Of Ferdinand and Freedom

Almost simultaneous with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, in 1936, The Story of Ferdinand was published. Written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, this timeless children’s tale is set somewhere outside Madrid. In a nutshell, Ferdinand is a bull, but Ferdinand is not interested in bullfighting. He would rather smell flowers. Expanding on the book’s principle theme, Disney released an animated short of the story in 1938, and a full-length animated film adaptation was released by Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox in 2017.

Ferdinand is large and strong, and on one humorous occasion is mistaken for a ferocious bull. But in reality the banderilleros, the picadores, and the matador are unable to provoke him. Ferdinand simply is not a fighter. In its earliest days, The Story of Ferdinand from multiple directions faced accusations of being a stealth political attack, but I think such assessments miss the point entirely. So here’s my take on it.

Boldness is a noble virtue, but sometimes the boldness we most need is the boldness to just be ourselves. God our Creator has granted each one of us a unique set of gifts, strengths, and abilities. These may be uncelebrated and even unnoticed, by us and others, so part of our Christian maturity is discovering who God designed us to be for His glory (Psalm 139:1-18).

Unless we have our Ferdinand breakthrough, we will never serve Christ the way we were designed to serve. Unless we experience some of Ferdinand’s freedom, we are likely to spend the rest of our lives trying to be somebody else.

The Lord who fashioned us is very creative, and He knows exactly what He’s doing! He gave each of us a personality and a temperament. He gave each of us a communication style. He gave each of us particular passions, for creativity and expression, which are uniquely us.

Why? So we can serve one another in love (First Peter 4:8-11). So we can grow in unity, and in appreciation and respect for one other. So we can exalt Christ and His gospel in ways which would be impossible if we were not together in mission and ministry.

So don’t be who you’re not (First Corinthians 12:4-13). Let’s be bullish on that point, shall we?


Pastor Charles

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Happy New Year!

Eileen and I are enjoying our time in Atlanta at Passion 2019 with some of the college-age gang from First Baptist Paducah. We’re in the arena right now, so I’ll write for just a few minutes.

Last night I was blown over by a very simple worship song. I remember that “Surrounded” was written by Michael W. Smith, but last night it was performed by the Passion band. I’ll include the main lyrics of the song …

“This is how I fight my battles … it may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.”

That’s it. As we embrace 2019, I hope that you’re encouraged by those life-giving words. Will this year be easy for us? Of course not. Like I preached Sunday: we’re not home yet.

But. But. But. But we have hope. We are not doing this alone! In fact we are never alone.

I am reminded of Second Kings 6:8-17. When the battle rages fiercest, we are surrounded by an invisible army dispatched for our benefit. Why? Because God is on our side! He is FOR US. He is oh so FOR US.

I’ll close by quoting Matt Chandler: “Grace is for the journey.” May even the hardest fights of your 2019 journey be full of Christ’s amazing grace.


Pastor Charles

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More Than a Spoonful of Sugar

Perhaps, while the kids or grandkids have a few days off from school, you’ll indulge in a bit of butter popcorn and Mary Poppins Returns. The film opened in theaters nationwide December 19. Mary Poppins is exceptionally well done, and I think you’ll particularly appreciate the appearances of Angela Lansbury, Meryl Streep, and Dick Van Dyke. Eileen and I enjoyed the movie from start to finish. It’s a Disney reboot of the beloved American classic from 1964 – and it’s still set on Cherry Tree Lane. This time the Great Depression has intruded, and times are tough for everybody in London. Michael and Jane are grown up now, and they’ve lost the wonder of their childhood years. John, Anabel, and Georgie are the children now.

