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“I Am Peter” by Coletta A. Crews

I was born to a believer. I believe that she introduced me to her Savior on the day I was born. She later testified that at age 4, I knelt at her knee and asked Jesus to be my Savior, too. I have followed Jesus all the days of my life, sometimes close, sometimes not so close. In many ways, my life has followed the path of Peter.

Peter was a fisherman, whose brother, Andrew, met Jesus while walking with John the Baptist. The Bible records that the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon (Peter) and tell him: “We have found the Messiah.” [John 1:41-42] Andrew brought Peter to Jesus and Peter soon left everything to follow the Lord. [Luke 5:11] But Peter’s path of faith was not smooth.

One night, the disciples saw Jesus walking toward their boat on the surface of the water and he called to Peter, “Come.” Peter stepped out of the boat and took a few steps, his eyes fixed on the Lord. But then the wind came up, and Peter was afraid, and he began to sink. Jesus caught Peter, asking, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:28-31]

The time came when Jesus asked “Who do you say I am?” and Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon.” [Matthew 16:13-19]

Jesus soon began to explain that he would die at Jerusalem, but Peter rebuked him. “Never…this shall never happen to you.” Jesus turned to Peter, and said, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” [Matthew 16:21-23]

Six days later, Jesus took Peter and two others with him to a high mountain, where Peter witnessed Jesus transfigured, his face shining like the sun and his clothing as white as the light. He appeared with Moses and Elijah, talking amongst themselves. Peter immediately began planning to build a shelter for each, but then a voice spoke from a cloud, “This is my Son…” Peter fell facedown, terrified. [Matthew 17:1-6]

At the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples that they would all fall away. Peter argued. Jesus then told him that “this night, before the rooster crows, you will [deny] me three times.” [Matthew 26:31-35] Peter continued to argue his loyalty, but three times—the last just before the rooster crowed—he denied knowing his Lord.

How many times have I taken my eyes off Jesus and his plan for me? I know he is the Son of God, but I argue with him when he requests things of me. One time, I argued about praying aloud and almost missed a great opportunity. Another time, identified as “too good for the rest of us,” I denied the depth of his influence on my life.

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Three times, Peter declared, “you know that I love you.” And three times, Jesus called him to “Feed my sheep” and again called him to “Follow me.” Peter was restored. [John 21:15-19] When I have failed him, he has restored me.

Where are you on Peter’s walk? Are you still looking for the Christ? Are you a new Christian? Are you learning to trust God? Have you failed the Lord? Do you know you are in God’s will? I am Peter. Along the way, at any step, you are Peter, too.


This article appears in the April-May 2022 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“5 Months and Counting at Café Connection” by Logan Dodge

Café Connection has now been in operation for over 5 months! It has been a wild and exciting ride and we are excited to see where the spring and summer months take us. Over the winter we maintained our service to many people and now that the weather is turning warmer, we anticipate that we could see even more guests join us. Often, we get so caught up in the numbers and the statistics of how many meals we served and how many guests come on a specific night, but we also need to look beyond those metrics and look at all the individual lives that the Café has had an impact on.

At this point in our operation, we see a lot of the same families and individuals come on a weekly basis. To me this shows more of the Café’s success then any metric ever could, the fact that we have become a destination in our guests’ week. When guests walk in the door, they are usually greeted using their first name because we have gotten to know them so well. We have many stories of our guests requesting to have a specific server because they have enjoyed them so much in the past. We also have related stories of people asking where certain volunteers are if they are not working that week. We have guests wanting to interact with us and have a deeper connection, besides the simple “hello and goodbye,” which lets us know that the Café is bringing First Baptist Church closer to the community of Jackson.

“We have guests wanting to interact with us and have a deeper connection, besides the simple ‘hello and goodbye,’ which lets us know that the Café is bringing First Baptist Church closer to the community of Jackson.”

The guests are not the only people that this mission is for, the Café is having a major impact on our volunteers as well. It has been so amazing to watch who has come out to volunteer with us, we have a solid group of volunteers that are with us almost every week. They are the ones that got in on the ground floor of Café Connection and have made it run so smoothly. It has been a joy to see those folks continue to be excited about this mission and continue to improve the areas that they volunteer in.

