Dear Pleasant Ride Church Family,
Recently I ran across an article which featured the work of Bunmi Laditan. Bunmi is a formerly homeless teenager, who is unafraid to be completely straightforward with God in her prayers. She has written a book called, Dear God: Honest Prayers To A God Who Listens. I enjoyed reading through several of her prayers because they often go so brutally candid… she says things in her prayers that many of us want to express… One prayer in particular stood out to me. It goes like this:
Thank you for
cups of tea
the sound of rain
the kind of laughter that only gets more intense when you
try to stop
strangers with kind eyes
strangers who don’t look at you when you’re crying in public quiet, deep people
loud, animated people
messy people (Hi)
socks of all kinds
Her honest entreaty to the Lord made me wonder about the last time I prayed ~ just giving God thanks for who God is, what God does, where God dwells, how God speaks, and when God reveals Himself to me. It’s sometimes hard to say “thank you” when feel as though we are overwhelmed, stretched to the max, tested beyond belief, or just too busy. However, “being overwhelmed” should never replace the peace that God offers us, “being stretched to the max” should never keep us from staying grounded in God’s presence, being “tested beyond belief” should never interfere with our complete trust that God is always wanting to grow our faith and “busyness” should never outweigh our gratitude.
I have a great friend who shared an acronym with me a few months back… The acronym was the word “BUSY”. She simply stated that the word “busy” means “Buried Under Satan’s Yoke.” Personally, I don’t care anything for being buried under anyone’s yoke, especially Satan! Just for those who may not know, a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull. I would much rather share a yoke with someone who is going to help me carry the load of life. We all need one another, and we all need Christ in our lives to help us through the tough stuff. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)
There’s nothing we face that is too big for God and nothing too small that God won’t handle. Today, my prayer for you (and me) is that we would take time to be more thankful to God for all the good that is taking place. There’s hope; there’s help; there’s grace and new life in Christ! Give Thanks!
Dr. J. Eric Davis
Dear Pleasant Ridge Church Family,
Just recently, I had the great privilege to keep my 3-year-old grandson, Eli, for a few days. In our home, it’s always a treat for “Mimi and Poppi” to be with our grandsons. Each of them is such a blessing to us and it is amazing what insights they will offer us when we just observe them being children! Eli (or “Boo” as I call him) had come home with me on a Thursday afternoon to spend the weekend with us and of course I had been working diligently to have all of the outdoor Christmas Inflatables were ready for him to see. I wanted for him to be “amazed” as we made our way down the driveway toward “Mimi and Poppi’s” home (after all this will probably be the first Christmas he will remember).
When we approached the driveway, I looked in the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of Boo beholding the decorations for the first time. It was a precious moment. His eyes lit up as we made our way down the driveway and he caught sight of Olaf (the snowman from Disney’s movie “Frozen), the Giant Santa, the Christmas Tree, the Giant Snowman, Mickey Mouse, the Manger Scene and various other decorations placed around our home. I have to be honest with you and admit that was probably my only motivation for decorating outside this year… just to be able to see the faces of our two grandsons as they looked at the Christmas adornments around our home. I realize that our youngest grandson, Anderson (better known as “Monkey” to me) may not remember this Christmas because he is a 1-year-old, but he too will have a chance to see the outdoor lights in a couple of years, if I’m still around!
The thing that really stuck out in my mind and touched my heart as Boo began to explore all of the decorations was his fascination with the Manger Scene. As he rode his motorized tractor around the yard, taking all of the decorations in, he would just stop and look toward the manger. I thought at first, he may be focused on the animals that were part of the scene (there is a little lamb and a camel that are attached to the inflatable), or maybe he was fascinated by the twinkling star that hovered just above the manger. In his obsession to quickly move from all of the other inflatables toward the manger scene, I began to detect that he was being drawn to something else; something small, yet significant. As he jumped off of his little tractor he walked up to the manger and concerted his eyes on the baby in the manger. I watched as he reached his little hand toward the baby and as he gently touched that child’s face. He looked up to me and said, “Poppi, that’s Jesus!” I know that it was just an inflatable Christmas decoration, but for him it was much more.
