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Surprised by Reality

It’s not often I’m left totally speechless.  But there are a few specific moments in my life when reality took me by surprise. I’m not talking about catastrophic moments, like the space shuttle explosion or 9-11; rather, I’m referring to something more personal that just grips you and emotionally slaps you. Two moments come vividly to my mind.

The first occurred during a family visit to the Prisoner of War Museum in Andersonville, GA. The museum is filled with things that, sadly, are quite expected in such a place. There are exhibits of the horrific ways prisoners have been treated in wars gone by, images of emaciated and feeble prisoners holding on to a thread of life, portraits of those who survived, and memorials to those who didn’t. While disturbing, it’s easy to separate yourself from the realities of such depravity. We had been to other remarkable places, such as WWII concentration camps, but nothing prepared me for what came next.

Turning a corner, I found myself facing a manikin fitted with a tattered flight suit, the kind worn by modern-day pilots or medical personnel on flight rescue missions. The name tag grabbed my attention like someone pointing their finger to my face. I knew this person. I knew this story. This exhibit was suddenly quite real. Colonel (COL) Rhonda Cornum had worn this very uniform while serving as a Medical Doctor in Iraq. The helicopter she was flying in was shot down, resulting in her capture and imprisonment by the Iraqis. The sleeves on the flight suit were cut open on the arms and legs to release her broken limbs. Most of those on that flight were killed in the crash, but, despite her own injuries, she rendered care to her fallen comrades until her capture. Her story is chronicled in the book, She Went to War: The Rhonda Cornum Story.

Seeing the familiar uniform straightaway confronted me with the reality that this could have been my own wife: Laura had served with Dr. Cornum on another combat deployment just a few years later. That could have been my wife’s uniform on display. I had heard the stories, watched the news, and knew the people. Still, the reality took me by surprise.

Fast-forward another few years later… Laura and I found ourselves as tourists once again. This time, in the biblical city of Corinth, we walked through the ruins, observing the architecture and statues and temples dedicated to gods and goddesses of stone. We imagined the lives of those in the 1st century church and recognized that the Apostle Paul had walked these same pathways, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had faced the risk of imprisonment, beatings, and loss of life (Acts 18:1-17).

Walking in the heart of the city’s gathering place, or forum, I turned to find myself standing in front a sign reading “Bema”, the judgment seat. Court cases were tried here. Victorious athletes were honored here. And it was to the Bema that Paul had been brought by his opponents, falsely accused. Paul had been in Corinth for about 18 months while making tents and making disciples for Jesus.

Now, like Paul, and without warning, there I was, standing at the judgment seat. In that moment, my own insecurities and acknowledged sin accused me. There was no mocking crowd and no human judge, yet I was shocked to think that judgment could be my reality in a brief, unforeseen moment.

One day, every one of us will find ourselves in front of the Bema. Romans 14:12 tells us that “each of us will give an account of himself to God”. But, as Christians, we have no need to fear the judgment seat of Christ. He paid our debt. Colossians 2:13-14 tells us that He paid our debt and has forgiven our sins.

Paul’s time before the Corinthian Bema was favorable, with his case essentially dismissed even before he was able to testify. In fact, regarding his witness in Corinth, he had been encouraged in a dream before these events to be bold, to “go on speaking and do not be silent” (Acts18:9, ESV). Paul later wrote to the Corinthian Church that those in Christ also had no need for fear. He reminded them, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).

We’re each confronted with things we don’t expect. But, we have no need to fear the circumstances of life any more than the judgment seat of Christ. Rather, like Paul, we are to boldly “keep on speaking and do not be silent”, even when we are surprised by reality.

Gratitude

So I throw up my hands

And praise You again and again

‘Cause all that I have is a hallelujah, hallelujah

And I know it’s not much

But I’ve nothing else fit for a king

Except for a heart singing hallelujah

Hallelujah

I know it’s not much.

There’s not much that we can bring before God that can impress Him. After all, He did create everything. Our praise, our lives of worship, is giving back to Him what He has given to us. Sometimes coming before Him with nothing knowing He holds everything is all that we can do. And that’s okay.

He just wants your heart.

This song gripped mine the first time I heard it. Check out Gratitude by Brandon Lake. (His voice is a lot cooler than mine.) But it isn’t just the voice that caught my attention. It was the cry of his heart through these simple lyrics. Perhaps it’s the worship leader in me. This song talks about singing songs to the Lord yet often feeling as if they’re not enough. Can you relate?

Perhaps it’s not serving enough. Perhaps it’s not reading the Bible enough. Or praying enough. Whatever it is, those feelings of not being good enough are exactly why we should come to Him with our praise. Because He is good enough. And for all those in Christ, Christ is in you! And you take on the identity of Christ, not yourself. Now, that’s a reason remind soul to “get up and praise the Lord!”

Here’s one practical piece of advice I can pass along to you. Take a moment every day to say what you’re thankful for that day. I do this at the end of every day and it’s amazing that even on the rough days, there’s always something to be thankful for!

An Open Letter to Coats Baptist Church

Even though the weather may not reflect it quite yet, we are quickly approaching a change in the seasons. I always get excited about a new season. An anticipated change in the weather, various holiday preparations, the feeling of a fresh start – it all appeals to me, no matter what season we’re entering.

While it may be refreshing to approach a change in the physical seasons, beginning a new season of life doesn’t always feel very comfortable. In fact, it can be quite challenging – daunting, even. Of course, every new season brings some level of excitement, a sense of renewal, and a feeling of adventure, but there’s also a bit of uncertainty, difficulty, and fear that comes right along with it.