We have also been able to meet and interact with volunteers that were not part of the church prior to the Café opening. New volunteers have brought friends and family with them to volunteer. Now, we are seeing an even bigger step, the friends and family of new volunteers have brought their own friends and family to serve with us. The Café has brought so many amazing people through our doors and into our lives. I personally have enjoyed meeting new volunteers and getting to know them on a personal level.

Something that many people would not know if they have never been to the Café is that this is a place were both guests and volunteers want to come back each week. This is not your average “church meal,” in fact most nights you may not even feel like you are at a church. We have found that because the Café operates like a restaurant and people are treated like they would be if they went to any restaurant, it makes everyone more comfortable. Our goal is not to force the church on our guests; we are here as a steppingstone for people to see what our church community is about. If at some point a guest or new volunteer feels ready to join us for service on Sunday, they will not walk in as strangers but as guests familiar with our church family.

As a church we can sometimes forget how intimidating it is for some to walk into a church like ours. Most of us have been going to this church our entire lives so we do not give it a second thought. For some people, especially those who might have had some bad church experiences in the past, just walking in the door of a church is a challenging thing to do. The Café was built to bridge that gap by bringing guests in with the simple offer of food and community. We want to show our guests that we serve everyone with dignity no matter who they are or what they look like.

If you have not been to Café Connection before or if you have not been in a while, I would strongly encourage you to come any Wednesday and see how we are serving our community. Or if you want to be part of the serving, contact myself or the church office and find out how you can be put on the volunteer schedule. This Café has become such a special place, not only for our guests but for our church family and friends as well. We could not be more proud of the relationships we have created, and we intend to continue that mission.

 

 


This article appears in the April-May 2022 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“Stop Waffling” by Dallas Flippin

On the plate in front of me was a generous helping of chicken and waffles. The sweet aroma of syrup and fried chicken filled the space. It was the kind of meal that you notice no one was talking for several minutes because everyone was devouring their food.

Sitting around me was a group of pastors and ministry creatives from Jackson and from across the country. We had gathered at the Fossores Chapter House, a creative ministry incubator, to dream and imagine how God might shape our ministries. But for a moment each of us was just thankful for the chicken and waffles. They were amazing. But they weren’t a random meal choice, it was intentional.

That day, March 25, is a special day to many Christians who celebrate it as anniversary of the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary the conception of the Lord – she would bear a child that would change the world, and her world. It’s a day to reflect and celebrate the faithfulness of God through the incarnation, and the faithfulness of God’s servant to receive and accept this blessing and burden.

Christians call this day by different names, the Feast of the Annunciation, the Feast of the Incarnation, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Christ’s Conception, and more. But the name for the holiday that I’m most thankful for is thanks to a Swedish pun. The Swedes began celebrating Vårfrudagen (“Our Lady’s Day”) with waffles calling it Våffeldagen (Waffle Day). Our table enjoyed the sweet waffles and reflected on the annunciation.

It’s a lot of responsibility to raise any child. Add to that the responsibility to raise Jesus – no pressure! When Gabriel appeared to Mary and called her blessed, was blessed how she felt? Luke tells us Mary was confused by it all.

When the angel explained that she will be pregnant, Mary asks a very practical question: “umm, how? I’m a virgin.” Gabriel responds by describing the power of God and the Holy Spirit, saying “for nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mary had plenty of questions. She probably could barely only begin to imagine the judgments her friends and family might make about her. What would her reputation be? What opportunities would be forever shifted for her? How would her body be forever reshaped?

Despite all those concerns, Mary answers Gabriel: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Even though March 25 might not have been an important day in our church upbringing, it’s a beautiful day to consider whether we could spiritually have the commitment that Mary portrayed that day.

Regardless of your gender, we’re all invited to birth Christ inside of us, to accept Christ’s transformative life and power to take root in us and reshape our body, our mind, and our spirit. Maybe there’s been a time in your life you’ve said yes to that process, but how many days do you return to God and reclaim that yes.

