Words from my father

10671385_10154646288390541_3492417953276015972_nOn Sept. 19, 2012, my dad, Larry Wayne Sanders Jr., committed suicide. He was a faithful father, husband, and pastor. Shortly after he died, I was looking through my Facebook correspondence with him and became overwhelmed at the compassionate care he used with me even on social media. Below is a sample of his pastoral care in the last few years of his life.

The profile photo in question.

The profile photo in question.

Jan. 17, 2009: My second semester of college. I was arguing with my dad to justify my Facebook profile photo, and told him how painful it was to see a family photo on his page excluding me.

Life does change fast. Our life is but a vapor. That is why I treasure the time we spent yesterday. If I can influence your life for Christ deeper, if I can strengthen you, if I can continue to teach you about being a real man, I will take what time, travel as far as I need to to do so.
It did hit me that you were not in [the picture]. You being my firstborn, it has been tough on me. Of all the children, I spent tons of time with you. I do not know why time with the girls was harder to find: they were drawn to your Mom; was my ministry demanding more time (remember as well at one point I had 3 positions to make ends meet); and competing with playtime with siblings? That is why I hug the girls now and drive Mikayla to things/let her drive, and take Caitlin hunting/ teach her how to mow the lawn, because I do not ever want them to forget how much I love them.
I did not mean to upset you. The typed word never expresses the spoken word at times. I think your “face in blue retro” is just the right one. It describes your creativity and your ability to make people laugh, among other things.
Never forget that I love you. Never.

2281_1084000106646_3849_nApril 25, 2009: My dad was offering feedback on a sermon I recently preached. He was also responding to an issue I struggled with at the time as to whether or not pastors should perform weddings for unbelievers.

I looked at 1 Timothy 5:8.

Your message and presentation was very good. I feel bad I even use notes. What is your secret besides prayer and the hand of God?

I got tickled and almost could not quit laughing after your video of “BFF Buddy Jesus” and you made a remark (and now I cannot remember) but my response was “Craig better watch out his BFF Buddy is watching”. If you saw me giggling it was not you.

Regarding marriage of unbelievers to one another, note this from Hebrews.
Heb 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
True, marrying them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is meaningless if they are not living for Him. But at the same time, all people should be made aware that a day is coming when we must give an account to the One before whom our lives are lived out.
The gospel has been presented almost every time I have met with couples. I did what I could do, their decision to accept or reject is now their burden.
I have only had one couple approach me for marriage since I have been here – and they rejected my standard of moving out of the live in situation. They claimed to be believers yet stated it was for financial reasons they did not move out.
Years ago I lovingly confronted a man who had served as a deacon and had a woman living in his house with him – seperate rooms he claimed and he was on heart meds, so nothing could happen – he assured me. (Yeah, right) But I told him that the appearance of evil was sending the wrong message. Within two weeks, she moved out.
Yes, there are some weddings I wish I had not conducted. But at the time, not conducting the wedding made me feel that I would be condoning their sinful choice to continue living together apart from marriage. Yes, lost sinners act very good at being lost sinners.
At this point I cannot think of a comfortable way to conduct a wedding without invoking the Name of the One I serve. So I guess until then weddings for me will have to be believers only, but I would hate to miss the opportunity to lead unbelievers to Christ. So we will see.
Blessings my son,

26489_1353156596605_2496063_nFeb. 2, 2010: In the summer of 2010 I traveled to the West Coast for an internship at a multi-site megachurch. My father offered me sound encouragement early in the application process.

Craig, your Mom told me you heard back. Send me more info and a link. I know I could Google it, but I want to hear from you. How do you feel about it? Where do you sense the Lord has gifted you? Are you daily in the Word and in prayer?
What do you see down the road as to where God may use these experiences?
With all the love in the world,

July 17, 2010: An invitation to attend to a leadership conference.

Will let you know soon! Thanks son. I love you and I am VERY proud of you.

Aug. 2, 2010: When I briefly questioned believer’s baptism.

So the point is?
I believe baptism is to be by immersion. When one is saved and baptized in the Spirit, it is total, not a little dab here and a little dab there.
True, there are times when a person is physically unable to do so: a handicap, a region of the world (ice, desert), etc, but immersion is baptism. If not someone needs to go back in time and tell Adoniram Judson who worked alongside William Carey, that his decision on the ship ride over to India where he became convinced of immersion was in error.

Sept. 5, 2010: My dad’s encouragement of my work as a sports photographer at WYFF in Greenville, S.C.

The guy that took out that receiver with that hit? Man, that was great. Great shot Craig.

March 11, 2011: My dad and I exchanged blogs after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. This was also three months before my wedding.

