Month: April 2017

Jesse and The King

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Exec. Director

Jesse is one of those good southern names that you hear when you get deep into the Bible Belt.  The name itself conjures up rural, southern living.  It’s a Bible name.  You remember the story of Jesse.  He was the man from Bethlehem who had all the sons.  Samuel, the last great Judge of Israel, anointed Jesse’s youngest and most unlikely boy as the future King of Israel.  And so, Jesse is forever remembered as the father of the great King.  Quite a legacy.

For the past 4 decades, I have known a friend named Jesse.  Jesse Palmer, to be exact.  He was not the father of a King, but was certainly a child of the Great King.  He passed away just yesterday at the age of 67.  He is too soon gone.  Illness robbed him and us of the joy of sharing life together for many more years.  He was a man of great faith, innovation, discovery, and encouragement.  The list of those whom he mentored along the way is impressive.  He collected friends easily and to have known him was a special gift of grace.  He served churches, planted seeds, and nurtured many young ministers in the faith.  Churches like Dawson Memorial, Brook Hills, FBC Opelika, and 16th Street all are better because of his ministry among the saints.  He was a true renaissance man… gifted, talented, knowledgeable, and generous to a fault.

In my own faith & ministry pilgrimage, Jesse played a vital role.  He was the Minister of Education at Eastern Hills Baptist Church in Montgomery at the time we first met.  I was finishing my sophomore year at Samford University.  He came to campus looking for a summer youth minister.  We met.  We talked.  We found in each other a kindred spirit and within weeks, I became the Youth Minister at that vibrant and growing church.  I was 19 at the time.  Who but Jesse could see the potential within my life and take a chance on calling me to serve at such a young age?  The two years I served in that capacity with Jesse as my mentor were two of the most important and formative years in my pilgrimage.  Some of the books on my library shelves today are gifts that he shared with me.  One of them is inscribed with these words, written in beautiful calligraphy by Jesse, “I thank my God every time I think of you.” (Phil. 1:3)

I actually lived with Jesse and his wife, Bonnie.  They took me into their home and into their lives.  “Bonnie and Jesse” (always listed in that order whenever friends spoke of them) were the best of folks.  They shared life together for the past 44 years.  You’ve heard the expression that “opposites attract?”  There must be something to it.  Where Jesse was calm and pensive and calculating, Bonnie was wild and sweet and gentle and crazy all rolled into one.   Their home was always filled with cats, phones, computers, good food, and much laughter.

When I went away to seminary, Jesse continued to stay in touch.  He called one week to tell me that he was bringing a group of Auburn students up from First Opelika for a special Missions weekend at the seminary.  He invited me to join the group for supper.  I sat across the table that night from a beautiful college coed named Linda Jackson.  I walked away from the table thinking, “Wow, that girl is something special.”  Three dates later we were engaged and nine months later we were married.  Linda had known Bonnie and Jesse for several years and so when the connection was made they were excited to share in our relationship.  Jesse was a groomsman in our wedding and Bonnie stood in for Linda during the rehearsal.

Back to the Old Testament story of the anointing of King David, son of Jesse.  Everyone, including Samuel, was surprised that “little shepherd boy David” was God’s intended leader.  Samuel even asked God, “Are you sure?”  It was in the context of that story that God said to Samuel, “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  It seems really appropriate that those words were spoken in the midst of a story involving a man named Jesse.  It’s an easy connection for me to make with my friend, Jesse Palmer.  Jesse saw the best in people.  He looked at the heart and declared folks to be worthy, included, and welcomed.

Jesse had a life-long love with telephones.  When I lived with them I counted 23 in their house… some were connected and some were just for show.  I don’t know what fascinated him most about the phones.  Maybe he just appreciated the way phones helped him connect with others.  I’m told that when he died, he did so with a phone in his hand and a peaceful look on his face.  I’d like to think that maybe he was talking with The Great King, who told him it was time to discover the full expression of his faith.

Thanks for everything Jesse, rest well.

The Weight of Passion

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Exec. Director

I spent 32 of the past 33 years pastoring different Baptist congregations here in the deep South.  Some of the special moments, often celebrated in worship during those years, were those moments when the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper.  My last church observed the Lord’s Supper once each quarter and also on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week.  In most churches, there is a certain sense of decorum and ritual observed when passing the elements.  Some of the special memories I treasure are those moments when I had the honor of passing the elements to our Deacons to serve the congregation.  At our church, the Communion pieces were made of a light aluminum material which had the appearance of brushed copper.  When empty, the trays which held the small, glass cups, were relatively light.  But when filled, the trays took on a good deal of weight.  Sometimes I would lift three or four trays from the “stack” to share with those serving the congregation.  I have to admit that too many more would have been quite a load pick up.  It was a significant weight.