“Regardless of your gender, we’re all invited to birth Christ inside of us, to accept Christ’s transformative life and power to take root in us and reshape our body, our mind, and our spirit.”

Would you allow Christ to grow in you – no matter the cost to your reputation? Would you allow others to look down on you, to think less of you, to question you? Are the labor pains of Christ’s transformation worth enduring for the beauty of the life that will follow?

At the dinner table, filled with chicken and waffles, we were invited to write out one question to God. If you were like Mary, and an angel visited you and described God’s invitation to your life, what question would you ask? God, will it be worth it? Father, can I do this? Lord, am I able?

We flipped the card over and wrote one sentence of affirmation to God. How might you say yes to God today? Lord, I will follow you even if I lose a friendship. God, I will do your work despite the struggle.

This Easter, while we celebrate the faithfulness of Christ and the life that he offers, perhaps you can ask yourself whether you’re willing to bear the Christ inside you, transforming you from the inside out. What’s your response to God’s invitation for abundant life?

Maybe you’ve found yourself waffling between faithfulness and wandering from God. Today, God comes calling again. May we be like Mary – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

 

 


This article appears in the April-May 2022 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“Unexpected Communion” by Brently Groshong

I grew up in a faith-based home. My father was a pastor, and the church was the center of our weekly lives. Our family never missed a church gathering, big or small. And like most churches, we took communion once. I never understood why we would celebrate the Eucharist only communion once a month when the Bible stated that we were to eat and drink whenever we gathered together. I also never thought to ask why.

When I was 17, I was part of the church worship band. I was the bass player, and I was the youngest on the team.

That year, Steve Archer—the pioneer of the genre of Jesus music, later to become known as contemporary Christian music—was coming to our small town to perform a concert in the high school gym. The concert’s producer asked if our worship band could open for Steve Archer. It didn’t take us long to say yes. It was our chance to play on the big stage next to rock stars. It also didn’t take long for our worship band to become a “real” band and start holding practices in my dad’s garage.

When the day of the concert finally arrived, there was electricity in the air. We arrived early to meet Steve Archer and his band. He wanted us to understand that we were putting on a show, but he also said we were about to engage in something heavenly, something holy. Then he said something quite unexpected.

“We should take communion. Someone go grab some elements.”

A few minutes later, one of Steve’s crew showed up with soda pop and pizza. And, all eyes were on Steve.

All that kept running through my mind was, “Can we use pizza and coke in place of bread and wine?”

Can we use pizza and coke in place of bread and wine?

Without hesitation, Steve offered these seemingly unholy elements in prayer, and then we drank and ate together.

Through that act of communion, we committed to God the Father, and we committed to each, vowing to bear each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It unified us in mission, and I felt just as much a part of the night as the hired professionals. And Steve was right, we did engage in something holy, and it is a night I will never forget.


This article appears in the October-November 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“Learning to Feed” by Dallas Flippin

Every 10 years, you eat over 7,000 meals. Now I feel full. 7,000 meals is actually a conservative estimate assuming you eat about two meals a day. We eat so many meals that it’s natural you sometimes autopilot through a mealtime. Sometimes we autopilot through a fast-food meal or through a morning cereal. It just sort of happens. I’m fascinated by the times we pause for a meal. There are moments that stand out, like the first dinner cooked at home by newlyweds. Or the restaurant you ate at before a terrible bout with a stomach bug. Some meals are just memorable, especially the meals at the edges of our life.

Everyone consumes a final meal in their life, but not everyone knows which meal will be your last meal. There’s something ominous just about the phrase, your last meal. What would you choose for your last meal? It must be hard to decide.

If you were to visit the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill New York, you would encounter a strange art exhibit entitled Last Meal. Photographer Jackie Black’s exhibit is a series of photographs recreating the last meal requests of 23 individuals on death row in Texas between 1984 and 2001. Clydell Coleman asked for sausage, eggs, biscuits, and french fries. Jeffrey Allen Barney asked for a bowl of Frosted Flakes. Gerald Lee Mitchell asked for a bag of Jolly Ranchers. The exhibit includes a recreated photo of the last meal with accompanying information of the executed individual’s name, date of death, years of education, occupation, and last statement. Black believed that perhaps looking at a plate of food, someone’s last meal, might be a bridge to empathize with the experience.

