have saved more of our monthly resources this year. As soon as we saw our monthly savings, God nudged us to increase our regular giving. Then, once this pandemic began, He nudged again. I can say with joy, we are giving more and eager to see what God will do.

I am answering the question, “Do I fear loss?” I encourage you to answer it too. The answer to that question will reveal if our trust and confidence resides in our bank account, our 401k, our job security, or our retirement disbursements. The answer to that question will reveal if we truly believe that our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and the hills to boot (Psalm 50:10). It will reveal if we trust in the “riches of His glory” to care for us and sustain us (Ephesians 3:16).

If you’ve hesitated to mail in your tithe or give through your church’s online platform, I encourage you to take that step. If God has nudged you to give more, listen to Him. If He has placed on your heart a ministry or a person or a church or a missionary or a neighbor in need, listen to His direction and give. Maybe you are reading this, and you’ve fallen out of the habit of giving regularly. God may be saying to you right now, “Give and watch me provide for you and demonstrate my faithfulness to you. Trust me with your money.”

Don’t fear loss. Give. Trust God with your today. And your tomorrow. He’s got you.

*For my PGBC Family, you can click here to give through our online platform. Our family set up our giving as recurring. We’ve found it to be the simplest route to giving obediently.

Read more in this series:

It’s Quiet. Are You Listening?

It’s Unsettled. Are You Praying?

It’s Desperate. Are You Seeking?

It’s Important. Are You Connecting?

It’s Important. Are You Connecting?

“Stay-at-home” in our area has had a revolutionary impact in only a few days. We live in the same neighborhood as one of our church members. He’s walked past my house a few times, and each time this week, I happened to be on the phone. Apparently, my front porch has become my “new office” as he put it.

It’s not just the front porch we’ve rediscovered. It’s the back yard and brush needing to be cleaned up. It’s sorting and organizing the garage. It’s kitchen cabinets in need of some tlc. These chores that are sometimes hard to get around to because of scurrying schedules have reminded me that we can easily put them off until later. Sometimes though, we realize we’ve put them off too long.

The lessons in these chores against the backdrop of the “stay-at-home” order has also revealed an even more important truth. We’ve got to connect with our family intentionally. The past few weeks have been marked by a number of reengagements with my wife and son. Card games. Board games. Movies. Walks together. Cuddles. Fishing. Laughter. Joy.

Our closeness has also exposed some of our buttons we sometimes push (or get pushed). Our presence with each other almost constantly means we get each other’s best moments and prickly moments. Marriage and parenting always have their challenges, but when you mix in A LOT more time with each other along with the uneasiness and anxieties this season has birthed, it’s a recipe for some interesting “moments.”

While I’m sure Peter didn’t have my home in the midst of this virus outbreak in mind, his words have been sweet balm and a helpful corrective:

8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter‬ ‭4:8-9‬ ESV‬‬)

Those words must start with our family. The truth is, I desperately need my family. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for them. Many are cut off from grandchildren or children or even spouses because of all the social distancing restrictions or certain careers that force separation. On an even more serious note, some are cut off from loved ones because they are sick. Close hospitality cannot be accomplished right now with many, which makes it all the more important that we get those expectations right with those under our roof.

Those words also press the importance of the “now.” Peter says, “Keep loving one another earnestly.” Earnestly pleads for a zealous effort. A press upon the immediate. In this season where our peace of mind about our health is so fragile, we better be loving those we are living with “earnestly.”We are well right now. I’m going to praise Jesus for that gift! I’m also going to try to live with my wife and son in such a way I don’t take it for granted.

Furthermore, he gives instruction for those interesting “moments.” Love covers our sins and an earnest love helps us ward off grumbling. My guess is, your home has had its share of tensions, complaints, or outbursts. In Jesus, we’ve been given the power of God in us to teach us to bite our tongues, extend generous grace, and reset our emotions before we pop off in unfair or unkind ways at those we love the most.

While you may not be able to be with all those you would like to connect with, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay in touch. Make a call. Send a text. FaceTime with a friend. Zoom with your Bible study group. Send an email, or go really old school by writing a letter. Check on a neighbor. And while you do, be sure not to miss those right in front of you.

