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A Matter of Desire

2017 May 14
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Bishop David EppsAt the present time, the tuition for in-state students at the University of West Georgia is about $4,080 a year. The tuition is scheduled to increase slightly in the coming year but, when compared to many others schools, and especially private universities, it’s a steal. Still, to me it seems like a lot.

When I first began my collegiate life, tuition for in-state students at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., was $85 a quarter for a full-time student. That translates to $285 a year, excluding books and minimal fees. The two schools are, or were, about the same size, as far as student population goes.

When I began, I frankly had no money and my parents didn’t seem to have any either. Maybe if I had bothered to ask them, they could have come up with the cash but, for some reason, I thought that part was my responsibility. I didn’t know about Pell Grants, there were no HOPE scholarship programs, I certainly didn’t qualify for any scholarships, and I didn’t know about student loans — or if they were even available back then. So I went to the bank.

I made an appointment with a bank loan officer to request that I be allowed to borrow $100 on a 90-day signature note. I was all of 18 years old. The loan officer asked the purpose of the loan and I told him, “Tuition and books for one quarter.”

“And how will you pay it back?” he inquired.

“I have a part-time job, I live at home, and I will save the money and pay you back.”

“And what about next quarter?” he asked. “How will you go to school?”

I replied, “Having established myself as a good risk, I will borrow another $100 from your bank.” I got the loan and fulfilled all my obligations.

It wasn’t easy. Minimum wage at that time was $1.60 an hour and, although gas was cheap compared to today, I had that expense as well. The minimum wage hasn’t increased that much in 48 years but tuition has.

At some point, I dropped out, did a stint in the Marine Corps, and came back with my earned GI Bill benefit and was able to finish college, although I still had to work to make ends meet.

Sometimes, high school students will say, “I can’t afford to go to college.” Well, yes, you can. For one thing, state schools are still a good deal, community colleges and technical colleges are often even a better deal, and there are a plethora of grants and scholarships if you didn’t loaf in high school.

You may not be able to go to Harvard or Emory and you may not get to live on campus and live the fraternity or sorority high life, but college is within your grasp if you want it badly enough. There are jobs to be had on campus and off.

Some people see university as a sort of “finishing school” for those who didn’t gain their maturity in high school. It is not. It is a pathway to a more successful life and a prosperous career, assuming you don’t waste your time majoring in Byzantine literature with a minor in Aboriginal languages.

The purpose of college is to get a job; to be able to have a family and not have them starve or live in poverty.

So, while college is not free — and by the way, it is never free — if you don’t pay the tuition, say, as in New York, then the taxpayers have to absorb that load while you go to school on their dime — college is within the reach of nearly every capable person who qualifies for admission.

Besides, one can always go part-time and take a little longer. Again, it depends on how badly one wants it.

Not everyone wants to go to college nor should everyone. There are plenty of well-paying skilled jobs that often pay higher than one can make with a degree. Still, it is all about education. There are some exceptional people who can make a fortune without schooling or formal training, but those people are uncommon.

Yet, it is still America and the opportunities are still there. One can still succeed — if one wants it badly enough. It’s a matter of desire.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Homesick on Easter

2017 April 14
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsIt was Easter Sunday morning in 1970 and I was away from home for the first time on an Easter. I was undergoing Marine Corps Recruit Training, or boot camp, at Parris Island, SC. I don’t remember why but, on Sunday morning, I was alone and standing looking east across the water at the rising sun. I must have been on guard duty at the boat basin. Otherwise, I was never alone except for this type of assignment. The date was March 29.
I had arrived at Parris Island some weeks prior on Friday the 13th of February. I had a long way to go until graduation and, because of the horrendously busy training schedule, I had not had time to feel homesick. Until now. Now, as I watched the sun come up, I began to think about home. I turned 19 in January and had graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School, in Kingsport, TN, the previous June. I worked construction for four months before trying my hand at college life. Not knowing what I wanted to do with my future, I enlisted. Now that world seemed so very far away.

I let my mind wander. Before long, my parents and my 10 year old brother, Wayne, would be waking up. My friends, with whom I had gone to church for the past five years, including Steve Duncan with whom I had been close friends since we were five, would be getting ready for breakfast and traveling to Mountain View United Methodist Church for Easter services where the Rev’d Fred L. Austin would preach the resurrection message. I missed them. I missed all of them and the feelings were palpable. Mercifully, I was relieved of duty soon, went back to the squad bay, and would be in church myself at the 2nd Battalion Chapel for Protestant Divine Services, as they were called. I didn’t get homesick again. There just wasn’t time for it.

