All posts by Philip

Evening Thoughts (Peace?, Unity?, Charity?)

Peace?, Unity?, Charity?

During the last month or so, I have picked up the pen on multiple occasions to write some observations and thoughts pertaining to the recent pandemic to encourage God’s people. Every time, I put the pen down with this thought, “The last thing they need right now is something else to read!” If you are like me, you have read multiple reports, seen conflicting data, watching changing narratives, and perhaps wondered, “So, what am I supposed to believe?” Doubtless we can say that watching the bizarre events unfold we felt confused at times, had to shift our thinking at other times, and perhaps even admitted we were wrong at others. Many times during this season I have heard the sentiment, “I never thought I would live to see something like this!”

Kind reader, now that data has become more established, things are beginning to open up, and people are looking with expectation to some sense of normalcy coming soon, something very important for our churches looms before us. If we talked to a dozen of our brethren about this situation, we might likely get a dozen different opinions about things. No two of us likely looked at it all the same. During this strange season, opinions were formed and expressed, and at times, those positions were firm and adamant. Maybe you expressed it to others, or maybe you kept it to yourself. Either way, times are before us when we will be around brethren we haven’t seen in some extended days, and people will likely talk about the situation with each other when they are back together. Frankly, I have heard all the COVID-19 talk to last me 3 lifetimes, but it is a natural tendency for people to talk about current events. What will happen at the close of a service when two brethren are conversing and find out – even after the fact – that they still look at it differently? How will they react with each other? How will it possibly affect others?

During the month of April, some churches cancelled services. Others held services. Some met on a limited basis. Many had virtual avenues. What was your opinion? What about brother so-in-so, sister so-in-so, or even elder so-in-so who thought differently? In this past month, we saw and experienced things that may to our mind seem inconsistent. Is participating in function X really more risky than function Y, and yet someone deemed X to be illegal while Y was ok? Questions to some degree we have all shared and wondered about regardless of our station. When brethren are meeting again in a general way, we will interact with people, and these sets of things will crop up in conversation and interaction.

One of the things that I have always marveled about concerning the church is that life station does not matter. In business enterprises, assets are sought based on different factors. In athletic competition, skills are prized and pursued. In the church, someone’s financial status, gender, age, intellect, physical prowess, etc. do not matter. What other institution on earth can say anything even remotely close? Because of this unique culture and association of people within a local church, people will have differing viewpoints. Do you think Democrats and Republicans have worshipped together? How about Loyalists and Patriots during colonial days? What about Jews and Gentiles in the 1st century? These groups do not think the same, and yet, they have worshipped together down through the ages. While the church agrees on her articles of faith, essential points of church polity, and agrees together in her covenant, our approaches in life vary. Some are “earn and burn” by and large with finances, while others may be hoarders. Do either of these groups have the right of imposition on the other group within the church functions? No in no wise!

We will see people in the coming days who thought others were perhaps crazy to meet during this season. Others may see people they thought were weak to stop meeting. A litany of examples could crop up. However, when the churches are meeting generally, visiting regularly, and having intimate fellowship, the fissures these differences of opinion can bring about should be hastily avoided. I would posit that there is not a soul amongst the churches who does not want peace and unity. For that to happen, charity must have the top shelf display. As the bond of perfectness that covers a multitude of sins, charity keeps us from dwelling on the unimportant or inessential and helps us unite around the important and essential ground of our lives.

Let me give an example that recent days have reminded me of in relation to this point. When people come home to the church, they are “marrying” the Lord’s bride in a ceremonial way. Much like a husband and wife pledge to love each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others keep myself only for thee till death do us part,” we pledge our lives to her: the church. When that happens, we are not only joined to the Head of the church but to every member of the body. Much like natural husbands and wives have to learn to “live with one another,” so do church members have to live with one another. Consider. During this time of quarantine and shelter in place, have couples and families had to learn more perfectly to live with one another? My children have begun to lose sense of days not only because school is basically out, but “Daddy is sometimes home on other days than Saturday and Sunday.”

Just as couples and families have to learn how to live with one another, so do we as church members. We will differ in our opinions with each no differently than husbands and wives have differing opinions with each other. For many having been apart for this time, this situation can be exacerbated, and there may be some “growing together” again. Is it profitable for couples to rail on each other when their viewpoints differ? So, we should be careful in our dealings as church members with one another to handle ourselves with the grace, compassion, and charity that the relationship and love demands. It is my firm belief that Satan delighted when brethren were parted, and nothing would delight him more than for brethren to be parted in spirit though joined in body.