Personally, I have a hard time when it comes to life’s major season changes. Perhaps you can relate. I tend to be very sentimental, so moving from one season of life to another can be a little more bitter than sweet to me. I’m also most comfortable when things are predictable and constant, which is not typically the way life works. In fact, one of the most predictable things about life is that it is always changing.

However, in each and every change of seasons, God has brought me great comfort in the words of my favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I love Romans 8:28 because it is a promise of God’s care, provision, and plan to all of His children – and God never breaks a promise. This verse brings me comfort in the knowledge that although seasons will inevitably change and I may be apprehensive about those changes, God will still (and always) work for my good.

This summer, I’ve found myself reflecting on this particular season of life, and specifically on what it was like to begin this season nearly four years ago. I remember the excitement that I felt in January of 2017 when I first moved to my little home in Buies Creek to begin my journey at Campbell Divinity School. I was confident in my call to pursue theological education, energized by the thought of a new adventure, and ready to decorate my own apartment any way I wanted. It was a new season and I was excited.

But at the same time, it was a new season and I was a little afraid. Okay, I was very afraid. For the first time in my life, I was living all alone in a new apartment in a new town and studying at a new school, surrounded by strangers. That season was marked by a lot of hard-to-tackle things, like “new” and “alone.” Thankfully, just like I had in so many other transition points of my life, I held tightly to Romans 8:28 and the promise of God’s goodness even in the midst of difficulty and uncertainty.

Looking back, I see very clearly how God worked for my good, beginning with the only two people I knew in Harnett County: Jonathan Waggett and Blaine Pittman. Thankfully, when you have friends like Jonathan and Blaine, you don’t stay alone or a stranger for very long. The friendships the three of us built while serving together at Caswell extended beyond Oak Island all the way to Campbell and then to Coats Baptist Church. It is because of my friendships with Jonathan and Blaine that I first found myself at CBC. And then I never left.

The longer I’ve been at CBC, the more of a home it has become. CBC was the place where I was not only welcomed as a lonely newcomer, but where I was noticed, greeted, and included. I couldn’t count how many individuals approached me to introduce themselves in the first few Sundays that I attended. For someone far away from home, those intentional introductions meant everything. They made CBC feel like home from my very first visit.

Over the years, CBC has not only been home to me, but it has also become home to my husband. You loved me well while I was here alone, but you also thoroughly loved Erik when he moved here, too. Erik was baptized here. When we got married, we were supported and encouraged by you. CBC became our first church home as newlyweds. It’s where we’ve found friends, individually and as a couple. It’s where we’ve both found places to serve. When I first started this season of life, I couldn’t have expected how important CBC would become – simply put, it’s where we have found a home.

One of the most beautiful and difficult things about seasons is that they’re always changing. It’s a “both and” sort of situation – it’s beautiful that we aren’t stuck in the same exact season forever, but it’s difficult to adjust to constant change or to leave particularly sweet seasons. And that is exactly where Erik and I are right now.

God has recently called me to serve on staff at a church in Cary. We are celebrating and thankful for God’s provision, and we are excited to follow God’s call. However, we are also faced with the end of a very sweet season of life and ministry here at Coats Baptist Church. This season of life – marked by graduate school, engagement, marriage, and graduation – has, above all else, been defined and colored by Coats Baptist Church. We know that CBC is where God called us to be in this season, and we are endlessly thankful. You’ve brought us in, loved us, and ministered to us in so many special ways over the last few years. We are so thankful for you.

Our prayer is that, regardless of what season of life you are currently experiencing, you find comfort and rest in the promise that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Even in the midst of changing seasons, God is good. We see quite clearly how God has worked in our lives during this season at CBC – it has been so sweet to be here. You will always be home to us.

We love you and miss you already,

Erik & Micayla Neill

Through the Eyes of the Minor Prophets

I love reading through the Minor Prophets. If I read my Bible chronologically or Genesis to Revelation, by the time I begin to read the Minor Prophets, I am frustrated with the Israelites and their continued cycle of sin, and maybe slightly tired of stumbling through Hebrew names. The Minor Prophets are packed with convincing truths, beautiful reminders, and growing anticipation.

The first reason I love reading these books is their ability to reveal the sin-cycle in my life. Throughout the Old Testament God’s People seem to fall into a pattern: they receive a blessing from God, they are satisfied, their hearts turn prideful, they forget God, they endure God’s judgements, destruction follow, they remember God, they repent, and they return to the Lord. As this cycle is repeated in these books, I am reminded of how easily I fall into a similar pattern. I am reminded that there are consequences to neglecting God’s Word (Hosea 4:6), and there are consequences for my disobedience (Jonah). I see how easily my pride can deceive me (Obadiah 1:3).

But they not only reveal my sin, they also beautifully display the steadfast love of God. He does not leave Israel in destruction. He pursues Israel, divinely intervenes, and renews Israel again (Hosea 2:14-23). God makes a way of escape from His wrath (Obadiah 1:17). God is always faithful to His covenant. He always takes them back after they repent. The second reason I love reading these books is because they help me to remember God’s grace and mercy in my own life.

The third reason I love the Minor Prophet is the way they build anticipation. The Minor Prophets are the final scene before Jesus enters.  The anticipation of the coming Christ is building. Restoration is coming for God’s People (Zephaniah 3:14-20; Micah)! Justice is coming (Nahum 1:3). It also amazes me how detailed some of the prophecies are about Jesus. Zechariah explained that Jesus would come riding a donkey, get betrayed for 30 pieces of silvers, and be pierced for a transgression (9:9, 11:12, 12:10). That is a lot of detail for a book written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born.

The Prophets do a wonderful job portraying God’s love and justice. I always walk away asking God to help me to see Him the way the Prophets saw Him.

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