Pastor Keith: Well, Happy New Year, and welcome to this episode of Doxology Matters, where we desire to help Christians think deeply about God’s Word as we praise Him. I’m Keith McMinn and I’m your host. I’m the Worship Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church here in Yorktown, Virginia. I’m really pumped today to have two great brothers, Pastor Jimmy Acree from Bacon’s Castle Church in Surry, Virginia. Welcome.
Jimmy Acree: Thanks, Keith. Glad to be here.
Pastor Keith: How long have you been at your church?
Jimmy Acree: I’ve been the pastor there for 33 years.
Pastor Keith: Wow, 33 years.
Jimmy Acree: Yeah, a long time. I know it’s an anomaly.
Pastor Keith: Now where were you before then?
Jimmy Acree: Seminary.
Pastor Keith: Where’d you go to seminary.
Jimmy Acree: I did a year at Southwestern, but I did my MDiv work at what’s called – it was called Columbia Graduate School of Bible and Missions back then, but now it’s CIU, Columbia International University, Columbia Bible College, the seminary part for the Bible College.
Pastor Keith: So you’re a little bit like John MacArthur, in that he’s been at his church a long time.
Jimmy Acree: Yeah, I think he’s been there more than 33 years, but yeah. He was at his church when I was coming along.
Pastor Keith: If there was a young pastor or even not a young pastor, a seasoned pastor that’s listening to this, that hears you share you’ve been at your church that long, what word of encouragement would you say to them about hanging in there even when it’s tough, even when maybe you feel like, “I think I’m going to go somewhere else, because it’s getting hard”? Any word of encouragement you might tell them to shepherd for the long haul?
Jimmy Acree: Yeah, I mean I’ve watched a lot of pastors leave too soon. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t leave and I’m not saying that I did it right and you did it wrong if you just go from church to church. But I’ve seen a lot of pastors leave when it gets hard because they’re tired of it and they just want to go somewhere else where they think it’ll be easier. But no, you’re going to have the same problems wherever you go. And really if you don’t stay through the problems, you really don’t help the church grow, so I would just encourage them to work through it. Again, I’m not trying to say you should never leave, but I think too often we leave too soon. So I would encourage you to stay as long as you can or till you’re absolutely sure that God’s telling you to move on.
Pastor Keith: Great word. Great word. Well, we’ve got Joe Blanchard here to my right, and man, how long have we known each other, brother?
Joe Blanchard: Hey, Pastor Keith. I guess we’ve known each other for probably eight or nine years, as long as you’ve been here at Bethel.
Pastor Keith: Well, you are one of my most dear friends, and I couldn’t be more excited to have both of you here for this podcast. Really grateful for you. How’s your year been so far, in the new year? Has it been good?
Joe Blanchard: It’s been good.
Jimmy Acree: Yeah, so far so good.
Pastor Keith: So far so good.
Joe Blanchard: Boring. Non-eventful.
Jimmy Acree: I’m with Joe on that one.
Pastor Keith: That’s good. Well, today’s topic is worshipping God when life hurts – worshipping God when life hurts. I thought of this Scripture as I was praying about today, Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Pastor Jimmy, why is life not always sunshine and rainbows? Why is that the case?
Jimmy Acree: I’m assuming it is because of how God set up things. When he gave us freedom to rebel, we brought consequences on ourselves, and so the Bible talks about the how the world – because of our sin, the world has corruption and it leads to not everything being good in our lives.
Pastor Keith: What word of hope might you tell to somebody that is going through a hard time right now, that the sun, the physical sun so to speak is – they don’t feel like it’s shining on them, maybe it’s a dark cloud over their life right now, that’s maybe just tuned into this episode?
Jimmy Acree: Well, what I do when the sun is not shining is, I just remind myself that, hey, it’s going to shine again. I know that sounds like of trite, but it’s the truth. It’s going to shine again. But more specifically, as a follower of Jesus, I remind myself that, hey, when things are not going the way I want them to go or I’m in a really hurtful time, Jesus isn’t abandoning me. He’s going to walk with me. He’s going to be there with me. He’s going to help me, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to get easier right away, but He’s going to walk with me in it. So that’s how I deal with the rainy days.
Pastor Keith: That’s very well said. I think about even in the Great Commission that the Holy Spirit is with us every day and even to the end of the age. He’s our helper, is our strength. He’s our refuge, Psalm 46:1. I often will tell people when providing care for them, that Philippians scripture, He will be faithful to complete the work that He has begun in them. Do you think people expect, Joe, for there not to be any dark days?