In case you take me up on it, I’ll offer a few points of post-viewing discussion with those you love:

  1. It is normal to feel uncomfortable because of the changes happening around us. Can’t we all relate to that message? Whether I’m a child or a grown-up, sometimes life just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maneuvering the twists and turns can be exceptionally difficult, especially when it feels like somebody keeps changing all the rules. It’s hard to keep up with “progress” that doesn’t feel much like progress. Many of the Disney classics espouse – though sometimes subtly – a romantic and anti-modernist worldview. Just like in the original Mary Poppins, in Returns the bank symbolizes the modern world, and it’s not such a pretty picture. (This may be a great launching pad to talk about the complexities and pressures of our contemporary culture.)
  1. Sometimes our worldly ambitions are not all they’re cracked up to be. This theme is reminiscent of the 1964 film, and it still holds. An unquenchable thirst for profit eventually wearies the soul. So does the relentless pursuit of rational order. Thankfully, mysterious and gracious forces are often at work to free us from the chains that bind us – namely, us. The reason that we can’t come up with a satisfying ordering of the events of this world is because what we really need is a radical restoration of the perfect and holy order which was intended all along. We need Christ to do for us, in us, and among us what only He can do as the One who is sovereign over every circumstance.
  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Redemption can come from the seemingly strangest of places. How does a young widower raise three small children? One thing’s for sure: there is a plan. It will require pressing on and sheer determination, but it’s well worth finding. It will be in Mr. Banks’ absolute weakness that he will find his unshakeable strength. Family and friends might be rallied to our aid when we least expect it.
  1. Even in the bleakest circumstances, there is room for hope. Faithful perseverance always matters. Believing in the “impossible” may make no sense to those around us, but we don’t answer to those around us. Courage in the face of life’s obstacles requires a steady vision even when no one else can see what we see. Sometimes we all need a friend like “Jack the lamplighter” to show us how to navigate the fogginess of life. The fog will come, but so will the light. (Hopefully this will help you bridge into the good news of Jesus, who is our Light in darkness, and whose Word is our lamp.)
  1. In the end, the right prevails. In the words of the movie’s song: “There is nowhere to go but up!” But you and I know the rest of the real story. The British Empire, or any other empire for that matter, is no match for God – whose Word promises far, far more than a magical and happy ending. Human history is already worked out! The conclusion of all of it is clear: it’s a fait accompli. The future is just as settled as the past – just as settled as the “It is finished” of Jesus. You and I need not doubt or fear. Christ’s gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). God will take us home to be with our Lord, forever. God wins! Speaking of the Incarnation of Jesus, C.S. Lewis wrote: “The door we’ve been knocking on all our lives will open at last.”

Which brings it all right back to Christmas. In the carol lyrics of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” 

Enjoy the show!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts


I spent the last couple of days in Houston, visiting my father. Houston is the city of my birth. It was a quick trip, but important to me as Christmas quickly approaches. Yesterday my dad and I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with his longtime friend, Bill, who is a retired dentist and all-around good guy. I took this pic to capture the moment.

Bill and Dad have been close friends since their years at Lamar High School in the section of town called River Oaks. They went to Texas A&M together, and have been crazed Aggie football fans ever since! Medical school and dental school separated them, but not for long, and they have cheered each other on while watching each other’s children and grandchildren grow up. (To be technically correct, Aggies don’t cheer. They only yell. But that’s another story.) One of my favorite childhood memories was when our two families went to Walt Disney World during its first year of operation. We stayed at the Polynesian Resort (there was no “Village” in its name then), and that was pretty big stuff in 1972!

I am grateful to Bill because he has been so faithful. Not only to his beautiful wife, Elena, for many years, but also to us. Because he has been like a rock of support to my family, through thick and thin, he has been an encouragement and blessing from God. In every chapter, he and Elena have “been there” for us. Priceless. Priceless indeed.

Dad and Bill, I pray for you guys lots more visits to Kyle Field.

Friends …

One of the wonders of Christmas is that the God of the universe, the omnipotent and sovereign Creator of all, would choose to befriend us. This is the message of Bethlehem. God, in Christ, has not just come near. He has not just come to visit. He has not just come to tell us the meaning of life. He has become one of us (John 1:14).