Most of us won’t encounter that sort of last meal. Instead, those of us blessed with long life might instead encounter the last meal preparations of hospice, where we receive care and comfort as we complete our time on this earth. People say it’s a weird experience after a lifetime of doctors telling you to avoid sugars or reduce your salt intake to have medical professionals transition to encourage you to eat whatever brings you joy and comfort in those last moments.

Last meals are comfort food. They are a comfort in the face of pain and trials. Some of us really like our comfort food, even though we know it’s not our last meal. Every January a bunch of us make new resolutions that we’ll take our food more seriously again after a few too many holiday treats.

While last meals are about comfort, what are first meals about? If we move to the other edge of life, to its beginning, we encounter a very different experience with food. When we move from hospice to labor and delivery, we encounter mothers learning to feed babies for the first time. Learning to feed is work for both mother and child. Babies fall asleep; they don’t eat enough; they learn to bite; they decide they want to eat when you just want to sleep. Sometimes you have to find alternative methods to feed. It’s a lot. Feeding is not just about comfort, it’s about the possibility for new life to grow.

Many of us prefer living in a last meal paradigm. We want to be served comfort food. We want to pick the menu out and we don’t want to live with the consequences.

As nice as it is to get our favorite food and to be served, we are called to feed new life. Jesus’s resurrection is not meant as a comfort food just to make you feel good. Jesus’s resurrection leads to a great commission. We are called to go and make disciples. We are called to teach others and bring them to the table of God, to grow into who God has made them to be.

Too often we crave one more bite of comfort food instead of finding ways to feed others. Too often churches become primarily hospice homes instead of labor and delivery rooms.

I encourage you to find ways to feed others. Literally, helping someone have a meal is a great place to start. We’ve done that for a while as a community with our Blessing Box and with supporting the Immanuel Lutheran Food pantry. I’m so excited to see that opportunity blossom with the Café Connection. Beyond just the literal meals, we also have the opportunity to not make everything about ourselves, but to make everything about God, and what God can do for our neighbors. We have an opportunity to invite friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors to become new disciples.

One of the last meal photographs from Jackie Black that stood out to me was from Robert Anthony Madden. For Madden’s last meal, he asked that his last meal be donated to a homeless person. What a powerful image to take your last opportunity of special treatment and comfort and offer it to someone else in need. Could you make that sacrifice? Sadly, Madden’s generous request was denied. Some people and organizations are only in the business of comfort foods, not new life. May the Church always keep its eyes on the possibility for new life with our living God and may we always have the heart to share it.

 


This article appears in the October-November 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“A Dream in the Making” by Logan Dodge

About five years ago I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a video about a church in California that opened their doors to serve the homeless population in their community for Thanksgiving. Now initially that story doesn’t really stick out from the crowd, at first glance it was another good story about a church helping those in need, a tale as old as time. As I continued to watch the news story it got into why this church was different.

Normally at a soup kitchen or community food service facility it is set up either in a cafeteria style service or some other way that has the guests move through a line and collect the prepared food from volunteers. This is not in any way a bad process and is very efficient to serve as many people as possible. This California church in the video took a different approach to their serving style and took the food to the guests rather then have the guests come to them. They had many tables set up in a large common area in the church with white tablecloths and center pieces. It had the look and feel of a restaurant and what really set it over the top was they had servers for the tables to take orders for the Thanksgiving Dinner. The servers were dressed like ones in a high-end eatery: white dress shirts, black pants, and black aprons. Dinners were served on elegant dishware and everyone was welcomed to eat in this dignified establishment. It was this video that put the idea in my head that one day First Baptist could serve our community in this type of restaurant style experience.
Now a task like this does not just happen, it takes time, commitment, people, equipment, and support on many facets. For this reason, among many others, it has taken over five years to get the momentum for this endeavor.

To prepare for the first board meeting of 2021, we were asked to come up with some ideas on what mission the church could take on. We were told to think as wild and crazy as we could; there were no limits. The goal was to come up with ideas, not a fully operational plan; all we wanted were some big thoughts that might be out of the box to encourage our church to find their signature mission.