Joe Blanchard: Well, they shouldn’t. I believe that because of sin in the world, that there’re going to be dark days. And of course Christ is light, and we’re sinful people. And so a lot of our problems and a lot of our dark days, I believe, come about because of other people and how they interact with us and what they do, or maybe what we do that is not right. So they should not expect there not to be dark days.
Jimmy Acree: Yeah, if I can add to that. I think sometimes, maybe not a lot, but some of our dark days are due to bad decisions that we’ve made, consequences that we’ve reaped because of things that we’ve done. I think some of those dark days come at our own hand because of stuff we’ve done. But then again, there are dark days that we had nothing to do with.
Pastor Keith: Is God the author of evil and sadness?
Jimmy Acree: Oh, absolutely not. God is not the author of evil. I’m pretty adamant there, right, that God’s not the –
Pastor Keith: Amen.
Jimmy Acree: I mean, I struggle with that one a lot. At the end of the day, since we believe God sits in His heaven and does whatever He wants, right – God is sovereign, meaning, there’s nothing God cannot do, or anything that He wants to do He can do. So I’ve thought about that question an awful lot. The Bible is really clear. God’s not the author of evil, so I believe that the evil that we experience comes because God has given us some degree of autonomy that has caused the world to stumble and be in corruption. And so with that comes evil. But God’s not the author of that.
Pastor Keith: Right. Amen, that’s right. Right on.
Joe Blanchard: I think he’s saying our poor decision making really impacts the evil that you see and the hard times and the hurt.
Pastor Keith: Yeah, you think when you step away from following God’s Word, you’re not going to have the – when you’re not walking according to His ways – not saying that when you walk according to His ways there’s not going to be hard days. But when you intentionally break His commandments or turn a blind eye to God’s Word, life’s going to look different for you.
Joe Blanchard: I’ve just found that the older I get and the more things that I experience and learn, from other people’s experiences as well, the more that you’re in God’s Word – you know, I love reading Proverbs. I tell people all the time, there are 31 of them. Read one a day.
Pastor Keith: I think you’ve told me that before.
Joe Blanchard: It’s just so much is there. And it’s like the rule book. The whole books are real book for life, but they’re just so many things in Proverbs that has to do with decision making of our own, like Jimmy was speaking of early. And that brings on much hurt in many families and many relationships.
Jimmy Acree: You know, there’s something you said a minute ago, Keith, about following God’s Word. God gives us these instructions so that our lives will flourish. And if we follow His will and we do the things that He said, then the result of those things are flourishing in our life. But at the same time, there’s other forces that work on our life, things that we can’t control, things that we have no say-so on. I don’t necessarily think that God’s causing every little thing that happens. Right? God sits over all things, but I don’t think God’s causing everything, especially some of those bad things, but they’re beyond our control. They have nothing to do with me following God’s will.
Bad things happen to us, and when they do happen, they’re hurtful and they tend to make us – one of the things that we tend to do is tend to blame God when that happens. When bad things like that happen. Right? And they’re out of our control. “God, why did you let that happen,” or even, “Why did you cause that?” And there’s no real answer to those. But when they do happen – I’ve already said this, but I go back to saying, when those bad things happen, God’s not going to leave me. God’s going to be with me. He’s going to walk with me. We’re not really talking specifics. He’s going to walk with me. He’s never going to leave me. He’s going to help me through it. He may not remove it, but He’s going to help me walk through it.
Pastor Keith: So encouraging. Such great words. I was just thinking of the Scripture that Joe just mentioned about the Proverbs to trust in the Lord with all your heart. I mean, that is really a prayer to not lean on our own understanding when we don’t understand what’s going on, but just acknowledge Him, acknowledge Him. I know from knowing you brothers, that a season of trial has not been away from you all of your life. What has God taught you through seasons of sadness that maybe now in a way for what He’s done in your life, you’re thankful for, even though you would not want that to happen again, or it was very difficult. How has God worked in your life through a time of trial? That was a long question.
Joe Blanchard: I mean, He certainly gives you perspective depending on what you’re dealing with. You have to really understand – I’ve had to understand how sovereign God is. When I went through the ordeal that I’ve been going through, reading the book Trusting God by Jerry Bridges is a great book about the sovereignty of God and His will. And when things happen that are very hurtful and very deep and very serious, you’ve got to understand – I have had to understand that God is sovereign. We’re taught that. We listen to it as pastors preach it to us, but you really don’t live it, I don’t think – I’m not going to say no one does, but you don’t get a chance to practice it until you have something to relate it to. So that, understanding sovereignty and His will has been something I’ve really had to learn.
