Psalm 1 (The Modlin Paraphrase)

If you want to be happy in this life you shouldn’t take the same road as those who are telling you it’s okay to do wrong, or hang around with those who are up to no good, or make yourself at home with those who ridicule God’s ways.

God’s Word will bring you complete joy, especially when you devote yourself to learning it and putting it into practice.

You will be like a mighty tree, planted next to the river. It always produces fresh fruit and there isn’t a dead leaf on it.

Those who reject God’s Word are the exact opposite. They get blown away with every gust of wind. They won’t have a leg to stand on during judgment and there will be no place for them among God’s people.

God will keep His eye on those who obey Him, but those who go in the other direction will only find death

 

I don’t even remember writing this. This is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible so it doesn’t surprise me that I did this. I think it came about after leading Junior Week at Sylvan Hills Christian Camp back in July of 2015. That was our theme for the week and we read it out of several different versions. Perhaps I should do more of this from time to time.

Grace and peace.Tree-by-a-Stream

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Twenty-Seven And Counting

Today makes twenty-seven years since I married my best friend. We have now known each other for thirty years. We were just kids when we met and now we’re grandparents. What a ride it’s been. Here’s to the next twenty-seven. We’re just getting started.

Grace and peace.

This Little Light Of Mine

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (CSB)

 

21 He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be brought to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.”

Mark 4:21-23 (CSB)

 

16 “No one, after lighting a lamp, covers it with a basket or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand so that those who come in may see its light. 17 For nothing is concealed that won’t be revealed, and nothing hidden that won’t be made known and brought to light. 18 Therefore take care how you listen. For whoever has, more will be given to him; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.”

Luke 8:16-18 (CSB)

 

33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in the cellar or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see its light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of the body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is also full of light. But when it is bad, your body is also full of darkness. 35 Take care, then, that the light in you is not darkness. 36 If, therefore, your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be entirely illuminated, as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

Luke 11:33-36 (CSB)

 

In all four of these passages Jesus asks a rhetorical question. It makes no sense to light a lamp and then cover it up. It is foolish to even suggest doing that. The section from Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount and in it Jesus is telling the crowd that they are supposed to be a reflection of him. On different occasions Jesus called himself the Light of the world (see John 8:12 and John 9:5). It only takes a little bit of light to penetrate the darkness and that’s what followers of Jesus are supposed to be doing. In the Mark passage Jesus is telling his listeners that the truth about him will be revealed. Those who accept that truth have the responsibility of sharing it. The first passage from Luke is a parallel account of the section from Mark. The second passage from Luke goes a bit further and says that those who refuse to see the light of the gospel are full of darkness and spiritually blind. They can’t see what’s right in front of them.

There seem to be two different ideas being conveyed here. The first is that we are to reflect the light of Jesus so that those in the world will come to know him. We do that by loving God above all things and then loving others the way He loves us. When we do that we are piercing the darkness of this world with the true Light. The second is that darkness will eventually give way to the light. Darkness cannot overcome it (see John 1:5). We are to make sure the world is being exposed to the light.  Some will not respond but that should not dissuade us. We are to let our lights burn brightly in the all the things we say and do.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that those who continually cover up their lamps will eventually extinguish their lights. Perhaps they don’t live out their faith in such a way that people see Jesus in their words and deeds. Perhaps they let fear and doubt prevent them from sharing the gospel to those around. I’m sure we have all been guilty of both. It is my prayer that we let the Spirit continually kindle the flame and that we let our lights burn so brightly that darkness is dispelled.

Grace and peace.

Ancient clay oil lamp (illustrative)

A Teaser

This won’t be a long post and it’s coming late. I have been busy the last few days. I had a wedding on Saturday, church and Jamie’s birthday on Sunday, a viewing on Monday, a funeral on Tuesday, and then Bible studies today. We’re leaving Friday to meet up with Geo, Becca, and Marcus in Maryland. We plan to spend part of Friday and Saturday on a beach on the Chesapeake Bay and then head home Saturday evening. To top it off, Friday is our twenty-seventh anniversary. I will get back to working through the parables but I know that my next two posts will be all about Robin and me. If mushy sentimental stuff sickens you then you may want to avoid this for the next couple of days. You have been warned.

Grace and peace.RC and Lebo 1 small

Are You Salty?