You see, I’m I’m bound to my family. I’m one flesh with Diana. Joseph is our child. We are linked at the hip. We are in each other’s personal space. We are close. Extremely close. I’ve got to be connected to them.

So, are you connecting? It’s important. Especially right now.

It’s Desperate. Are You Seeking?

In this quiet, unusual season, I spent time out by our fire pit in the backyard the other evening. The only noises to ripple the silence were a few humming bugs and the crackling fire. As I sat, I prayed. I prayed for my church family. For our local responders. For our national leaders. For our church’s stability. For our health physically. For the church to seek God.

After some time taking in the fire and spending time in the Word and prayer, I made my way back to the house. Our fire pit is located just inside a wooded area of our back property. We hadn’t turned any lights on in the back, and it was already dark. When I turned from the fire, I couldn’t see the ground, the grown up roots, or the old stumps between me and the backdoor. What I did next, I did without even thinking. I pulled out my phone and clicked on the flashlight option to guide my steps back to the house. I needed to see. Otherwise, I might’ve stumbled or tripped.

Darkness makes us desperate to see. It prompts us to seek out light. It urges us to take care with our steps.

The dark, shadowy veil of this coronavirus has done the same for many. Like a cloudy, thick haze, it’s hindered our sight and blocked out the light for us to see what’s next. It’s put our routines in pause, our resources at risk, and many of our relationships on hold. It’s made us desperate to see.

As I’ve pondered that short walk back to the house, the Holy Spirit whispered a series of verses to my heart:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalms‬ ‭119:105‬ ESV‬‬)

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalms‬ ‭119:11‬ ESV‬‬)

29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. (Deuteronomy‬ ‭4:29-30‬ ESV‬‬)

When our situations turn desperate and dark, we must turn to the Word to light our way (Psalm 119:105). The Word is the breath and truth of God that gives power to us to obey Him in trying circumstances (Psalm 119:11). It’s the tool God has given us to seek Him desperately when our circumstances have turned upside down (Deuteronomy 4:29-30).

The words of Deuteronomy were given specifically to the children of Israel on their wilderness journey from Egypt. But it’s important we remember that the character and nature of God hasn’t changed toward His people. When tribulation presses us and frightens us and limits us, God beckons us in desperation to seek Him through His Word and obey Him.

Are you seeking Him? Are you listening to His prompts to your heart? As He directs, are you obeying His Word? Have prayer and the Word become your lifelines to His truth, peace, power, and guidance?

God wants our attention. So He’s turned out the lights. He longs for us to long for Him. Desperately. He beckons us to ignite the lamp of the Word to give light to this dark path.

It’s quiet. Are you listening. It’s unsettled. Are you praying. It’s desperate. Are you seeking?

It’s Unsettled. Are You Praying?

The world is unsettled. Everything is different than the “normal” of a mere few weeks ago. In the county and state where I live, we’ve gone from gathering limitations of 100, to 50, to recommending 10 or less, to staying at home. Each decision has been marked with a great desire to stem the pace of this virus’ spread.

What it’s signaled to us: don’t do many things you normally would. Among others, we’ve been told to stop touching our faces, stop visiting one another, stop traveling, and stop gathering together.

I’ve never seen such unsettledness. I’ve never heard such limitations and concerns from our government officials. And I’ve never been more hopeful for what God can do in the midst of all of it.

Why you ask? We can pray. Our schedules have freed up. Our typical confidences have been shaken. For many, financial stability, job security, entertainment/leisure, and good health have been rocked. We must pray.

At Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, we’ve been praying. Before our gatherings paused, we had collected nearly 600 answers to prayer in Prayer Jars across the front of our altar throughout our series on prayer to begin this year. It’s no coincidence we’d been led to focus on prayer. Just this week, as my family has reengaged with each other more intentionally, we’ve seen God answer two specific prayer requests we have prayed together.

In the swirls of uncertainty and change, those two answers have felt like a lighthouse on a dark, foggy night. Those answers have brought reassuring peace in a stormy gale. Those answers have signaled again and anew that God sits on the throne, cares about the needs and burdens of His children, and answers our prayers as we cry out to Him.