And you know, living day by day, things that are in the Bible and we’ve learned and known about forever. The living day-by-day has really been a big deal to me. The Sermon on the Mount tells you that. It doesn’t tell you to live week-by-week or month-by-month. When I lost my eye and having troubles with my eyes since I was two and losing an eye at 57, you automatically think, “Hmm. There’s one left.” It’s just natural. So there’s a season of being concerned and worried about that, which you could live your life worried over it, easily.
But you’ve got to understand that – well, first off, every morning – and I’ve had eye trouble since I was two. And I can’t say I’ve always done this. But every morning I thank God for clarity of vision. Every morning. I’m not the nine lepers that walked on off after they asked God to heal, and one thanked Him and the rest left. I never forget that. Because I remember non-clarity of vision too well. And it was like that for a long time for me.
Pastor Keith: Yeah, we’ve talked about that at our lunches at Subway of when it’s away. Like with my vision struggle, when you see the other side of not being able to see, you don’t take it for granted; at least you’re not prone to. As you were sharing, I was thinking about when I was at Winnetka Bible Church in Chicago, before I came to Bethel. I’m reformed in my theology. I feel like I have a strong view of the sovereignty of God and His goodness. So mentally, theologically, I’m right there. And so nine months after we got to the church, the senior pastor left. And so I still remember talking with one of the elder’s wives there in the office at the copy machine. And she said, “How you doing?” And I said, “Well, I believe in the sovereignty of God, that He has a plan. He’s Lord over this. But I’m struggling.”
And it was a bit for me at that time of not just having an ivory tower discipline of knowing a mental assent of the sovereign God, but really praying in and trusting Him when I didn’t know what the next season of the church was going to look like. I’d just moved my family to Chicago and a dear brother pastor, God moved him on. That’s fine. But I just found myself really having to lean in to trust Him. I’m thankful for that season. It was difficult, but it definitely can build your faith, James chapter 1. How about you Pastor Jimmy. I know you just recently lost your dear son Shep. How long has that been now?
Jimmy Acree: It’s been over a year now. It was back in September of ’18, about a year and three months, something like that, a year and four months. So what was the question?
Pastor Keith: How have, even in the midst of such a hard time, how did you see God’s working in that and where are you now?
Jimmy Acree: You know, I got the call on a Friday afternoon from our local sheriff, basically came by to see me. I won’t tell you the whole story, but he came in – and he’s a friend of mine actually.
Pastor Keith: Oh, there in Surry.
Jimmy Acree: There is Surry, yeah. He came by and – it was funny, because he walks in the door – can I tell you the story?
Pastor Keith: Yeah.
Jimmy Acree: It might be a couple minutes. But anyway, so I’d gotten a ticket a few months earlier and gone to court that week trying to beat it. Didn’t beat it. But the sheriff had poked his head in, and so I knew why he was coming by to see me. He was coming by to give me a hard time about that ticket. It’s not a speeding ticket. I didn’t stop at a stop sign. I rolled through it. Anyhow, but he walks in the door. He’s just all serious. And I said, “I know why you’re here. You’re here about that ticket. You’re here to make fun of me,” or something like that. And I could tell right away he wasn’t.
And it’s funny, I mean, this is – I don’t know how to explain this. But then it hit me. I said, “Carlos, you’re here to tell me one of my children has been killed, aren’t you?” And he goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “You’re here to tell me that my son Shep was killed in a motorcycle accident, aren’t you?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I mean, I’m just not – I didn’t have any kind of premonition or nothing like that. I mean, that was just what came out. Part of it was because my son was always kind of teasing, saying, “You might as well get used to it, Mom and Dad. I’m gonna die on a motorcycle.” And maybe that’s why I said it. I don’t know.
But my family was up in Pennsylvania at the time, so it was kind of an ordeal telling them, getting up there to where they were. But that evening, finally got to the house, and my family all found out, and we huddled together that weekend. And you know, the one thing I wanted to tell you Keith and you Joe, and actually all your listeners too, is that the neat thing about all of this is that God really was with us through it all there. I mean, tremendous sadness and crying, and it’s only now, a year or so later, that I can sit here and talk to you guys like this and not get all choked up with emotion. And who’s to say, it might happen to me as we go along. But God met us, and the neat thing about this was that nobody in my family, my children nor my wife nor myself, none of us were angry with God.
