Newsletter, June 2019

 “Moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Stewardship has been on my mind lately. As I think about our church, this word keeps jolting back into my spirit. I have been teaching Michael how to mow grass this season. He was working on the back yard and he was leaving a stripe of unmowed grass here and there. I was working on the trimming, and when he finished, he came and got me for an inspection. I showed him where he fell short, and he stoically went back over the unmowed portions. When he was done, we squatted under a shade tree for a while to cool off and I shared with him about stewardship. I explained that we want the yard to look its best because it reflects who we are in the Lord. God has given us a good gift in our home and we are charged by God to take care of it. How the yard looks can tell our neighbors what we really think of the blessings God has given us.

Michael is a quick study and so understood the lesson I was teaching him. The next section of the yard he was extra careful and didn’t come and get me until he was certain I would be satisfied with his work. Are you a good steward of what God has given you? Our church needs some faithful stewards right now. Allow me some pastoral questions.

Are you a good steward of our church building? The building is not the church and we shouldn’t place a heavier emphasis on the building than we do the people. However, at this juncture, the building needs a new roof. As of last month, we have been collecting for a year and we are halfway there. Please continue to bless our church with financial gifts toward the roof.

Are you a good steward of the ministries of the church? Empty Tummy needs continual donations, both food and monetary. So many people in our community have come to depend on this four-year-old ministry at our church and people are usually gathered a half hour early before each distribution. God has blessed this ministry and he has done so by some committed church members.  The annual dental bus ministry is quickly approaching, and we still have a few needs for it as well. Your dedication to the Pregnancy Resource Center has been overwhelming, and I implore you to continue being faithful. Space will not allow me to continue in this regard, but please be mindful of the ministries of Calvary!

Are you a good steward of the services of our church? Calvary offers three opportunities for worship each week. Sunday and Wednesday evenings are waning in importance to you. They are poorly attended and one of the greatest encouragements you can give your fellow members and your pastor is your attendance to all the offered services. Further, Sunday School is a staple as well, and our numbers have declined. There are faithful teachers, strong in the Word of God that lead classes each Sunday. Take advantage of that opportunity to grow in the Lord. The fellowship is a nice perk!

Finally, are you a good steward of the Gospel? Last month the church held the Who’s Your One? emphasis and only a few people participated. The Gospel is the cornerstone of the church! I believe each one of us knows someone that needs Christ and we can invest in that person so they can step out, repent, believe, and make that faith commitment. This is where true growth and change comes from. People that are changed because of the Gospel can change the world! I will extend the opportunity yet again for this evangelistic emphasis and keep the necessity of sharing Christ before us.

Are you a faithful steward? God blesses faithfulness and sacrifice. I pray we all are faithful with what God has given to us and we seek to bless others with those same gifts. As I close, I want to remind you of a called business meeting this Sunday night, June 2nd. We will discuss the possibility of selling the 5.67 acres of property next to the church, on the office side. Blessings in Christ to you all and keep praying for our church!

Pastor Tony

Newsletter, May 2019

              What is your heart toward telling others about Jesus? I understand it isn’t an easy thing to do. I admit, it is sometimes a hard thing for me to do. I can share the Gospel with a stranger easier than I can a family member! As a matter of fact, I had the privilege during Operation Inasmuch on Saturday, April 27th, at the City Park to share the Gospel on two occasions! However, when I am in a room with family members, people I love the most, it is harder for me. And I am a pastor! This seems silly, doesn’t it? Sharing Christ is hard enough but sharing the truths of the Gospel is even harder. Why is that?

                I think it’s because when you share with a stranger, they don’t know your backstory. You may share your testimony, and how Christ changed your life, but they have no context for what that change was like. Likely your family knows your backstory and they know what you were like before you were saved! They may see times of hypocrisy and judge you for it and refuse to see their own need. There are other factors that may affect your heart about talking about Jesus. Perhaps you are afraid.

                Fear is a common response. You cannot gauge an individual’s response to the truth claims of the Gospel and sometimes people do react strongly. You may feel ill-equipped to handle common objections or how to counter strong emotions. Perhaps there is some form of hurt in a person’s past and you won’t know how to manage that, if that is brought up. Moreover, there may be your own issues you are dealing with that will affect your desire to share about Jesus. Personal sin, lack of faith, poor worship habits, and a meager prayer life will all hinder your effectiveness in sharing the Gospel.

                All these things are real and need attention in order to prepare your heart to be open to sharing the Gospel. However, we must remember what the Scripture tells us, and take comfort in it, and allow it to drive our motivations rather than fear or feelings. First, remember, you aren’t called to be a spiritual dynamo. You don’t have to share the Gospel with every person you meet every day. Sure, some people are that zealous, but generally, most people will share more casually. Further, fear is real, and it can debilitate and keep us from sharing effectively. It can be overcome. Are you convinced it is important? Are you aware that fear comes from a singular source, the devil (2 Timothy 1:7)? Do you realize that all the resources you need are available to you for God has given us His Spirit and the Word of God and prayer? Plus, are you convinced God has called you to be the difference He wants to make in the world? You are His chosen instrument and you can reach people in your circle easier than anyone else in the world can.

                All these things have led me to challenge you to commit to “Who’s Your One?” Who is your one? Last Sunday many of us committed to our “one”, the one person we will pray for, invest in, and build a relationship with, with the intent of fostering a relationship to share Christ. This method is God’s method; He means for us to change the world one person at a time. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance! There is nothing wrong with a focus on numbers, but God is only focused on one number—the number one. It is one person at a time that differences are made, lives are changed, and souls are saved. Who is your one? You can still commit and make a difference in the life of your one.

                I will be posting updates and prayer prompts on Facebook. Plus, I want you to commit to pray every day this month for your one as I will be praying for my one as well as each of you that made this commitment. What if, on the first Sunday of June, there were some new faces at Calvary, and you could go to one another and say, “Guess what. This is my ONE!” How is your heart about sharing Jesus? Lukewarm, cold and indifferent? Open, excited, committed? Maybe undecided and anxious? I can promise you, no matter your spiritual temperature, God promises He will help you! Blessings to you all.

Newsletter, January 2019

 The New Year can often bring a mixed bag of emotions and memories for many of us. Some may have just experienced the best year ever and look forward to an even greater one looming ahead. Others may have just trudged through one deep struggle after another. The fresh calendar year brings desperate hope for things to be better, with an ache for the still-fresh wounds to slowly begin their process of healing.

Whether you’ve just walked through the greatest year of your life or are incredibly glad to see this one finally over, one truth still rings clear amidst it all. You are not alone. Not ever.

Our God is a “with us" God. On the heels of the celebration of the birth of our King, that reminder has the power to carry us right into a fresh, new start. He is Immanuel, God with us. And though things and people around us shift and change, our God never changes (Hebrews 13:8). Here is a prayer that we might keep God first in 2019.

Our gracious God and our heavenly Father,
Thank you that you make all things new. Thank you for all that you've allowed into our lives this past year, the good along with the hard things, which have reminded us how much we need you and rely on your presence filling us every single day.

We pray for your Spirit to lead us each step of this New Year. We ask that you guide our decisions and turn our hearts to deeply desire you above all else. We ask that you open doors needing to be opened and close the ones needing to be shut tight. We ask that you help us release our grip on the things to which you’ve said “no,” “not yet,” or “wait.” We ask for help to pursue you first, above every dream and desire you’ve put within our hearts.
We ask for your wisdom, for your strength and power to be constantly present within us. We pray you would make us strong and courageous for the road ahead. Give us ability beyond what we feel able, let your gifts flow freely through us, so that you would be honored by our lives, and others would be drawn to you.
We pray that you’d keep us far from the snares and traps of temptations; that you would whisper in our ear when we need to run, and whisper in our heart when we need to stand our ground.
We pray for your protection over our families and friends. We ask for your hand to cover us and keep us distanced from the evil intent of the enemy; that you would be a barrier to surround us, that we’d be safe in your hands. We pray that you would give us discernment and insight, to understand your will, hear your voice, and know your ways.

We ask that you keep our footsteps firm, on solid ground, helping us be consistent and faithful. Give us supernatural endurance to stay the course, not swerving to the right or to the left, or being too easily distracted by other things that would seek to call us away from a close walk with you.

Forgive us for the times we have worked so hard to be self-sufficient, forgetting our need for you, living independent of your spirit. Forgive us for letting fear and worry control our minds, and for allowing pride and selfishness wreak havoc over our lives. Forgive us for not following your ways and for living distant from your presence.

We confess our need for you…fresh…new…again. We ask that you make all things new—in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives, for this coming year. We pray for your refreshing over us.
Keep your words of truth planted firm within us, help us to keep focused on what is pure and right, give us the power to be obedient to your word. And when the enemy reminds us where we have been, hissing his lies and attacks our way, we trust that your voice speaks louder and stronger, as you remind us we are safe with you and your purposes and plans will not fail. We ask that you will be our defense and rear guard, keeping our way clear, removing the obstacles, and covering the pitfalls. Lord, lead us on your level ground.

We ask that you provide for our needs. We pray for your blessings to cover us, we pray that you would help us to prosper and make every plan that you have birthed in our hearts to succeed. We pray that others would take notice of your goodness and could not help but to say, “These are the ones that the Lord has blessed.”
Help us to be known as great givers, help us to be generous and kind, help us to look to the needs of others and not be consumed by only our own. May we be lovers of truth, may the fruits of your spirit be evident in our lives - your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Shine your light in us, through us, over us. May we make a difference in this world, for your glory and purposes. Set you way before us. May all your plans succeed; may we reflect your peace and hope to a world that so desperately needs your presence and healing.

To you be glory and honor, in this New Year, and forever.
In Jesus’ name,

(Moreover, here are twelve verses to inspire and instill hope and renewal in the coming year: Revelation 21:5; Lamentations 3:22-23; Isaiah 40:31, 43:18-19; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 3:13; Acts 3:19; Jeremiah 29:11; Ezekiel 11:19; Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalms 20:4, 65:11.) 

Newsletter, December 2018

 I don’t begin my day with reading the news. I certainly don’t start it out with social media. I have a hard-enough time managing my emotions, so to begin the day with stress would be detrimental for me. I begin with prayer and God’s Word and that keeps me focused on Jesus and the tasks that are before me. That way I can rightly evaluate all the media outlets and they don’t take as heavy a toll as I know they have on the past. Terrorism, refugees, political division, school shootings, opioids, fathers taking the lives of their own families—who can bear up under it all? There really isn’t any good news anymore. Christmas however, changes all of that.

In a world that is full of heart-rending, hand-wringing, nerve-racking, soul-upending bad news, we long for good news. At least I do. Christmas is the best news. The angels sang out to the shepherds on that first Christmas night, “I bring you good news of great joy!” We have a message of spectacular rescue and deliverance: the love of God has rescued us from the wrath of God. Let man do his worst, but the love of God will mightily prevail.

Christmas is about the Creator of the universe, who is not Himself part of that universe, coming into the universe in the Person of His Son, into the world that He made. And remarkably, the Creator stepped into a universe in absolute rebellion against Him. God created a world that willfully abandoned Him, yet He took a holy initiative to save those in active rebellion against Him and doing it not in a violent way, but in the most unsuspecting, humble, gentle way—a way that a mortal could never devise and execute as God did. A tiny baby, born as all other babies are, wrapped in strips of cloth, laid in a feeding trough—yet full of all the divine power of the Godhead. Paul summed it up perfectly in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

That is the heart of Christmas and it is good news. It is the news that reverses and upends all the other bad news. It is news that says widely, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people…glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:10, 14). However, when I watch CNN, Fox, listen to NPR, or read the Shelby Star, all I read is bad news. The news outlets aren’t going to report the good news that “Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Jesus’ humble beginnings didn’t warrant an exclusive, and that is why the angels simply went to the simple of Jesus’ society; the news was delivered to a group of shepherds after all, and then they went and shared the news widely (Luke 2:17).