In our tradition, the trays, made empty as members of the congregation each took their small cups, were brought back to the front of the church where I received them from the Deacons.  I would carefully and quietly stack them back onto the Communion Table.  I was always surprised at how much less they weighed.  No longer filled with the elements of the Lord’s Supper, I could easily carry as many as needed.  The difference, of course, was obvious.  They had been filled with 40-50 small, glass cups of grape juice.  They returned virtually empty.  It was the weight of passion that had been removed.

Whenever we as believers share in the Lord’s Supper, the small, glass cups contain a symbol of our faith.  The juice represents the spilt blood of Christ.  To observe the supper is to celebrate the Lord’s redemptive sacrifice.  To let the taste linger on the tongue is to be reminded again of that pivotal moment of sacrifice that changed the history of God’s interaction with humankind and brought hope to the world.  It is the cup of life.  It is the story of love told in symbol.  It is a tangible connection to the sacrifice of Christ that reminds us that we have been set free from our burdens of sin.  And in the context of worship, it is also a reminder of the fact that in Christ we are bound to each other in significant and important ways.

In the mind of Christ, I wonder how heavy is the weight of passion?  For us, it’s different.  We easily lift the small cup to our lips.  For Christ, it’s the offering of His life.  He bears the weight of the world… the collective burden of all our sins.  But He does so willingly and lovingly.  He does so in the hope that His actions will not be ignored, nor His sacrifice wasted.   He dies for us that we might gain life.  He longs for us to stand faultless in the presence of His Father.  As Paul once wrote to the church in Corinth, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” 2 Cor. 2:15 (NLT)

So, the next time you reach to take the small cup from the Communion tray that is passed in your direction, take a moment to remember that it’s heavier than you think.


Did you hear about the one who got away?

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Exec. Director

I heard the news today about a childhood friend who died just a day ago from drug addiction.  He was 59 years old.  Addiction had robbed him of the joy of living for most of his adult life.  It had robbed all of us as well.  His addiction took away friendships, relationships, and any number of potential memories that were never made.

We grew up in the same hometown and attended the same schools.  His younger brother was in my class all the way from nursery school till the time we graduated from High School.  I played football with both brothers.  They also attended my church youth group.  But like a lot of childhood friendships, graduation became the moment when our lives and stories started to part.  He went off to Auburn and I began to lose track of him.  I not sure if he ever finished.  Life got messy and the demons of addiction became stronger and very possessive.   His younger brother and I did a better job of keeping up through the years.  We still live in the same city and bump into each other on occasion.

Unfortunately, my intersection with the older brother was pitiable.  He became somewhat of a drifter.  From what I have been able to piece together, his addiction prevented him from living a sane and rational life.  He was often homeless and at times without transportation.  He moved through various relationships and even did a little jail time along the way.  He showed up at my church in middle Tennessee where I was serving as pastor.  He needed money and any other help I could offer.  Out of the obligation that a lifelong friendship brings, I gave him a few dollars and paid for a few nights in a local hotel.  That didn’t happen often… but often enough that I knew his pattern.  Unfortunately, those scenarios get played out far too often in the life of local church ministry.  However, most of the time, the person in need is not a lifelong friend.

I remember when his mother died a few years back.  The family didn’t know how or where to reach him.  When he finally discovered the news, he tried to get home.  I don’t know how he got all the way back home, but I remember that a cab brought him to the graveside.  He missed the funeral by 10 minutes.

I haven’t seen him in probably 5 or 6 years.  In an odd twist of circumstances, he actually ran into my son at a gas station where he was panhandling for a little cash.  My son talked to him for a moment and discovered he was from my hometown.  It didn’t take long to make the connections.  My son gave him a little cash and wished him well.  I often think of that moment and take enormous pride in the generosity and kindness of my son.

My friend is forever gone.  Addiction has claimed another life.  It is a sad moment for all who knew him and for all who know hundreds just like him.  It is frustrating to see how people simply slip through both our hands and our lives.  Addiction is a terrible foe… one that cannot be faced alone.  If you or someone you love battles addiction, don’t shrink into a shame-infused darkness.  Recognize that your only hope of climbing out is through the telling of your story and the confession of your need.  Victims and those victimized need the support, encouragement, and acceptance that grace alone can offer.  Let’s remind each other that guilt and condemnation never help.  Kindness will be the bridge that affirms self-worth and offers hope.  Ministry is always messy, time consuming, and at times, heart-breaking.  And sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can’t make much of a difference.  But sometimes you can… and it’s the hope that your encouragement and “investment of self” will make a difference that keeps you willing to take the risk.

So, with a profound sadness and longing for what might have been, I must say farewell to my old friend. May you be received with open arms into the tenderness of God, into that place where addiction can no longer claim you as its own.  When the Son makes us all free, we will be free indeed.