There’s something fascinating about the Baby Jesus. Just like Boo, we are faced with all kinds of distractions in the world. However, during this time of the year, our hearts and minds are drawn to the manger. When we drop everything else and reach out to the Lord, we are never disappointed. An Episcopal Priest by the name of Phillips Brooks penned a beautiful poem that captured the moment in time when people dropped everything else to witness God revealing Himself in the form of a babe in the manger. The poem later was transformed by Lewis Redner into one of our most beloved Christmas Carols… “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”. Phillips Brooks was inspired by a visit he made to the town of Bethlehem and the words so beautifully capture what many must have experienced on that Christmas Day over 2,000 years ago. The last verse of that inspiring song helps us to understand the importance of Christ coming to be with us… “O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in Be born to us today… We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell …O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel. O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel.”Throughout the years this has been a special song which has caused me to pause and ponder the beautiful ways in which God reveals His love, peace, joy and hope to the world.
God was, is, and will always be with us. I believe that we all long to touch the face of God. I also imagine that we all desire to know that God reaches from Heaven to touch us. The fascination of being present with God, and He with us, is universal. The Psalmist wrote, “My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. (Psalm 27:8 NIV) For those who know the Lord, there is a realization that Christmas is more than a celebration of exchanging gifts with one another… it is literally about celebrating the greatest gift of God’s love to all of humanity. Sadly however, there are those who reject the gift of His presence and in doing so they are always lacking the One Thing that matters most.
I pray that in these days each of us will be more like my grandson, who, in his innocence, took his eyes off of the “other things” and longed to touch Jesus. I hope that we too, desire to proclaim the goodness of God to everyone. “Poppi, that’s Jesus!” he exclaimed to me. There was joy in his heart and there was a glimmer in his eye that let me know that even in the hearts of children there is an amazing awareness of God’s gift of Jesus Christ. This is the gift we need to share with the world… especially now. After all, we are His children and we should be excited about His presence in our lives.
God bless you, my friend. I hope that this Christmas is filled with the excitement and wonder that comes from a deep relationship with Our Creator! May you experience the Hope, Peace, Love and Joy that the Lord offers us as we allow Him to enter into our lives. Remember that God’s greatest work in our lives is still ahead!
Love Always, Dr. J. Eric Davis
Dear Pleasant Ridge Church Family,
As we quickly approach Thanksgiving and the Advent/Christmas Season, it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of all that we have been used to in the past. But this year is different. Due to the COVID virus, we have all been forced to rethink how we do everything… shopping, family get-togethers, social time with friends, going out to eat and even our times of gathering for worship.
I am a firm believer that God makes no mistakes and that even when the world seems haywire, He has a plan to help us grow in a deeper relationship with Him. One of the big questions that I hear as I am counseling these days is, “Is there a purpose in what we are experiencing?” My response is, “Always”. There is always a purpose for what we experience in life and if we are living with a purpose in our minds, our hearts and in our spirit then some of the non-sense begins to make sense. We gain clarity for our lives when we recognize the important over the urgent.
Hans Hoffman was born in Bavaria in the 1800’s. He grew to become an artist, as well as a teacher of other great artists. He learned from greats like Picasso and Braque. Hoffman shared the idea that in art, if one wanted the necessaryto stand out then one must eliminate the unnecessary. That may be a good approach for each of our lives.
You may be like so many people who love to take a vacation every so often. It’s a reality that we all just need to “get away from everything” for a while. Too many times however, we find ourselves overpacking for the time away. We want to take along all of the things that we think we will need (as well as the things that we are used to having with us) and then when we arrive at our destination, we realize that we have packed way too much STUFF. I’m guilty; I do it all the time… I pack all that unnecessary, non-essential, space consuming, time-intense, heavy, cumbersome, overwhelming baggage with me and my purpose in going away was to get away from it all. We all are guilty of dragging those things along thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll need it for a moment or two, so I had better pack it.” Then when we finally settle down, we realize we have overpacked again… we really didn’t need it or even want it, but we thought that it was necessary. It’s such a great lesson for each of us, especially as children of God!
The Lord wants for us to let go of the unnecessary and hold on to the necessary. Here’s the reality… We are on a spiritual journey. Many of us are attempting to walk through life overburdened by the “stuff” we carry along. Sometimes we have our bags over-packed with guilt, doubts, fears, insecurities, low sense of self-worth, indolence, greed, selfishness, overcompensation, intolerance… and the packing list goes on. Those feelings and attitudes are unnecessary for the journey we are on with Christ. There are a couple of reminders in the Gospels (Luke 9 and Matthew 10) where Jesus told His disciples not to worry with the unnecessary things as they traveled to share the Good News, instead they were to trust that God would provide all that was needed for the experience.