It is up to all of us to share the Good News of Jesus’ birth and ultimately of His death, burial, and resurrection. He was the baby ordained from the beginning of time to come into the world and die, and that self-sacrificial act is what makes all the bad news palatable. Though I hate hearing all the bad news; another child dies in a school shooting, another child dies by his parent’s hand, another child dies ripped from his mother’s womb, another child dies having starved to death, another child dies having overdosed on addicting drugs, another child dies abandoned, and another child dies…and another, and another…God gave good news in the face of this same awful news.

The good news is a child, the Son of God, the lamb slain from the foundation of the world, came to give His life that children need not die. That is the good news of Christmas; life out of death, death overturned, the grave robbed of its power, the law relieved of its sting. The bad news is somehow drained of its energy and the good news shines in the darkness, penetrating every heart that will open to its saving message. Make a promise this Christmas—share this good news with someone. When conversation at Christmas dinner turns to the bad news, shine the light of the Gospel and point to the Good News that a Savior has been born. What I want for us this Christmas is seeing Christ in all His fullness and together loving what we see beyond our half-hearted human capacities. I pray your Christmas is exceedingly blessed, beyond your ability to contain it.

Newsletter, November 2018

 One radio Bible teacher I thoroughly enjoy listening to is Dr. J. Vernon McGee, the transplanted Texan who took his trademark Southern drawl to southern California, where he ministered for many years in Los Angeles. I was listening to his Bible show, Through the Bible, on BBN (which is WYFG, 91.1 FM if you’re interested) and he was teaching on the first chapter of Ephesians. He shared a story of how a young man had written to him, asking that he pray for his church. Dr. McGee wrote back, promising to pray, and began an ongoing correspondence with the man. The man’s church was foundering, and he needed encouragement. Dr. McGee’s counsel was very specific. He told him to take time each month, no matter what sacrifice needed to be made, and spend time as the church body praising God and giving testimony of His work in their lives.

The man went back to his church and shared with them Dr. McGee’s wisdom, and they began setting aside time on Sunday nights once a month for one purpose: to praise God. They were not to share one prayer need, they were not to ask God for one thing, they would not petition God in any way, but spend their entire time together sharing the good ways God had acted on their behalf, and then, give Him the glory He deserves for condescending to answer them. The church miraculously changed before their eyes.

The outlook in the general church landscape is very bleak. Churches similar to Calvary are all plateaued or declining, and many members of small churches are wondering about the future of their congregations. Many pastors in our local association are experiencing similar circumstances. However, Dr. McGee’s advice till stands and I want to encourage your heart with this same counsel. Don’t forget to stop and give God glory for all He has done. November, being the month of gratitude, is as good a time as any to return thanks to God.

In an unsure and uncertain world, I am thankful for the certainty of God’s Word. When many people lack grace and forgiveness, I can always count on the forgiveness of God to cover my sins. Thank God for that! When people are cold, harsh, and unloving, I am thankful the love of God never runs out. When my situations threaten to overwhelm me, I am thankful for a God who leads me to a place of sanctuary and refuge. In a political climate increasingly marked by divisiveness and discord, I am thankful for the unity of the church. I am thankful that when I make a mistake, even though I may face serious consequences, my God will always be merciful. I am thankful that through Jesus’ death on the cross, God’s anger toward me has forever been satisfied and I will never suffer eternal consequences for my sin. I am thankful for the perseverance of the Holy Spirit with me, that when I am stubborn and insubordinate, He loves me to the place of submission and delight. In a world where people are unhealthy, get sick easily, and suffer from various illnesses, I am thankful that one day, sickness will be no more. I could go on and on and fill the entire newsletter with things for which I am grateful, but suffice it to say, I am thankful for Jesus and all the rich blessings He gives to the believer.

During this season of gratitude, show concrete examples of thankfulness. Write a card to someone who needs to be encouraged and show them love, care, and support. Plan your testimony for Calvary’s annual gratitude service on Sunday evening, November 18th. Give a small gift to someone who has been a blessing to you this year, someone who has made you feel loved and appreciated. It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive, but something that simply acknowledges your gratitude toward someone who has been a blessing to you; an ink pen and paper, a coffee mug and their favorite coffee, a gift card of a small amount to Dairy Queen to get ice cream; be creative! And finally, help someone in return who has been a great help to you. Offer to prepare a meal, help with some housework or yardwork, do something to show that that person is indispensable in your life and you value their relationship. It really isn’t hard—we just tend to be very lazy.

My kids often say that something is “the best ever,” regardless of what that thing may be. It could be the best pizza ever, the best movie ever, the best prank ever, the best YouTube video ever. Let’s work to make this the best Thanksgiving ever and show a multitude of people they are loved, appreciated, and valued. It just might change our lives and our church. Have a blessed month and I love you all. 

Newsletter, October 2018

 A three-ringed bat drove down the highway overturning fourteen glasses of milk. The air was thick with perspiration and the color nine smelled like freshly pickled dog hair. The shoe firmly affixed to the wall, which shouldn’t be there at all, recognized that the gorilla had left the room and was eating a bag of chocolate juice. The itsy-bitsy spider in fact didn’t go up the water spout and a glistening trail of radioactive waste marked his perilous and thoughtless journey. And when Batman showed up, he just made things worse.

I wonder if you are listening. I wonder if God’s church is hearing what God is saying. Jesus plainly says multiple times throughout the Gospels, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” If I was to ask you three questions about the nonsense paragraph I wrote above, could you respond to them? It may be a silly exercise, but the Scriptures extol the virtue of listening to the Spirit of God. So many things clamor for our attention; there is a constant din of information pouring into our ears, it is intolerably difficult to hear ourselves think, much less listen to our Lord.

Technology has shortened our attention spans and stopped up our ears. Twitter, the social media platform, has desensitized us to digesting large pieces of information—we want all our information in sound bytes and 140-character spreads. I think we are unable anymore to “be still and know.” For some, laboring through this newsletter article will be a chore. I typically write about 700 words for this article. Will you make it to the end? There are times in life where there must be more than just a Tweet, more than just a cursory reading, more than skimming. Sometimes, the situation demands thoughtful study and reflective prayer. I believe that is why God doesn’t bless. We don’t listen. We pray not to hear and understand, but to be heard and demand.

I noticed the other day as I was scrolling through Facebook, that certain articles have a brief phrase appended to the link. It estimates the length of time it will take you to read the article! As I desired to read the news article, before I tapped the link, I was told it was a three-minute read. In effect, it was evaluating my time for me—do I have three minutes I am willing to spend reading this article? Is this bit of news worth three minutes of my time? Jesus asked the disciples a similar question. In Matthew 26:40, He questioned them, “Could you not watch with me one hour?”

The Lord of glory wants to spend one hour with you; will you give it to Him? Is that one hour worth your time? Any time we spend in the Lord’s presence is worth it. He is not a God of nonsense, but He speaks with clarity, focus, and compassion. His message will reach us whether it is a 140-character tweet or a one thousand-page book. Our hearts must be prepared to receive either.  “Be swift to listen,” James counsels (James 1:19).

October will be a busy month. My family and I will be away the 6th through the 13th. Chad Martin, student minister at Crestview Baptist, will fill in for me that morning. My prayer has been for a long time that we could foster a spirit of cooperation with Crestview given our proximity to one another. This is a step in that direction, to hear one of their ministers during our worship. Please also keep in prayer our fall festival. It will be on Sunday evening October 21st starting at 4:30. If you would like to decorate your trunk for the trunk-or-treat, please let us know! There also will be games, food, a cake walk, a petting zoo, and lots of fun! Calvary will also be participating in the Greatest Treat Festival, sponsored by our Baptist Association. WE NEED CANDY! Please donate candy for us to hand out at the festival, along with the Gospel. I look forward to Sunday with all my heart. I love you all.

Newsletter, September 2018 

 Summer is over, the kids have gone back to school, nights are getting longer, and the air is getting crisper. It is almost as one of my daughters likes to say, “hoodie weather.” It is nearly my favorite time of year. The earth begins its slow tilt away from the sun, shortening days and lengthening nights, and the trees burst forth in vibrant colors; reds, oranges, yellows, and even some purples. The steadfastness of the arrival of the different seasons brings me comfort and encouragement. It reminds me that even in the midst of change, there is still some predictability.

Some changes are welcome; others, not so much. I can genuinely say I don’t look forward to the heat and humidity of summer. Though I don’t mind mowing grass, I don’t like it, and am always thankful when grass-cutting season is over. However, when I take my dog out first thing in the morning and the cool air slaps my cheeks, that is a welcome change! Change is inevitable. We may not like it, hope against it, and pray for things to go back the way they were, but we cannot forestall it. And who knows whether or not the change we find ourselves in is not directed by the tender mercies of God?

Perhaps the change is ultimately for our good; we may not be able to see it now, but eventually when we look back, we can see what God was doing, understand, and give Him praise. We need to divest ourselves of the childish notion that change is arbitrary, happenstance, and random. A robust view of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is empty of such notions and sees God in control of all things, aware of every possible outcome, and He leads best according to His will, unto that which brings Him the most glory. That is the one directive unto which we can always see God move toward.

It is easy to see that on paper, but to pray through that, believe it, and trust God is working everything according to His good purposes is a different matter entirely. It affects day-to-day living; interrupts our schedules; intervenes when we aren’t ready. We frequently get caught off guard. God never is. And to admit that a particular chain of events has me in the center and directly impacts my life? That can’t be God, it must be something else. I’m a victim of circumstance, right? Maybe not. Its unlikely and especially if you see God as sovereign. This is the doctrinal issue at the core of where we are as a church right now. We don’t believe God is absolutely sovereign and He directs events as He purposes them, not according to our desires or whims (Psalm 115:3).

Read the book of Job. Seriously. Sit down, read the entire book, all forty-two chapters. It will take you about an hour. Remember, Jesus asked the disciples, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). When you are done, answer these questions: 1) How did Job view God’s sovereignty? 2) What was Job’s response to God’s sovereignty at the close of the book? 3) Did Job view God’s sovereignty as a trivial annoyance, a minor inconvenience, or a will to be surrendered to? If anyone’s life changed overnight, it was Job’s. He grieved. He was angry. He wrestled, sat in stony, self-righteous silence, cursed the day of his birth, yet finally the dam broke and he rushed into the waiting arms of His savior.

I encourage you to reckon with this truth. See God in His unchanging majesty as Job did. And then, see it at work around you. September is Homecoming month. On the 9th, Jim Brackett will be our special speaker and we will have dinner on the grounds. Preparations are underway for CalvaryFest in October, and there will be another movie night this month. Don’t forget to give to the Empty Tummy fund and little by little, God will put a new roof on our building. Pray unceasingly, serve selflessly, witness boldly, study diligently, give generously, encourage faithfully, and love abundantly. See you this Sunday.

Pastor Tony

Newsletter, August 2018

My head is still swimming! Vacation Bible School seems to have that effect on us, and my hat is off to those summer-long camp workers who do that kind of thing for a living! To all who worked hard to make Bible School an enjoyable and blessed experience for everyone involved, thank you from the bottom of my heart. One of my favorite times of the church year is VBS, and Calvary has always had a team of volunteers ready to help and give however they can. I know my class had a good time as they gave out free hugs and thank yous at the end of the week. Plus, the squeals of delight, huge smiles, and tired workers were also good indicators that the children all had a good time. Now the most important work begins; will you pray for those impacted by Bible School?