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5:13 (CSB)

 

One of my favorite dishes is grits. To those who may not know what that is I will refer you to THIS. I admit, that page doesn’t necessarily make is sound appetizing so you will just have to trust. The thing about grits is that they are actually bland until you season them. My personal choice is to use real butter, cheddar cheese, black pepper, and salt. I will eat them without the cheese but the butter, pepper, and salt is pretty much required. I very rarely cook with salt so it has to be added to whatever I serve. With grits you have to be very careful. If you put too much salt then they are ruined and completely inedible. When I was younger I put way too much salt on them. I also put too much salt on my French fries. As I’ve gotten older my taste for salt has changed. I now find that I want less salt on things and most of the time I feel like people have put too much. Most fast food fries are so salty that I can barely eat them. If I do then I know I am going to have to drink twice as much soda or water to get through them. I mention all of that to point out that salt can be very important and can affect things either for the good or for the bad.

This snippet from Scripture is taken from a passage commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. It is found in Matthew’s gospel . Luke’s gospel records a similar teaching.

 

34 “Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty? 35 It isn’t fit for the soil or for the manure pile; they throw it out. Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.”

Luke 14:34-35 (CSB)

 

In both cases Jesus is talking about what it means to be one of his disciples. I believe the core teaching is that we (as followers) are supposed to be making a positive impact on the world around us. Many people throughout the ages have made suggestions as to what Jesus exactly meant when he told his listeners that they were the salt of the earth. Salt is used in the Bible as a preservative, a seasoning, and as part of offerings made to God. Given the context, Jesus could possibly be referencing the first two.

In the days before refrigeration, salt was used to preserve certain meats. It is still used for that today. You can still get ham, bacon, and fish that has been salted. I have already mentioned how I like to add salt to my grits to make them tastier. Some foods need a bit of sodium chloride to enhance the flavor. In the Old Testament you see salt added to the grain offerings (Leviticus 2:13), the burnt offerings (Ezekiel 43:24), and the sacred incense (Exodus 30:34). Salt was something that that people were very familiar with.

From a devotional viewpoint, I can definitely see how the first two could apply.  We are supposed to go out into the word and share the gospel of Jesus. That has the power to save (preserve) them for all eternity. We are also supposed to live in such a way that we make the world a better place. Others have even suggested another result of using salt: It makes you thirsty. I have already alluded to that by sharing how most fast food fries (McDonald’s is especially guilty) are so salty that it requires me to drink more to wash them down. I’m not sure that Jesus meant that but it is an interesting take on it. If we are going out into the world and living the way we’re supposed to, it should make others want the same thing we have.

I think the key to both of these passages is the warning about salt losing its saltiness. I have never put this to a scientific test but I have been told that salt really does not lose its taste. Supposedly, the only thing that robs salt of its saltiness is exposure to other things such as water, air, and contaminants. I have thrown out many old salt shakers that sat around and ended up being useless. I have accidentally spilled things into open containers of salt and had to toss it all out. We can do the same thing in our lives. We can sit around and do nothing until we are useless and we can let the things of this world contaminate us. Either way, we lose our effectiveness and we are no good.

It’s such a simple teaching but it is one the continually challenges and inspires me. Am I living in such a way that I’m making the world a better place? Am I sharing the gospel of Jesus so that people will know the way to salvation? Am I making people thirsty for Jesus by the things I do and say? More importantly, am I letting things contaminate me and ruin my effectiveness. I pray that this inspires you to ask the same questions of yourself.

Grace and peace.Salt.jpg

We Will Be Changed

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?” 36 You fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the body that will be, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same flesh; there is one flesh for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is different from that of the earthly ones. 41 There is a splendor of the sun, another of the moon, and another of the stars; in fact, one star differs from another star in splendor. 42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption;43 sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power;44 sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, then the spiritual.

47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; like the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. 54 When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place:

Death has been swallowed up in victory.
55 Where, death, is your victory?
Where, death, is your sting?

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:35-58 (CSB)

 

This is one of my favorite passages from the Bible. It gives me hope to keep holding on to my faith even when it seems like the world is falling apart around me. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the concept of coming back to life after being dead. That conjures up images of ghosts, vampires, and zombies. This isn’t some freakish Halloween display Paul is talking about. He is giving us glimpse of life being restored back to what it was before Adam and Eve sinned. Their sin brought pain and death into this world. Even creation groans because of our rebellion.