Not only that, but Christ has shown us the full extent of the Father’s love. On the eve of His crucifixion – on the same night when Jesus washed the smelly feet of His disciples, foretold the denial of Simon Peter, and prayed for unity among “those who will believe in me” (that includes us) – Jesus used the most endearing language possible to describe the likes of you and me. Knowing full well that He would have to die in our place the death which we deserved, He called us “friends” (John 15:14). How can we know that we are God’s friends? That same verse is the key: if we do what Christ commands us to do. We’re saved by faith alone, you see, but not by a faith that is alone. Because real faith expresses itself in real love.

Such grace is nearly unimaginable! The Incarnation of Christ would be followed by His life, death, and resurrection. Wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger was the power to make us friends with God (Philippians 2:5-11). That glorious night of Christ’s birth was not just a display of God’s power to save, but an angelic declaration of His purpose and pleasure to save as well.

This Christmas, take the time to thank God for the friends in your life. They are rare jewels indeed. Most of all, thank Him for the reconciliation that changed everything! Because of our sin, we were God’s enemies (Colossians 1:21). But because of Christ, we have become God’s beloved and adopted children (Romans 5:8-11; Ephesians 1:5) – His friends.

I’ll quote another good friend, Linus: “That’s what Christmas is all about.”


Pastor Charles

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

This Christmas season my heart goes out to those who are struggling. Pain and suffering at this time of year can be exceedingly real. The shorter and grayer days, and longer and colder nights, can’t help.

The idea that everyone is happy in December is pure fiction. An estimated ten million Americans – at least – suffer from what psychologists call Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD). I just call it “the holiday blues,” and I’ll thank Elvis for the prodding on that one.

For all of us, the holidays bring with them a tremendous pressure to be “merry.” All the while, merry we may not be. For a million reasons, including fears about not having enough money to make every loved one’s dream come true, Christmas can be exceptionally difficult. Holiday family gatherings can bring out into the open all of the dysfunction that we’ve managed to hide all year long. It’s kind of like when the White Witch unleashes her wrath on Narnia.

At any time of year, depression can make a person feel utterly alone – even when surrounded by people and festivities. The high expectations associated with Christmas can exacerbate the feelings of isolation and sorrow.

Don’t get me wrong: the Christmas message is always good news! But that doesn’t mean that the experience of the Christmas holiday will always feel good. God entered the world for us: fantastic! Making sense of my own world: not always so easy. C.S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia, expressed it like this: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

May I tell you something from my heart? Jesus did not come just for the happy who seem to be hanging out on Cloud 9. Jesus tended to focus on chewed-up-and-spit-out sinners, and lepers, and other down-and-outers in fact. He loved the poor and needy. He tended to rescue those who’d made a darn-near wreck of everything about their lives. As I read my Bible, it appears to me that Christ’s heart is drawn to the dreamless and depressed.

May I tell you something else? Jesus knows all your demons. All your blind spots. All your phoniness. And all your darkness. He can handle it. All of it. And, though Christ may not fix everything that’s broken about us as quickly as we’d like, He has promised – ultimately – a far better place for you and me (John 14:1-3). A place of absolute belonging and unbreakable peace. In Christ, we’re already naturalized citizens of that bright and perfect kingdom.

There won’t be a single depressed soul in heaven. Not one.

There is a new world coming, where we will be free from every disability and every disease. Those who suffer from physical and emotional hindrances now will soar and leap and smile for God’s glory! It’s the City of God, and we’re almost there.

I hope you’ll join me in looking around. There’s pain in every palace, and in every pew. People need our encouragement and grace. People need Christ. Perhaps you are His chosen emissary today. Because of His great love for you and for those around you, you may be His intended hands and feet for this wintry moment.

And, if you’re the one who’s hurting, please let someone know. Give us the chance to be the body of Christ. Give us the chance to be, like our Savior, “full of grace and truth.”


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Man with the Dragon Tattoo

Colonel Sanders and J. Edgar Hoover were friends.