Pray for the children who came, that the Gospel seeds planted will sprout, grow, bud, and bear fruit unto salvation. For those saved children who attended, pray that they will grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and that their time spent in Bible School will be for them a time of reflection and commitment. Pray for the volunteer staff, that they will become that much more aware of the need for Christian ministry, for lost people to hear the Gospel, and not to grow weary doing the work of the Lord. And pray for our church that we will all see that what we do matters unto eternity and that there is much work to be done until Jesus returns.

I also would like to share a word of gratitude for the ladies who work so hard to bring movie night to our church at least once a quarter. I appreciate the labor they put in to do something a little different at Calvary and share the Gospel in a creative way. We routinely have visitors and often they are people who likely wouldn’t come to a regular worship service. Continue to pray for the effectiveness of this ministry and we will continue to honor Jesus with all our resources and opportunities.

And, I would like to share a milestone with you in our Empty Tummy food pantry ministry. On Thursday evening, July 26th, thirty bags had been prepared and all thirty were given out. The ministry had to close about twenty minutes early. It is unlikely someone went without a bag of food, but the possibility is there. What does this mean? It means we need to redouble our efforts. Our community needs us! Please pray and see how you can give a little more to this ministry. Can you do without that Starbucks coffee, that combo from McDonald’s, or that snack from the convenience store? Your sacrifice can mean an empty tummy filled. This may be a test for our church. Could it be a growing pain that we will by God’s grace need to sacrifice to accommodate? I believe it is; growth is always preceded by those kinds of pains.

Further, our roof fund is growing. The need for a roof is not going to change. I know no one gets excited about a roof, however, we have this need before us as well. It seems Calvary is being challenged in nearly every conceivable way and my counsel will be the same as the lesson I taught to my class the first night of Vacation Bible School. God loves us. Do not doubt that. Just because we are challenged, need a roof, have seen membership changes, attendance has dropped, the contingency fund is low, Empty Tummy is overwhelmed, people have less time to spend at church, and a host of other things, it is no indicator that God has abandoned us. As a matter of fact, it means the exact opposite. When challenges come, they are meant to strengthen us, not break us. It is time for a robust, vigorous, full-bodied faith in God, not weak-kneed, mealy-mouthed, stiff-necked obstinance. It is time to preach the Gospel to ourselves, and look to God to provide, because HE WILL.

I am reminded of the old Footprints poem where as the man walked along, he observed two sets of footprints in the sand. One was his and the other belonged to the Lord and as they walked things in life became difficult and then there was only one set of footprints. The man thought God had forsaken him to do it on his own, but the reality was that God was carrying him through the hard things. I love you all and God will carry us through! Blessings!

Pastor Tony

Newsletter, July 2018

As long as I have been in ministry, there has always been Vacation Bible School. It is a mainstay of our church culture and aptly has been described as the longest week and the shortest week on the church calendar. Bible school is indeed a hard week. The kids come in already tired from long summer days, typically filled with activities whether day camp, playing outside with friends, time with grandparents, and the typical lethargy that accompanies ninety degree heat. A lot of times the workers fly in right after work, often without a meal, and pour their hearts into unruly, rowdy children and youth. They swirl through the various stations each evening, indulge in sugary snacks, and by the time we think things have reached a fever pitch, family night has arrived with the accompanying sighs of relief. I have always loved Vacation Bible School! Why? Let me share with you several reasons why I think Vacation Bible School is still relevant, still necessary, and still fun.

1.       Outside of short term mission trips, there isn’t a better way to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Unchurched and unreached kids come to church in a non-threatening atmosphere with the prospect of having fun, which always opens a child’s heart.
2.       It breeds harmony and unity (Philippians 1:27-28). I love to see the way God’s people work together during Bible School. Everyone pitches in, has a job, and generally wants to help. We all see that common goal in Bible School—to get to the end of the week, right? Everyone seems to be a little more tender to the Gospel that week and give children the opportunity to respond to Jesus.
3.       Kids grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:18). Each year kids ask crazy questions. The fun atmosphere often causes kids to open up and be freer. They tend to give greater vent to questions they may not feel comfortable asking in other environments and inevitably I will spend at least one night fielding questions out of left field.
4.       God’s people more strongly consider prayer and outreach. We begin praying for Bible School months in advance and we invite more people to Bible School and church more than any other time of year, even over Easter.
5.       Vacation Bible School brings out the best in everyone. Granted, by the end of the week, we are all tired and grumpy. The heat, kids hyped up on excess sugar, the game that didn’t go just right, uncooperative kids in music, the spilled Kool-Aid, stopped-up toilets (every year!) all causes us to be a little bit more graceful. Bible School often lengthens patience, a tried and true fruit of the Spirit.
6.       Many people who don’t volunteer throughout the year in other ministries help in Bible School. Perhaps it’s a timing issue, perhaps it’s the prospect of smiling children, maybe its the inability to make broader commitments, but I am grateful that Vacation Bible School often provides opportunities for people in a concentrated time once a year for people to serve Jesus in a powerful way.
7.       The children and youth get excited about giving. A special offering is usually received toward a special ministry or charity and it usually touches the young people in some way. Plus, the children can turn their pastor into an ice cream sundae, put a pie in his face, or dump ice water over his head. What isn’t fun about that?
8.       Vacation Bible School makes us all focus. Even if the purpose is to make it to the end of the week, we all strive toward a common goal. Having the same mindset always brings with it peace and joy, a quality we often lack in other areas of church life. We may agree to disagree in other areas, but the goal of Vacation Bible School is always the same; provide the chance for children to respond to Jesus and His free offer of salvation.
9.       We tend to work harder during Vacation Bible School. We pray, we prepare, we lay out lessons weeks in advance, we make schedules, check off to-do lists, gather materials, invite, invite, and invite. What a lesson for the rest of the year! How often we may skimp on a Sunday School lesson, not invest too much in a youth outing, or overlook praying before we come to church on a particular Sunday. The focus in #8 makes us work harder, don’t you think?

Those are nine reasons why I love Vacation Bible School. Can you add to the list? Would you disagree with anything on mine? Vacation Bible School is July 22-26. The theme will be “Game On,” an emphasis on sports and Gospel readiness. Are you ready? Come on out and join us!

Newsletter, June 2018

              I typically use the newsletter space for something inspiring, encouraging, scriptural, and helpful in your walks with Christ. Ultimately, I think we will get to that place in this article, but first we need to talk about something of dire importance to Calvary Baptist Church. It isn’t a surprise to anyone that Calvary has undergone a lot of changes over the past few years. We have seen changes in attendance patterns, membership changes, and what were once vital and significant ministries, have waned in importance. All of these are not necessarily bad things and should be opportunities to see God work, for our faith to be stretched, and our trust to be deepened. Challenges should cause us to grow, not become withdrawn and retreat.
                Moreover, giving patterns have changed. No one likes to talk about money. No one likes to be asked to give their money and help the church financially. There have been significant changes in he way homes are provided for as well. Most families cannot live on one income and in most homes, both dad and mom work to provide. And in many homes, both spouses often have more than one job, working part-time or taking in odd jobs to help make ends meet. As the mother claimed in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic book The Secret Garden, “I’ve got four places for every penny.” These are realities under which we live and as family budgets go, there goes church budgets with them. When families struggle at home, so the church will also struggle to make ends meet because the church is wholly dependent upon her member families giving to meet overhead, pay salaries, and do the work of the ministry.

                Giving to your church is a matter of good stewardship (1 Corinthians 4:2), obedience (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), joy (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), a demonstration of trust in God (Matthew 6:19-21), an act of worship (Romans 12:1-2) and is the means by which God will reach the world (Matthew 28:18-20). Your church is a vital part of your community and she needs your support. So, with that said, Calvary has a new challenge before her. The building needs a new roof.

                Several months ago, a leak came open in the upstairs youth suite. I traced it out, found it in the attic, and Joe Gamble and I had a roofer come out to make repairs. He also found a second leak and is in the process of fixing that leak and while he was here, shared that Calvary is in desperate need of a new roof. As it stands, the current roof may last us at best two more years, and that is being very generous. During the regular business meeting on Sunday evening, May 20th, this information was shared with the congregation and a motion was made and passed to establish a designated fund to begin receiving the necessary funds to replace the roof. As well, any loose cash given on Sunday evenings will go directly into the new roof fund.

                Be looking for commitment cards in the next few Sunday’s bulletins. Calvary needs your pledge to help provide this new need. Perhaps you can commit to give $10 over your typical tithe and offering, or maybe $20, or whatever amount you can commit to give, God will bless and use it to provide this need for us. Please be in prayer for our church. Granted we have many needs right now, but our God is bigger than them all, and we can never out give Him. The cattle on a thousand hills are indeed His and everything on earth is His. We have not because we ask not. So, brethren, I am asking you to commit yourself afresh and anew to your church. Pray for her and be faithful in attendance, giving, serving, ministering, and witnessing. All of these things grow a church.

                I am open and willing to hear ideas and please know I pray for our church every day. God is going to provide; I believe that with all my heart. You should, too. “Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:10-15)

Newsletter, May 2018

 “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). I appreciate and am very grateful for the senior adults in the congregation of Calvary Baptist Church. I treasure their wisdom, good humor, and faithfulness. They make a significant impact and contribution to the life of our church. Often, we like to use the metaphor that someone or something is the “backbone” of our church, but I believe emphatically that our senior adults are the backbone. They lend the strength and support that our church and for that matter any church needs. For these reasons and many more, Calvary has set aside a special Sunday in May to recognize and honor the senior adults that mean so very much to the health and life of the church.

On Sunday morning, May 20th, we will observe “Senior Adult Day,” a day to show our gratitude for the continual contributions of our seniors. On that day, we will have a special speaker. I am still lining one up as of this writing, for the gentleman I had intended to come speak was unable to come that day. Pray that God would lead the individual He would have to speak to us. Further, there will be special music that day performed by some of Calvary’s own talent, and I assure you, favorites every senior love.

Also, I want to invite you to a fellowship meal prepared in your honor. Camilla and I will prepare the meal and our youth group will serve that day. After the service and blessing of the meal, our seniors will come to the fellowship hall, take a seat, and our youth group will bring each one their food and take care of all their needs that day! I pray that this will be a very special day, one that our seniors will remember, and a day that they will know how much they are appreciated and adored.

I am so grateful for the many years of hard work, dedication, and ceaseless prayers our seniors have poured into the life of Calvary. Each Sunday I can count on smiles and positive attitudes as years of walking with God and the experience they possess lifts them up to show God’s grace, love, and care to each member of Calvary. The faithful support they show to the ministries of God’s work at Calvary are a source of continual amazement; ministries like the radio, Empty Tummy, and the dental bus simply wouldn’t be possible without the support of this key group.

And if we can count on faithful attendance out of any group at Calvary, our senior adults are the examples we look toward. Every time the doors are open our seniors are at the church, ready to worship, ready to serve. And I cannot emphasize more greatly their contribution to Sunday School, committees, and other leadership areas in the church—giving of themselves tirelessly to run our church so that God may be glorified, and people are taught about Jesus Christ and His love and grace.

We live in a society that idolizes youthfulness. Growing older is seen as stigmatic and not as the Bible describes, full of wisdom, purpose, and skill. I pray Calvary is a church that affirms everyone at every stage of life, whether old or young, gray or not, and I ask that every member of Calvary be in attendance that day to pay honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). I believe this will be a special day. Join us for worship that Sunday and every Sunday as Jesus Christ, our risen Savior, is exalted and praised.

Calvary is changing! How do we see that? Do we see it as God’s opportunity for us, reshaping and remolding His people into His image to do His will, or are we threatened by it? We all need to answer that question. I challenge you to look deep into your heart and see how God wants you to address the changes Calvary is experiencing. We can grow, but we must be kingdom-minded. I love you all, and remember, my door is always open.