Thank you for sending this. I was just getting ready to find some blogs from other Christian leaders. This has been very helpful.
I love you son, and I am very proud of you. I am going to miss your solo trips home. I will treasure every day that we have ever had together. I am looking forward to welcoming you back home with your bride to be.
Love always, Dad
PS If you need my truck to help move stuff, give me some dates so I can best plan to be of any help.

July 26, 2011: My dad was raising support for a mission trip to Egypt.

Would you and Kaitlyn feel offended if I sent you a support letter for my trip to Egypt?
I am coming up with other ideas for raising the funds. Will keep you posted.
I have been trying to put up the link, but having difficulty.
Love always,

457140_3817929816550_895327133_oApril 1, 2012: My dad was offended by several Facebook posts and tried to delete them. He responded similarly when he often called me for help using the DVD player to watch his favorite movie, Jeremiah Johnson.

It is working now. I am fixing them now. Love you.


My father, my pastor

Saturday, Sept. 22, I delivered the following message at my father’s funeral. Larry Wayne Sanders, Jr. took his own life, Sept. 19. He was a faithful husband, loving father and minister of the gospel. Below is a revised transcription of the message from the funeral, but I will be posting periodically on reflections from my father’s life and tragic death. 

Image“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” My grandmother recited Hebrews 13:8 to my father as he rebelled against his parents and walked waywardly from the Lord. My father came to know the Lord through the persistent faithfulness of my grandmother. But as I’ve reflected on this verse, I’m reminded even more of the constant faithfulness of my Lord Jesus Christ.

My earliest memories of my life were spent in church listening to my father’s preaching. At the end of every service I would run down the aisle and stand proudly next to my father the pastor. Sometimes I like to brag about how I learned how to read when I was 3, but I can assure you that I learned the gospel of Jesus Christ from my father even earlier. As I think about how God used my father to bring me into his kingdom, I also looked around me in the days following his death. His brother, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles, even his late father, believed in the Lord Jesus because of my father’s testimony to them. And as I look at my father’s legacy, I know that all who supported our family testified that he shaped their faith story in some way, whether it was sharing the gospel, discipleship or just strengthening their faith in Christ. But most of all, he raised three children and instructed them in the gospel. Not many pastors, no matter how successful their churches, can rejoice in the salvation of all of their children.

My father loved me. The day following his death, I was browsing his bookshelves and noticed a few bookmarks sticking out of the books. Let me preface this by saying my father didn’t use regular bookmarks and he didn’t use them to signify where he left off. He used sentimental items — pictures of his children, old bulletins and flyers, and birthday cards — and he placed them in passages that were meaningful to him. My father told me a story through those passages. The first, in a book by his friend and local hero Dr. Don Wilton, was placed in a passage where Dr. Wilton described his pride and joy in the birth of his firstborn son. I looked through a few of the other books, finding places that described his own suffering, offered me guidance for forgiveness and comforted me in my pain. I’m not entirely certain that my father intended for me to find those books and passages, although he knows my love for reading and probably rightly assumed I would end up looking through them. But even if he did not intend to communicate to me through those books, he didn’t have to. That’s because he never stopped telling me that he loved me. His sandpapery kisses and warm embraces were always accompanied by his reminders that he loved me and was proud of me.

During the endless 7 ½ hour drive from Louisville, my wife asked me a question that had briefly crossed my mind after I heard the news of my father’s death. She asked, “Does this change your call to ministry?” After moments of reflection, I answered her and myself, and said, “It certainly does not change my call. I did not call myself. I certainly don’t feel like it right now, but that does not change the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

And that truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which my father shared with me, is this: Almighty God created the world around us and fashioned two people in the likeness of his image so that they could rule over the earth. Instead of ruling, Adam and Eve bought into a lie from a creature they were supposed to control, breaking an agreement made with God. This brought evil into the world, evil we have experienced this week, causing every single human born on this earth to live apart from God – such a life is truly death. The Lord, who is merciful, continued pursuing relationships so that he could have a people to rule the earth for him. No one was faithful to God’s promises. But God the Father’s promises to his people were unconditional, so he sent his Son Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to fulfill the promises of his plan. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This was truly unconditional. God’s people could not hold up the end of their deal, they could not save themselves, so God came in the flesh and redeemed them from bondage. And how did he do this? Jesus lived a perfect life, withstanding every temptation and sharing our suffering. Jesus took our sins upon himself on a cross meant for criminals and died, paying the penalty for our sins. But this is not the end of the story. It would appear that Jesus had suffered defeat. On the third day after his death, Jesus rose up the grave, defeating death and giving victory to all those who believe in him. This not only makes salvation possible, it secures salvation for those that believe. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

I stand proudly beside my father the pastor, my friend, my brother in Christ and my hero. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. This does not require good moral living, but a heartfelt devotion to Almighty God. My father sought after Jesus Christ with his entire heart. Salvation comes from God alone, and by his power alone. It does not require any effort of our own nor is it negated by anything we do. I am assured my father is rejoicing in heaven because of God’s enduring faithfulness. The Christian life, however, is not just about a place we go when we die. It is about peace with God and our fellow man, and a hope that God can provide us victory in all things.

