An old, familiar voice made an already notable celebration even more special on Sunday at New Gideon Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
Former Pastor Thomas Bessix challenged New Gideon members to keep walking in faith as the church celebrated a special mortgage burning ceremony and its 131st anniversary. The church was founded in 1886 by eight members under an oak tree at Perkins Road and Pickett Street. It has been at the Balis Drive location since 1946.
"Our faith takes a licking and keeps on ticking," said Bessix, referencing the old Timex watch commercials. "There's so many things that try to disrupt our faith, but it seems we as a church keep on ticking in prayer."
Bessix served as the church's pastor from 2000 to 2015 before leaving for Westside Baptist Church in Lewisville, Texas, near Dallas. He was succeeded by the Rev. Brandon Collins in February 2016. It was under Bessix's leadership that the church broke ground in 2006 on its massive Education Life Center.
The theme of Sunday's event was "Standing on the Word" taken from Matthew 16:18: "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Standing on the word takes faith, a point Bessix emphasized in his message titled "Faith Walkers." His focus verse was 2 Corinthians 5:7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight."
"Paul admonishes us in the text to walk not by what we see but walk by what we know," Bessix said. "The elders of the early church had no problem believing what they could not see. In fact, they realized the little they did have had to come by faith. They knew they had come too far to turn around."
Bessix suggested several definitions of faith — such as "the substance of things hoped for" and "the thing you believe God for before you receive it from God." But one of his favorites he said he learned at New Gideon: "Faith is the fuel that the Christian's engine runs on."
"I wonder if there's somebody in the house this morning whose fuel is faith, who's guided by faith, who's standing on faith, who believes God for what you can't see," Bessix said to a full congregation.
The time has come for people of God to walk in their faith as they move forward, he said.
"It's time for us to stop holding on to a religion based on your momma and your daddy; it's time for us to walk in the spiritual gift of faith," Bessix said. "It's time for us to forget those things that are behind us and reach for those things that are in front of us. It's time for the people of God to press. It's time for us to stand on the infallible word of God."
Not just another kind of faith, Bessix stressed, but "an unshakable, undoubtable, boisterous, crazy faith."
"The kind of faith that can survive a storm, the kind of faith that can fight the enemy, a kind of faith that can survive a struggle, a kind of faith that can conquer the enemy, a kind of faith that can climb a mountain," he said. "Sometimes God does force us to climb a mountain, but, for a faith walker, before you try to climb that mountain you got to start speaking to it."
Mature faith walkers should be beyond having a faith the size of a mustard seed, Bessix said.
"The church always talks about mustard seed faith, and mustard seed faith is good when you start your journey," he said. "But when if you've been in this thing for five or 10 years, you should have grown past mustard seed faith by now."
A steadfast faith is needed because sometimes faith walkers will encounter obstacles, delays and detours on their journey.
"In a faith walk, you can will have four-lane interchangeable highways that you can go as fast as you want to," Bessix said. "Sometimes God will take you off the highway and put you on one of those unpaved, pothole-filled roads with trees across it, with snakes and demons and lions and bears you got to deal with. ... So in order for you to handle the blessings that you have been praying for, God has to take you through some tough roads."
It's on the rough roads where faith is tested.
"For those who walk in faith understand that trouble don't last always," Bessix said. "Faith walkers understand that you get knocked down, but you'll never be defeated. Faith walkers understand that when you encounter battles, that the battles are not ours, but they are battles that belong to the Lord, and all we got to do is see the salvation of the Lord."
Another familiar face, also now in the Dallas area, is returning to Baton Rouge to share a Thanksgiving message.
Don Lee, a former copy editor and columnist for The Advocate, will speak at 8 a.m. Nov. 23 at Word of Faith Christian Church, 1695 Wooddale Blvd.
"Come out and see me as I share what the Lord deposits into my heart. This return to Baton Rouge, also a city I consider a 'home' to me, means so much to me. It is home to the ministry that licensed and ordained me to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ," said Lee, the founder-pastor of Kingdom Living Christian Center in Dallas.
Lee was ordained under the late Pastor Lynn Morrison Jr. at the ministry formerly known as All Faiths Christian Center.
“We want to make sure we go in and give the Lord thanks for, first of all, another wonderful year. We’ll go in, share the word and go home. I’m excited about it, man," said Pastor Andre Morrison, who took over the ministry following the death of his father.
Two precious gifts to the body of Christ were eulogized a day apart last week. Both in their 90s, these women were classy, well-educated trailblazers who made their marks in and outside the church.
Lucinda Clark, who died Nov. 1 at age 92, was a treasure whom I highly respected for her gentle and inviting spirit. She was ever the student and the teacher, serving as the Sunday school superintendent for more than 30 years and performing all kinds of other duties at Emmanuel Baptist Church, where she was a member for more than 60 years.
In addition, Clark made history as one of the first black nurses at Baton Rouge General Hospital.
The Rev. Mary Moody, who died Oct. 28 at age 91, was actively involved in social issues and taught English and business education to visually impaired children for more than 30 years at the Louisiana State School for the Blind at Southern University.
Moody was also one of the first female ministers for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her smooth and eloquent prayers were music to the ears.
What a blessing to have known these women, and I speak for many who say they will be dearly missed.
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.