Newsletter, April 2018

Life is so crazy sometimes. I know yours is, too. We get pulled in so many different directions; working, taking care of kids and grandkids, school, homework, church activities, the kids’ extracurricular activities, and a thousand other things that clamor for our attention. Our entire family is home together only two nights a week anymore. Just two! Maddy is working full time, we have two in high school, one in junior high, one in middle school, one in elementary, and a three-year-old. She challenges us daily. At a Happy Hearts meeting it was pointed out how gray my hair is becoming. With all that we have going on, and not to mention the never-ending stress of ministry, why shouldn’t it be gray?

I remind myself in times like those that gray hair is an honor. The Bible calls it a crown of glory (Proverbs 16:31)! I earned each one of those gray hairs! Yet what I remind myself of even more so when I get overwhelmed by all our responsibilities is that I follow a Lord who promises sustaining, persevering grace during challenges bent to overpower and dishearten. Philippians 4:13 is indeed true; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I know that you are overwhelmed. I read Psalm 61 in my daily time with the Lord a week ago and verse two says, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” May I admit to you that as I sat there under the dull gray of a desk lamp, I silently wept, and felt the Holy Spirit soothe my soul, lifting my spirt up with hope and mercy?

The challenges are upon us. In this world not only will we have trouble, but it is here, right now. Yet He gives a greater grace. In the midst of our weaknesses He makes Himself strong. He must increase, while we must decrease. The path upward is the path downward. And there is no greater example of this than Easter—Resurrection Sunday. Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, persevered through immense pain, turmoil, isolation, and suffering. He even begged of God to deliver Him from the very fate for which He was born. However, the sinless Son of Man persevered. He endured all the way to the very end, suffering the cruelest of punishments, execution by crucifixion.

He persevered. He endured. We will, too. Life isn’t always a bed of roses, so goes the cliché. Nonetheless it is true. But in Christ, in the glorious Gospel of our salvation, we find hope not just for a secure eternity, but an abundant present. Much of our suffering comes from unreal expectations that we levy upon God. “I’m saved, so I shouldn’t suffer.” Have you ever said that? Thought it? If so, repent of this attitude. Salvation necessarily means suffering. Just as Christ persevered, you can as well, and with a future as bright and as glorious as the one Christ provides. When we have a real view of life, a view that sees and savors God’s sovereign control, life isn’t all about what we want—it becomes glorifying Him in all our circumstances, even the hard ones, and that the hard ones aren’t from the hand of a malevolent taskmaster, but a generous and kind, loving and gracious Father who wants the best for His children.

That posture toward God is not an easy one to live under. However, it is the best way. Just as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, not My will but Your will be done…” It was the Father’s will, not Jesus’ will that was ultimate. In our lives, it is the same way. The Father’s will, not my will, is ultimate. What if Jesus gave in to that self-will, and He called on those ten thousand angels to help Him; where would we be? Self-will is a destroyer; it is motivated by sin. And sin blinds our eyes and we cannot see nor can we do the will of God. We certainly would not be celebrating Easter. The resurrection would just be a hoax, a fabricated fable, just a morality tale. And there certainly would be no salvation and our faith would be futile. I rejoice in my challenges and my hardships, because in them, Christ is leading me to be who He wants me to be, not who I want to be. It is about Him, and not about me. This is the absolute truth for every one of us. Christ is ultimate, not us.

I want to wish you all a blessed Easter holiday. Rejoice in the resurrection and take some time to share with someone the story of Jesus. Easter is the perfect time to do that, because hearts are more sensitive to the Gospel—people are seeing signs of Easter everywhere. I love you all.

Pastor Tony

Newsletter, January 2018

The New Year can often bring a mixed bag of emotions and memories for many of us. Some may have just experienced the best year ever and look forward to an even greater one looming ahead. Others may have just trudged through one deep struggle after another. The fresh calendar year brings desperate hope for things to be better, with an ache for the still-fresh wounds to slowly begin their process of healing.

Whether you’ve just walked through the greatest year of your life, or are incredibly glad to see this one finally over, one truth still rings clear amidst it all. You are not alone. Not ever.
Our God is a “with us" God. On the heels of the celebration of the birth of our King, that reminder has the power to carry us right into a fresh, new start. He is Immanuel, God with us. And though things and people around us shift and change, our God never changes (Hebrews 13:8). Here is a prayer that we might keep God first in 2018.

Our gracious God and our heavenly Father,

Thank you that you make all things new. Thank you for all that you've allowed into our lives this past year, the good along with the hard things, which have reminded us how much we need you and rely on your presence filling us every single day.

We pray for your Spirit to lead us each step of this New Year. We ask that you guide our decisions and turn our hearts to deeply desire you above all else. We ask that you open doors needing to be opened and close the ones needing to be shut tight. We ask that you help us release our grip on the things to which you’ve said “no,” “not yet,” or “wait.” We ask for help to pursue you first, above every dream and desire you’ve put within our hearts.

We ask for your wisdom, for your strength and power to be constantly present within us. We pray you would make us strong and courageous for the road ahead. Give us ability beyond what we feel able, let your gifts flow freely through us, so that you would be honored by our lives, and others would be drawn to you.
We pray that you’d keep us far from the snares and traps of temptations; that you would whisper in our ear when we need to run, and whisper in our heart when we need to stand our ground.
We pray for your protection over our families and friends. We ask for your hand to cover us and keep us distanced from the evil intent of the enemy; that you would be a barrier to surround us, that we’d be safe in your hands. We pray that you would give us discernment and insight beyond our years, to understand your will, hear your voice, and know your ways.

We ask that you keep our footsteps firm, on solid ground, helping us be consistent and faithful. Give us supernatural endurance to stay the course, not swerving to the right or to the left, or being too easily distracted by other things that would seek to call us away from a close walk with you.

Forgive us for the times we have worked so hard to be self-sufficient, forgetting our need for you, living independent of your spirit. Forgive us for letting fear and worry control our minds, and for allowing pride and selfishness wreak havoc over our lives. Forgive us for not following your ways and for living distant from your presence.

We confess our need for you…fresh…new…again. We ask that you make all things new—in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives, for this coming year. We pray for your refreshing over us.
Keep your words of truth planted firm within us, help us to keep focused on what is pure and right, give us the power to be obedient to your word. And when the enemy reminds us where we have been, hissing his lies and attacks our way, we trust that your voice speaks louder and stronger, as you remind us we are safe with you and your purposes and plans will not fail. We ask that you will be our defense and rear guard, keeping our way clear, removing the obstacles, and covering the pitfalls. Lord, lead us on your level ground.

We ask that you provide for our needs. We pray for your blessings to cover us, we pray that you would help us to prosper and make every plan that you have birthed in our hearts to succeed. We pray that others would take notice of your goodness and could not help but to say, “These are the ones that the Lord has blessed.”

Help us to be known as great givers, help us to be generous and kind, help us to look to the needs of others and not be consumed by only our own. May we be lovers of truth, may the fruits of your spirit be evident in our lives - your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Shine your light in us, through us, over us. May we make a difference in this world, for your glory and purposes. Set you way before us. May all your plans succeed; may we reflect your peace and hope to a world that so desperately needs your presence and healing.

To you be glory and honor, in this New Year, and forever.

In Jesus’ name,

(Moreover, here are twelve verses to inspire and instill hope and renewal in the coming year: Revelation 21:5; Lamentations 3:22-23; Isaiah 40:31, 43:18-19; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 3:13; Acts 3:19; Jeremiah 29:11; Ezekiel 11:19; Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalms 20:4, 65:11.)

Newsletter, September 2017

 Do you have the right tool for the job? Handy Manny once asked this question on a cartoon show sometime back. Michael and I were relaxing watching television together and Handy Manny was on. Manny is a cartoon Mr. Fix-it with a box full of talking tools. Manny is the handyman in his little fictional world, called upon for any number of odd jobs. Morality tales typically accompany Manny and his toolbox friends along the way and this day, Michael and I were asked if we had the right tool for the job. Such a question is important if you’re a handyman. You cannot unstop a toilet with a screwdriver, neither can you drive a nail with an adjustable wrench. Well, maybe you can, Manny posits, but to do so would make the job a whole lot harder. If you want to drive a nail, you need a hammer, and to unstop a toilet, you would need a plunger. Having the right tool makes every job easier.

Wouldn’t it be great if every problem in life could be solved like in Manny’s cartoon world, that within twenty-two minutes and a few commercial breaks, whatever insurmountable problem you might have had was quickly overcome and you could laugh at the end? Life is NEVER like that (I think I may have heard an amen.) though Manny did indeed hit on something important. We do need the right tools for the job, yet I have often asked myself the question, “Does God have the right tools for the job?” I have often seen myself as a tool in the hand of an Almighty God, to use as He wills.

That view has given me a lot of encouragement over the years. He has the right tool, He gets the job done, He gets all the glory. Amen! However, I have begun to see this much differently. I am more than a tool—I am His child. And as a child, I can mess up, make mistakes, offend people, make bad decisions, say stupid things, do stupid things, embarrass myself, act immaturely, forget who I am and to whom I belong, I can sin and cause irreparable harm. Tools don’t do those things. A screwdriver essentially has one job; to drive screws, and on occasion, unscrew them. When used properly, it works beautifully. Try and remove a nut and bolt with a screwdriver; it will not happen. 

Tools employed for the right purpose will get the job done just about every time. However, God doesn’t use tools. He uses His children to do His will, and that can get really messy really quickly. The Old Testament kings were for the most part a sordid bunch. There were a few loyal ones, yet more unrighteous ones. As a tool, King Abijam was wielded well. 1 Kings 15:3-5 says, “And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him; his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. Nevertheless for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, by setting up his son after him and by establishing Jerusalem; because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life…” God used Abijam for David’s sake, because David did what was right before God. Abijam was a tool, not a child.

Kings David and Solomon, however, were children of God, as were Hezekiah, Josiah, and a few others. They did the work of the Lord, but it wasn’t always so clear-cut. God will use His child to do His work, but often it is despite the child’s flaws and weaknesses, making Himself strong amidst that weakness. You may wonder whether you are in the right place doing the work of God. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t seem to be going your way, in your limited vision the work just is not getting done. The work may not matter nearly as much as the maturity of the child and God working His will out in the life of that child rather than the mountain being moved or the sea being crossed.

Further, I have also found that God can use any tool to do any job. I may quibble with God that He cannot use a plunger to splice a wire together. Why can’t He? It may not make any sense to me, but it doesn’t have to. In Jeremiah 27:6, God called the heathen king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, His servant; that He had raised Nebuchadnezzar up for a purpose, that His will might be done through Him. However, the pagan king was nothing more than a tool; a tool gripped in God’s hand to do one purpose, with no accompanying regeneration, salvation, adoption, or hope of eternal life. Being a child is a blessing, reserved only for the saved, adopted believer (John 1:12). I don’t want to be a tool. I am His child. And for that I am grateful.

Keep your eyes peeled for several things this September. On the third, we will receive a love offering for a church member in great need. Please prepare your heart and your pocketbook. On the tenth we will have our annual homecoming celebration with Travis Laflin and His beautiful family. Don’t forget that well-filled basket for dinner on the grounds. My family and I will be on vacation the seventeenth and movie night will also be that night. On the twenty-fourth the deacons are arranging a feed the flock meal. Pray for our church, pray for one another, and pray for the lost to know Jesus. God bless you all, and remember, my door is always open.

Pastor Tony

Newsletter, July 2017

On Sunday morning, June 11th, David Holcomb from the Church Revitalization department of our Baptist State Convention of North Carolina visited with us and made a presentation during the Sunday School hour. I counted 42 people in attendance though I could be wrong—it’s possible I may have missed one or two. David shared with us about a five step, approximately five-year process of church revitalization and renewal. Each step consists of a weekend of commitment from the Body of Christ, each weekend focused on a different part of the church renewal journey.