Every day it seems like another part of my body decides to give up. My back, my neck, my shoulder, my hip, and my knees all feel the burden. I realize that I am not very old but my body doesn’t always agree. I have aches and pains on daily basis. I need glasses to read and write. My sinuses are always reacting to something in the air. There are those who are in worse shape than I am so I try not to complain but the truth is, I can feel time taking its toll on me. I know that one day this body is just going to quit. That’s what excites me about this passage.

Paul says that not only will we be raised from the dead, we will be changed. We won’t get the same old broken down body we had before. We will be perfect. As much as the resurrection blows my mind, that is even harder to grasp. None of us have ever experienced a perfect body. It may sound morbid but we have been dying ever since we took our first breath. When Jesus comes back he is going to put an end to all of that. We will be made new and perfect. The earth will be made new and perfect. All of this will be a memory and I have a pretty good feeling that we’ll soon forget all about it.

What really blows me away is that Jesus will be the only one who keeps any memento from this life. We will get new, prefect bodies but he will still have the scars to show what it cost for us to have them. I can barely imagine it. Can you? We will walk in a world where there is no darkness, no sadness, no depression, no anxiety, no sickness, and no death. Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus.

Grace and peace.

13 Going On 33

Daddy’s little girl turns thirteen today. The title is not meant as a joke about her attitude or anything like that. It’s the realization that she will be thirty-three before I even realize it. Robin and I are quickly moving towards that empty nest phase of life. Geo is already grown, married, and a father. Chris will turn eighteen in December. Jamie is now a teenager. We have no “children” in the house now. We knew that would happen way back before we ever had kids. We just didn’t realize how fast it would come. Today has been pretty simple. We got Jamie her dream cake (thank you Brionna Mong) and are making home made mozzarella sticks and meatball sliders for dinner. That’s what she wanted so that’s what she gets. We’ve spent the afternoon playing games and eating that wonderful cake. We’re actually taking her down to meet Geo next Friday and she’ll spend the summer down in North Carolina seeing grandparents, cousins, and other assorted family.

I can remember June 24, 2005 just like it was yesterday. I spent the first week of Jamie’s life volunteering at Roanoke Christian Service Camp. I love camp and love working it but I was miserable that week. I hated being away from that girl. I came back from camp and we immediately moved to E-City to start Bible college. In these past thirteen years we have lived in four different states, have been active in two different churches, and even help start another. Through it all this beautiful young woman has made my life more joyful. I’m sure Robin would same the same. No matter how old she gets she is always going to be Daddy’s little girl. Jamie Lee, I love you more than you will ever realize and I cannot wait to see what God does in your life.

Grace and peace

New Wine

17 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:17 CSB)

22 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost as well as the skins. No, new wine is put into fresh wineskins.” -Mark 2:22 (CSB)

37 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, it will spill, and the skins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine is put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.’” – Luke 5:37-39 (CSB)

 

This is the second parable Jesus used to answer the question that John the Baptist’s disciples brought up. Yesterday we looked at the new patch sewn on an old garment. Today we look at the new wine in old wineskins. The same basic idea is presented with a slight twist at the end of Luke’s account. We have to understand that both parables are using ideas common to the original audience. Jesus is trying to help them see that he is offering something greater and better than the old way of doing things.  Unlike many religious leaders, he wasn’t trying to reform, restructure, or rebrand the existing system. What Jesus did was introduce something new. He wasn’t simply replacing the Old Covenant, he was fulfilling its purpose and establishing the New Covenant that God had promised.

As wine ferments it releases carbon dioxide in the form of a gas. Old wineskins (made from animal hides) had already gone through this process. They had already been stretched to their limit. If you would put new wine into one of them it would continue to ferment and release carbon dioxide until the old wineskin would literally bust open. Both the wine and the wineskin would be ruined.  John the Baptist preached that the Messiah had arrived and that God’s Kingdom was finally at hand. Many of his disciples left to follow Jesus and be a part of this new thing God was doing. However, many of them continued to follow John and be content with the old way of thinking. The religious leaders of the day were the same. All of them wanted Jesus to play by the established rules and when he didn’t, they turned on him.