With that direction, I decided that it was time I let someone else know of the dream I had of starting a restaurant in our church to serve our community. Since I had been thinking about this mission for over five years, I had some big ideas about what I wanted it to look like. I kept to the directions given and didn’t give much thought about how we were going to make it all happen. I presented my vision to the other board members to see what they had to say. Once I got done going on and on about what a great idea I thought I had, I waited anxiously for comments. To my great surprise many liked the idea and even started coming up with other opportunities that this mission could eventually lead to in the future. There were some questions about how we go about getting something like this started but I told them that I didn’t have any answers at that time! By the end of this meeting we collectively decided as a board that this was a mission we wanted to pursue. There were many unanswered questions, a ton of unknowns, and for me personally, I didn’t even know where to start.

Fast forward to September and we have almost completed our kitchen updates and are almost ready to open the doors to Café Connection. We have figured out many of the unanswered questions that we had in the beginning. With that lengthy intro, let’s get to what Café Connection is all about!

What is Café Connection?

Jesus said when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome in the stranger, it’s as if we’re serving Jesus. We find blessing in blessing others. Located in the heart of downtown Jackson we have many opportunities to bless our neighbors with food and dignified hospitality.

Café Connection is a place to serve a restaurant style dinner experience with warm food, excellent service, and creative opportunities for meaningful conversation. We hope to cultivate people who share meals as a way of nutritional, social, and spiritual growth. Through the simple act of food service, we are looking to provide connection. Connecting our church to our community, connecting our community to each other, and bringing God closer to our neighbors. Our guests are hungry for great food, first class service without a first-class price tag, and a safe, welcoming environment to heal divides with meaningful conversation.

In today’s fast pace world, with so many distractions and things competing for our attention, eating a meal around a table is something that is not common. We want to provide an opportunity for our community to disconnect from worldly distractions and re-connect with other people and God around a dinner table. Unlike other food ministries like soup kitchens, our focus is on the dinner table experience. Instead of having guests file in a line, we want to serve our guests like they were in a restaurant because they deserve dignified, quality meals. Being seated by a host, ordering at the table from a menu, and receiving unwavering service from a waiter allows guests more opportunity to connect with others at their table throughout the night.

“We want to provide an opportunity for our community to disconnect from worldly distractions and re-connect with other people and God around a dinner table.”

Using social media and physical material we will reach out to our target groups to gain interest and attendance. We will also partner with local organizations such as the Interfaith Shelter to help locate those who may benefit from this service. In our first year we have a goal to have the Café open one day a week for dinner. During these dinners we want to provide a meal that is served restaurant style, have opportunities to connect with our guests, and introduce our community to First Baptist Church.

This mission will not only have a positive impact on our community but will also have a positive impact on our church. This mission opens our front door wider to our friends and neighbors. The mission not only becomes a place to invite others to enjoy a meal, but also to join us in service. Sometimes it is hard to ask someone to attend church with you, but to ask someone to help serve others is a much more comfortable interaction. Café Connection is an opportunity to show others what it means to be a part of First Baptist Church.

I am so excited for Café Connection to finally open and allow First Baptist Church to show our community that we are here to serve them and welcome them into our home.


To learn more about Café Connection, visit CafeConnection.org.

This article appears in the October-November 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“No Fear” by Brently Groshong

People don’t like change. At least that’s what they say. Yet change is constant. From the moment we are born there is change, every day, every moment. We don’t fear it. We embrace it. As babies, we are reliant on others for everything. We are at their mercy. We follow their plans. We know nothing of control. I believe this is why Jesus Christ often refers to children in His stories.

 

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt.18:3 (NIV)

 

As we grow and get a little older, a little steadier on our feet, we learn to forsake our dependence on others, and that we, and we alone, control our destinies. Yes, it is true we need to make our own decisions and make wise decisions. But there’s a little more to it. God says: 

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

 

When I accepted Jesus’ never-ending gift of salvation, I gave up my right to make all my decisions, all by myself. I became an ambassador for His Kingdom. I became an extension of Jesus. I am His, and He is mine. 

