All posts by 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

Evening Thoughts (Do Nothing?)

“Do Nothing?”

All my life, I have been blessed to live in the church: being brought as a babe, a member for 30 years, and a minister for the last 15. There likely has never been a greater charge leveled at the Lord’s bride in my lifetime – or perhaps ever – than, “If I believed what you believed, I wouldn’t do anything” or “I’d just live any old way that I wanted to.” Paul dealt with a similar mentality. (Romans 3:1-8) When someone is faithful in their belief to the doctrines of grace, the sovereignty of God, and the utter inability of man by nature to please God, this seems to be the natural and common reaction from people in general. In years past when I was younger and hotter-headed, I would try to draw and quarter my opponent with verbal arguments. As I got older and wiser, I tried to hone and shape my points and illustrations that made easy to follow corollaries. As I have gotten even older – perhaps wiser but certainly more tired – I have generally smiled and said something to the effect, “I am living like I want to.” I do wish I had the silver bullet that would answer this charge and cure this thinking.

Scripture reveals several points that we might think of as doing nothing. Sometimes it talks of rest, other times of being still, and yet others at waiting. In nature, stillness might indicate nothing’s happening. In life, rest and waiting could yield periods of zero activity. However, looking at the rich foundation that we have through His amazing grace, each of these seemingly do nothing “actions” actually tends to great and directed behavior.

Rest in Scripture bespeaks less of sleep but rather in stopping an activity because of its completion or fulfillment. God rested the 7th day from His labours not because He needed sleep or was weary but because the work of creation was complete. We are told that He will rest in His love. (Zephaniah 3:17) As a Being who rests Himself, He also affords us opportunities to rest as well. Questions. When God rested from creation, did He do nothing? When He rests in His love, does He do nothing? The creation remains because He still upholds it by the word of His power. With His love abiding, He rests in the perfection of it that is still ongoing. Simply put, God’s rest is not a license of no activity but a rich example of how rest is put in proper practice.

You and I need rest in ways that do not affect the Almighty. The rest we can take helps clear the mind, uplift the soul, and revive the spirit. When Satan and the world unceasingly assault our minds and hearts, we need to rest in the same things that God has and does. Does God love us? Will He always love us? Yes and yes. (Jeremiah 31:3) When all around goes off kilter, the anchoring point centers around an unchanging attribute of God that abides continually. As the poet said, “When change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” We can rest like this when we stand as we should and walk as we should. (Jeremiah 6:16) This rest is found rather than just given, and we have been afforded multitudes of opportunity to rest in God’s abiding steadfastness to us that we can actually find more and more.

Living in this hurry-scurry world, waiting is something that none of us enjoy doing. We hate long lines, and evidences of patience in this world seem to wan in so many ways. Through the years, I get tickled when I watch my children look out the windows waiting for company when they are expected. It reminds me of us as children. After what seems like forever for them, they plead, “When will they be here? It’s taking forever!” Silly me used to encourage them to read a book or something to take their mind off it! Distractions abounded, and it backfired on me. So, I tried a different tact. I started asking them questions about what they thought we would do when the company arrived. With eyes that lit and words that soared, they described in detail what they hoped to do with company. In this way, their wait was filled with thoughts of coming happiness and “speeding” it along till it happened.

Scripture encourages us to wait on the Lord amongst other things. (Isaiah 40:31) This waiting time is not a “thumb twiddling” session as many think when picturing waiting – such as the doctor’s office. It is also not a free opportunity to indulge in the distractions of the world. Rather patient waiting is an act of faith that what God has promised, He is able also to perform. Rather than tap our foot mumbling, “Where in the world is He?”, we simply put our minds and hearts into the gear of what we expect to do when with Him. If we are looking to meet Him in His courts of worship, what kind of time will we have? If we are seeing our own mortality and nearing our end, what kind of time will we have in His home? If we are about to face some serious difficulties, temptations, and strife, what kind of battle will we fight side-by-side? Waiting upon Him is not waiting “for” Him. Some have the idea that waiting upon the Lord is like waiting for someone to get back from town. We are with Him, in Him, and on Him right now. We move because He moves, and we stop because He stops. That is truly waiting “upon” Him.

Stillness is perhaps the hardest of these three areas since even people “doing nothing” are rarely doing nothing. Minds can race, hearts can melt, and bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. My ears still hurt today when I think about thumpings they took for not being still in church. The Psalmist told us to “be still” and Moses told the congregation to “stand still.” (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:13) In both cases, the stillness was not for no purpose. It was to derive benefit from something that could not be attained otherwise. Had the children of Israel tried to flee from the banks of the Red Sea – even though there was nowhere to go – beholding the great sight would have been out of view. The command to stand still was for the benefit to see this great sight. When we aren’t still in our spirits, we can forget that He is God like we will when we are still. Stillness in this case instructs us to remember how great and mighty He truly is. No matter the mountain in front of you, He’s higher. No matter the demon battling you, He is stronger. And no matter the unfaithfulness of our own core, He is faithful in all things to the end.

In rest, waiting, and stillness, we are not invited nor encouraged to do nothing. Rather, we are “taking a pause” from the rat race of life in all her courses to engage in something fruitful and profitable. Rest for our souls is found in standing in the ways to see and asking for the old paths. Waiting upon the Lord tends to renewed strength to continue on in this slalom. Being still, helps remind us of what is important and where our benefits truly come from. Take a pause friends. Contemplate on His goodness and recall to mind His salvation. Breathe slowly and listen to the beats of your own heart and reflect that our times are in His hand. In Him we live, move, and have our being. When dark clouds come and temptations arise, center the mind on things of light, and the darkness will flee from it.

Friends, we have the best thing in the world to rest in. We have the greatest strength to wait upon, and we have the highest thoughts to contemplate during stillness. I sometimes wonder how I would do if I had means. It’s something I don’t ponder often or for too long as I don’t expect to ever live it. However, what would someone call you if you had means, money, and opportunity and yet lived like a pauper? Would they call you a miser? Scrooge? Covetous? We may not have silver and gold beloved, but what we have is the greatest treasure this side of heaven. We have the knowledge of eternal life, how we got it, and place to fervently worship Him because of it. When I put on the beggar’s clothes of this world, I really am doing nothing: nothing of real value and consequence. When I feel sorry for myself or incessantly accuse myself, I am doing nothing that amounts to a whole lot in the end. However, when my rest, waiting, and stillness centers on His unshakeable character, His boundless love, and His steadfast promises, I feel like a rich babe making a withdrawal from an ocean of funds. As another poet said about our reaction to the glorious work He performed for us and to us, “Then give all the glory to His holy name, to Him all the glory belongs. Be yours the high joy to sound forth His great fame, and crown Him in each of your songs.

In Hope,
Bro Philip