Luke brings up that point in his account. Jesus acknowledged that many people prefer the old over the new. They like the way it tastes. They like the familiarity. They want nothing to do with the new. In the beginning Jesus attracted multitudes of followers. They went everywhere that he went. They were excited by the things he said and did. They fully expected him to be their Messiah. However, the crowds began to quickly diminish once they realized Jesus wasn’t just giving their religion a quick jump start. When he began to talk about laying down your life and loving your enemies they realized that this was not what they had signed up for. They abandoned the new and went back to the old.

The apostle Paul would continue to struggle with those who could not see that the new wine of the gospel was superior to the old wine of the law. Even those who had initially followed Jesus could not completely let go of the old way. Today we struggle with letting go of our old way of living. We have difficulty living by the Spirit instead of by the flesh. Many people decide to become disciples of Jesus only to discover that they prefer the old way or that the new way is just too hard. The truth is: it is hard to consistently follow Jesus. We are broken individuals who wrestle with our own sinful thoughts on a daily basis. The old way tells us to either quit fighting or too fight even harder. Both of those end in defeat. The new way tells us that Jesus has already won that fight if we just follow him. When we believe that he is the Messiah, confess that we’re sinners, change our way of thinking, and are baptized in his name; we are forgiven of our sins and given the Spirit. We become part of something new and eternal. May God give us the strength to follow Jesus even if everyone else is clamoring for the old way.

Grace and peace

New Wine Old Wineskins

New Patches

 16 No one patches an old garment with unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment and makes the tear worse. – Matthew 9:16 (CSB)

21 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new patch pulls away from the old cloth, and a worse tear is made. – Mark 2:21 (CSB)

36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. Otherwise, not only will he tear the new, but also the piece from the new garment will not match the old. – Luke 5:36

 

I love studying the parables of Jesus. I love stories. You can ask my parents, my wife, and anyone who really knows me. I have been a voracious reader for as long as I have been able to read. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction, I love a good story. I am currently preaching a series of sermons based on The Story which goes through the entire Bible in thirty-one chapters showing that it tell the one, continuous story of God bringing His people back to Himself. Even in some of those oddball Old Testament sections the point of the story is Jesus. That has really helped me get a better grasp on some of the things that have always seemed to baffle me. I don’t claim to understand it all and I know that I won’t be able to until Jesus returns and shows us how this grand cosmic story plays out.

The four Gospels are my favorite parts of the Bible because they are (you guessed it) stories. They aren’t necessarily chronological and they don’t tell the story of Jesus from the same view point or for the same reasons but they are still narratives that show us who Jesus is. Even in those stories we get shorter, more concise stories. The parables that Jesus tell during his earthly ministry are some of those stories. I am still trying to figure out how I want to use this thing so I thought I would start by just going through some of the stories. I never get tired of reading them and it seems that the more I read them the more they make sense.

The parable I quoted up top is part of a response to a question that disciples of John the Baptist brought up. Jesus and his disciples had just been present at a banquet thrown by Levi (Matthew) where he had invited a bunch of his undesirable friends. The Pharisees had already called Jesus out for hanging around “sinners” and he responded (much to their chagrin) the he had come to call those sinners, not the righteous. After all, the sick are the ones who need healing. The second complaint (that Jesus and his disciples didn’t fast) comes from ones who normally would have been opposed to the Pharisees. After all, it was John the Baptist who called the super religious a bunch of snakes. However, they are also offended by what they perceive to be a disregard for holy living.

It’s not really hard to understand why John’s disciples may have felt that way. John lived an ascetic lifestyle. He was very much cut from the cloth of the Old Testament prophets. Truthfully, he was the last of them. Now he is prison awaiting death and Jesus, the one he identified as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, seems to be more liberal and worldly. They can’t understand his behavior in light of what they think Scripture teaches. He responds by saying that wedding guests celebrate while the bridegroom is with them. It’s only after he goes away that guests mourn and fast. It’s no accident that Jesus uses those terms because John had called himself a friend of the groom who was coming (John 3:29-30).

Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells them two very short parables. I plan to look at the second one tomorrow. This first one is about sewing patches on clothes. This is something nearly everyone listening would have understood. Even we can understand what it means on the surface. You don’t cut a piece from a new garment to patch up an old, torn one. Not only do you ruin the new one, you don’t fix the old one. The patch tears away and damages it even more. Mark Moore, in his The Chronological Life Of Christ, suggests that primary meaning of the parable is to show that the disciple are acting appropriately and that anything else would be inappropriate, like ripping up a new garment to patch an old one. Moore goes on to say that “inappropriate actions cause a great deal of destruction” (p.141).