But even when we fail, I am reminded of 2 Timothy 2:10-13: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.”

My father faced immense suffering and turmoil, mentally and spiritually, in recent months. On Wednesday, September 19, my father took his own life. It would appear that my father lost the battle. But the truth of the gospel is that Jesus Christ was victorious in my father’s place, and Jesus will receive glory and honor as my father lives eternally in his presence. Jesus Christ is our faithful Victor.

The Devastating Isolation of the Quest for Independence

I listen to Top 40 radio every so often, and I can assure you it’s not for entertainment. While void of creativity, the music speaks into culture and influences lifestyle trends. And because listening to the music requires little brainpower to process the messages and beats, it is the quickest avenue for social change – good or bad.

Take for instance the popularity of the Jerk Movement. A duo by the name of The New Boyz leads this LA-based movement supposedly named for a simplistic dance move that somehow excites people to the point of procreation. If you listen carefully to the music, however, it’s easy to assume that the jerk is not the dance move, but rather the artists.

In the group’s current hit, “Tie Me Down,” these two 17-year old boys rap about how their instant success allows them to sleep with virtually any girl. In fact, they make it clear to the ladies that a commitment is far out of the question, at least for the time being. Despite the efforts of a few girls to make sacrifices to the New Boyz to show their dedication to a relationship, this line is blunt: “You ain’t nothin’ but a hoe.”

Here’s an excerpt from the second verse, and you can read the full lyrics here.

But you cant tie me down like a pair of shoe strings,
Yea you cute. so what?,
But lets get it through your head,
Yea we make love, sex, weed all in the bed,
Its the best thing I love about you,
But things dont change,
When im not faithful,
You be feelin all pain,
Now you stuck like a stain and i cant believe that,
Baby girl want hundreds i aint tryna do that,
Got so many girls and i aint lettin go,
Cause my life is great,
And you aint nothing but a hoe,
Yea you come to my shows and your very supportive,
Just show me a camera and my show recorded,
it was nice,
But Im Suprised That your still standing here,
Ay yea you know im a man,
And i have no feelings,
Im a start it from the top,
Girl this aint no lovin,
Im a new boy girl

Admittedly, the song is very catchy. I probably heard it several times before I actually listened to the lyrics. Before I break down an adequate response to this broken view of manhood, I’ll address the problem presented from the opposite gender as well: Miley Cyrus.

The daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus and the former Disney star who once tried to market a Christian image, Miley is stirring up quite the controversy with her latest single. If you haven’t seen the provocative video for “Can’t Be Tamed,” it’s nowhere near as depressing as the lyrics. The song is basically another shallow composition by a 17-year old, but proudly displays this popular trend for independence and a strong dose of commitmentphobia.

Full lyrics here
I wanna fly, I wanna drive, I wanna go
I wanna be a part of something I don’t know
And if you try to hold me back I might explode
Baby by now you should know

I can’t be tamed, I can’t be tamed, I can’t be blamed
I can’t can’t, I can’t can’t be tamed
I can’t be changed
I can’t be tamed,
I can’t be be, I can’t be tamed

The question I ask to those who are aghast at Miley Cyrus and The New Boyz is this: Why are you surprised? These 17-year old teenagers have grown up in an era where commitment has been scorned. Independence, as they so call it, is no longer a form of liberation but rather the outcome of selfish, lazy teens communicating solely through social networking. They propagate the sins of their parents to create popular trends that merely reflect the devastating isolation that is not just anti-romantic, but anti-human. Unnatural.

God created us to have emotion, feelings, and love. The New Boyz can boast all they want that they “have no feelings,” but that doesn’t make one a man. Besides serving as a self-declaration that they are no different than dogs in heat, the statement ultimately conveys they are sinners dead in their transgressions. Utterly depraved.

The dilemma also proves why Father’s Day this weekend will not serve as a celebration for many, but a reminder for my generation that the men who seeded their mothers weren’t brave enough to father them. For many, it only further isolates them from wanting to feel emotion or to desire commitment.

As a glorious reminder, I hope to encourage fellow believers that this Father’s Day is also a celebration that because of Christ we were adopted into the family of God. The fact that our culture is so isolated should not only break our hearts, it should compel us to be a light in the darkness.

I write this not to paint Miley Cyrus and the New Boyz as enemies; rather, we should pursue their generation and their parents with the Gospel…not just to stand on street corners shouting for repentance, but to pursue loving relationships with the unloved, and care for them far beyond the ways they only care for themselves.

Just like Jesus cared for us.