A verse that has floated around in my head during recent weeks is Romans 15:1. Paul concludes his discussion Christian liberty from Romans 14 by employing the strong to bear the infirmities of the weak, not to seek the pleasing of self. What is interesting from his Romans 14 discussion is that the lifestyle he deemed “weak” would likely be deemed by the participants as “strong.” Someone who refrains from meat and observes days would think their character and way of life stronger than those who don’t. If we are honest with ourselves, we would all like to think we are strong rather than weak. Whether we are or not is immaterial. If we seek not the pleasure of self but rather to help and bear with others, things tend to take care of themselves. Whatever our opinions were and are, whether we really are the weak or the strong, we need to bear with one another and not please ourselves. If we do this, charity will be displayed and the fruit of that endeavor will be the peace and unity that we desire and yearn for.

Recent days have been marked by so many of doing the best we can when we can with what we can. Nothing should be materially any different in days to come. May we do what we can like the poor widow. May we do it when we can as opportunity and circumstance allows, and may we do all we can heartily as unto the Lord. Families have had to make tough decisions in recent days. Pastors have had to navigate uncharted waters. Churches have had to make different calls in different places. May we bear one another’s burdens in days to come. May our earnest desire be the peace and unity of Zion. The path to get there is the roadway of charity. I look forward to seeing people I haven’t seen in some time. I look forward to hugging people I have had to be socially distant from. I look forward to washing the saint’s feet when next we commune. May those bright and happy moments not be spoiled and marred by ill will, bitterness, or any other thing that defiles the fellowship we can have with Him and one another.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Evening Thoughts (B-A-L-O-N-E-Y: A Tribute to Elder Sonny Pyles)

A Tribute to Elder Sonny Pyles

From the dawn of time, there have been – I suppose – men whose stature and presence is deemed “larger than life.” Such men were some combination of powerful, influential, colorful, but most of all impacting to the piece of the world they occupied. Elder Sonny Pyles was just such a character, and the “world” that he influenced will likely never know the full effect of what the Lord blessed him to do and impact during the course of his life. This tribute is my personal reflection of the man that I dearly loved, whose passing makes the world a little lesser without his presence, and to what I believe I owe him in helping me in my own journey. These reflections are by no means exhaustive, for a man as colorful as Bro Sonny was cannot be encapsulated in one piece of writing. The vessel of wisdom that he was on earth is broken from us, and the best tribute we – his friends – can give to such a man is to carry parts of that wisdom with us that we were blessed to draw out from that vessel over the years.

Whenever I think of Bro Sonny, so many things spring to mind, not the least of which is how he referred to something he found ludicrous. “That’s a bunch of baloney: b-a-l-o-n-e-y. I know some of you are out there saying, ‘Doesn’t he know it’s b-a-l-o-g-n-a?” You can call it that if you want, but it’s nothing more than b-a-l-o-n-e-y.” Springing from a generation of men who were not afraid to call a spade a spade, one never doubted where he stood or what he thought. He taught me the value of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. One of my own personal mottos sprang from this: “I would rather people know what I think and disagree with me than wonder whether they agreed with me or not.” And yet, Bro Sonny’s blunt manner was tempered with a measure of discretion not known in today’s shameless culture. Many times listening to his preaching, I would see him pause and say, “And that’s as far as I’ll go in the presence of women and children.” Bluntness in his book was no excuse for overt crudeness, and these two things working in tandem made him even more of an oddity in society as the years went on.

The greatest advice I gleaned from him was a well-worn saying, “Don’t try to exercise influence where you have none.” Though I bear the scars of not heeding that advice over the years, it has saved me on multiple occasions from bringing undue hardship and pain on myself. Though not short on giving his opinion, Bro Sonny was not one to go around the country and indiscriminately give unsolicited advice. He certainly had built up a great bit of influence among my family, and his stays in our home were everything from instructional to riotously hilarious. He could vacillate between giving you gold nuggets from the Scriptures mixed with some of the funniest anecdotes about his times among our people. So many “ditties” were brought to the table of conversation in our home, and I still cherish the memories of listening to him and my father talk about the “Hell Bound Order”, “Hell Blown Out”, and “Hell Boiling Over” of HBO, along with the “dope operas” of “Who Are My Children?” while we search for some “Guiding Light” drowning in the sands of time waiting for the day “As the World Burns.”