 

Perhaps you did, too, made the same choice to follow Jesus, that is, and to let Him have complete control. More or less.

 

Me, too. 

 

We think when we relinquish total control of our lives to Jesus that he is going to change things, and we don’t like change. So we hold back a little bit.

 

I was thinking about this, what holds us back? Fear. More specifically, fear of change. 

 

When we are kids, we expect someone to tell us what to do. We expect constant change because that is what we know. As we get older and we are expected to make our own decisions, we seek equilibrium to maintain a constant, comfortable state, to live the life we were not able to do when we were kids. We make the decisions. We have control. We don’t have to change. But then we invite Jesus in, say the words about living for Him and letting him take the wheel, but we don’t really let Him take the wheel. Fear.

 

Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it…Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up.

― Veronica Roth, Divergent

 

We love movies, all sorts, especially when they come in series, like the Divergent series. If you haven’t watched them, the action-adventure trilogy is set in a post-apocalyptic world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless. These virtues are all desirable, especially as a Christ-follower. I want to be selfless, kind, honest, wise, and brave. But I found the Dauntless’ dedication to courage and fearlessness to be profound. The Dauntless was taught to control and overcome their fears—those things that would normally shut them down. Have you ever had to jump off a moving train onto a building to get home? Or jump into a dark, seemingly endless cavern?

 

Fear is a natural and human emotion. It is a biochemical response that alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is real or imagined. The function of fear is to help us avoid harm.

 

This begs the question: do we trust God or do we fear him? According to that verse from the Book of Jeremiah, God has no plans to harm us. God tells us to “fear not.” It is the most repeated command in the Bible, written some 365 times. God’s plan is not for us to live in fear, especially when it comes to following Jesus. There is no real or imagined danger. We can hand those fears over to God, our good and benevolent parent, and trust Him no matter the change. Fearless by default.

 

Let’s live fearless for Jackson.

“Just Keep Reading” by Marilynn Fryer

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 2:15

During the pandemic, I took advantage of enrolling in two classes through the American Baptist Churches’ Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries, one on how to discern the Bible and another a survey of the New Testament. The topics covered run deep, but there is one important starting point … read the Bible, and read it regularly.

Make Time for the Bible

We hear many claims today about Christianity and what the Bible says. Do we understand the Word of God for ourselves, or how to respond? We are called to understand and, as in 2 Timothy above, “rightly explain the word of truth.” Make time daily for reading the Bible, and make it a priority. Setting aside time each day is a great practice.

Today’s technology increases the ways we can read the Bible. You can open an app like BibleGateway.com or Bible Hub on your smartphone and read whenever you have a few minutes. You can download a version of the Bible right to your phone, tablet or computer, allowing you to read even if there is no Wi-Fi signal. Of course, you can always grab a Bible and read.

Use a Study Bible

A good study Bible will help in understanding scriptures. BibleGateway listed above includes notes from many study Bibles (some resources require membership and a fee while some are free; use your own judgment). I use the Quest Study Bible, which includes introductions to each book of the Bible, notes and short commentaries throughout. There are many study Bibles to choose from; a Google search will get you started.

Read More Than a Few Verses

Bible books were meant to be read in their entirety. Read through the Bible in longer sections, not just a verse or two. If you can read a book in one or two settings, you will better understand patterns and themes. Reading through the entire Bible in a year or two will help you understand how it all fits together.

As you read, look for context and meaning.
• Who is the author of the book?
• When was it written?
• Who was it written for?

Answers to these questions will give an understanding of both the author’s meaning and what it means for us today. Again, a good study Bible will help. A big idea from my study of hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation: the Bible cannot mean today what it did not mean when it was written. To start, we need to understand what the author meant.


These are a few suggestions to enhance your own personal Bible study. Keep reading and exploring God’s Word. Reading the Bible will help us get to know Jesus better, and what more could we want?

“Teaching in a Pandemic” by Ron Woodruff

I recently had a colleague publish a thank you letter to our teaching staff for going “above and beyond” our daily responsibilities. It caused me to reflect on this past year and how we, as a teaching staff, have persevered through this unprecedented year. It has been a struggle with overwhelming challenges, but ultimately, it has also had positive moments of triumph. Moments where God’s influence, grace and guidance were vital for my peace of mind.

