Month: August 2017

Watching The Darkness

Like most of America, I viewed the solar eclipse this week.  I watched it from the Campus of Belmont University here in Nashville, along with a crowd of about 6000.  Nashville was in the direct path of “totality” which means all of us got the full effect of the experience.  I have to admit that it was really something.  In fact, it was downright amazing.  The full eclipse was one of the most spellbinding images that I have seen a long time.  The picture that accompanies this article was taken by a friend who was standing next to me at the time of the total eclipse.  (Thanks, Steve, for the photo.)

There was a lot of excitement as the moon began to hide the sun.  At first, it was only a small piece of the sun that was covered.  And within a few minutes, almost half was gone.  And then… only the smallest, tiny sliver of the sun remained.  My friend told me to take a moment and look at the shadows on the ground.  (I hope that you were able to do that as well.)  The “serpent shadows” covered the pavement below my feet.  It appeared as though the surface of the ground was shimmering.  That, in and of itself, was pretty amazing.  But then, the moon completely blocked the sun.  Once we were told that it was safe to remove our viewing glasses, I looked up to see the image that my friend caught with his camera.  You could hear an audible gasp emerge from the crowd.  It was absolutely stunning.  As we stood in the near complete darkness of that moment, we realized that we were truly witnessing an extraordinary event.

As I was driving into town on the morning of the eclipse, I was listening to the car radio.  The radio disc-jockey was commenting on the impending event.  She said that she had failed to get a pair of the special viewing glasses.  She knew that looking directly at the sun would damage her vision and so she made this comment, “I guess I will just go outside and watch the darkness.”  Her words stuck in my mind.  She was just going to go outside and watch it get dark and then sunny again, which it did in a very brief two-minute span.

It seems to me that all of us are doing a little “darkness watching” these days.  As we gaze on the events that splash across our television and smart phone screens, from both here at home and across the globe, we get a real first-hand look at the darkness that surrounds us… the darkness of racism, the darkness of fear, the darkness of war and rumors of war, the darkness of hatred, the darkness of injustice, the darkness of poverty, the darkness of ignorance…  The list goes on and on.  At times, it appears that the depth of the darkness seems to all but extinguish the light of goodness and hope and joy that we crave and pray will overtake the planet.  The darkness invades our lives, perhaps our very souls.

But I learned something important from the total eclipse of the sun… that even in the darkest moments, the brilliance and beauty of the sun could not be hidden.  In fact, in that moment of “so called” total darkness, there was light on every horizon as though the sun was about to rise from every direction.  And even in the sky, the brilliance of the sun’s corona, was absolutely spectacular.

Let me simply remind you that when Jesus proclaims that He is the “light of world,” we should take notice.  As Gospel writer John suggests in his prologue, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  Though the darkness is deep and powerful and strong, it cannot and will not extinguish the light of Christ’s presence in our world. Greater is He who is in us, than the darkness that surrounds us.  The words of the great hymn come to mind… “When darkness seeks to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.  On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” (The Solid Rock)

You can watch the darkness all you want and curse its presence in our world.  But let your hope be steadfast and your joy inextinguishable.  The Light of the World is with us still and that will never change.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Ministry of Prayer


Prayer is one of the great disciplines of the Christian faith.  In my view, it is as vital to our faith experience as anything else we do.  It is the spiritual air that the breath and the living water that quenches the deeper thirsts of our souls.  It is that which sustains us, heals us, and allows us to sometimes see the world with the perspective of the Father.  It is that connecting point that reminds us over and over again that we are forever joined to something greater than ourselves… we are joined to the Creator God of the universe and that alone should make the discipline thrilling and awe inspiring.

I don’t know when it first happened… maybe in college… but there was a moment in my own experience when the verbs I used to talk about prayer began to shift.  I went from an attitude that said, “I have to pray about so-and-so,” to a conviction that said, “I get to pray about so-and-so.”  See the difference?  It’s when your discipline goes from being an arduous task to a welcomed conversation.  I honestly think what brings that transitional moment is when you not only witness with certainty the answer to some of your heartfelt prayers, but when you begin to sense the change in your own life that prayer causes.  When you begin to find a peace that once eluded you, a calm that once escaped you, a perspective that once was foreign to you, then you will know that prayer is something different… something powerful, wonderful, scary, mystical, mysterious, and life-changing.  Maybe it’s just spiritual maturity when you finally realize that God is real and faith is important.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers to the questions that people have about prayer.  In fact, I probably understand even less as I grow older.  There is such mystery to it all.  I can’t tell you why some prayers are miraculously answered while others seem to never gain a response.  I can’t tell you why it is important to bring concerns to God, knowing that He knows our needs long before we ask.  I can’t explain why the Spirit sometimes prompts us to pray for people that we haven’t thought about in a million years.  I can’t tell you even the right formula to use that will match the problems you are facing.  In fact, I had a friend ask me the other day how to pray about a certain problem she was experiencing.  I gave her my best theological answer based on my seminary degrees and 32 years of pastoral experience but deep inside I wondered if my answer made any sense at all… to her or to me.