We hope many of the don’ts we’ve been told to abide by will shorten the timespan and effect of this virus. It’s likely they will affect it some. For followers of Jesus, prayer is something we’ve been commanded to do that invites us to engage this virus—and everything else for that matter—in a spiritual realm.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ (‭ESV‬‬)

In all of this unsettledness, a few truths are sure. Prayer invites us to trust God’s hand and seek His peace. I can bring every form of worry and uncertainty to Jesus in prayer. While I have no ultimate control over my circumstances, I have direct access in prayer to the King of Kings, the Sovereign One, the Ruler over all.

In truth, this unsettledness can be a gift if we will realize it’s an invitation to pray to the One who has the whole world in His hands. In prayer, we can trust our days and our direction to Him! We can seek Him for our health and our homes. We can bring to Him both our fears and follies. We can pray!

Practically, I encourage you. Add five minutes to your routine of prayer. Or add fifteen. Take a favorite passage and pray through it. Matthew 6:9-13, The Model Prayer, would be a great place to start. Pray with your spouse. Pray with your children. Sign up with a resource like Bless Every Home. Whatever you do, pray. Just pray.

It’s quiet. Are you listening? It’s unsettled. Are you praying?

It’s Quiet. Are You Listening?

Quiet. It’s early. I’m awake. There’s no bustle of schedule this early. No loud news updates. No wordy articles. No jostling conversations. Just quiet.

I find my soul craves the quiet. I find my schedule resists it. I find my spirit needs the quiet. I find my pulls fight it.

In the quiet, my mind and heart have been listening. Two sources of peace have been refreshing and reassuring in these past few weeks of uncertainty: reading the Word and praying. He’s been close. He’s been kind. He’s been encouraging. He’s been captivating. His dwelling place—His presence has been the most important need.

Just this morning, in these following words the God of heaven whispered peace, grace, and closeness in the quiet:

2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah. 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed! 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

Psalms‬ ‭84:2, 4-5, 9-12‬ ‭(ESV)

I need Him. His presence. His closeness. His strength. His protection. His favor. His honor.

I’ve found only one way to all those blessings. I must soak upon the Word of God and seek Him in prayer. My lips must be sweetened with the Scriptures. My heart must be full with prayers seasoned perceptibly and regularly with the Bible’s comforting truths.

I must dwell with Him.

For my Pleasant Garden Baptist Church family, I want to share with you a gift from the Bible app, Dwell. Their tool—normally a subscription app—will be free for the next 60 days for all those from our church who use this link.

Dwell PGBC Group Dwell Bible App

I can think of no better way to be quiet than to listen to the Word. I can think of no greater need than to have it comfort us and renew us. I can think of no greater way to address the worries, fears, or anxieties of this season than to seek Him in the Word and through prayer.

Befriend the quiet. In those still moments, God speaks. His Word resounds. His closeness beckons. Will you listen?

What Are You Afraid Of?

Uncertainty. Fear. Confusion. Doubt. Worry. Panic. Words like these have landed on us heavily in these past few days and will likely continue to settle on many of us in uncomfortable ways.

I don’t know what’s going to unfold, and I won’t pretend to be able to do so. I’m as uncertain as many of you navigating this unusual season. But what I do know — what I’m certain of — is that the sovereign God rules over these uncertain times.

So let me ask you an important question: “What are you afraid of?” Some may say death. Others loss of income. Still others may say the unknown. My guess is all of us have had an array fears grip us in recent days.

In Mark 4:35-41, seasoned fisherman found themselves trapped on a boat in a storm that caused them to fear their own death. They shook Jesus awake crying out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (4:38). For the disciples, this moment was a life-or-death moment. This was a serious fear. A crippling fear. A legitimate fear. The storm had raged so powerfully, they thought the boat would fill and capsize sending them all to their death.

Even in their fearfulness, the disciples did the best thing they could do. They cried out to Jesus. They “prayed” and pleaded for their lives. And in an instant, Jesus with a gentle word said, “Peace! Be still” (4:39). The storm, wind, and waves stopped so instantly that the disciples were filled with a “great fear” at Jesus’ power (4:41). Their fear for their lives was replaced with a greater fear, a holy fear, a reverential fear of Jesus and His power.