Although the fall was the beginning of my 29th year of teaching, it felt like my first. I had one week to get ready for the start of the year, which required learning new online platforms and curriculum. Behind the scenes, while the state grappled over school funding, there were late budget concerns that caused teacher layoffs, and ultimately, a massive scramble to solve the scheduling problems. Although my job was safe, it was still impacted by the day to day schedule changes. For example, during the first two weeks, I was teaching American Literature, and suddenly, the next day, it changed to a combined class of Journalism and Digital Media. I was expected to teach my advanced newspaper along with an introduction to media class. Like everyone, I had to adapt.

Ron teaching in classroom following Covid mask policies.

To make it all work, I had to totally immerse myself into school with every available minute. I take pride in being organized and strive to control how my classes function and flow. So, I pushed myself to make it work, to overcome and thrive in this new environment. Because of this desire, it was not uncommon for me to be up until midnight, making sure my lessons would function online for the next day. I put everything in my life on hold. I felt like I didn’t have time for my family, my friends, or even God. Looking back, God was there, and he used each situation to guide and influence me, even though I was too overwhelmed to know it at the time.

Yet, I had it easy compared to those teachers who had young children. They also had to manage how to support their family while teaching. This became especially hard when we would go virtual, and those teachers were trying to Zoom from home while their own children were also trying to learn. Often their children needed help, but they had job responsibilities that took priority. Furthermore, most of us had never learned to use technology the way we were expected to use it, and I couldn’t imagine trying to manage school while also supporting young children. We encountered new online software like Schoology, Zoom, Loom, Kami, Edpuzzle and many other programs. When we started, teachers did not have a good grasp of all this new technology, and every day seemed to bring new challenges. Students faced issues with their devices, and there were daily internet problems. These issues were constant disruptions. It was well into November before the technology demands began to slow down, and it was during that time I noticed little triumphs of how God was using people to support others.

“It was during that time I noticed little triumphs of how God was using people to support others.”

Ron Woodruff

We needed to support each other because we were being asked to educate students face to face and online, simultaneously. We were sitting at our desks, trying to communicate and teach passionately with both online and in-class students, and never knowing when, at the drop of a hat, we would be sent home to total virtual. It was overwhelming! There were so many things to remember that I even found myself on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I remember one day sitting in front of the computer, just clicking buttons because I couldn’t focus. I even said to myself, “What are you doing?” It is the only time in my career that I didn’t feel in control. The only time I felt inadequate. That is when my wife was there to help. That was when my colleagues were there to support me. I had learned a great lesson that I was trying to do everything on my own. I believed I didn’t need anyone’s help. However, God knew better. He knew my limitations. So, he provided support.

“I believed I didn’t need anyone’s help. However, God knew better.”

Ron Woodruff

God knew it was time for me to stop trying to be perfect and let Him intervene. It was time to realize I was not in control, and God’s grace was there to comfort me. I realized that He had placed people in my life who were there to support me through these uncertainties. My wife, family, colleagues, and pastor were all there in different ways to guide me through the fear, the stress, and the frustrations. It helped me understand that I also needed to be a better servant of God so that I could be there for others during these challenging times.

Week by week, I didn’t know whether I would remain in face to face teaching, or because of COVID quarantines, move to online. I had to be ready for both. However, this also impacted students and parents, and I needed to be sensitive to their needs. Many students were too unorganized to keep up with virtual work. They no longer had teachers looking over their shoulders or reminding them of what was due, and with parents working, nobody was home to monitor classwork. Many procrastinated while others simply shut down completely. Instead of the usual stresses, I was now facing new problems. I found myself frustrated and totally focused on myself. I only saw my problems and my needs. Ultimately, I needed God’s grace to shine through me. I needed God to use me as a tool of support for these parents and students. I needed to stop focusing only on my needs and to understand the situations and needs of others. Once I started focusing on how I could help them, everything else seemed to work itself out.