You know, that would be a good reminder for us… leave the unnecessary behind and be free to do what God has purposed your life for. He even tells us that when we don’t think we can make it… when we have our backs against the wall… when the weight of life has us burdened completely; He will carry our load. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.2”
If your burden is lightened, then maybe you can realize what is important. Maybe you can do what is necessary. Maybe you can eliminate the chaos and embrace the calm. Maybe you can focus on the Main Thing. Maybe you can decisively feel effective as a Believer. Maybe you can “get your ducks in a row”. Maybe you can work toward what God is calling you to do. Maybe you can find peace in the midst of your storm. Maybe you can feel better about who you are and even whose you are. Maybe you can keep your head above water. Maybe you can live with a sense of Holy Boldness. Maybe you can let go and finally LET GOD. BUT, here’s the hard part… you have to let go of the unnecessary.
Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, and maybe this year looks and feels different from anything you have ever experienced before. Maybe our loving God is giving us very much needed time to be thankful. This year, our eyes are being opened to all of the things that God has been doing for us all along and we’ve taken those things for granted. We’ve been packing our bags full of the unnecessary and, hopefully, now we can see the necessary. Sometimes we have to step back from the ordinary life to comprehend the importance of the extraordinary life God has waiting for us!
Your willingness to look for the necessary and the extraordinary will make the difference in how you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. My prayer for you is that God allows you to see through the problems and recognize the purpose!
I love you and I thank God for you… and I believe that the greatest days of God’s work are still ahead for all of us!
2The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Mt 11:28–30). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Dear Pleasant Ridge Church Family,
I must admit that I have always had a special place in my heart for children. Since school has started back in its modified form, our Children’s Ministry has been offering a Day Camp for the children of our church and in that time together the children recite the “Pledges of Allegiance” to the American Flag, the Christian Flag and the Holy Bible… They have a special time with me to share a Bible Story and pray… they have a dedicated time of studying and finishing their weekly schoolwork… they have lunch together and they have a special activity or trip each week… and there is so much more that they do together. Over the last several months, our children’s lives have been “modified” so much and they have missed out on face-to-face opportunities for education at least in the way that they had grown used to in the past. Smaller classroom sizes, remote learning and days without any formal classroom encounters have proven to be very challenging for teachers and students.
We don’t want to forget how this pandemic has affected our children’s abilities to have face-to-face opportunities for Spiritual Growth either. Sunday School has been on the back burner for a while and our children desperately need to learn about love and hope as they build trust in God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, biblical characters and the role they play as examples of faith and much more about being believers in the Lord! We can’t expect our children, nor our youth to just “know” about the Lord; we must teach them! Sunday School teachers, ministers to children and youth and pastors cannot do what parents can when it comes to spiritual guidance. Parents teach through example. The life you live is a reflection of the Truths you believe!
I have two grandsons right now and they are both in different stages of growth. My oldest grandson is running, talking and exploring outside, while my youngest grandson is taking his first steps and spends a lot of time being entertained by his dad and mom. Each of them is picking up personality traits and habits that my sons had as they were growing up. Each of my grandsons “act” like their dads on some level. I love being with each of those grandsons for a lot of reasons, but it’s always interesting and fun to just watch to see how their daddy’s traits come out in them. My prayer is that those little boys will grow up, not just being like their dads, but that they begin to look at life with the eyes of their Heavenly Father! But how would they know the Lord unless they were taught by their Christian mom and dad and encouraged by other believers?
Years ago, Amy Grant sang a song called, “Her Father’s Eyes” and the lyrics and chorus are beautiful… “She’s got her Father’s eyes, Her Father’s eyes; Eyes that find the good in things, When good is not around; Eyes that find the source of help, When help just can’t be found; Eyes full of compassion, Seeing every pain; Knowing what you’re going through And feeling it the same. Just like my Father’s eyes, My Father’s eyes, My Father’s eyes, Just like my Father’s eyes.”