The young boy that pulled out in front of my son. It was his first time driving. He had a learners permit. Didn’t see my son, pulled in front of him, and my son ran into him on his motorcycle. We weren’t angry at the boy. Actually got to go to California and meet with the boy and tell him that, “Hey, we forgive you. We’re not angry with you.” But we weren’t angry with God either. I probably don’t share the reformed view that you have, but it’s still, regardless of how we feel God exercises His sovereignty, His kingly rule over all things, it’s still be a – it’s been a struggle for me to try to figure that out. Right? And I don’t really have an answer to it. I mean, people would say, “God’s got a plan. This is God’s plan.” I kind of balked about that. I had a hard time thinking, “Well, God killed my son for a plan or a purpose.” Right? I mean, putting it in the vernacular.
Pastor Keith: Did anybody say that to you during that season?
Jimmy Acree: That God killed by son? No. But when people said things like, “Well, God’s got a plan, and this is God’s plan,” the implication is that God is somehow controlling all of this. God’s in control. But God’s controlling all this to make that happen for a purpose. And I struggled with that.
Pastor Keith: That’s like a fatalistic view, isn’t it?
Jimmy Acree: Maybe so. But what I didn’t struggle with, and this is what I’d want to tell your listeners that are going through a tough time, what I’d want to say to them is, God is not going to leave you. I mean, I don’t know why we go through struggles. I don’t know why it’s hard. Ultimately we know it’s because of sin and rebellion against God. Right? But what I’m saying is, the specifics about why Joe’s had eyesight problems, had to lose his eye, who knows why? Why did my son die? I mean, the specifics of that, we don’t know.
But here’s what I want to say to everybody, God’s not going to leave you in the middle of that. I mean, He’s going to be with you. Whatever the reason we suffer, God chose to enter into our suffering. Jesus became one of us. And then the Bible talks – Isaiah 53, He suffered. Right? He suffered like us. So for whatever reason, God’s entered into our suffering. And God says, “Jimmy,” and this is what He told me, “I’m not going to leave you. I’m with you.” And we sensed it and we felt it. And that’s what I’d say everyone who suffers and struggle. All the reasonings and the whys, and that kind of stuff, I don’t know that you’ll ever get an answer to that.
Some things have happened in the last year that I can say, “Well, that’s a good thing that came out of my son’s death. Right? I mean, that’s a good thing that came out of that.” But is that the reason my son died? I don’t even want to try to go there. But what I do what to tell everyone is that God’s not going to leave you. He’s not going to forsake you. He’s going to walk with you. He feels your pain. He’s struggling – I mean, He’s hurting with you.
Pastor Keith: That’s right, Hebrews 4.
Jimmy Acree: He’s hurting with you, and He’s going to walk with you through that. That’s what I’ve discovered, and that’s what I want to tell everybody about worshiping God in the midst of trials. Just know that God’s not leaving you. God’s not going to abandon you, and He’s going to help you.
Pastor Keith: That’s a testimony to His goodness. How did the young fella respond when you went out to California and sat down with him? How old a guy was he?
Jimmy Acree: He was probably 17. He had not wanted to drive, and that’s another story. His dad and his partner, they were both crying. The boy was very unemotional. He was very unemotional. But I think his parents were grateful. And again, my family, my children – this is what praise, I thank God for. My children weren’t angry with God. None of us were. We were not angry with God. And it wasn’t like, “God caused this. Why God? Where are You?” I mean, none of that. It was, “God’s going to be with us through this.”
Pastor Keith: Can I ask you a followup question in that?
Jimmy Acree: Sure.
Pastor Keith: Storing up God’s Word, why do you think they were at the place that they were? Because I would say that it would be semi-normal for people to kind of shake their fist at God. Why do you think they had that humble disposition?
Jimmy Acree: I don’t know, Keith. I really don’t know. I mean I consider that one of the graces from God. Again, I’m sure it has –
Pastor Keith: Sewing God’s Word in their hearts.
Jimmy Acree: I think it’s who their mom and dad were. That sounds arrogant, and I don’t mean it that way. But they had watched Anne and me. We have six children, and I guess all along we’d said – we were open about the fact that, “Hey, you could lose your eyesight,” or, “Hey, one of my children could die somewhere along the way.” Right? So it’s not that we were looking for it, but being realistic about how bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to godly people who love Jesus and their whole life is – you guys can’t imagine how many godly brothers and sisters, I’ve discovered in this journey in the last year, have lost their children. Most people don’t talk about it. They don’t ever bring it up. But lots of people who love Jesus, who follow Jesus, they’ve had things like this happen. I’m not sure where I was going with that. But anyway – you were asking me why my kids responded the way. I don’t know, but I’m really thankful to God that they were not angry and they trusted God in the midst of all of it.