Now that the year is coming to an end, I can reflect and remember where teachers and students were and how better it is now. I can see the triumphs of how we persevered through fear and uncertainty. Overall, God showed me my weaknesses, and he taught me the importance of fellowship. I learned how meaningful relationships are especially when life is not easy. He taught me that I can not do life without support. I do not have all the answers. I will struggle; I will fail. But, with the grace of God, I can do all things. I learned how He has surrounded me with amazing people. Loving, caring people who understand me and are always there to help. In all, this lesson has been a teaching triumph, and I hope it has prepared me to be a better person, educator, and servant of God.


This article appears in the June-July 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“Unexpected Worship” by Brently Groshong

It all comes back to the same question what is worship? We explored this very question in the first part of this series in the FBC JXN Magazine, October/November 2020 and came to an interesting conclusion. The questions should not be so much “What is worship?” for we all place our devotion and allegiance someplace. The questions should rather be, “What or Who are we worshipping?”

We discovered that the more we surrender more and more of ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change. We shift our focus of worship. We fall more in love with the Creator, the one that created us to be in harmony with Him. And we discovered that worship is not merely contained to a time and place, such as Sunday morning at a church building. It is having the heart to worship everywhere, all the time.

Even when it is inconvenient. Even when it doesn’t fall on Sunday or at a midweek prayer meeting or during our morning devotion time.

Jesus told a story about worship, and it can be hard to read.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

As Christians we like to plan our outreaches and our missions, come prepared with what we would like to offer the least of these. And these ministries are important and vital to our society. They offer goods and services to people who really need them: who really need them and know where to look for them.

But worship to the least of these—worship beyond our walls—doesn’t always come neatly packaged at the time and place we scheduled.

Acts of worship to the least of these can be unexpected and inconvenient, like when that stranger on the street corner asks for money or when your co-worker’s car breaks down or when your neighbor needs someone to drive them to the hospital.

I recently experienced this in a very real and practical way. Last summer during the lockdown when Pastor Dallas Flippin and I were still pre-recording our services for streaming on Sunday mornings, I found myself still quite in the habit of getting up and wanting to be out of the house at 7 a.m. on Sundays. After a few moments of pacing the floor, I decided I needed to just get out of the house. So I grabbed a face mask and went for a coffee at the Speedway on the corner of Ganson and Wisner.

Once I purchased my coffee and a couple of donuts for the kids, I went back to my car satisfied with my coffee and outing. I closed the door and was getting ready to go home, but then out the corner of my eye, I saw a disheveled lady walking toward me.

“Excuse me, sir.”

She was broke and needed a ride. It turns out she was also homeless, carrying all her belongings in a bag she carried. She wanted to go someplace that offered hot showers and laundry facilities free of charge.

It don’t normally give rides to strangers—although I have picked up a hitchhiker or two. But that’s an entirely different story.

For this woman, I felt like I needed to give her a ride.

In the car ride, she told me her story. Life had not treated her well. Her family had abandoned her, and her health was poor. I listened to her story and knew that right there in the car I had an opportunity to worship. I didn’t have much money in my pocket, but I what I did have, I gave to her, just like Peter.

But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

God’s presence filled the car as I spoke of His goodness and how much He loved and cared about her. Her countenance lifted as we prayed together regarding her situation, and all of life’s hurdles and challenges.

It was inconvenient to meet the needs of this woman. It was not part of my plan. But I opened my car door to a person in need and was able to worship the Father as I met one simple need. I remember thinking to myself in the moment, “This is what I was made to do. This is my purpose.” Then I shared with this beloved woman where I work and told her to stop by the church someday. And then it was all over. She exited the car at her destination.

A couple of weeks later, I saw her again, just outside of our church. She wanted to let me know how things are going for her. There were positive changes, and she began to watch our Sunday morning church services at a friend’s house.

I continue to pray for her wholeness believing that God has a plan for this dear woman. And me, I continue to look for those unexpected and inconvenient opportunities to feed the hungry, provide drink to those that thirst, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Even in this pandemic, there are plenty of opportunities. We can see needs around us and be the hands and feet of Jesus. The world is watching for those who choose to worship God in spirit and truth, anytime, anyplace.

John 4:23 “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”