Oh, to be able to see this world with the eyes of our Heavenly Father. Maybe if we all could see with God’s eyes, the world would experience healing; right now it seems so disconnected and filled with hurt and hate. So here is a Truth you can share with every child today: “God Loves You and He Always Will!” Remember that no matter your age, no matter what your past, no matter if you feel broken and used up or not, whether you are suffering with an addiction or not, whether you are White or Black or Brown or Blue or Red or Gold or Green, whether you are a baby or a senior adult, the truth is that God loves you and He always will.
We all have learned many lessons in these days of COVID- 19 restrictions, and we have modified many things that needed to be changed. So even this time, as hard as it has been, has also been a teachable moment for the church. We are still growing as believers… we don’t know it all, but we are learning!
The Apostle Paul reminds us of the importance of being “rooted” in the Word of God so that we may avoid the misdirection of the world! Colossians 2:6-8 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (NIV)
I thank God that our church has been able to meet safely together for worship for many weeks now and I am thankful that beginning mid-October, our church family will be regathering for Sunday School. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to be together as the “church.” Our children need it, our youth need it and our adults need it. Every child of God needs to take time to learn more about who God is and who we are in His great plan! I am praying that you are staying connected to the Lord; it’s easy to drift away in these days of isolation, but we never want to become insulated from our Creator!
Remember that God is in control; He will not forsake you and He will always love you!
I firmly believe that the greatest days of God’s Work in our lives is still ahead. I love you and hope to see you real soon.
Keep Growing in Him,
Pleasant Ridge Church Family,
Recently, I have rediscovered the beauty of crayons. My oldest grandson is beginning to uncover the fun of drawing and coloring things… he hasn’t quite discovered the meaning of “staying in the lines” yet, but that makes his artwork even more beautiful to me. Recently, he handed me an amazing piece of art which was unique and made especially for me (Poppi). The blending of multiple crayon colors and the flow of the creation made the artwork something that reminded me of God’s handiwork in us.
When I was growing up, we used crayons in school and amazingly then, we only had boxes that held up to 8 different colors. These were basic colors like red, blue, green, yellow, black, brown, white and orange. Now, it’s not unusual to find colors like Sunglow, Midnight Blue, Razamataz, Maize, Timberwolf, Electric Lime, and Razzle Dazzle Rose. These days, there are up to 120 crayons in certain boxes of crayons. I never realized how many variances of green there were (by the way, it’s 16).
I grew up in the technicolor generation… I witnessed the transition from “black and white” televisions to “color” TV’s. I guess in my day, the inventors of Crayola Crayons only could imagine very basic colors. Now, there are boxes of crayons that feature the various skin colors of our world. Beyond color, we are all somewhat alike, because we are all made in the image of God. There are also obvious differences; we are each made with unique talents and gifts, we speak with unique dialects, we process information in varying ways, and we all have distinctive backgrounds. To me that’s quite awesome. We are all unique, yet all are created in God’s image. Part of the challenge in the world today is that we have focused on our individuality rather than focusing on our commonality.
You and I are like crayons, but we must remember that “crayons” are not the creator. We are not the illustrator, but we the instruments that He uses. Any creation or image that we reflect is due to God working through us. Any goodness that we can offer in this world comes from God’s direction and creativeness that God chooses for us. Our uniqueness is given to us in order to glorify God and to serve Him daily to make this world a more beautiful place in which to live.
The Psalmist wrote, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth…” (Psalm 139 13-15). The author of Hebrews pointed out, “He will equip us with everything good for doing His will, and work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:21).
How do you utilize your uniqueness to serve the Lord and seek to be useful to Him? Every crayon starts its life out being sharp, bright and fresh. These days, some crayons are infused with scents and even smell delicious. As a crayon is being used by the artist, the point wears down and sometimes under the pressure it may even become broken. In reality, the crayon sometimes works best when it is broken. There are times when it can be resharpened or melted down. The artist knows how to best use the crayon. For my grandson, crayons are swiftly stroked across a page, without a defined outline. But for God, we have a specific purpose and usefulness in His Kingdom work.
You may be one of those “crayons” who feels broken, melted down or even useless. But in the hands of the Master Creator, you and your uniqueness are usable and beautiful. Some “crayons” may be broken, but all are still useful and can still bring blessings and joy. Together, all “crayons” are lovely, yet each is an individual color and offers its own beautifying abilities.
