Alabama is my home state. I have never lived anywhere else. I was born in Marshall County and lived there for most of my childhood. I went through the Guntersville Public School System for all 12 years of school. I did not attend kindergarten. There were a few years of my very early childhood in which my family lived in Oneonta in Blount County where my dad had learned the trade of stone masonry. I also spent a good bit of time in Cullman County visiting my grandparents in Holly Pond. My mother grew up on a farm there with 10 other siblings and remembers picking cotton in the fields alongside the rest of her family and a few hired hands. I remember running through bells of hay and playing in my grandparents’ barn and swimming in their pond. There was water skiing on Lake Guntersville and going hiking and caving all throughout the Tennessee Valley. I took dance at Jane Kohl School of Dance growing up and ran track in high school. It was a humble beginning, and I honestly can’t say it was all good. But, that's where I come from.
For college, I went to Jacksonville State University located in Calhoun County. After graduating, I worked in Gadsden and spent a couple of years there in Etowah County as a reporter. That was my first real brush with politics. My News Director at WAAX radio, Dave Fitz, sent me to interview Congressmen and Gubernatorial Candidates, judges, mayors, and anyone else of importance who came through our town. This all made me quite nervous as a young girl just out of college, but I remember Dave telling me, “Well, they pull on their pants one leg at a time just like you do.” That gave me the confidence I needed to do my job well. I learned so much working there about how a community is run and the issues that are important to people. And that’s where I met my husband, Rick, who was doing the morning show on the FM side of our AM News/Talk station.
It was a Gadsden preacher who helped Rick and me see that we needed a firm foundation in Christ for our marriage. Rick Cagle married us at the First Baptist Church in Gadsden. My parents had only taken me to church sporadically during my childhood, never setting down roots anywhere but hopping around and visiting all sorts of different churches mainly in the Baptist, Holiness, and Church of God range, and there was even a tent revival or two. I remember sitting in the Von Braun Civic Center at a Billy Graham Crusade as they came through Hunstville. I don’t remember much of what that great evangelist said that day, but I sure do remember that my aisle was empty during that alter call. I think I may have been the only human being still sitting in that entire row.
I remember vacation bible school and learning the books of the bible and the Ten Commandments. And, I remember God really pursuing me throughout my childhood. I even went down to the altar at one church to ask Jesus to save me, but I’m not sure that was my real salvation experience. It was certainly the beginning of lots of trials and tests from the Lord, many of which I failed. But one of the fondest memories I have of childhood church experiences was when we joined a little country church at a baptism service out in the woods where the preacher man was baptizing people in the river. I remember the sun shining down through the trees on a long line of people ready to go down into that water to wash their sins away. It was just like the old song, “Yes, we will gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.” Of course, the song is talking about the River of Life in heaven, but something about it just seemed the same.
Even so, somehow, along the way I went off the path of God and went my own way, but I knew I was wrong and that God was right all along. I was just selfish. On the day I married Rick Burgess in that beautiful old church in Gadsden, I felt God calling me home. I felt his hand upon me that day anointing and blessing and forgiving and changing everything.
I only worked one year as a television news reporter in Anniston before I decided to begin my first years of married life with a little more normal schedule, so I took a job with the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. When Rick’s radio station decided to move to Birmingham, we had a hard time leaving Lakeview Baptist Church in Oxford where I had finally put down some religious roots. It was there that I was baptized into the Lord at the age of 26. And it was there that I began a lifelong love relationship with the Word of God. All the questions I had as a child like, “I know Jesus died for my sins, but why did he have to die?” were answered. Through bible study everything was becoming clear. “Oh, that’s why that happened.” And, “Oh Lord, you really do love us, don’t you?”
In Birmingham, I worked a couple of years at Fox 6 as the Community Affairs Coordinator before I had my first sweet baby, Brooks. Motherhood has been my full-time job ever since. I helped raise my two step-children, Brandi and Blake. I have buried one baby, a son. But, I still have two precious boys at home. Losing Bronner has taught me more than anything ever has, and I feel that what God has taught me through it all is meant to be shared. So, I see a new ministry forming in my life as a result of that great test of faith, that, by the way, I am not failing this time. But, I have asked God this question, “How do I keep a heavenly focus, looking to the clouds eagerly awaiting the day my Savior appears there, when my feet are firmly planted on the ground?” Two chapters of the bible help answer that question, Romans 12 and Colossians 3, which I hope you will take the time to read in their entirety on your own.
But, I will say that Romans 12 teaches that we are to abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good. It tells us to overcome evil with good. And these are the reasons why I believe it is important to preserve what is good in the world. I believe that my home state of Alabama is good. We certainly have had our ups and downs as a state just like each individual has. Slavery and racial inequality will forever be the shame of our state’s history. But, I ask each of you if you aren’t as guilty before a holy God? It is only through grace and mercy anyone, regardless of their race or background, could stand before Him. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and my state, Alabama, has certainly sinned and fallen short of the God she has always claimed. But, Alabama’s conservative Christian values at present need to be acknowledged regardless of her past.