There does seems to a secondary meaning to the parable as well. Jesus is ushering a new covenant that the prophets foretold (Jeremiah 31:31-34). John’s followers and the Pharisees were still trying live life in obedience to the Old Covenant as it was understood according to the the Law of Moses and all the codes and rules added to it. Jesus is telling them that you cannot take the kingdom that he is preaching and shove back into the old way of thinking and doing things. By doing so, you destroy both. The Old Covenant had a purpose but Jesus was there to complete that purpose. He was there to show them how to truly be a part of God’s kingdom. Legalistic obedience to the Law was not the way. Jesus was preaching a radical change in the way they were supposed to think.

Tomorrow I will dive into the second parable about new wine and old wineskins. That one is especially interesting because Luke records an interesting thing that Jesus says. That, my friends, will have to wait until tomorrow.

Grace and peace

Patches

 

Where Was God?

Tonight makes one week since an EF-2 tornado touched down one mile from here and cut a jagged path of destruction for a little over five miles. It was only on the ground for a few minutes but that was enough to change lives forever. I had seen the results of tornadoes and hurricanes before moving up here so the carnage is all too familiar to me. Truthfully, I have seen much worse along the Gulf coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. I have seen much worse in my home town of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I am fully aware of the destructive power of wind and water. This storm system did not kill anyone and there were no serious injuries reported. That alone is a miracle. When you look at the numbers, it affected only a small number of people. It would be easy to be write it off as an insignificant event. However, to those who were touched (quite literally) by the twister; life is different now.

I am encouraged to see that neighbors have stepped up and stood alongside those who now have to rebuild. There is something about a disaster that causes people to push aside whatever issues they have with one another and help. I am also encouraged to see people from our congregation stepping in and getting involved. We are a small group with limited resources but the response has been humbling. It is good to see God’s people acting like God’s people. I don’t know that I have ever been more proud to say that I am the preacher at Granville Center Church of Christ than I am right how. I am blessed to be among such loving people.

I do want to explain the title of this post. During one of my conversations last week I heard someone say, “I am kinda mad with God right now.” The logic was that God had spared some houses but not theirs. I will be honest. I can understand. Sometimes things just don’t seem fair. Those who make it through the storm unscathed thank God for sparing us. What about those who lost everything? How do they feel when we talk about God watching out for us? Does that mean God wasn’t watching out for them or worse…does He have something against them? Sometimes I get questions that I just can’t answer. “Where was God?” is one of them. I can give all the Sunday School answers I know but sometimes they just aren’t enough. They don’t bring the joy, the peace, or the hope that God says we can have.

I hate giving cliche’ answers and I especially hate throwing out cliche’ Bible verses in times when people are truly hurting and wanting comfort.  Romans 8:28 is one of those but the older I get and the more life I experience I realize that it really isn’t a cliche’ at all. It is the truth. God does work through these bad things. We may not see it at the time and we may suffer greatly but I do believe a time will come when we are able to look back and see He was there all along.  I really didn’t know what to say to those who were angry at God and before I had a chance to potentially make things worse the same person said, “Even though I’m mad I know He is going to do something good from this.” There it was. The cliche’ answer coming from the lips of one who admitted the pain and the confusion.

In my sermon this past Sunday I said that hope is a gift from God. I really do believe that. I don’t know how I would get through this world without it. Even when life is difficult and there is pain I have hope that it is temporary and one day Jesus will make it all right. That’s the only thing I can cling to sometimes. It takes faith and I believe that’s a gift from God as well. There’s an event in the life of Jesus where a father comes to him asking for his son to be healed. Jesus has been up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John. They have experienced a true “mountain top” moment and have come down to discover that the remaining apostles have failed to help this man. Jesus asks this father, who is hurting for his son, if he believes. The man’s response is powerful. Mark 9:24 (CSB) words it like this:

Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

How many times have I had to pray that same prayer? How many times has my faith been shaken to the core? How many times have I been angry and cried out? Sometimes the only thing we can say when it feels like God isn’t there is:

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

Grace and peace.

EGBC 6.15.18The remains of the old East Granville Baptist Church at Bailey Corners. Taken by the author on June 15, 2018.