50 Yards – The Distance Between Life & Death

For the past two weeks, the news cycles have been dominated by the stories of the hurricanes.  Harvey and Irma have certainly left enough destruction in their wakes to alter life in the affected areas for decades to come.  There have been stories of great heroics and stories of great tragedy.  There have been images of rescues and images of destruction.  The contrasts in the story lines have been jarring… hope & despair, loving & looting, preparedness & surprize, relief & tension.  By the time both storms blew their way through middle Tennessee, they were only a fraction of the “sound and fury” that once hammered Texas and Florida.  And yet, all of us have been affected by the storms, if nothing else than by the images on the screen and the words of the reporters.

There is one story that I can’t seem to shake.  It’s the story of that nursing home down in Hollywood, Florida where 8 residents died because of the extreme heat.  You’ve heard the story and captured most of the details.  When the power grid went down, the nursing home lost important life-sustaining systems.  The air-conditioning failed along with the elevators from the second floor and so many residents were trapped in the extreme heat.  By the time the cries for help were heard, several had lost their lives.  Some of those who were transported to the nearest hospital had body temperatures above 105 degrees.  Gratefully, most of the residents survived the ordeal, but for 8 senior adults, it was a horrible end-of-life experience.

Here’s the one detail about that story that haunts me.  The closest hospital… the one that took in the most critically ill… the one that had the means to save lives… was only 50 yards away from the front door of the nursing home facility.  50 yards.  The hospital and nursing home share a parking lot.  There are so many unanswered questions and many are pointing blame in various directions.  City officials and the court systems will have to sort through all of that.  I am certainly not in any position to point blame or offer explanations.  I don’t know who, ultimately, was at fault, but I do know it’s a tragedy and many families are grieving.  It seems to me that the distance between life and death was only 50 yards.

Maybe the distance between those who die a little each day, and those with the ability to give life is just 50 yards, or maybe it’s 50 feet, or maybe it’s 50 bucks, or maybe it’s 50 minutes.  Let me explain.  All of us live in communities, neighborhoods, and cul-de-sacs.  And sure, we can never know all that takes place within the walls of someone’s home and within the relationships between those who live there, but you can bet the mortgage that there are people who live 50 yards away from you who are hurting, grieving, despairing, and maybe even dying a little on the inside.  What would it take for you to save that life?  It’s called practicing the art of neighboring and maybe you need to step down the street, start a conversation, and restore someone to life again with your words of friendship, grace, and understanding.

Or maybe the distance is just 50 feet.  Consider your co-workers for a moment.  Or the classmate.  Or the commuter who rides the same train you do.  Someone within that distance is feeling the intense heat of a broken relationship, or a failed marriage, or a financial hardship, or a life-robbing despair.  If you are willing to travel just 50 steps and become the authentic embodiment of the person of Jesus Christ, you can revive a life that is on life-support.  Or maybe the ability to sustain life is found in your wallet or purse.  Maybe someone needs a meal, a pair of shoes, or just a small amount to get them to the next payday.  There are more people living on the financial edge that you and I can possibly imagine.  Why are you blessed, if not to offer help to those in need?  Remember the stories of those Romanian orphans who had trouble sleeping even after they had been rescued from their terrible plight?  When health workers gave the children a piece of bread to hold while they drifted off to sleep, they discovered the children slept better with the tangible hope that there would be food in the morning, because they held it in their hands.  I’m not saying that $50 will solve anyone’s financial hardship, but it might be enough to get them through another day and may help to put a little food on the table of a struggling family.

Maybe what you need to offer is 50 minutes of your time.  A lot of life-sustaining ministry can occur by simply listening to someone’s plight.  A conversation gives hope, gives relationship, and maybe even gives wisdom.  Someone you know needs you to listen… today.  It might be your spouse, your child, or a neighbor.

It’s crazy, right?  Those who had the ability to save the lives of those nursing home folks were only 50 yards away.  How far do you need to travel today to save a life?

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

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

Global Warming and the Role of the Church


This article is not about what you think.  It’s not about climate change, the melting of the polar icecaps, the rise of the ocean levels, or extreme heating in certain regions around the world.  Certainly, climate change is an important topic, one that should not be tossed around like a political hot potato, but one that should capture the focus of every national leader as humans attempt to save themselves from a very dire set of circumstances should things go unchecked and uncorrected.  All of us need to lean into those conversations and do what we can to promote the environment.  But having said that, this article is about a different kind of global warming; one that the church has to take a leading role in solving.

I’m talking about the global warming of anger, violence, aggression, hatred, and prejudice.  In case you haven’t noticed, things are warming up.  Tensions are increasing.  Pressures are mounting.  Violence is rising.  Caustic words are spewing.  Hatred is growing.  Bitterness is spreading.  Certainly, it is happening on a global level, but it is also happening here… in our culture, in our communities, and God forbid, even in our sometimes-conflicted congregations. We have exchanged civility for the “rightness” of our opinions.  We have sacrificed respect on the altar of a “you-have-to-think-like-I-do-or-we-can’t-be-friends” mentality.  We once talked of tolerance, understanding, and neighborliness.  Now we live with intolerance, exclusion, and the silo-ization of thought.