This Easter, my grandson Isaac Epps, will be missing Easter services. He, too, is at Parris Island and in the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, almost 47 years to the day since I was there for boot camp. For him, since Easter is later, he only has three weeks to go. But the day after Easter, on April 17, another grandson, Tristan Epps, is scheduled to ship out to Parris Island. For a short time, they will both be on the Island together, although it is highly unlikely that they will see each other. There is no liberty, no days off, essentially no free time, no phone calls, no ability to move around and see the sights. It is the Marine Corps and boot camp is incredibly strict.

I have prayed for Ike every day and have written him almost every day. As soon as I get his address, I will do the same for Tristan. I know what it takes to do what they are doing and I respect them both for wanting to serve and for attempting this great challenge.

I don’t think I have missed an Easter Sunday service since that day in 1970. In fact, there’s no other place I’d rather be. All across this globe, our men and women in uniform will spend Easter away from family and friends. This Sunday they, too, will be in my prayers as they combat a longing to be home. May God bless Isaac, Tristan, and all those who celebrate this sacred season. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Dr. George Dillard and Good Friday

2017 April 8
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Bishop David EppsI first came to the Peachtree City area 34 years ago this coming June. I hadn’t been in town too long when I received a phone call from one of the local pastors inviting me to a weekly breakfast meeting of Peachtree City clergy. I accepted the invitation and soon became a member of the Wednesday morning breakfast group. It really wasn’t a ministerial alliance, just men (and sometimes women) who shared the same profession, from different denominations, sharing friendship, food, and life together. It was a very meaningful meeting that I would seldom miss.

When 1984 rolled around, I was asked to participate in the Community Good Friday services. The idea for the service had come from within this breakfast group a few years earlier. Seven of us would preach a 10 minute homily (less than 10 minutes was recommended) on “The Seven Last Words from the Cross.” I was a bit nervous since I was the new kid on the block and the youngest kid on the block. I also served one of the city’s smaller churches. But, again, I accepted the invitation and this year will be the 33rd time I have participated (I was unable to be in the service one year due to the death of my grandmother).

While all of us preached, and the cast of characters changed depending on who attended the breakfast meetings, the person who put in all together was Pastor Bob Tyler of Peachtree City Christian Church. The services were held at churches that were large enough to accommodate the crowd, often over 1,000, and host churches would provide special music. Bob had been involved with a similar service in Ohio and he volunteered to do the grunt work.

When Bob left the church, the then-new pastor at Peachtree City Christian, who had been Bob’s associate minister, took over putting the services together. Dr. George Dillard has done so for the last 19 years. Now, there are usually at least nine or ten ministers participating although there are still seven doing the Seven Last Words with one doing a sort of “wrap-up.”

While George assisted in putting the services together as Bob’s associate for about five years, the last 19 have all been him. He has done a marvelous job at bringing a very diverse group of pastors together to stand in unity on Good Friday. Over the years, participating clergy have included Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, Independent Charismatic, Christian, Greek Orthodox, Independent Evangelical, Charismatic Episcopal, and some I am sure I have left out. That had to be like herding cats but, every Good Friday, we gathered, stood together, and proclaimed the Gospel.

I was saddened to learn that Dr. Dillard is stepping aside and having someone else coordinate the Good Friday service. Thankfully, he will continue to participate and, hopefully, the services will go on for another 35 or more years. As I said, I was the new kid on the block and the youngest kid on the block. That is no longer true. Now, I’m the longest serving participating pastor and may just be the oldest kid on the block. Still, it is an honor to be included.

Thank you, Dr. George Dillard, for your leadership over the last 19 years of serving the entire Christian community by ensuring that these services have been continued and that they have always been of superior quality. The clergy and churches of this community and the Christians who attend the Good Friday services, owe you a debt of gratitude. Well done, good and faithful servant!

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Fellow Strugglers

2017 March 22
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsAs a member of the clergy, I have been able to come to the realization that most people deal with a great deal of pain, disappointment, and sorrow in their lives—and yet they still get up, go to work, do what needs to be done, and soldier on in the midst of it. While not everyone, at a precise moment, may not be going through a dark valley, nonetheless, we are surrounded by people who are. Not that you’d know it. Most people keep their troubles to themselves.