As mentioned earlier, the reach and influence of this man will likely never be fully known as his life touched a great many either directly or tangentially. His ministry positively affected so many, and the lessons others learned from him were in turn passed down to others coming after. Much like Paul instructed Timothy, Bro Sonny took what he knew, committed it to faithful men, who in turn taught others also. (II Timothy 2:2) My natural father taught my brother and I much that has blessed us in the ministry. Many of those teachings came from people like Bro Sonny. As a young minister, dad said, “Elder Bill Walden was a father to me in guiding my direction in labor and pastoral care. Bro Sonny gave me the keys that unlocked doors of Scripture that I didn’t even know existed.” Many ministers have said as much in that systematic study was encouraged to them by Bro Sonny. I still employ his 4 rules today: “When trying to figure out what a verse means, you have to consider 4 things. 1. What do the words mean? If a verse has words like ‘purloining’ or ‘lasciviousness’ in it, you’ll never know what the verse is talking about without those definitions. 2. What tense is it? It makes a world of difference if the thought is in the past tense, currently happening, or yet to come. 3. What is the immediate context? What is said directly before, directly after, who said it, and who did they say it to? and 4. How does this fit within the overall framework of Scripture? Whatever conclusion you reach from the first three, it can’t fly in the face of some clear teaching somewhere else as the Bible harmonizes completely. Now, the first 3 can be done in 5 minutes, but adding the fourth will create a lifetime of study seeing how things fit together.”

One bit of personal influence that he gave me – likely without ever knowing it – occurred when I was a teenager. During that period of my life, I would have been termed a “worry wart.” Though many might think me very cavalier now, I was consumed by worry then. He delivered a sermon on human emotions that talked of the good and bad of different emotions and what happened when we failed to temper them like we should. When dealing with emotions of anger, fear, and sadness, he talked about what happened when they led down the path to worry: “Everything people worry about fits into one of two categories. It is either something over which they have no control, or it is something over which they have some control. Don’t kid yourselves folks. Ain’t none of ya got full control over nothin’! Why worry over something you can’t control? It’s out of your hands. But, if you worry about things over which you have some control, the worry will keep you from doing what you can in that situation. So, in both cases, why worry? Do what you can when you can, and leave the rest to the Lord. Just shred your credentials as Master of the Universe, and bow in submission to Him who is the Master of the Universe.” Those thoughts started me on the path that freed me from much of the bondage I was being driven to by worry.

It would be unjust, however, to say that the man didn’t have his foibles. Some of those foibles made his “color” even more resonant. He was a real man. Not a demigod with superhuman ability. Through the years, youngsters – like me at one point – expected that he put his spurs on everyday, rode his horse to town like John Wayne, was a quicker draw than anyone in Texas, and could throw a lasso as far as he could spit his tobacco; the truth is that for all his “presence” he was a shy person. A dear sister that I currently pastor told him years ago, “You may be the most misunderstood person I’ve ever known.” As I grew from being a youngster, much of the myth I had built about him dissolved as I understood him better, being a shy person myself. He put on the clothes of an extrovert, though anyone that saw him on the farm where he “dwelt among his own people” could quickly see that he loved solitude, learning, and walking in the quiet with his God.

Because of many of the myths built around the man that have over time grown into legend, his hidden talents would surprise you. Being very compassionate at his core about the Lord’s bride, his grace in individual interaction flew counter to the public face of the western curmudgeon. Seen often to get up during song service or absent himself entirely from it, some – like me – were stunned to learn that he not only could sing but do it very well. Many kind and personal remarks were given through the years from him to me, and I will always treasure the rendition I witnessed him lead of “Rest for the Weary” coupled with his made-up “Little Bo Peep” to the tune of “Weeping Sinners” in our living room. His color was as permanent as the indelible print of a tattoo, while his spiritual fire was as edifying as any I’ve had the pleasure to meet.

Any who heard him preach a measurable amount will testify that no subject delighted him more than the resurrection and the 2nd coming of Jesus. Though not all of his predictions came true, he lived his life fully expecting to be standing on the earth when the Lord returned. “I’m not looking for an undertaker but to the great Uppertaker. Haven’t made any arrangements to make a hole in the ground as I expect to make a hole in the sky.” Regrettably for us, that prediction did not hold, but delightfully for him, he experiences great gain as his soul and spirit have made a hole in the sky on the wings of the great Uppertaker. Soon, his body will be committed to the ground, and like Job, though skin worms will destroy the body, yet in his flesh he will see God beholding him with his own eyes and not another’s. (Job 19:26) Believing the same things that he preached, I do expect to see him again one day. He is still Bro Sonny in heaven right now. No longer bowed over from an incident with an enraged cow. No longer having to be gregarious as a naturally shy man. No longer preaching about Jesus but having Jesus preach to him. Singing every note in perfect song and experiencing that true rest for the weary on the other side of Jordan in the sweet fields of Eden. He was no phony baloney. He was the real deal, and now he mercifully enjoys the real deal of full, unceasing rest in the Paradise of God.

In Hope,
Bro Philip