Though we can embark on the journey however we choose, it is recommended that the church begin with what is understood as the Lay Renewal Weekend. This is a time when the church gathers around each believer’s responsibility to his church. It is a time of reminder that every single individual has a place and a job to do in Christ’s church, and the weekend intends to uncover that purpose for every member. If we decide as a church that we want to have this weekend, then a group from the State Convention will come and spend the weekend with us. They will lead us in every vital area of the church. There will be a music leader, a youth leader, children’s leader, a pre-school leader, and so on, so that every member of the Body of Christ will be exposed to this material. There will be coffee fellowships at members’ homes in preparation for the renewal weekend, meals, and a whole weekend spent at Calvary Baptist Church.

This is the idea of the weekend—that the “laity” will be “renewed;” that they will see their God-given purpose, designed and ordained for them by God, to take ownership of the ministries of the church, get the church off auto-pilot, and do what God has called His Body to do. It is about becoming the church, not simply doing church.

I felt like David Holcomb’s presentation was well-received. There was however some confusion and the deacons and I want to ensure that is not the case. The deacons will be contacting each member personally to talk with you about church matters and for you to express any concerns you may have. You can also be proactive; contact your deacon if you feel so led by the Holy Spirit. You may also talk with me at any time. Further, inside this newsletter you will find some additional information as well as a sheet of frequently asked questions. You can also find information online at and Moreover, I also understand that not everyone is in favor of pursuing a revitalization initiative. I understand the hesitancy and our prayer is that we will all agree on pursuing some initiative, whether it is the church renewal journey recommended by our state convention or if we choose something altogether different.

We must find unity here, brethren. Before Jesus was betrayed and handed over to sinners for crucifixion, He prayed for unity in our church, John 17:20-21; “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father are in Me and I in You; that they also may be one in Us that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

God wants to bless Calvary. He wants to bless us much more than we want to receive His blessing. Are we afraid what He might do in and through us, or are we afraid how much responsibility we might have to take in the accomplishment of God’s will for our church? Have we become so complacent that it will take a divine act to stir us from slumber? Perhaps you are afraid that God may bring people unlike you to the church; maybe as in the days of Jonah the prophet, Jonah became angry because the Ninevites did repent and turn to God, something the prophet simply didn’t want. I don’t know your heart. Maybe the reasons are different. Maybe you think I am unfair. Good. That means you are thinking through these things. I pray for you daily, Calvary. May God bless you with every rich spiritual blessing in Christ.

Newsletter, April 2017

Up from the grave, He arose! Thus begins the chorus of one of my favorite Easter hymns. What I love about this hymn is the use of musical style to communicate the emotional impact of the resurrection. The song begins subdued, depressing even. And then, at the chorus, there is an incredible shift to a more striking tone as the song soars, just as Christ emerged victorious from the tomb. Even though I cannot sing very well, I practically yell, “He arose, he arose, hallelujah, Christ arose!”

This song also dramatically represents the transition that takes place in the life of a believer in Jesus; what once was dead has been made alive, what once was in the tomb has emerged with new life. To me, it seems many believers live right at the threshold of the tomb. They have been granted new life, but don’t possess the confidence in that same Savior to empower them to live life completely away from that tomb. Like the inhabitants of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia who lamented that because of the grip of the White Witch on their world, it was “always winter but never Christmas,” some Christians seem to live in a land where it’s always Good Friday but never Easter; a bizarre in-between world where the prospect of life is alluring but the tomb still holds sway.

I find myself in this in-between land. It took me a long time, but I don’t doubt my salvation anymore. However, I do doubt my effectiveness. I do doubt my usefulness. I do doubt my yieldedness. My problem seems not to be with the empty tomb any longer, but with the new life Christ provides—I can’t seem to get to that place where the fire falls from heaven and my spirit is continually filled. Without the resurrection, Paul writes that our faith is in vain and we are men most pitied (1 Cor. 15:1-22).

The resurrection provides new life and it also provides abundant life. We aren’t meant to live defeated lives, overcome by each and every difficult circumstance, trod asunder by tragedy, living daily in fear of the other shoe dropping. This doesn’t take away the reality of the hard stuff, but the resurrection is what makes the hard stuff livable and endurable. For nearly a year now I have been working part time with one of Cleveland County’s funeral homes. The tone there is much different than everyday realities. It’s like working in a library but only much more severe. There is little laughing, always quiet (as if the dead can hear and will be aroused), and even less joy. Granted, I understand it is a place that should be somber, characterized by quiet reverence. People are grieving after all. Yet many Christians live their lives as if the funeral home is all they know. Jesus’ first miracle, turning the water into wine at a wedding, indicated that He came that we might have life, and life more abundant. Don’t act as if Jesus has turned your water into vinegar.

The tomb should hold no attraction for us, yet too often we’re guilty of looking backward over our shoulder at it. For many Christians life looks too much like death. Hebrews 12:2 tells us Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. Easter means life; Easter means abundant life; Easter means joy. Easter means death has been overcome. The tomb in all its emptiness stands gape-mouthed at the Savior who conquered all it stands for. And because of that empty tomb we can live life in abundance. Watch your calendar to see when Easter activities are.  And please remember, my door is always open.

November Newsletter, 2016

 “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I bet I lost your attention with that sentence by the time you got to the word “for.” It seems every Thanksgiving season, this verse will get trotted out and held up as the paragon of Thanksgiving virtue. I’m not maligning the Word of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is a perfectly valid verse of Scripture and one that needs teaching and explaining. However, many verses often get used to the point of overuse and they are drained of their meaning and significance. I feel this verse has gone through this unfortunate circumstance.

It gets recited every Thanksgiving, and with the advent of the gratitude movement (which incidentally, I support fully) the verse gets a lot of attention. It deserves memorization, meditation, and application. However, too many folks see it as a bumper sticker, a trite, hackneyed, commonplace truism that we just say when someone feels bad. “I’m sorry you lost your job, but you know, the Bible does say in everything give thanks…” That wouldn’t make me feel better, likely would make me feel worse, and probably incite anger toward God rather than deepen faith.

We are culture of soundbites and media snippets. It’s been proven that attention spans have shortened over the last ten years and if you have something worthy to say, say it quickly or else it will be missed entirely. “Blink and you’ll miss it,” so the old saying goes when you’re driving through a small town. This shortening has had a negative impact on faith because we typically do not have the patience God demands that serves us so well when walking through trials. When God doesn’t act quickly or at least per our timetable, we grow disheartened and faith suffers; and when a verse like 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is recited instead of bolstering faith, it seems cold and uncaring. I’ve felt bad before, bad enough to go to the doctor, and a well-meaning friend will say, “Well, you’ve been to the doctor, haven’t you?” Insert scowl and condescending tone, indicative of your own inability to take care of yourself.

Yet the verse and its plain teaching remain. Are we grateful for everything? Are we grateful for when health is stable or does it take getting sick to be grateful for good health? Are we grateful for a balanced checkbook or does it take a financial crisis to be grateful for needs being met? Are we grateful for special times with our kids or does it take a prodigal to see all we’ve been missing? Are we grateful for our spouses or does it take a broken promise to be grateful for the one God gave to you? Being grateful in challenging times truly is a test of our faith. I believe being grateful during the easy times is the bigger test because the weight of self-sufficiency is felt much more strongly.

Pride is the root of all sin, and is the root of ingratitude, too. Pride says I can do it myself, which means then, I owe myself gratitude. I did this, I can do it, and I don’t need any help, especially not from a higher power outside of myself. In other words, logically what I would be saying is that Jesus’ sacrifice was completely insufficient, inadequate, and therefore unnecessary. Jesus did say “Apart from me you can do nothing,” but we live our days as if all depended upon us. Perhaps instead of counting blessings this Thanksgiving, instead, we repent of our pride and self-sufficiency. Just like realizing we are sinners before we can be saved, we must see the root of our lack of gratitude first. We cannot be genuinely grateful until we do.

In the coming days and months, you’re going to begin hearing the word “revitalization” said several times. The staff, deacons, and I have been praying about this process and believe God is leading us to revitalization. It is a long, difficult process of tough questions, wrestling with tough ideas, and tearing down barricades keeping Calvary from seeing all God has for the church and the community she serves. The goal of revitalization is to see God glorified by returning to the God-given mission of reaching lost people by making disciples. It is not a return to glory days or what was before. It is a gentle striving toward the future. It is a very spiritual process, and hopefully a process that 100% of Calvary will be committed to. Without that commitment, it will fail. I have asked you before and I ask again; do you love your church? If not, then you need to deal with why not. I am praying for our courage during this time, because we need courage to meet this demand and if God is placing this burden on Calvary’s shoulders, we will need that courage. A truth I learned in studying Exodus has sustained me as I pray through this; if God brought you to it, He will lead you through it.

The children of Israel were trapped—the Red Sea expanded in front of them and Pharaoh’s army was closing in on them. They literally had nowhere to go. The people never expected the miracle they saw. When the days are darkest, the struggles are real, and faith is faltering, look up—deliverance draws nigh. Pray with me, your staff, and deacons about revitalization. Talk with us about it, look it up online, read about it. Come to prayer meetings where the topic will be discussed and prayed over. Your input and participation will be vital. Your church needs you—all of you. Blessings to you all!

October Newsletter, 2016

 I haven’t daydreamed in a long time; too long, in fact. Remember when you were younger, maybe much younger, and you could lie for hours and daydream the day away? I was eating lunch with the family one afternoon and the conversation took a strange turn. The younger girls started talking about marriage and what their lives would look like in the near future. Aside from the disconcerting notion that Miriam is determined she is going to marry Michael, the conversation was very fruitful and allowed me much insight into some of my girls’ hearts. (Michael is very kind about Miriam’s desire to marry him. He blushed and said “I don’t think marriage works that way.” Miriam said, “Well who are you going to marry?” Michael was speechless.)

Later that afternoon as I was thinking back on what they said, I realized a disgraceful truth about myself; I don’t daydream anymore. I used to. I guess I am truly becoming the curmudgeon my dad warned me of. Maybe? It’s possible, but I think it arises from something far worse. I have become lax. I have grown satisfied and cold. It certainly isn’t that I don’t care; I do. However, I’ve grown content with what I have often preached against—the status quo.

Every pastor dreams of serving the perfect church and he being the perfect pastor.  It’s no surprise that Calvary is struggling right now. We have been for two years now and we need to do some soul searching honesty. This article is an attempt at that on my behalf. If I am brutally honest with myself, I have let Calvary slip into “survival mode” and it has not (nor will it ever) serve us well. We have concentrated on maintenance for too long and we need to move forward. I wonder if you would join me.

I’ve long believed church is not a place you go but who you are. It is an identity, not an item on a check-off list. When I leave work and go home, I walk into my house, but the investment I make in my house and especially in my family is the home. The house without my family is nothing and likewise the church without the family is nothing. What investment are you making in Calvary? I’ve started daydreaming again, and I can see a live, vibrant, fruitful, church reaching out to her community, a church led by the Spirt and not set on auto-pilot, a church actively seeking ways to minister, looking for ways to encourage her membership, and praying for the Master to send laborers into His harvest. What do you see?

I would love to hear your response. Maybe you could post a response to this idea on Facebook or share your thoughts in one of our Sunday evening or Wednesday evening worship opportunities. It is true that Calvary is declining but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Let’s move forward. Let’s change the outcome, let’s by all means pray but more than that, let’s do—let’s be proactive. Let’s get out of our boxes and as the kids’ Sensei (karate instructor) is known for saying, “Let’s do this!”