Pastor Keith: As a dad, you just gave us an exhortation – I know there are dads listening, because they write to me, this podcast – is to train up a child in the way that he should go. I mean, you were storing God’s Word, being an example to them all those years. And when you walk through a hard season, they’re able to turn back and grasp, to cling to the goodness of God and Jesus Christ. John 15, they were abiding in Him, not turning to the things of the world. They could have turned to alcohol and something else to soothe the pain, but praise God they didn’t do that. Yeah, praise God for that.
Joe Blanchard: I was thinking knowing God’s Word helps. That’s why it’s encouraged so much in the Word to know it and strive to know it better, strive to understand it, because our understanding, as the verse says that you quoted in Proverbs, isn’t very good. That’s been proven many times. But I do think that – I personally feel like to react in that manner, you would have to have a really – I don’t know what else you could base it on, without basing it on God’s Word.
Pastor Keith: Psalm 1, meditating on His law day and night. Definitely.
Jimmy Acree: Can I follow up on that just before you move on?
Pastor Keith: Yeah.
Jimmy Acree: I absolutely agree with both of you about the Word of God, hiding it in our children’s hearts and all. But to the dad’s out there, I’d say, the most important thing – and I’ve found this personally. I’ve found this as a pastor. The most important thing is that dads, you be for real. In other words, dad, what’s going to captivate the hearts of our children for the Lord is them seeing it be real in you. Them seeing you be for real. If you’re just trying to teach them Bible verses or whatever but you’re not really living it out, I don’t think you’re going to accomplish much. It’s the dad and the mom whose heart is really for God and your kids see you living that out. That’s really what impacts kids.
Pastor Keith: Well, you modeled that for those that follow you on social media as you shared where your soul was through that journey. I remember just you were so authentic and transparent. That’s rare in itself. I was grateful for that. Because it’s easy just to want to just close in.
Joe Blanchard: That’s one of the reasons that – I remember when you called me in that Sunday morning for the choir to pray for me, that was before I lost my eye. And they had asked me specifically what did I want prayer for. And I didn’t say, “To save my eye.” That wasn’t what I was after. I wanted for them to pray that I would have great joy in my trial, because of what you just said. Because I think it’s important that people see that. Because it’s easy to be happy when things are happy. I can remember when it all started, and I was sitting in a doctor’s office with a detached retina. And they said, you’re going to have to have your head down for 14 days. You remember this?
Pastor Keith: I do.
Joe Blanchard: And they asked did I want depression medication, and if I felt I needed it, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.
Pastor Keith: They asked you before you started it?
Joe Blanchard: Yeah, because some people get depressed. They have to look down at the ground for 14 days, which I had never done. But the doctor said, “I’m going to do my part, but you’re part’s a bigger part than my part. You’ve got to look down, so you’ll get this retina to grow back. And I said, “No, I’m okay.” And my wife, Donna, was in there and then a lady that I’ve known at Virginia Eye Consultants for 40 years was sitting there. And I said, “It’s just time for me to be like Paul.” That’s just the first thing I thought about, because of how he acted when he had very trying times and trials in his life. I just immediately wanted to not have that bad attitude.
But it teaches you so much more with the perspective – I’ve never been a rush around kind of person. But when those 14 days were over, if you want to rush, if you want to overfill your calendar, that’s fine. Because your calendar can be stopped. My calendar was stopped. I couldn’t even write a check. I couldn’t do any of the stuff that I do, I couldn’t do. That’s perspective. For whatever it’s worth, that turns out to be the eye that I lost, because I’ve had a detached retina – well I’ve had a retina issue in my right eye but not as bad, thankfully.
I think it’s just important to realize where our position is and what’s important. Because it just seems like when we’re happy and things are going our way, we just run around like – sometimes like God’s not even there. And I don’t want to be that way. I want to be joyful when things are hurting, but I want to be joyful obviously when things are not. But I want to give God the credit for those good times. He gets credit for everything.
Pastor Keith: I appreciate you guys sharing that so much. When I could not see back in 2013, and I stood before the church on that Sunday morning, and every person in the congregation was blurry, and I couldn’t read a thing. I couldn’t see the confidence monitor. I was quickly aware of the fact that everything I have that is good is from Jesus Christ. I cannot stand up and lead the church on my own effort. He’s given me grace to see, to speak, the skill to sing in tune, to have a mind that’s able to coordinate a choir and orchestra. Everything that is good is from God. I just remember being aware that day, “Lord, I’ll never take my vision for granted again.” I’m thankful for that lesson. He teaches us a lot through trials. It’s like the refiners fire, I guess.