The great beauty of this masterpiece that we are a part of is that God knows us individually and He even calls us by name. The Lord values us and although we may have rough edges and may even be broken, He treasures us. At times he renovates us in what seems at the time like a crayon sharpener. God knows that we are useless unless we have His hand to guide us. He takes boundless pleasure in us when we are usable and when we do what He has created us to accomplish.
I love you and pray that each of us can be used a God’s “crayons” to make our world a more beautiful and Holy place each day. God’s greatest work in your life and in the life of Pleasant Ridge is still ahead!
Be useful and usable,
Pleasant Ridge Church Family,
There are so many things that I love about this amazing God we serve! Things like the fact that He created each of uniquely (Psalm 139) and that he saw fit to make us in His image (Gen. 1). Those types of ideas help me to realize just how much He loves us. We are not stamped out in some “cookie cutter” image, instead we have distinctive thoughts, looks, experiences and perspectives. Part of the beauty of God’s creation is that although there are over 7 billion uniquely made individuals in the world today, as we come together, we form one body (1 Cor. 12). As one body, we are called to one purpose… To glorify God! If each of us utilizes the gifts, strengths, and abilities that the Lord has given us, the church (that’s each of us working together), cannot fail!
Throughout the COVID 19 pandemic, many folks have taken extra precautions to protect themselves from the virus and that is commendable. During this time, God allows us to do a lot of reflecting and responding as we have rested our lives in His hands. There are so called “experts” in the world who are telling us that we live in a “Post Christian Era,” BUT nothing could be further from the truth. Christians like you and me are preparing to rise up and let the voice of the Lord be known. This is time that God has been using to help his children develop a sense of Holy Boldness and we must not be silent any longer…
There’s a lot of hate and confusion in the world right now and that’s the way Satan wants it. Think about it for a moment… Where God is the author of creation, Satan is the master of confusion. Where God is the peace speaker, Satan is the great liar. Where God is the holder of hope, Satan is the demon of despair. Where God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present King of kings and Lord of lords, Satan is a pathetic, impotent, deceitful pretender.
When you claim the promises of the Lord and you live in a way that reflects the love of Jesus Christ, Satan will cower down. The devil may snarl and growl as if he is in control, but our God thunders because He rules the universe (Psalm 29; Job 37). There is no one who compares to you Oh, God (Psalm 40:5; Isaiah 40:18)! There’s no need for hate, no need for confusion, no need to place our faith in the “solutions” that the world attempts to force on us. When we have the Author of Creation as our God and our Guide, we don’t have to listen to the pitiful plans that Satan wants us to follow.
Now, I don’t know about you, but in this game of life I don’t want to be on the losing side! We all need to be “in it to win it”, so we should start living with Holy Boldness and in the process we will become a reflection of God’s love to the world. Live victoriously… Love wins every time! Joy wins every time! Peace wins every time! Patiencewins every time! Kindness wins every time! Goodness wins every time! Faithfulness wins every time! Gentlenesswins every time! Self-control wins every time! When we are on God’s team, those attributes will come to us as a result of what we practice. When the fruit of the Spirit is obvious in our lives, then we know we have been a reflection of Christ to the world (Gal. 5:22-23).
Lately, I’ve enjoyed going to the practice field at Gardner-Webb University to watch the Runnin’ Bulldogs practice (SKO DOGS!). The new coaches there are instructing the team to move precisely as a group; to think as one body, to work as one body, to encourage each other as one body and then they will celebrate victories as one body! This is a great comparison for the church… our church. We must have our hearts, minds, bodies and souls focused on one thing… pleasing the Lord. We can accomplish that goal by utilizing the gifts, the strengths, the abilities and the resources we have available right here to glorify our God.
Look, you may feel as though you are stuck at home right now, but you can use this time to make calls, write cards and even facetime with folks who need your encouragement. As you feel comfortable regathering with the church family… plug in! Your words, your thoughts, and your actions make a difference, not only to the church family, but to the larger community. You can serve as a beacon to draw folks here, so that we may continue growing together.
God bless you, my friend. I am so thankful to be your pastor in such as time as this, and I am so glad that you are here to Love God, Grow Together and Make a Difference! The greatest days of God’s work at Pleasant Ridge are still ahead! Join Him in His work here!
In His Commanding and Comforting Hands,