This month is full of activities, so please keep your newsletter and bulletins handy. On the agenda are a Fall Family Fun Weekend with a movie night and chili cook-off, the Greatest Treat Festival, and a quarterly opportunity to feed the hungry at First Baptist Shelby. The fair will also be in town, so please be safe and watchful. Pray for our nation and our communities that the hostility and the violence will cease, justice will be served, and that God protect our men and ladies holding the thin blue line as well as all first responders.

God has been good and He will continue to be. Will we be faithful? Please pray for me as I seek wisdom, guidance, and help to be a “perfect pastor” for Calvary. A guy can daydream, right? Thank you all. I’m praying for you.

August Newsletter, 2016

I want to take this article space to consider some thoughts that have been roiling around in my head for a few weeks now. I ask of you to exercise some patience with your pastor as I flesh this out and also a plea, to hear me out, and consider this and search your heart. These thoughts came together as I listened to Jimmy Turner teach a bible study on a Sunday night. He made a statement as he taught about authenticity and genuineness of belief, and he made it as only Jimmy can. He said, “You can put make up on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” The point was clear; if you aren’t authentic on the inside, it doesn’t matter what you do to the outside. You are still the same regardless of how the outside is dressed up.

The church has a problem. We have seen this coming for years now and instead of it humbling us into reality it has driven God’s people further into nonchalance. More than a decade into the twenty-first century, the church faces considerable challenges—radical pluralism, or that one viewpoint is just as valid as another; aggressive secularism, or the overwhelming and invalidation of religious opinion in the public square; political polarization like hasn’t been witnessed in nearly one hundred years, religious skepticism, confusion about sexual identity, and the onslaught of tolerance, that no one really understands truth anymore. “You’re ok, I’m ok,” so the saying goes. But are we really ok? I don’t think so. I believe that all the aforementioned things simply are not the church’s biggest threat.

The church’s biggest obstacle to overcome right now and in my heart I believe why the church is losing ground, is an identity problem of her own. Nobody likes a fake. Even in our culture that airbrushes and retouches photographs to make them seem more real, we still despise counterfeits and crave authenticity. Everyone wants to be real. “Real” has even become a buzzword of sorts and this concept of “realness” is eclipsing what it means to be Christian. It doesn’t matter how faithful you are as long as you are “real” and if real means acting like the world around you, then that is certainly better and is conceived to be more righteous. But what does it mean to be really real? I’m not sure anyone knows, or at least it seems that way. Try something: listen to people talk about what it means to be a Christian. You will get lots of competing answers and plenty of confusion.

In this current political season, we have heard a lot of rhetoric about faith and what it means to be a Christian. We have seen a lot of antics and jumping through hoops to prove and/or disprove differing candidates’ Christianity. To profess that one is a Christian, in some contexts, will gain votes and that is the bottom line. You can’t get more objectionable (or American) than that, which leads me to my primary point. Perhaps the church’s greatest threat is one of her own making; in our quest to be “real” we have sacrificed true Christian authenticity. Let’s consider some facts. Baptisms are declining. In spite of the fact that there are eighty-six Southern Baptist churches in our association, over 4,300 churches in the Baptist State Convention of NC, and over 46,000 churches in our SBC, baptisms are rapidly falling. All the polling data from various outlets confirm one ignominious fact: the church in North America is decreasing, and not just Southern Baptists; all denominations are suffering.   

In spite of the church’s best efforts, young people are still making a mass exodus from church. In spite of rallying around the poor and disillusioned, churches are still dwindling. The reasons for this discouraging predicament are not cookie cutter, they are quite complex, yet I believe one thing is certain. When Christians are confused about what it means to be real, certainly the culture around them will be confused about what authentic Christianity looks like. And here is my plea: you need to get real and I do not mean that in the popular sense of the phrase. Jesus said in Matthew 7:20, “You will know them by their fruits.” Fruit doesn’t lie. Fruit tells the whole story. Fruit reveals whether or not the walk matches the talk.

Being real runs deeper than going to church, attending Sunday School, asking Jesus into your heart, being baptized, talking the Lord’s Supper regularly, and mouthing Christian sentiments. As important as these things are, they can be manipulated. Real Christians are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Physically they won’t look any different from their neighbors. Remember Jimmy’s pig? Yet real Christians are radically changed—they have experienced a new birth, received a new heart, and crave new desires. Jesus was quite blunt in his comparison and I think His meaning is clear: you can see the effects of real faith. Fruit can be seen therefore real faith can be seen. In Jesus’ reality one thing matters; bearing fruit. There is a visible, tangible, concrete, reality between real and not-real Christians. They live above the elemental things of this world. And it shows. If you’re real, it will show itself in your life. It can be seen, heard, and felt. Don’t be a pig. Bear fruit. Be real.

Newsletter, July 2016

It is the classic case of the “good news, bad news” story. The annual meeting of our Southern Baptist Convention was this past June 14-15 in St. Louis, Missouri and there was a mixture of good news and bad news. I would like to take this article space for the month of July and share with you some of the highlights of this year’s annual meeting of Southern Baptists.

On the most positive note, the receipts for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering had been tallied (though typically donations to the LMCO are received year-round) and a record-breaking, astonishing $165.8 million had been given. This was the most ever given! As well, the national goal was $175 million and not only was this amount the most ever given, it was the closest Southern Baptists have ever come to meeting the goal. I believe this tells a good story about our denomination. We are serious about reaching the Great Commission and seeing lost people overseas come to know Jesus. Never before in the SBC has such a great amount been given and such a financial commitment made to world missions.

However, the story back home is somewhat bleak. A task force of pastors had been assigned to address the ever-declining number of baptisms. They gave a report of their findings and though there is an incredible commitment to overseas missions, outreach here in our borders is stagnant, to say the very least. Since 2012, baptisms have dropped every year by 5.52 %. By way of example, there were 295,212 baptisms reported in 2015. That number dropped from 305,607 in 2014, a loss of 10,395. Ted Traylor, task force member and pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida said, “Southern Baptists’ downward spiral is the fruit of spiritual lukewarmness.” Granted, baptisms don’t tell the whole story of any church’s effectiveness, but they do indicate the church’s zeal for lost souls. I am convinced that no wider gap exists between what we say and what we do (James 2:20) than in missions and evangelism. We are willing to pay someone else to go and do the hard work of missions but we are loath to do it ourselves, in spite of what the Great Commission teaches us. God help us!

On a brighter note, significant steps toward racial reconciliation were made. It’s hard to believe, but the most segregated time in American church life is still Sunday mornings at 11:00 AM. The Confederate battle flag is a significant symbol of heritage and history to some, however, to many people it is a sign of bigotry and racism. The Resolutions Committee originally proposed a resolution calling believers "to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display," but also stating that for some the Confederate battle flag is not "a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism."

However, former SBC President James Merritt moved that the reference to the flag's not being a racist symbol for some be removed and that the convention call believers to "discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity with the whole Body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters." Messengers adopted Merritt's amendment and the resolution by wide margins after he told the convention support of the flag hinders evangelism among African Americans and said, "Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God."

There is one last action at the SBC that I would like to consider. There were three candidates for president of the Convention; Louisiana pastor David Crosby, Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines, and J. D. Greear, from North Carolina. The race came down to Pastor Gaines, 58 years old, and Pastor Greear, 43 years old. For a time, it looked that battle lines would be drawn between the older and the younger sets of Southern Baptists. It looked to be a time of dispute, division, and disunity. However, two men acted as men of God ought to have acted, and in an unprecedented and historic move, J.D. Greear withdrew from the race and moved that Gaines be elected by acclamation. The younger deferred to the older; the older gave honor and recognition to the younger. In so many ways, we as Southern Baptists need to improve; we need to seek God, pray urgently for spiritual renewal, and stop talking about evangelism and do it. We need to get creative about reaching this generation of young people. Yet, in many ways we are getting some things right. I’m thankful yet again to be Baptist. I hope you are too. I want to challenge you through this month during your regular devotional times to learn something new each day about our history as Baptists as well as who we are in this denomination. And, please pray for our leaders, in our SBC and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and our local Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association. Blessings to you all! (For more information, see

Newsletter, May 2016

A Prayer for Our Church

Our Father,

You are King of kings and Lord of lords; we bow before your awesome presence and take joy in who You are. There once was a time we feared you. We trembled to come into your terrifying presence, but by the precious blood of your dear Son, we can come near and have been granted access. You have lifted a golden scepter and bade us come in. Our longing is to feel Your power, know You are near, and receive the comfort only Your Holy Spirit can provide. The sick bed is soft when You are there; the furnace of affliction grows cool when You are there; the veil of tragedy is pulled away when you are there.

Come near, Father, we pray, come near to Your children. Many of us are weak in body, faint of heart, and sleepy of soul. Lay Your mighty hand upon us, speak the words we long to hear, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Come near to us and burn away, like the sun bleaches the color from fabric, our desires for this world. Give us Christ-honoring joy by Your superior power.

There are some among us who may feel as if they are being pursued by dragons; give them wings as eagles and flood their souls with devotion. Ease the heavy burdens, soothe anxieties, deepen trust in You as the only Source and Provider and grant peace; perfect peace and rest. There is some whose day to day challenges overwhelm; help them to take Your yoke upon them, the yoke that is easy and light. For those whose health is compromised or even failing, may they know the balm that is “by Your stripes they are healed.” And Lord, some are sin-sick. Their souls are polluted and twisted with sin. Drive them to the cross of Your Son whose blood has power to cleanse of ALL sin.

Take away everything that would hamper the closest communion with You. Empty our hearts of all but love for You. Any memories or sorrows that hinder fellowship with You, take it away. What have we to do with idols anymore? Turn our gazes from looking back over our shoulders, turn us from the navel gazing of indifference, turn us away from looking at ourselves, but lift our eyes up to heaven and out to see those in need and those lost without a Savior. Give us the compassion of Jesus who when He looked out over Jerusalem, saw a city brimming with need and being moved deeply in His heart, began to weep.

May we weep for Shelby. We would follow our Savior’s great example and pray for all the cities, even the nations—let Your kingdom come! Send forth Your light and truth! We pray You would send out laborers into Your harvest and even use Calvary to that end. Would there be an obedient soul at Calvary? Would there be one You would raise up to stand in the gap, watch on the wall, slay the giant, shine light into darkness, step out onto the water, carry their cross, not be ashamed, and proclaim so that all may hear, “Jesus saves!” One, Lord?

Or will our church slip into obscurity, having kept her membership happy but forgotten her community and the lost around her? We grow fat as the spiritually hungry perish for want of hunger. As Jabez prayed so we pray, expand our borders. Give us opportunities to minister. Expand our Food Pantry. Build our Sunday School. Explode our Bible studies. Pack out our worship services. Broaden and deepen our hearts. Enlarge our spirits. Drive us to our knees. Make us into disciples. Mold us into your servants.

Deliver us from the sins of selfishness, stinginess, inward-focus, self-absorption, egotism, and may our wills be lost in Yours. Help us to consider the needs of others greater than our own. Help us not to esteem ourselves greater than our brother or sister. Help us love one another. Guard us from gossip, backbiting, and slander. Eliminate faultfinding, blame, and finger-pointing from us and may we all take responsibility for our church.