Well, let’s move on. How does the church, in a time of trial, how does biblical community help serve us well?
Joe Blanchard: Even today, but especially going through this ordeal, I never walked in our church, Bethel Baptist Church’s door without someone approaching me. But even when I wasn’t in church, in the building, people would also – I could be out somewhere, or at home – and it’s crucial. I don’t know how people could ever – and not so sure how well they do get through trials, when they don’t have a community of believers around them. Well, you can’t do it on your own. Obviously you’re allowing God, and then very prayerful, but that’s why we have believers around us too, to share our burden. And I think when people share a burden, it’s that next step of really sacrificing. I can remember when you were at the hospital and my brother and Kenny Green came to the hospital.
Pastor Keith: I remember that.
Joe Blanchard: That was a big deal for really both of you, because – of course my wife was there. But you all two, on that particular day, I remember, had to really rearrange your schedules, because it was a quick, “Op, surgery’s tomorrow.” And that’s a big deal. And I don’t take that for granted, at all. And if you don’t have biblical community, you don’t have that.
Jimmy Acree: I agree with Joe, that the community – in fact the metaphor is we are the body of Christ. Jesus never hugged me. But Jesus did hug me through his body, through the people that loved on us through that. Couldn’t agree more with what Joe said. The biblical community is, I think, really how God manifests and cares for us through them. And so when Shep died – and I think it’s probably a little bit different for me, because I got 33 years of – 32 years at the time – being in the same church family. They just walked with us through it at the time. In fact they walked with us through it the whole time.
But even going outside of my own local church family, the local body of Christ I’m a part of, I just found Christians, they help us in our tough times by walking with us emotionally, walking with us physically. People who wept with me – you know the Scripture says we weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, rejoice with those who rejoice. When all this went down and in the months that followed, people wept with me, people that I hadn’t seen.
I just ran into Joe Ford out there, hadn’t seen him in a long time. I guarantee you if I’d run into Joe Ford one month after Shep had died, and we hadn’t seen each other, I guarantee you he’d have cried – well, I can’t guarantee it. I don’t know. But most everybody I’d run into that knew me, when they saw me – now I’m trying to push down my own emotion – they would weep with me. So that’s what the body of Christ does. Jesus is with us, but Jesus manifests His love to us through people.
And one of the things I’ve told – believers ask me all the time, “What do I do if somebody else is going through what you’re going through? How do I help them?” And I said, “Just cry with them, man. Just hug them. You don’t have to say anything.” I guess the thing we all say is, “I’m sorry.” And that’s okay. Say, “I’m sorry.” Say, “I love you.” Hug them. Cry with them. I mean, people crying with me was one of the best things, was one of the most comforting. Maybe that’s not the right adjective, but to have somebody weep with me, because I know you’re grieving with me when you weep with me.
Pastor Keith: You felt their love for you in a deep way.
Jimmy Acree: Yeah. I felt the love of God when they did that. It’s a metaphor for the body of Christ, but it’s a metaphor because there’s a reality to it. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to one another. I mean, we’re physical creatures, and as physical creatures, we respond physically. And so hugs and being in one another’s presence and weeping, those things, they’re Jesus. We’re to be Jesus to one another.
Pastor Keith: So much good wisdom. One of my favorite things that John Piper said in regards to community point is, he said he would not be the pastor, the Christian he is were it not for his church.
Jimmy Acree: Oh, I totally agree with that. Totally agree with that.
Pastor Keith: A hundred percent, yeah, hundred percent. When we’re facing those trials, where’s our ultimate hope? This is a softball question, but as the listeners are hearing about trials, where is our ultimate hope?
Jimmy Acree: Well, our ultimate hope lies in our relationship with Jesus, because Jesus has promised us His kingdom is coming. His kingdom is already here in a sense. I mean, He rules over our hearts. We are His kingdom, we His people. But there’s a sense in which Jesus is coming again, and He’s coming and He’s going to resurrect us to a kingdom where He rules the Earth. In that hope, we’re going to get to spend eternity with Him, the one who’s loved us, the one who’s created us, but then has created us and has loved us so much that He was willing to become one of us so that we could have eternal life.
Joe lost one eye. But if he loses his eyesight, the hope is that God is going to resurrect us to a whole new life without the brokenness of this world, without the sin of this world. Our eyesight will be restored. Actually our lives will be restored. I’m going to get to see my son again. We’re going to get to see all of those who we have loved who follow Jesus, and we’re going to spend an eternity together in a kingdom with Jesus as our Lord. And I love to tell people this. Isaiah says, “And the government will be on His shoulders,” and Jesus is going to be our King and our Leader, and I look forward to the day when He rules the world. So our hope lies in Him and His promise of eternal life in a kingdom to come.