Let’s not miss the lesson for us. This virus has overturned our schedules and threatened our lives. Like that frightening storm, cautious fear of this virus is not illegitimate. But the same Jesus who calmed that storm has not relinquished His seat on the throne. This virus hasn’t caused Him to quake or shudder or fret. He can guide us and protect us and heal us. Our greater fear must be of the one “who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Place your trust in Jesus. Stand in fearful awe of Him. No disease or disaster can overturn His authority. No difficulty can thwart His control. We may not have this, but He does. Why? Because He’s a sovereign God in all kinds of uncertain times.

New Year’s Resolutions

January invites us to “resolution season.” We’ve just concluded the “holiday season” between Thanksgiving and Christmas (also known to many of us a feasting season). Likely, many of us have already set new goals to shape 2020.

  • Goals for a healthier lifestyle.
  • Goals to be more pleasant, or more kind, or more restful.
  • Goals to lose weight.
  • Goals to guard our words.
  • Goals to grow closer to Jesus.
  • Goals to manage busyness.
  • Goals to love family better.
  • Goals to take in less media or entertainment.
  • Goals to sharpen our minds.

My guess is, even if you haven’t written them down, announced them on social media, or told a family member, most of us have looked back and glanced ahead to identify at least an area or two of our lives that need a recharge or a renewed effort to place in check.

In my time of reflection entering this New Year, I’ve identified a few areas to “resolve.” Here’s one. In reality, they three resolutions in one. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul links three thoughts together to shape our spiritual “actions and reactions.”

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I find myself frequently reflecting on these verses. I have them written down in a portion of my daily prayer time. What’s come to the surface as I’ve contemplated these verses recently is their overarching control over my actions and reactions. God longs for our actions (our intentional choices) and our reactions (our responses to the choices of others and the situations of life that come against us) to please Him. I’ve found these three commands from Paul to be a powerful recipe for keeping both my actions and reactions in check.

Paul commands, “rejoice always.” It’s easy sometimes to rejoice, isn’t it? At Pleasant Garden Baptist Church where I’m pastor, our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering will be our largest ever.* When I found that out, I started bouncing. My heart was giddy! I couldn’t help but want to tell everyone! But, that’s not everyday, is it? An unexpected trial, a frightening diagnosis, a toilsome season at work, or a difficult relationship may tempt us to words or reactions far less than rejoicing. Yet, the Word instructs us in all these moments to rejoice.

Paul further teaches, “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer should be as natural and common to my spiritual life as breathing is to my physical. I must be taught—again and anew—to pray. That’s one of the key reasons we are kicking off 2020 at PGBC with the series, “Jesus on Prayer.” For nearly 3 months, we will weave in and out of His instructions in the gospels regarding how we are to pray and what we are to pray for.

Finally, he implores, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” I’ve found this command to often be the link for obeying the other two. How do I rejoice when my circumstances tempt me to be discouraged? I thank God for His never-ceasing faithfulness. How do I keep pressing into prayer when I’m so busy that I’ve got to jump into the next priority? I slow down to praise God for His generous and wise guidance in the past. How do I hold to Him when His answer seems delayed? I thank Him for the last time His answer came through when it seemed delayed.

Pray. Rejoice. Give thanks. Three simple, powerful, and direct commands. For me, they’re resolutions too. How about you? What’s one of your resolutions for this New Year?

*For Southern Baptist churches, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is one way we actively support our missionaries all around the world. At our church, we anticipate our 2019 offering to exceed $105,000!

Christmas Previews the Cross

The shadow of cross falls upon the manger. A wooden feed trough meant for animals would give way to a wooden cross meant for criminals. The birth of a King, welcomed only by parents and shepherds to little fanfare would be replaced by a show and spectacle of judgment and the jeering of many voices at the death of this same King decades later. Tiny, innocent hands and feet yet untouched by the callouses of work and labor would later be pierced with spikes and held to a wooden cross. The Redeemer would be robed in swaddling clothes at his birth and stripped of everything at his death. Christmas is a preview of the cross.