We look to Jesus, the One who alone proclaimed He would build His church. And we acknowledge with humility yet expectation that we don’t know what that will look like. Any number of things You may do, any number of ministries you may cause to grow or abolish altogether, any number of people You may move, but may we trust you as sovereign and wise and not to second-guess, run ahead, or think we know better than You. You are God and we are not. And Calvary is your church. And though we have a thousand things for which to ask, space and time are limited—but only for us, for You know no limitation, and because we are limited we leave a broken prayer at Your feet.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

God bless you all.
Pastor Tony

Newsletter, April 2016

It would be very difficult for me to imagine such a scene as Leah, my eleven-year-old, working twelve to fourteen hour days in a factory in nineteenth century America; dirty, rivulets of sweat running down her temples, fed one meal a day, getting only a few hours of sleep before returning the very next day to follow the same routine. However, out of such a sordid history, the Sunday School was born. Typically, factory-working children were given Sundays off and they would spend a good bit of that time in trouble. Seeing the need, an innovator by the name of Robert Raikes established the Sunday school in Gloucester, England. Children would be taught basic reading, writing, and math before going to church services. Many of the earliest teachers were paid and children were often given a small amount to encourage them to come. The motivations were mixed at first; Raikes wanted to get the children off the streets, cut down on crime, and give underprivileged children an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have. Religious instruction was barely even a secondary issue. His methods worked for by 1811, when Raikes died, over 400,000 children attended his Sunday schools.

The idea gained international acclaim as Second Baptist Church of Baltimore, Maryland adapted Raikes’ idea and began their own Sunday school in 1797—with religious instruction at its core and the use of volunteer teachers. It became integrated into the life of the church and by 1824, the American Sunday School Union was created with its purpose to “organize, evangelize, and civilize,” addressing similar child labor problems that Raikes did in England. It predated the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention by twenty-one years! Sunday school indeed has a rich history. Over its two hundred years, its primary intent has not changed—Roger Torbet, author of A History of the Baptists, stated it well: “Baptists everywhere utilized the Sunday school, for it became to them a vehicle of evangelism as well as instruction.” In a nutshell, Sunday school is meant to reach and to teach.

Some will say that Sunday school has fallen on hard times. Some refer to it as outdated, even a dinosaur. Attendance in Sunday School at Calvary has waned over the past few years. However, I believe the ministry is alive and well and is as effective today as it was back in 1797 in colonial America. If you don’t attend Sunday school, I want to challenge you to give an extra hour of your time on Sunday mornings to Sunday school. If you have “fallen away” from Sunday School, I want to encourage you to come back. Try it for a month and see if you aren’t impacted. I believe Calvary has fine Sunday school teachers, and there is a class for everyone, from the cradle to our eldest member. You will find the classes very warm and welcoming and I challenge you to consider making Sunday school part of your Sunday Calvary worship experience. If you want to attend and don’t know to which class you should go, let me know and I can recommend a class.

During April, there will be an emphasis on Sunday School. I will share a “Sunday School Minute” during morning worship. Further, on Saturday, April 19th at 6:30, there will be a meal in appreciation of our Sunday School teachers and leadership. I challenge you: are you feeling spiritually dry? Do you desire to learn more about the Bible and living for Jesus? Do you need fellowship with like-minded believers or do you want to get to know your church family a little better? Then come to Sunday School. It starts at 9:45 on Sunday mornings. Make it a part of your spiritual discipline!

I will continue teaching on the love of God on Sunday mornings and Exodus on Sunday evenings. Moreover, on Sunday morning, April 17th missionaries to Papua New Guinea, Wayne and Sue Fair, will share with us. I look forward to their testimony and the opportunity to give to their work. And finally, I am going to take several days off this month to get some stuff done around the house. It’s time for spring cleaning! My plan is to be off April 18-23. My family and I will be in worship on Sunday morning the 17th while the Fairs are here. God bless you all and please remember, my door is always open.

Newsletter, March 2016

We are more connected than we ever have been. I know of very few people anymore, young or old, who do not have a smartphone. Don’t let the name mislead you. That the phone is “smart” does not mean any intuition on its part at all, but rather it is an indication of the rapid rise of technology. I can recall a little over twenty years ago, sitting in an introduction to computers class in college, thinking about the UNIVAC computer that took up the whole floor of a building back way back in 1951. Now, you and I hold more computing technology in our hands than put a man on the moon in 1969.
And that is the point—the phones seem always to be in our hands. How much of life and relationships do we miss because our necks are always craned over our phones? I’ve been sitting at a table with other adults and can barely carry on a conversation because of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and a whole host of other social media connections. Smartphones have become ubiquitous—sitting at Shelby Children’s Clinic for Michael’s allergy shots, there were twelve other people in the waiting room and every single person there had a smartphone in their hands. I was the only one reading a book. As many doctor visits as my family makes, I’ve often wondered why magazines are no longer standard waiting fare—everyone is looking at their smartphone instead.
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not claiming any kind of nobility here, but I am trying to point out an issue and it may or may not be an issue for you. I will tell you what I see and sometimes what is seen can be deceiving and at times lead one to make assumptions. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong; I’m a big boy and can take it. I see more and more people scrolling on smartphones during bible study and worship times. Ask yourself these two questions, please. First, does your usage of your smartphone make you a better servant of God and your neighbor? Further, does your smartphone usage show that it is a tool that facilitates your commitment to the central values and goals of your life or is your habitual usage of it distracting, diverting, or obstructing you from them?
Smartphones are like any other device or tool; when viewed as that it is simply that—a tool. But I believe our smartphones are changing us in ways we don’t even realize. They make us careless. How often someone has been judged because of something said or read online without full context. That reveals deeper issues of what to post or share and what not to post or share. Then that affects “real” life. Further, we are losing interest in the gathered church. Why gather when we can text or talk online? Christianity is rooted in Christ’s incarnation and the face-to-face reality should shape our fellowship (2 John 12; 3 John 14), our ultimate hopes (1 John 3:2), and our lives before the face of God. The iPhone and Galaxy offer few advantages here.
A third issue is valuing disembodied relationships. Naysayers pooh-poohed Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone because of what it would do to interpersonal relationships; they would disintegrate because people wouldn’t need to go see anyone anymore to talk. We can talk in a hundred different ways now and I am not trying to be a Luddite (someone who shuns the use of technology) but even though social media, email, texting can be very useful extensions of interpersonal relationships, they should never take the place of them.
My final word, our smartphones distract us from what truly matters. Camilla and I often say we need clones of ourselves to keep up with everything we need to do. There is always one more place to be, one more thing to do, one more chore to accomplish, another check-off on the to-do list. Our smartphones lead us to believe we are being more effective, more connected, more productive, more everything, while actually draining us of physical energy because we pour so much into virtual space. What do we have left for our family? Our friends? Our Lord?
Granted, I’ve been pretty hard on us as smartphone users. But the normal Christian life is one of single-minded devotion to the Lord (Matthew 7:22-23) and should overwhelm our push notifications. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you’re praying and you stop to check your phone, and it isn’t Jesus sending you a text, or posting on your Facebook wall, or sending you a Snapchat, ask yourself—can I watch with Him one hour (Matthew 26:40)?

Newsletter, February 2016

“Stop! In the name of love…” Diana Ross and the Supremes called out to way-worn lovers back in the sixties. Not long after that, the Beatles would proclaim that “All you need is love…” In the mid-seventies, rock group Nazareth would popularize the old Everly Brothers tune, “Love Hurts.” Love is like a stove, it burns when it’s hot. In the eighties, Tina Turner crooned “What’s love got to do with it?” Pop/rock group Heart would ask, “What about love?” And Foreigner, rock icons, would beg, “I want to know what love is.” In my college heyday, I listened to a little known rock group named Queensryche (its ok if you can’t pronounce it, I still can’t). They would release a single entitled “I Don’t Believe in Love” and during a season of despair and discouragement I would have this song on an endless loop. (No, I’m not fond of that memory.)
We all could list numerous songs about love. There are songs that bring back fond memories of times spent with our spouses and there are songs that dredge up heartache and thoughts about love lost. Music is powerful and no other emotion captures the listener’s ear more so than love. Yes, February is the love month and also an apt time to begin a new sermon series on love. However, this series will be about biblical love; the love of God and its misconceptions, how we are to love one another, and the depth of God’s love toward us.
This series of messages has been on my heart for a very long time and I have longed to preach them and teach these things to our congregation. Love is being redefined before our very eyes and we live in a culture that is becoming glacier cold and hate-filled. There are many misunderstandings about the love of God and how God’s children should express love. Dr. D. A. Carson wrote a slim book with one of the best titles ever, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. In it he asks such questions as, “Is God’s love really unconditional?” “Does God actually love the sinner and hate the sin, or is it a saying we use to justify errant behavior (and more)?” “Is God’s love the same toward all people?” “Is love indeed a motivating force behind what God does?”  I hope to address these concerns and many more and would be very grateful as I am putting pen to paper already, that you would pray earnestly for me.
At the time of the writing of this article, the platform lift is in route. It is scheduled to be delivered and then installation will begin on February 1st. After installation is complete, we will hold a brief service of dedication during morning worship service. Further, Calvary will host Captain Joel Shores of the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Department on Sunday evening, February 28th at 6:00. He will give a presentation on “Smartphones, Texting, and Hidden Apps.” With smartphones, young people have more opportunity than ever to be led away into temptation and fall into sin. This is an important presentation you won’t want to miss.
I owe the congregation a debt of gratitude. I shared on a Wednesday evening and Sunday evening some difficulties my family was experiencing. I asked for prayer and you all have been very faithful to us. We are still in the process of overcoming some obstacles and making adjustments, but our God is faithful and true and He has not let us down. Thank you so very much. In closing, take five seconds right now and pray, “Father let your love be done in our lives the way it’s done in heaven.” Blessings to all!

Pastor's Newsletter August 2015

Pastor Tony's August 2015 Newsletter Article

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Pastor's Newsletter July 2015

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April 2015

What was the most significant moment in your life? Was it your wedding day? Was it the day your first child was born? Perhaps when you started college, or got a promotion on your job, or quit one job for a much better job? There are many significant moments in the history of the world, and most of them tend to be marked by war; battles, loss of life, changes in power, wracked with pain. Individually this tends to be the case as well. Often when we think of a life-changing scene, we don’t think of pain as being a part of that scene. Yet, oftentimes it is, and very much so.

Moreover, we tend to be a very self-centered lot; that is part of just being human, and it’s hard to overcome. So, our “life-changing” moments tend to be about us and pain is often absent from the occasion. Yet there is no steel without the application of fire, and there is no gold without the removal of dross. How would God catalogue life-changing moments in history? Certainly the call of Abraham changed history; we could discuss David’s ascension to the throne of Israel, the overthrow of Judah by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., or maybe even the inexplicable defeat of the Assyrian army in 2 Kings 19 where 185,000 foot soldiers lay dead when the sun arose. We know it was the Angel of the Lord’s protection of Jerusalem but men’s history books say otherwise.

What about your conversion? Does that make any difference in your life? Sometimes I wonder if it makes as much difference as it should. I look inward, and my work for Christ often supplants who I am in Christ and I forget that it was my conversion that led to a call; without one the other would have never come, so by simple chronology I see which ought to take precedence. The resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is the defining moment in history. It is how we divide our calendars, it determines our eternity, and it is the strength by which we live day by day. Yet, often we treat the event as just another appointment.

I find a certain irony in the fact that the very word “resurrection” can carry the idea in certain contexts of overthrow or rebellion. From that I take that Jesus led an uprising through His resurrection from the dead against all that would trouble the one who would believe on Him. This is a picture Paul employs in Ephesians 4; that Jesus led captivity captive, meaning that through Christ we have freedom from all that would hold us in bondage—sin, death, hell, eternal punishment, and the grave. None of these things could hold sway over Christ and He defeated each and every one through His passion.

This is what Easter is all about. Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph over His foes! And His foes are our foes, and they have been utterly defeated. That is life-changing, dear flock. Just as Easter is the defining moment in Christian history, so our own resurrection must be our defining moment. Do you remember when your life was made new, when your sins were forgiven, when you knew your heart was free, when you perfectly understood no one could take away from you what God gave you, when you knew your eternity was secure, when the reality came for you that God held not even the slightest ill feeling toward you but loved you more than you could ever understand?

Therein lies the truth of Easter. Live it dear flock. Show it. Demonstrate it. Hold on to it. Be sustained and strengthened by it. Please know I pray for you all. And please remember my door is always open.