Helen Keller and Mark Twain were friends.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert are friends. At least off the tennis court.

Friendship is a really cool thing. Our world needs more of it.

I want you to meet Brandon. Brandon has cut my hair for the last five years, and a little longer. He also cuts Joshua’s hair. At least once a month you can catch us hanging out at the Chroma Salon.

Brandon and I don’t share everything in common. We didn’t grow up in the same place. We didn’t attend the same schools, and Brandon is half a generation younger than I if we had. I don’t even have a small tattoo. Brandon and I don’t usually align with the same political party. But we really enjoy talking politics and many other subjects, and we often agree on the most important issues. And we laugh a lot – at each other, with each other, and at ourselves. Even when we might not agree on some detail, we’re still friends.

Brandon has the unique ability to enter into your world. Josh loves Star Wars, for example, and Brandon can go there in conversation with Josh in ways that leave me speechless. I can’t even keep up with all the characters! Brandon knows how to speak Josh’s love language, and – from the perspective of Josh’s dad – that is worth a million dollars.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were two of the most prolific writers of faith and fiction in the twentieth century. But they were great friends first, and rich influencers in each other’s spiritual lives. Both men served as soldiers in World War I, and both men survived the trenches. God used those experiences, and that unlikely friendship, to ignite the literary imagination of both men. Had there been no Great War, followed by a great friendship, there would have been no Hobbit … no Lord of the Rings … no Narnia. Think of what the world would have missed.

Like Lewis and Tolkien, you have no accidental friends. Every friendship has a divine spark, and a divine purpose. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).”

One of the most memorable things said yesterday by President George W. Bush in the beautiful eulogy which he gave for his father, President George H. W. Bush, was this: “Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree. And he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person and he usually found it.” After the viral “candy incident” at the August funeral of Senator John McCain, when Bush handed Michelle Obama a cough drop and it caught our nation’s eye, Mrs. Obama said publicly of Bush 43: “I love him to death.” This is the power of friendship, and we all need it.

Take the time to thank the Lord for the friends in your life. They are gifts.

If you read this, Brandon, I want you know that I’m grateful to God for you. You are a grace-gift to me, and to my family. Merry Christmas, friend!


Pastor Charles

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In the City, For the City

You may have noticed my use of that tag line in a few recent correspondences. I love the fact that First Baptist Paducah’s campus is located near the center of life in Paducah. That tag line is a way to celebrate that fact – but it’s much more. It also communicates that we are committed to meeting the real needs of the people all around us.

So that you can mark your calendars well in advance, I want to share with you something happening at our church in early 2019. As part of my upcoming 12-week evening series titled “Don’t Mention It: 12 Things Nobody Wants to Talk About in Church,” which will kick off in January, I am bringing Dr. Benjamin Mast to Paducah. Dr. Mast is a professor at the University of Louisville, where he serves as Vice Chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. He is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia-related issues.

Please join us on Sunday, January 13, 2019, when Dr. Mast will be our special guest. The event will begin at 5:00 p.m. From a Christ-centered perspective, Dr. Mast will highlight the power of the gospel for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and similar conditions.

Did you know that Alzheimer’s is now the most feared diagnosis in America? Just the mention of it causes our friends and neighbors incredible discomfort and angst. Who can blame them? When you start talking about memory, communication, language, the ability to focus, reasoning, judgment, and even visual perception, you’re striking at the heart of who we are as people created in God’s image.

Not only are these conditions feared, but most of them take a slow but debilitating toll on the loved ones who attempt to provide care. People with dementia often develop problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments, and even leaving their neighborhood. Many dementias are progressive, meaning that symptoms start out slowly and gradually worsen. As a pastor, it is becoming more and more obvious to me that nearly everyone in our church and our city – at least from a distance – is being impacted by these tough realities.

God has made an unshakeable commitment to never forget His people! As we learn to trust in that promise, we will also learn practical suggestions for how the church can come alongside families and those who are struggling, offering help and hope to victims of these debilitating diseases. On the evening of January 13, there will be time for Dr. Mast to answer your questions about dementia and its impact on personal identity and faith.