The angel’s announcement to Joseph in Matthew 1 invites us to consider this preview.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:21

He came to save! He came to redeem! He came to forgive! He came to cleanse! His name, Jesus, means “Yahweh is salvation.” The promise of the angel is a guarantee of what he would accomplish: “He will save.”

What sin or sins do you need to be saved from? Where have you veered from Him? Where are you wrong? Where has evil crept into you heart? What habits, patterns, and flaws still cling to you?

The hope of these simple words reminds us that Jesus can and will save us from all our sins. In Mark 1, this same Jesus shows us the way to receive His forgiveness.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15

Repent and believe. This is the way to the Jesus who saves. Have you? Will you?*

Let us not forget. Christmas isn’t about candy or trees, cookies or even Santa. Christmas isn’t about gifts or even primarily about giving. Christmas previews how God will save His sinful and broken world. At Christmas, we are introduced to the One who would redeem us at Easter. Christmas is about the cross!

*If you want to begin a relationship with Jesus by repenting of your sins and believing in Him, I would like to invite you to reach out to us. You can get in contact with me at 336-387-4151 or robert.hefner@pgbc.com.

Night Lights

When I was a kid, a night light provided just the perfect amount of direction for a late night trip to the bathroom or a sneak for a snack from the kitchen. A night light’s not hardly noticeable in the day, but they pop at night. Even a very dim night light draws your attention almost magnetically in the dark.

Spiritually, I have to admit, I often take for granted that I live in much “light” when it comes to my faith as a Christian in the US. As a pastor, I can speak freely of Jesus. As a pastor in the South, I speak freely to people who know the name of Jesus and have likely been to church. I’ve been privileged to grow up in a very “Christian” world with a Christian education, Christian friends, and even a Christian career. We’ve got much work to do in the US, but I mustn’t forget that so much around me is bright.

I think that’s why the “dark” of Thailand has gripped me so much. I’ve gone on mission trips before, but I’ve never been to a country so blinded in its dark, night-like lostness. Religiously, a pragmatic Buddhism blended with animistic faiths lead people to fear spirits, worship wood and metal idols, and seek luck by paying for “merit.” Morally, some of the country’s dark, seedy streets teem with sensuality that’s invites provocatively a worship of self indulgence. Traditionally, the country’s Buddhist roots and cultural structures of honoring elders place an allegiance to family that hinders changing of religious faith. It’s as if someone has turned the lights out on the entire nation.

But, the darkness makes the night lights stand out. A team in a large Thai city is engaging in schools, reaching into the Red Light district, and teaching English to college students.

In the dark spiritual night of Thailand, their night lights are burning bright!

Another team is plowing new ground in a South Thailand region by witnessing door-to-door, working alongside church plants, and engaging English-speaking college students.

In the dark spiritual night of Thailand, their night lights are burning bright!

In the middle of the country, other personnel is training pastors, planting gardens, providing water filters, and even giving livestock to open doors for the bright light of the Gospel.

In the dark spiritual night of Thailand, their night lights are burning bright!

I’ve been privileged to meet many of these “night lights” God has placed for Thailand to see. Monty and Jermaine, CJ and Julie, Doug and Cheryl, David and Pamela, Tom and Susan, Rob and Nicole, Quentin and Kim, Jeremy and Christine, Matt and Erin, Cale and Julie, Tony and Kim, Stephen and Emily, Kelli, Ann, MaKenzie, Rachel, Litza, Anna, Angela, and Mikayla along with many, many others dot the spiritual darkness across this country like beautiful night lights.

Each of these I’ve mentioned by name above serve as International Mission Board personnel in Thailand. After meeting them over the past few weeks, I have never been prouder to be a Southern Baptist. If you are giving to our SBC Cooperative Program and our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, I would give you personal testimony that dollars in Thailand are going to excellent use pushing back the darkness one night light at a time.

Jesus said,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew‬ ‭5:14-16‬ ‭(ESV‬‬)

These lights are burning brightly all over this country. And my favorite thing about each of these night lights is they really only seem to care that Thailand see the Light of the World and give him glory. I’m glad I’ve been here now. I suspect the more these burn here, the more lights will pop up. And it may just be that one day, Thailand may be so bright you won’t even notice the night lights!