I look around in the Birmingham and Hoover Metropolitan Area where I live and can count scores of wonderful, thriving, large and alive churches, mine being just one of them, and my church boasts of 5,000 members. That’s nothing compared to Church of the Highlands who has set national records in church growth. I love to listen to the passionate preacher of the Church at Brook Hills, David Platt, who everyone agrees is just anointed as a preacher and a teacher, no matter where they go to church. Then there’s Hunter Street and Briarwood and Dawson and so many others where God is alive and working and thriving in the hearts of men and women He calls His own. So, I see our city as that shining city on a hill that Jesus talked about shining our light, the light of Christ, to the rest of our state, and our state to our nation, and our nation continuing its place as the light to the rest of the world.
You do realize that American missionaries have spread the gospel by far more than any other nation ever has, excluding the Hebrew nation of Israel through which we even have the gospel. My church alone sends out missionaries all the time. Our members have spanned the globe teaching and helping and spreading the message of hope and salvation through Christ’s shed blood on the cross as payment for the sins of the world, and almost every Sunday I see someone from China being baptized into the faith right there in our baptismal at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. I’ve never seen so many Chinese people as I’ve seen go through that baptismal. And, my friend, Kristi, told me just yesterday at lunch about a week she spent in some community in the former Soviet Union several years ago that at the time she just felt hopeless for. She didn’t think they were making one bit of difference by being there. The people were just so superstitious in this particular community she said. But, she and her husband went back after a year or so had passed to that same community, and the man who had been their interpreter was a Christian pastor with 30 people in his congregation. How’s that for not making a difference?
Dr. David Jeremiah in What In The World Is Going On? writes, “God has blessed America because we have been the launching pad of the world’s great missionary movement. In the aftermath of World War II, Americans started 1,800 missions agencies and sent out more than 350,000 missionaries. And as a result, today 95 percent of the world’s population have access, not only to some portion of Scripture in their language, but also to Christian radio broadcasts, audio recordings, and the Jesus film. That achievement is due largely to the missionary zeal of churches in the United States.”
We know from scripture that a nation who stands for God is in the palm of His hand. We are who we are as a nation only by the Hand of God Almighty. Even Communist China knows this. I have a book called Jesus Comes to Beijing written by the former Beijing Bureau Chief for Time magazine, David Aikman. This is how it begins:
“The eighteen American tourists visiting China weren’t expecting much from the evening’s scheduled lecture. They were already exhausted from a day of touring in Beijing. But what the speaker had to say astonished them.
‘One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world,’ he said. ‘We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.’
This was not coming from some ultra-conservative think tank in Orange County, California, or from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was a scholar from one of China’s premier academic research institutes, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, in 2002.”
What China knows about America, America has forgotten. I look at the optimism in the faces of my children, and it makes me want to help America remember. Remember where you have come from and ask yourself where are you going as a nation? Will you turn your back on the God who made you what and who you are? Sometimes I think Americans feel guilty that they have more than anyone else in the world. But what do we really have? As the Apostle Peter told the crippled beggar, “Silver and gold, I have none, but what I have I give to you.” What we have, my dear friends, is Jesus. Jesus. That’s all we can boast about. That is all. We, here in America, have never really felt persecution for our faith, but we are feeling it now, aren’t we?
What is happening in our government nationally and locally is an assault on Christ. We all know our current President has claimed that we are no longer a Christian nation, but I will say to that that he hasn’t been to my church lately. When the BBC came here to do a special on some London teenagers who were staying with some friends of ours from church, they were blown away. They had never seen anything like it. Our church service was joyful. The house was full. The people were glad to be there from infants to the aged. One of the BBC workers sat in front of our family that Sunday in church, but he didn’t have a bible. So, I gave him one from our family. It was a new but small leather bible I had bought for Brooks just a week or so before that Sunday morning service. I believe it was the first bible this man had ever owned. He told us that the churches in England are old and stuffy and what little people who still go to them are old too. He had never witnessed a young person singing praise to God. But thankfully, Blake was behind him, so that is certainly no longer the case. That son of ours isn’t ashamed to belt it out on a Sunday morning.
Many people in England see themselves in us. England was the home of the Great Awakening and the birthplace of the protestant reformation, but now they have left their first love and turned to other gods. Israel did it. England has done it. And now, America looks like it’s on that same path. What will we do as Christians to stop it? First, care. Second, know. Third, do. Care enough to get informed about what is happening in state and federal government. If you have a heart for God and for this nation, you’ll want to do something about it.