A light supper will be served. Reservations are not required. Please plan to join us.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Those are tremendous words of comfort from Isaiah 49:15. I look forward, with you, to learning to stand on that promise on January 13. Please help me get the word out to our larger community between now and then, because you and I are “in the city, for the city.”


Pastor Charles

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Miracles Large and Small

Near Massachusetts Bay, many of the Pilgrims huddled aboard the Mayflower as the days and nights grew colder. Many didn’t make it through that first winter. For those who remained, hope came from a very unlikely source: a Patuxet (Pawtuxet) Native American named Tisquantum. “Squanto” for short.

Squanto’s story? Nothing like a fairy tale. As a boy, he had been kidnapped by a sea captain, sold into slavery, and transported to Europe. First to Spain, and eventually to London. The most amazing thing about the story of Squanto is that, because of his traumatic misfortune, he had learned the English language.

Squanto’s understanding of English enabled this kind young man to teach the weary colonists how to catch fish, cultivate corn, and make peace with the local Wampanoag tribe. None of those were easy tasks. Squanto taught the earliest settlers how to extract maple sap and — in a nutshell — how to survive life in the New World. Nobody but Squanto knew where the lobster were, or how to plant a gourd so that it goes up the cornstalk.

A kernel of corn is a tiny thing. Unless you don’t have any corn.

But Squanto’s story had included far more than its share of sadness and suffering. Before the Pilgrims landed, Squanto had lost everything. At the end of his return voyage across the Atlantic, after ten years of separation from everything familiar to him, he had discovered that his tribe had been completely eradicated by disease. His entire village, gone.

Squanto had found himself alone.

But not for long.

From the perspective of one of those early settlers, can you imagine hearing an Indian brave coming out of the woods speaking English? Unspeakable! (Pun fully intended.)

The truth is that Squanto felt completely at home neither with the English Pilgrims nor with the Wampanoag tribe. But he masterfully brokered deals between them, utilizing his divinely appointed language skills for much higher purposes. At one point the Wampanoag became so angry with the “double-dealing” Squanto that they urged the Pilgrims to kill him. But God had a better plan.

Squanto eventually confessed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Like I, Squanto was plagued by sins and weaknesses, but the grace of God marvelously rescued the Indian friend of the Pilgrims. Squanto died trusting in the merits of a faithful Savior. He would finally be “home.”

Not only did God rescue Squanto, but God used Squanto to rescue the Pilgrims. This holiday which we call “Thanksgiving” was born out of one unlikely providence after another. From the ship and crew which never should have survived the ocean voyage, to a nation granting religious freedom to all, Thanksgiving is a testimony to our God of miracles.

Sometimes we’re highly tuned in to the Lord’s kindness toward us. At other times we barely notice the extraordinary things which God is doing in our midst. Don’t let that happen this Thanksgiving. As you gather around your table, take the time to notice the absolute goodness of God.

You and I have much for which we should give thanks. Miracles both large and small.


Pastor Charles

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Rabshakeh. I’m reading through Isaiah in my personal devotions, and “Rabshakeh” jumped off the page as I hit Chapter 36.

The time is 701 B.C., and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to Assyria. Now Judah, the Southern Kingdom, is imperiled by this encroaching enemy. In fact, according to this passage, the king of Assyria has already taken the fortified cities of Judah. Not looking good.

The Rabshakeh of Assyria plays a prominent role in this text. We’re never told his name, but we believe that he’s the third-highest ranking officer in the Assyrian army. He approaches Judah’s officials with a message for King Hezekiah, and ultimately for the people: “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” Isaiah 36:4. Interesting question. Interesting question indeed.

The Rabshakeh baits God’s people. “What God can save you? Who can stand against the Assyrian king? Are you dumb enough to lean on some protector whose power is not as evident as mine?” I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the point. It’s a full frontal assault.