One visiting minister to our church several years ago said that, every Sunday morning, on a sixteen person pew, there are at least twelve of those people living in some sort of brokenness at that very moment. That’s a lot of people. He said that most of those people kept their difficulties to themselves and come to church hoping for some sort of answers and looking for the strength to cope and to overcome. Which means, of course, that nearly everyone we encounter is going through some sort of crisis. And we may be among them.

It may be that some of the people we encounter are struggling financially, not knowing how they are going to make ends meet. Others face the prospect of going home to abusive or indifferent spouses. Still others have lost a loved one due to accident, ageing, or disease—or are in the process of doing so. Then there are those who have gone through the trauma of divorce and are raising kids alone or are not being able to see their kids except at limited, prescribed times. There are parents who are deeply concerned about the direction their children are headed. And grandparents who have the same concerns.

It may be that many are struggling with various addictions that rob them of hope, money, self-respect, peace, and a future. Countless people are dealing with handicaps or one sort or the other. Others are being laid off or downsized. Millions are uninsured or underinsured, despite government efforts to the contrary. And, a surprising number of people we encounter are trying to cope with serious physical or mental illnesses.

But, for the most part, we are oblivious to these people and are focused on our own troubles. One enterprising person has started a business in California where people can be hired to listen. These folks are not trained therapists—they are just average people who are paid to simply listen to the customer. One aspect of the business is to offer the services of “walkers,” people who will walk with people and share conversation at the rate of $7.00 per mile. Social media, which seemingly offers the promise of connecting people, actually more often results in increasing the isolation of people as they relate to a screen and not to actual persons.

What the future holds is anybody’s guess. But perhaps one step toward a more positive outcome is simply to be kind. Be kind to the person behind the counter, to the young lady at the fast food drive through, to the server at the restaurant, to the clerk at the supermarket, to those who, by chance, we encounter. Kindness and civility are in short supply in our country. It is entirely probable that we have the ability to bring a small bright moment into the life of a fellow struggler by merely offering a smile and a greeting. Or we can increase their sorrow by being dour, unkind, rude, critical, or complaining.

Nearly everyone we meet is going through a difficult time in one way or another. If we could get out of ourselves for a while and determine to help lift another’s burden—or at least not add to their problems—life might look and feel different at the end of the day. It’s worth a try and it’s just not that hard to do.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

What Do Do with the President

2017 March 20
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsSomeone recently asked me, “How should we respond to this President?” From the question, I could not tell if the person making the inquiry voted for the person who currently occupies the White House or not. And, if I did know, it wouldn’t matter. My answer would be the same. We are to pray for our leaders.

When I say “pray for our leaders,” I do not mean pray “against” them. If one wants to see a prayer against someone, one can look to Psalm 109. This is called an “imprecatory Psalm.” But I don’t think that is the type of prayer that one should pray, even if the person or persons are our enemies.

Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1–4, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…”
When the Israelites of the Old Testament were in captivity in Babylon, they were instructed to, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). And then there is this: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

For those of us who are believers, the biblical record is quite clear: we are to pray for our leaders whatever their political party. Each Sunday in church, we join in this, or a similar, prayer: “We pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world.” And, yes, that includes the United States and, yes, it includes President Donald J. Trump. Before that, it included President Barack H. Obama and, before that, it included President George W. Bush. If Mrs. Clinton had won the 2016 election, we would be praying for her.

I have little sympathy for people who complain about leadership but, for whatever reason, reject the clear biblical mandate to pray for our leaders. I suppose that it is easier for some to gripe, complain, whine, protest, loot, riot, and generally cause a ruckus. But this kind of behavior does not accomplish the work or the will of God.

There is a great deal of anger in the nation, perhaps more than since the 1960’s. Non-Christians cannot be expected to behave in a manner that is Christ-like, although many non-believers come closer it than some believers. But for Christians, certain behaviors are not appropriate. And anger is generally considered a sin.

That’s how we should respond to the President—we should pray for him (or her, when that day comes). Murmuring, cursing, complaining, and always finding fault does no one, including the nation, any good. And pray for the President as you would your own son, brother, or father. He, or she, is not the enemy. He, or she, is the President of the United States of America. And that person deserves our prayers.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

You are Dust

2017 March 4
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Bishop David EppsOn Ash Wednesday, the first day of the liturgical season of Lent, as ashes are placed in the form of a cross of the believer’s forehead, the minister will likely say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This phrase is basically a quote from Genesis 3 where God speaks to our first parents. It is a reminder that this life is not all there is and that death is certain.