I take such great comfort in Romans 8:26, (Commit this to memory) “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  I am encouraged as I pray to know that even when I lack the words to use, or the wisdom to frame my thoughts, that God’s Spirit in my life is communicating clearly, exactly, and perfectly with the Father.  There is no wrong way to pray.  And so, I press on… I pray, not because I think those on my list will suffer if I don’t, but because I feel called to do so.  It is a privilege and not an obligation.  It sustains my life.  It is a ministry that all of us as believers are called to undertake.

Yesterday was one of those days.  It was one of those days when the Spirit prompted me to pray for a friend I know who is really struggling.  She’s not someone that I see very often.  We live in different cities.  I’m not even sure I can recall her last name as I write these words.  I just know that suddenly I was prompted to pray for her and I did.  I never know what’s happening in those moments… what “needs” are present and why sometimes out of the clear-blue-sky a name races to the forefront of our minds.  I just know that when the Lord brings someone to my mind in such a powerful way that I am supposed to drop everything for a moment and offer my petition.

Please don’t interpret these words as me trying to reveal to you how pious I’ve become.  I’m not looking to get a spiritual pat-on-the-back for my devotion to prayer.  It’s just the ministry to which I am called each day and I hope that I am faithful to that calling.  And not to worry, whenever the Lord brings you to mind, I will take a moment to mention your needs to our Father.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Prayer of Jabez Revisited

Most of us are familiar with the Prayer of Jabez, not because we stumbled across it in our devotional readings of 1 Chronicles 4, but because of the popularity of the short devotional book written by Bruce Wilkinson back in 2000.  It was an instant best seller.  It topped the New York Times best seller’s list and sold over 9 million copies.  Some critics panned the book saying that it promoted a “prosperity Gospel” mentality, but my take is that Wilkinson never intended for the book to be used that way.  It is my understanding that he wrote it as a way of challenging people to seek the Lord more fully and more completely.  Certainly, he struck a chord with many people.  9 million represents a lot of copies.

Let me remind you of the short, simple prayer that Jabez once offered.  “There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers.  His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful.  He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, ‘Oh that you would bless me and expand my territory!  Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!’ And God granted him his request” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).  It was a simple request and promise of reliance upon God.  God heard Jabez and responded favorably, according to the text.  But today, I am intrigued, not so much by the prayer, but by this man’s name, “Jabez.”  It literally means, “pain,” and was given to him by his mother because of the pain she experienced in childbirth.  Although I can certainly understand the reasons for the name, I wonder, if later in life, when he turned from being a pain to becoming a blessing, if his mother ever regretted the name she had given him.  Did the name ever handicap him in any way?  Did he live with the stigma that he had once been a source of pain to his mother?

Sometimes we imprint characteristics and qualities into the psyche of our children at a very young age.  A little positive feedback and nurturing can go a long way.  Words of affirmation and encouragement seem to propel children into lives of healthy self-esteem and self-worth.  Unfortunately, a little abuse and negativity can also stay with a child for a very long time.  You can’t “un-ring” a bell.  If a child hears a destructive and abusive word, the impact can be long-lasting, maybe permanently damaging.

Years ago, while pastoring a church in central Kentucky, I met a woman who told me some of the hurtful things that had happened to her as a child.  She grew up in a very poor region in Appalachia.  Her parents actually sold her to another family where she was treated very much like a slave.  She was not allowed to attend school.  Her role was to clean the house, do the cooking, and wash the clothes.  There was no safety net for her in the community.  There was no government program to which her story of abuse could have been told.  The term “Human Trafficking” was not yet in existence.  It was an impoverished region where rules of society and culture were a bit different.  It was a very hard life for this young girl.

Whenever her “owners” were displeased, they would make comments like this, “You’re not worth the money we paid to get you!”  You can imagine the pain and abuse that she endured.  She was well into her 70’s when she told me her story.  By the grace of God and the love of Christ, her life had improved.  She had met a wonderful man who removed her from that life.  He literally rescued her from that situation as a teenager.  She raised a family of her own and was a sweet and kind person.  She was somehow able to step out of her abusive past and find a life of hope and joy.  It was truly a miracle of God that she survived and became the person I knew.  She was a faithful member of the church, respected and loved by all.  But even all those years later, when she talked about her childhood, her voice would crack and the tears would flood her eyes.  She continued to carry the abusive memories of her past like some old worn out suitcase that she could never set down for very long, filled with painful stories and destructive words.

So be careful what you say to your children.  Affirm them.  Love them.  Encourage them.  Bless them.  Sacrifice for them.  May the day come when they say of their childhood that they were blessed beyond measure.  As a parent, you will be a part of that narrative.  In fact, you will help to write that story.  Maybe Jabez isn’t the only one who needs to pray fervently each day.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director