Pastor Keith: Such a good word.
Joe Blanchard: I think oftentimes people, when they meet their trial, they feel like that’s the end. They don’t go – even Christians, I think, whatever the trial is, it’s like they stop and they don’t look to what you just said about eternal life with Christ and what the Bible tells us that all brings.
Pastor Keith: Can you speak to that? Going through a trial, we just talked about community, but what word would you say to somebody that’s going through a trial and they kind of retreat? They pull the shade down. They close the door and they stay alone at home. What word would you say to them? Just a pastoral word to say, “Brother or sister, come out. Come back to church. I know it’s hard to be out, but come back to biblical community.” I’m kind of answering my question.
Joe Blanchard: I think you just do it. You do and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest. I think you pray. Because it’s hard to – depending on your circumstances, it’s hard to get up and do the next thing. It’s a little bit different in my – I guess in the eyesight situation, the one thing that was a big struggle – and I’ve seen this change. It’s quite amazing – is just the acclamation of your brain to one eye. And it takes one year from when my right eye was settled, which really was about six months after I lost this eye. So it didn’t start when I lost the eye. So about 18 months – it’s coming up here in about a month or two, and just being able to – so every time I did something new with one eye –
Pastor Keith: Like writing.
Joe Blanchard: Like going someone that I’d been 100 times but never with one eye. This sounds crazy and you can’t imagine this if you don’t have the one eye. But it looks different, and you have to acclimate. Your brain is doing it. It’s taking images. It’s taking pictures. But the point I want to make is that, you can be timid about doing things that you’re used to doing. You could stay in the bed, so to speak and not – the other day, I was hanging some bathroom accessories. I’ve done it a lot, but it’s the first time with one eye. Everything is slower. That’s okay. But you got to own that, that it’s okay. That’s a big deal. I just think that you’ve just got to pray and say, “God, I’m going to go do what I know I can do,” with safety glasses on. And it’s going to be slower. It’s going to be different. It’s not going to be the same. You’ve got to recognize all those things. It’s not going to be the same with your son missing, family members passing away, but you got to still move on. And I think that takes prayer, and I think – well I know – God will help you through that.
Pastor Keith: I think about one of the things you said when we were at Subway. We were talking about our eye struggles, that even though they were different, about our creator God, of how He’s made the eye and how it’s just amazing the depth and the complexity. It’s just unbelievable. And to think that you can lose one eye and your brain recalculates itself. You adjust to – even with the scarring on my left eye, when I look at you or look ahead, I don’t see any distortion. But when I use that one eye, no, it’s grey. But together it’s – we are fearfully and wonderfully made it says in Psalm 139.
Joe Blanchard: When I started this whole journey with my eye, it all started with – and I’m not saying it’s not a happy thing now, but it all started out, I’m going to have two corneal transplants, and we’re going to have two eyes to see out of. That was the whole start. And I always wanted to kind of relate my experience biblically any time that I could. There was two different times that really resonate. I can remember my first transplant. When I was coming back from the hospital and Donna was driving. I said, “You know, someone had to die for me to see.” It’s that simple. You can’t make a cornea. It’s got to come off of a person that’s passed away. They’ve tried it. They can’t do it. So that reminded me, of course, of salvation. And then you think of all the times in the Bible where God takes people that are weak, that say, “Oh, I can’t do that.” And so, “I know you can’t do it by yourself. I’m going to fill in the gap.” And my left eye that I lost was my strongest eye. But I had never read – at times on and off I had read 20/30. But in May of last year, I read 20/25 with the weakest eye, the only eye. And oftentimes I’m sitting in the chair and I’m not sure what I’m reading. I’ll say, “What was that? Was that 20/30?” Because when you get down smaller, it’s hard to tell. She said, “That was 20/25.” I’m like, “What?” I’ve never done that. Ever. So I just think about how God’s taken my weak eye –
Jimmy Acree: And made it stronger.
Joe Blanchard: And made it stronger.
Pastor Keith: How about that? [inaudible]
Joe Blanchard: So I’ve just tried to look at the circumstance and just show the God, tell about the God in it.
Pastor Keith: Brothers, you both, in your own way, in your own life of God’s working, have taught the church, have encourage the church how to suffer well, how to bring your hope always back to the cross and to pray and commune with Him and gain your strength back. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the journey that – I can’t even think about how many times I’ve prayed for you through your eye struggle, and I’ve prayed for Pastor Jimmy. No, we didn’t talk as much as I would see your posts. That’s coming back to the biblical community, the church, of grieving for one another. Were you going to say something just a minute a go?