On the one hand, we in the West live in the midst of a culture of death. We, in America, practice capital punishment, are almost continually at war, and we have snuffed out the lives of some 55 million unborn children since 1973. In Chicago alone, more people have been murdered last year than the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our movies and television programs are filled with the scenes of violence and death. Death is everywhere.

On the other hand, death has been so sanitized that we rarely think about it. In the Bronze Age and Iron Age, life expectancy was 33 years of age. In Classical Greece, it was 28. In classical Rome, life expectancy was 20-30 years. In late Medieval England, it was 30 and, as late as 1900, world life expectancy was 31.

All of this is to say that, until very modern times (in 1950, world life expectancy was only 48), people were personally acquainted with death. Nearly every family lost young children, and pestilence, poor health, poor nutrition, and deaths by wars or accidents were common.

Death is further sanitized by people dying in a medical care facility, as opposed to dying at home, funerals being held outside the local church, which was nearly always the norm. Instead, most memorial services are held in a funeral home.

In fact, until the mid-1800s, the families cared for the body, dressed it, prepared it, and held visitation in their homes. Death was personal. Now, it is so far from our daily lives that we rarely think about it until it faces us or until we have a close friend or relative die.

A Russian monk encouraged his disciples to always be aware of death. He felt that, if people had this awareness, it would affect their lives in a significant way. After all, the monk reasoned, if we all are going to stand before God and give an account of our words, thoughts, and deeds, then the personal reality of death just might keep people from committing the worst of sins.

And so, even for children and young people, the middle-aged and the elderly, the words of the minister on Ash Wednesday seem jarring and out of place in our society. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” No one expects to die anytime soon. One of the common reactions to the death of someone who is critically and gravely ill is almost always, “I thought we would have more time.”

The last time I saw my father alive was on Monday, Sept. 9, 1996. He was at home in Tennessee, in hospice care, and was unresponsive. On Thursday, I received the call that he had died. I wept, even though I knew it was coming. And yet I had planned to see him the following Sunday evening. I thought we had more time. And sometimes it’s just too late.

So, Lent is a reminder to take care of spiritual business before it is too late. To be aware that death comes to all and that it often comes when we least expect it. We are dust and to dust we shall return.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org. Epps may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

The Wager

2017 February 18
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsI am not a gambler. I am, from time to time, a risk-taker but that does not extend to gambling. Once in a very great while, I will buy a lottery ticket if the prize is about a gazillion dollars. But I don’t really expect to win. I do buy raffle tickets at the Marine Corps League and the motorcycle club I belong to, but that’s just really a way to donate to those organizations. I’ve never won there either and don’t expect to.

About the only time I remember gambling was getting pulled into a poker game when I was in the Marine Corps. I really could not afford to lose any money as I was making a few cents over $110.00 a month. So, when I won eight dollars, I pulled out of the game much to the displeasure of my fellow devil dogs.

So, when my friend, Bishop Gregory Ortiz, of New York, offered a wager on the outcome of the Super Bowl, I demurred. I didn’t decline, I just put it off. But them, at half time, when the Atlanta Falcons dominated the New England Patriots by a score of 21-3, I contacted him and asked if he was still interested in that wager. After a moment’s hesitation, he said something like, “Sure, why not?” So we agreed that the loser would buy dinner next month at a meeting we will attend in Orlando.

Afterwards, I told my wife, “I never bet, but a sure thing is not really gambling.” She, a football fan, replied, “Well, as you often say, ‘there’s a lot of football left to play.’” I smugly settled back in my recliner to watch the shellacking.

But, as we all know, “it’s not over until it’s over.” The Patriots came alive in the second half and Atlanta died. No team in the 51-year-history of the Super Bowl had ever come back from a 14 point deficit. But, with the score now 28-3, New England began to play. And play they did. The Patriots scored 25 unanswered points and, at 28-28, sent the game into the first ever overtime period in Super Bowl history.

It didn’t take long. New England scored six points and the game was over. Atlanta has the distinction of being the only team to both blow such a commanding lead and to lose in a Super Bowl overtime. And I was out a dinner in Orlando.

Here’s what I have learned: (1) There is no such thing as a sure thing. (2) I truly should not be a gambler. (3) My wife is smarter than I am. (4) “Pride goeth before the fall.” (5) Never bet against Tom Brady and the Patriots. All of these things I should have already learned but sometimes lessons are learned the hard way.

However, I will pay my debt. Next time, if the Falcons ever get into another Super Bowl, I won’t bet. I will just pray for a miracle.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org. Epps may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org