We all know that this next election cycle is critical as to the direction our nation will take as a nation. Will we stand for religious freedom and take measures to stop this assault on the biblical standard of living? Our President says he doesn’t know when life begins. God tells us in Psalm 139. See, people are looking to the world for answers, and they’ll never find them there. Only God knows these things. Only God can tell us infallibly about anything. But, there’s just no love for the Word of God anymore. We don’t know, because we don’t study God’s Word. There are answers to all of life’s questions there. Is homosexuality a sin? Yes!!! It is so clear that homosexuality is an abomination to God. He loathes it. He detests it in the same way He detests divorce and infidelity and murder and lies and all other sins. God hates sin! He is holy! The angels cry out holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come. Holiness means to be set apart, to be different. It is a characteristic of God and it should be a characteristic of His people as well.
But we forget to be holy, set apart for the Lord, and we take up the things of the world and place them in a place of importance where they should not be. God’s people aren’t being different enough. We’re like everyone else. You can’t spot us anymore. We divorce and gamble and squander our money on things that don’t mean anything. It’s certainly not unheard of. God’s people have always strayed from him. The big question is “Will we come back?” Will we turn from our evil ways and seek a holy God? I pray that we will for our children’s sake. I don’t want my children to grow up and find their world a place inhospitable to them as children of God. If it is God’s will, it will happen, but as a parent, I need to know I’ve done all I can to prevent it.
We need to be aware of things going on right here in our backyard like this gambling thing. The operators of casino style gambling have their hearts set on Alabama, and they’ll do anything in their power to get us. They’ll lie, and pay off politicians, and let’s not forget that their whole business is one of robbery. Gambling preys upon the weak and the poor. There are countless stories of men and women who’ve gambled away their last dime. This is what they want. The chairs in casinos are ergonomically designed so that people can sit comfortably for long periods of time. There are usually no windows or clocks. They want you to sit there, losing all track of time, until they’ve got everything you have.
People ask, “So what’s the problem? If they want to blow their money, it’s their business, they’re not hurting anyone.” Oh, really? What about the child whose dad just gambled away his lunch money for school the next day? Gambling is a known addiction in the same way cocaine is an addiction. There’s a hook, line, and sinker for every fool who ever gets started.
My pastor was away on a mission trip to South Africa a couple of weeks ago and had one of our members, Joe Godfrey, a former Baptist preacher who now works for ALCAP, which touts itself as Alabama’s Moral Compass, fill in for him. Godfrey’s sermon was from Judges 14 in which Samson makes a wager and loses. He had bet thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, a very expensive wager. Of course, when you want to get to Samson, you go to his wife, which is what they did. The people he had bet against enticed Samson’s wife to find out his riddle, and when they did, Samson had lost his bet. He couldn’t pay it, so he went to a certain town and struck down thirty men and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle.
Godfrey said, “It happens all the time. People committing crimes in order to pay their gambling debt.” The crime rates in cities where casino style gambling is allowed are through the roof. The crime rate in Las Vegas is around 2000% higher than other vacation spots around the nation. They have even legalized prostitution there. Is this what we want for Alabama?
Again, I say Alabama isn’t perfect, but whatever good left in her should be preserved. Why? I believe we can look to our state flower, the camellia, that blooms when nothing else is blooming. Let’s bloom for the Lord when nothing else is. Let’s shine the light of Christ to the rest of our nation, so that our nation will turn back to the Lord.
I heard a man from Colorado say, “We as Christians living in other parts of the nation are looking to the Conservative Christian South for leadership, and we are not finding it.” Rick and I believe that Alabama as a state suffers from poor self-esteem. We don’t see ourselves as a leader on the national scale. We should. But, we have to protect our Christian way of life from outsiders like those who want to change the face of Alabama into something vulgar, unholy, and that which leads to all kinds of sin. Gambling is nothing more than a love of money. It stems from hearts of greed and idolatry. The bible teaches that games of chance are nothing more than idols, and our friend, Joe Godfrey, pointed out that if that is the case, then gambling goes against at least three of the ten commandments.
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourselves a carved image, or idol.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his servant, his ox, donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
We could probably go ahead and add 8. You shall not steal. And in Samson's case, we could look at 6. You shall not murder. You could likely make an argument that gambling goes against the very fiber of the ten commandments as a whole.
The love of money leads to all kinds of wickedness. And, if the poor guy doesn’t feel right to go and kill or steal from someone else if he’s lost everything, many times he’ll kill himself.
Gambling is a sin. Period. It is rooted in greed, and I advise that we take note of these politicians within our state who are promoting gambling as something good for our state, people like Troy King. If you’re promoting gambling here in Alabama, you’ve likely had your pocket lined lately. Does anyone remember Larry Langford? When I first moved to Birmingham and worked at Fox 6, I met the former mayor of Birmingham. He was then the mayor of Fairfield, and I really liked him then. He talked about God and his love for God, and I thought we were of kindred spirits. I think that maybe we were, but the love of money and greed and the lust of the eyes got him. And now, he’s in jail. I was saddened by his fall.
I love my state, and I know you do to. Let’s promote, protect, and preserve what is good in Alabama from the evil that is always lurking so close behind.
Sherri Bodine Burgess