Jimmy Acree: Well, I was just going to comment on the thing you said about the person who’s locked away. A lot of times we’ve got to go to that person and help that person, because again, depression is real.
Pastor Keith: Yeah, it is.
Jimmy Acree: It affects the mind, and people are struggling with that when they have trials. They’re struggling with anger. A lot of people struggle with anger when they’re hurt. So we have to actually go to – I know neither one of you all were saying this, but we can’t just encourage them with words. Sometimes to have go and sit with them and –
Pastor Keith: Yes, a hundred percent right.
Jimmy Acree: And say, “Come on, let’s go to lunch. Let’s ride down the road. Let’s do this.” We’ve got to actually be hands on too, to help people. And eventually hopefully we can help them get to a spot where they’re good again, choosing joy and making right choices, but sometimes they’re so down we have to be there.
Pastor Keith: Amen. Heart of the shepherd coming out. I’m the worship pastor, so I love asking this question, and this podcast is Doxology Matters, what hymn or song has maybe been super special to you that has been a source – that maybe you’re at singing home by yourself or in the church that you’ve – that song during that season really meant a lot to you?
Jimmy Acree: Joe, could you go first, he didn’t give us that question ahead of time.
Joe Blanchard: Well, we know “I Need Thee Every Hour,” which you had planned to sing the week after I had my eye removed or really had the second surgery.
Pastor Keith: I remember that moment.
Joe Blanchard: Because of Dr. Joly and him asking you to pray and then him praying for himself. A 40-year doctor. That’s humble. Then you had already planned that song anyway. And of course, I said earlier that I’ve learned to be more prayerful, to really tell God, “I need You all the time.” I could not go through what I went through without praying more, understanding more, having biblical community, all the things. I could not have done it, in my wife – your family – my wife and her support, my children. But we all need Him all the time. I say I thank God for my vision every morning, and I do it throughout the day.
Pastor Keith: You’re right. I love that hymn for that. Without we can do, it says in John 15, nada, zero.
Jimmy Acree: So the song that I sing to myself quite a bit – actually there’s a couple. But the song that I sing to myself quite a bit, even before Shep died, but even since Shep died, is the one about bless the Lord. It says, “Sing like never before.”
Pastor Keith: 10,000 Reasons?
Jimmy Acree: So I sing that to myself a lot. I also sing to myself the little song, “I Love You Lord.” I sing that to myself. And then the followup song for me is, “Oh How He Loves You and Me.” And I change the words, “Oh, how He loves even me.” So those are three songs that I sing to myself a lot. However, I will tell you that just on Sundays or whenever in a place where we’re worshiping using music – I’m a lyric guy. I’m listening and the lyrics, I’m changing. I’m singing lyrics to the Lord if I can. Instead of singing them to you while we’re singing, I’m changing them and I’m singing them to God. If that makes sense. If you understand what I’m saying there. So I just look for songs that express my heart to God in worship. But just for myself personally, I think those are the three songs I sing to myself the most.
Pastor Keith: That, “I Love You Lord” it –
Jimmy Acree: That dates me, doesn’t it.
Pastor Keith: That song is like the psalmist. I think that is a fine song to sing. It’s suffered some critique over the years. “We really shouldn’t sing that because do we really mean it?” Well, that’s just a – when we sing any song, we should seek to honor the Lord deep in our hearts and not just with our mouths. And so if it’s coming from a genuine place of worship, then it’s A-okay. To sing that song going through a trial is just even sweeter. I’m really thankful for you guys being here, you dear brothers. I’d like to just close in a word of prayer and finish our time together. Thank you for being here.
Gracious God, we thank You for Your unfailing love to us, and we thank You Lord. As Pastor Jimmy and Joe has given testimony of Your goodness, even when the dark cloud comes, Lord, You are good. And the joy and the prize of Jesus Christ is far more beautiful and richer and deeper than we can ever fully grasp. Your greatness, as it says in Psalm 145, is unsearchable. Thank you, Lord. We pray, Lord, for those that are listening that either are walking through a hard season or, Lord, maybe tomorrow it begins a trial in their life, Lord. We pray that they would turn to You. They would open their Bible and hear Your promises and meditate on You day and night, pray and commune with You, and Lord, that You might bring people, good gospel-believing Christians around them to encourage them. Thank you, Lord, for Your love for us, that You never ever leave us or forsake us, and we pray in the strong name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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