“And, by the way, if you’ll only side with me, you’ll no longer have to worry about starving to death … in fact, you’ll have everything you’ll ever need. All will be well. Trust me.”

King Hezekiah has tough decisions to make. Will Judah join forces with Assyria? Will Judah ally with Egypt? Will Judah stand and fight? All the while, the taunts of the Rabshakeh are aimed at undermining the authority of the king in the eyes of the people. In addition to his other problems, Hezekiah may have a widespread rebellion on his hands.

“Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” Isaiah 36:20. Not only does the Rabshakeh cast doubt on Hezekiah’s authority, but he casts doubt on the authority of God. If you go back and read Second Kings 18:17, you’ll discover that three of Assyria’s most important officers have already arranged for the capital city’s total surrender. It’s as good as done.

Friends, spiritual warfare is as real as the air we breathe! As Christ followers, we are never above it or beyond it. There will always be powerful voices all around us mocking the sovereignty of our God. Mocking the authority of our Christ. Mocking the credibility of our faith.

Their goal is to beat you down, and then to destroy you.

Like a magician as he waves his magic wand, the Rabshakeh promises that he holds the real power, and that the way of real life is in abandoning Israel’s God and serving the more obvious powers of this world. It reminds me of Satan’s “promise” to Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:5-7): “It will all be yours.” Think about how easy it would be to succumb to such an offer if you were already struggling and terrified.

Maybe that’s where you are today. You’re tired. There are some things about your life that you just can’t figure out, or come to terms with. Some doubts which used to be manageable have now become gigantic. You’re feeling deflated, rejected, and afraid. You’re not sure that the Way of Christ is the only way.

Here is my Word for you today: STAND. Ephesians 6:13. STAND FIRM. The Christ on whom you stand is more than able. He is a sure foundation when we are in trouble. He will never abandon us. And He is infinitely more invested in our ultimate victory than we could ever imagine.

STAND. Take captive every lie, and kill it.

“On what do you rest this trust of yours?”


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Let Freedom Ring

In May 2017, the army detained three Christian believers who were gathering firewood, and forcibly took them into custody. Their bodies were found later; they had been tortured and killed. The gruesome scene I’m describing happened in the Kachin State of Myanmar, once known as Burma.

I want you to meet my new friend, Shawng Htoi. Shawng and I enjoyed breakfast this morning, discussing the land once evangelized by the great missionary William Carey, and the unique complexities and struggles of living out Christ’s gospel among the Burmese. Of particular concern to Shawng is how the church can help revive Christian truths and democratic principles in such a war-torn nation. In that part of God’s world, the persecution of well over four million Christians can be both intense and brutal.

In Myanmar, thousands and thousands of Christians live in IDP (“internally displaced”) camps. They have limited access to food and healthcare. Other Christ followers have their properties invaded by Buddhist, Muslim, or tribal authorities. The Radical Buddhist movement Ma Ba Tha proclaims itself as the protector of Buddhism, the country’s national religion.

In strikingly sharp contrast, America’s rich heritage of religious liberty can only be described as groundbreaking on the global stage. Enshrined in our Bill of Rights, and drawn from the Bible’s absolutely radical affirmation of every person created in God’s own image, we have been uniquely gifted with a freedom unparalleled in human history. I wish I could tell you that I’m consciously thankful for our religious freedom every day, but the truth is that I often need a wake-up call. Today mine came in the form of Shawng.

As we enter the season of turkeys and trimmings, please don’t forget the Pilgrims. Our Sovereign Lord transformed the pain of their persecution into the constitutional republic which you and I would inherit. Some people despise the notion of American exceptionalism, but I am not among them. All you have to do is look beyond your nose to discover how difficult it is for peaceful democracy and basic freedom to take hold and flourish. Here and now, we are blessed.

Let’s make sure to live out our uncommon blessing by taking Christ’s gracious good news to Myanmar, and to every other corner of the earth. It was Carey who said: “To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.”


Pastor Charles

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