There are several places where we can place the blame for this type of global warming.  We can blame the horrible political rhetoric of our day.  We can blame racially motivated violence.  We can blame the economic inequalities of our culture.  We can blame the extremists among us who turn a lack of understanding and hatred into violence.  We can blame any and every religious ideology.  We can blame “the system.”  We can blame the terrorists.  We can blame the news media.  Or maybe we can blame the church…

Jesus once did.  Remember the day He triumphantly entered Jerusalem?  He walked right up to the merchants in the Temple courts and called them to radical change.  He overturned the tables, spilled their ill-gotten gain, and chased them off with a whip.  He called them all a “bunch of robbers” (John 2:13-17).  The religious system of the day had become corrupt.  No longer did the Temple and those who managed it represent the God they claimed to worship.  Self-interest, greed, and selfishness overtook their hearts and minds.  Rather than lead people into the presence of God, they found ways to exploit them and even keep them at arms-length.

I have to ask, have we corrupted the Christian faith to the extent that it is no longer recognizable?  Have we bought into a religious system rather than a relational community?  Have we repelled more than we have attracted because of our judgmental viewpoints and our inconsistent offerings of grace?  Is everyone around us the neighbor to whom we are to extend hospitality and comfort or have we selected only a few as being worthy?  Do we spend more time ministering to the poor and hungry or more time fussin’ about what “they” are serving for family-night supper this week?  Do we preach messages of racial reconciliation, or decry the evils of injustice, or declare the authentic love of Jesus, or even dare to mention issues like healthcare, poverty, gun violence, or gender identification issues from our pulpits?  You see, if we are not being a part of the solution to the global warming of our culture, then we are part of the problem.  Jesus never intended for the Church to remain silent, uninvolved, or separated from the realities of life and culture.  The way I read it, even the Gates of Hell can’t resist the advancing-march of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The only thing that can stop the church is when those within its walls refuse to keep living like Jesus.

The Book of Revelation speaks a word of warning against the church at Ephesus.  The Spirit declares that “she had lost her first love,” and as a result, she was in danger of having her “lampstand” removed (Rev. 2:1-7).  Researchers predict that by the year 2030 (just 13 years from now) that 1/3 of all of the churches that currently exist here in America, will be gone.  Yes, there is a multiplicity of reasons for that stat, however, one factor has to be a loss of relevancy and authenticity.  Let us be committed to the Lordship of Christ.  Let’s proclaim the message of Salvation He offers.  Let’s live like He matters. May the world see Christ in us and in our acts of tender mercy and loving compassion.  It’s time to turn down the heat.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

How Patriotism Became A Bad Word

Things have gotten a little weird lately.  Whenever we bring up the topic of “God & Country,” I have to wince a little.  Being a “patriotic American” carries so much more baggage these days than it did when I was young.  Let me explain.  My love for this nation has never dimmed.  I am as committed to the well-being of America as I have ever been.  America is still the land of opportunity and freedom.  But let us not be naïve and deny that there are real, substantive issues that need to be addressed.  We can’t wrap ourselves in the flag and pretend that we live in some type of euphoric state where everyone shares in the prosperity of the land and that all are treated with equality and fairness.

First, a word about God and country.  For many years, patriotic, conservative Christians have been weaving a national narrative using the threads of religion and patriotism in a way that has led to a new branding of faith known as “Nationalism.”  We have so joined together the ideas of God and country that we often forget the order of those words and pledge allegiance to both as though they are inextricably intertwined, and somehow equally important.  We sometimes forget in our patriotic zeal that our commitment is first and foremost to a Kingdom not of this world.  We were placed on the planet to bring Him glory and to represent Him well in thought, attitude, and action.  Whenever we fill our sanctuaries with American flags and sing songs that pledge to make America great again, we have lost sight of the true object of our worship.  If we want America to be a “Christian nation,” then first and foremost, it will require that those of us who claim the Christian faith actually live the demands of the Gospel.  Our citizenship will have to reflect attributes like civility, respect, and authentic love for our neighbors… ALL of our neighbors, even those whose ethnicity, religious belief, sexuality, and politics don’t reflect our particular version of righteousness.  And by the way… if this nation does someday reflect the love, grace, forgiveness, and morality of our Lord, it will be a first.  We will not be returning to an earlier day when America was Christian in thought and attitude.  We will be leaning into a dream that has not yet been realized in our history.  Liberty and justice for all is an inclusive ideal and pursuit.  Until we all feel included, accepted, protected, and free, then our motto is still a dream and not a reality.

When I was young, growing up in the deep south, the Fourth of July was really something special.  Communities gathered in ways that no other holiday would allow.  There were city-wide picnics, parades, concerts and firework shows.  People laughed and prayed and celebrated the noble characteristics of our land.  For at least that single day, lines of division drawn by race, economics, and political party were all erased.  We were Americans and proud of the ideals that held us together.  We could wave the flag and sing patriotic songs without ever once blurring the lines of God and country, or drawing lines that excluded the immigrants, the minorities, or the poor.  We were all Americans.  But somewhere along the way we have altered the definition of patriotism.  We wave the flag with a prejudiced view of race, religion, and politics.  We act as though this is OUR America, not to be shared with anyone who doesn’t share every single value we hold.  We have become more divisive, more bigoted, more exclusionary, and dare I say, even more fearful of each other.  We live with injustice and do nothing about it.  We live in violence and think that more guns is the answer.  We live in fear of people who look different from ourselves and never extend a hand of friendship.  We live with prosperity but forget to gladly share with those who have so little.

Maybe the problem with America is not “those people.”  Maybe it’s us.  May God forgive our skewed version of patriotism and help us to truly carve out a nation where everyone is valued, welcomed, needed, and treated fairly.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director