Blessings to ALL!

January 2015

Time flies whether you’re having fun or not. I have tweaked the conventional understanding of the phrase; typically it is said, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Though I believe that is true, time flies—period. I remember very clearly when I started seminary in August of 1998 and sitting waiting on my first class to begin, thinking to myself, “This will be over before I know it.” And it was! Before I knew it, I had completed my course work, moved onto the church field, was pastoring a church, and all before I could say “Praise the Lord.”
We have over the past few years at Calvary seen some of Calvary’s babies graduate high school and start college. We’ve seen some of Calvary’s other babies get married and have babies themselves. When I look at Drew and Wesley Jolly, I remember the small boys I met just over four years ago, boys rapidly growing and becoming young men, even before our eyes. Time is at a premium. Time is one thing we cannot get back and once it is gone, it is gone forever. How often have you wondered, “Where has the time gone?”
So many demands are placed on our time as well. Most everyone is stressed out to the max—constantly under the tyranny of a schedule, turning one’s wrist over to check the time, the nagging question in the back of your mind, “What’s next?” Between long work schedules, school, the kids’ extracurricular activities, I understand when we don’t have a lot of time for church. Sometimes I scratch my head wondering how to fit everything in.
When we come together on Sundays and Wednesdays, I think time is a primary concern on many people’s minds. When asked to do something, serve in a given area, help out, a typical response is “I will if I have the time.” I don’t mean for this article to serve as a guilt trip. What I mean to say is I get it—I understand. My overriding concern is that you use your time wisely. With a brand new year coming up, we tend to think about these kinds of things. A new year is a great opportunity to make fresh changes, recommit your life in a certain area, and evaluate what you do well and things you don’t do so well.
Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:16 is to redeem the time. In other words, make the best use of it. Don’t flitter it away, forsake piddling, prioritize, do things that matter and cut away things that don’t. So for 2015, my prayer for Calvary is that we redeem the time. When time is at such a premium these days, and our schedules become more and more cluttered, let’s remember to make time for one another. Our community of fellowship is only as strong as the time we devote to it.
I want to extend the invitation to you once again to join me in 31 Days of Praying for Calvary. Each day this month will focus on a different prayer area in the life of our church. They will be posted each morning on the Calvary Facebook page for you to pray over and a bookmark will be inserted in the bulletin each Sunday with the prayer need listed for each day. I’m looking forward to spending 2015 with you this year and seeing what God does in our church. Blessings to all and my door is always open.

Pastor Tony

December 2014

Newsletter, December 2014
As I reflect on the newsworthy items of 2014, my heart grows increasingly heavy. There simply isn’t any good news anymore. Between wars and rumors of war, political gridlock, mindless national bickering, new diseases threatening the world, the redefinition of societal norms, and those who tout tolerance becoming that much more intolerant, I want to stick my head in a hole and wait ‘til Jesus returns. Alas, such is not the case, and I’m commanded to be in the world yet not of it. Plus, add to it my own family difficulties; Camilla’s grandmother passed away this year (I lost a prayer warrior), my uncle Larrie died suddenly, and raising seven kids in a godless world wears on a man.
This year has had its bright spots, most notably the addition of Melody to our family. New ministries at Calvary are picking up and growing. Our church seems to be gaining strength; yet as I look toward Christmas, I long for something more. I think the anticipation of Christmas does this to you, whether you are young or old. Christmas enlivens, cheers the downtrodden soul, and stirs hope. Christmas reminds us of all that should be right with the world but the world isn’t right. As time wears on, it seems a little less right every year. It is our groaning, our awaiting something better, our anticipation; that “the hopes and fears of all the years” be met in something beyond ourselves. It is bound up in the Second Advent.
Do you remember Christmas when you were a child? I remember listening for the characteristic bump in the night, pulling the covers up to my nose for fear it might be found out that I was still awake, using my Sony Walkman past my bedtime listening to Bing Crosby and Burl Ives on the radio. I endeavor to give my own children the same memories at Christmas, but that stuff simply holds no joy for me anymore. No, I’m not becoming alarmist, a doomsday prepper, or even a little malcontent. In my growing older, the realization is becoming clearer. Christians were never meant to be Christmas people, those focused on the First Advent. No, we are resurrection people, people of the Second Advent, just as Jesus was “born that we no more may die,” so we too were born again, destined no more to die.
We are the ones who cry out “Maranatha!” “Come, Lord Jesus!” For four hundred years, hope lay dormant in the soul of Israel.  Pagans swept in, and with them came darkness; Medes, Persians, Babylonians, Romans—one horde after another asserted control over the people of God. And then, unexpectedly, out of that darkness shone a light—a light the world to this day still truly does not comprehend, but it shines out unflaggingly. As the shortest days of the year roll around, I am reminded of the light that shone forth in the darkness and the hope that it brings.
Things will wax worse and worse. Hearts will grow colder. Churches will continue to wane in strength. But dear child of God, remember it’s not about Christmas. It’s about an empty tomb. Christmas is more about what is wrong with the world than what is right. Christmas reminds us that our hope cannot and should not ever be placed in any world system. They’re irreparable. Christmas reminds us of the teeming masses of lost people around the world, the ones for whom that Light has not shone upon. Christmas ought to impel in our hearts a burden—a growing sense of the deep need around us. People are hungry, hurting, addicted, depressed, separated from the love of God, estranged, ostracized, marginalized, angry, hostile, volatile, worried, fearful, anxious, joyless, hopeless, helpless—those who need God. They need the Light; the Light that has shone forth out of the darkness, in spite of its incomprehensibility. Who will, like those shepherds that first Christmas night, will “make widely known” (Luke 2:17) these things about the Christ Child? Will you, dear brother and sister in Christ?
I want to invite you all to join me in January on a thirty-one day prayer commitment, to pray every day in January for our church. Beginning New Year’s Day to the final day of the month, I will post a special way you can pray on the Calvary Facebook page each morning. If you aren’t on Facebook and you still want to pray, I can email you the prayer focus for that day. Let me know your address if you want to be included. Blessings to you all, and Merry Christmas!

November 2014

“Leftovers? Again?” This tired refrain is often repeated at our table and is one that won’t cease to be repeated any time soon. In our large family, we don’t throw any leftover scrap of food out; we eat it until it’s gone. It isn’t uncommon to see a dish three times before it’s been completely consumed. Also common is the frequent questioning about when a meal is. I confess I get aggravated and I respond tersely, “Has your momma and I let any of you go hungry yet?” One particular child who shall remain unnamed has been caught saying, “Well…” Add to that an accompanying eye roll. Every parent knows the difficulty of preparing food that every child enjoys.

This has been a source of conversation in our Happy Hearts meetings and some of our older folks laugh about how when they were little, “We ate what was put on the table and went hungry if we didn’t!” I’ve tried that tactic before and I’m not so sure it’s effective. Or maybe I’m just a softie and ought to be stricter at the dinner table. Whatever the case may be, eating leftovers has less to do with finances as it does contentment. I probably could put three separate meals on the table, which is what it would take to satisfy the differing levels of pickiness, or, the children can see us put the leftovers out continuously and the constant message it relays; we won’t waste anything, because food is valuable.

At our October rotation for the Feed the Homeless at First Baptist, I noticed how not one complained about what was placed in front of them. Sometimes it was spaghetti and three vegetables; others received a sandwich and vegetables, some only got a couple of sandwiches and chips. Each person held out their hands and received what was given with gladness. My thoughts were quickly turned to my own table that I labor diligently to ensure food is on. The complaining isn’t quite as indicative of picky eaters as it is of discontentment. We breed into our children early a dissatisfaction that is contrary to what the Bible teaches about contentment.

For whatever reason, Miriam was uncooperative and I didn’t get to interact with many of the homeless people. She and I danced, spun, and played. Spina bifida makes her unpredictable at times and often in different environments she is uncomfortable. So, I watched and played, watched and prayed. As I thought on those folks at those tables waiting on a plate of leftovers (which in many cases is exactly what it was), would I be content to receive what was handed to me? Their life situation is radically different from mine, but I am only a crisis, a disaster, a lost job, an accident away from being in a similar circumstance and I’m quickly reminded of the fragility of life.

Paul found himself able to be content whatever life threw at him and oftentimes life would throw the curve ball, low and outside. Prison, torture, abandonment, exposure, loss of eyesight, traveling thousands of miles on foot, preaching to crowds who readily accepted his message, to one that stoned him and left him for dead, but in every case his attitude was the same; “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” Philippians 4:12. Paul had learned to trust Christ to supply his every need. This Thanksgiving, when your family is gathered around the table and you grasp hands to offer the prayer of blessing for the abundance of food in front of you, ask yourself, what if this was instead a simple bowl of rice and some vegetable broth. That is what the majority of people around the world will eat that day. Could you still be happy with the Lord then?

Remember through the month of November to pray for our church and the various ministries. Our Empty Tummy program has caught on and because of need, we have experienced our first empty pantry! It is being filled through the generosity of Calvary’s people but you need to know how effective this ministry is becoming. Further, the speaking calendar for November will see two special guests. On Sunday evening, November 9th, John Miller will share about his upcoming trip to Nicaragua. The trip is next summer, so a love offering will be started for him. On Sunday morning November 23rd, Calvary’s own Bethany Walker will share a testimony of God’s work in her life. Be in prayer for them! Know that you all are in my prayers and my door is always open. Blessings to ALL!



Ego. Three little letters that apart from one another mean relatively little, yet when they come together, change into a green-headed monster capable of wreaking havoc on your life, your spirit, and your soul. Pride is a stubborn sin, humility, a Christian virtue, worthy of praise. Pride is a sin we don’t readily confess, primarily because pride is a sin others commit. We don’t think of ourselves as arrogant, prideful, or even slightly overconfident. Pride’s subtlety is a baited fishhook that we cannot see the danger that lies inside.

This article is an exhortation. It is a warning. It is a putting on of the brakes, so to speak, for us as a church body to stop for a time and look inside. God is moving at Calvary. It is undeniable that He is doing something here and He is using the willingness and sacrifices of several people to lay the groundwork for ministries that will reach our community. Many of you are becoming excited about what God is doing and this is the chatter I hear post-service and when I have the privilege to speak to many of your during the week.

I think the excitement is good! We should be enthusiastic about God’s work at our church. However, let us not become haughty nor puffed up that God is condescending to use us. Here’s a couple of verses: A broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17) and pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Please don’t think I’m throwing cold water on our growth and progress – not at all! I just want us to keep a proper perspective.

When God uses a body of people, it is through their weakness that they are made strong. When we are weak, humble, fully dependent upon God, we will assure that all the glory is His and we confiscate none for ourselves. I believe that the very reason that God is blessing is because of our humility and dependence. I commend those who have been careful to ascribe to God praise He is due and that it is through our frailty He is working mightily. However, even that itself can lead us down a darkened path. My word to you through this letter is to be faithful. Please pray for these wonderful ministries God is starting and remember it is HIS church, not OURs – we are the clay and HE is the POTTER. The Potter can do as HE wishes (Jeremiah 18:4) so the question before us is will we allow the Potter to do His sovereign work?

It also is my privilege to welcome Calvary’s newest staff member, Mr. Clay Hastings, as youth director. Clay’s heart for young people and for our church is undeniable. Remember Clay in your prayers as he continues this important work at Calvary, having moved from summer employee to permanent. As I close, I want to remind you of one more important event on Calvary’s calendar before summer closes – the Dental Bus. It will be here Saturday, August 9, 2014. As I write, the ministry is still short one dentist, so please pray God will provide! This ministry does great good and helps many people who don’t have access to proper dental care. God bless you all, and remember my door is always open.

Sincerely, Pastor Tony