I remember reading a magazine article back in college that had a line that is now part of my missives: “Now and then someone shares with you a beautiful moment.” The image that accompanied the quote was that of a young man standing at the top of a hill.
I was recently afforded a great opportunity. I had a conversation with one of the South’s most trusted and beloved figures in the Baptist Church – Dr. Charles Stanley. Dr. Stanley is the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Atlanta. He celebrated his 45th anniversary at the church in September of last year. Dr. Stanley can be heard in every nation on earth via radio, shortwave or television broadcasts.
Our conversation touched on various topics, including faith, freedom, community and photography.
On Faith and Freedom
“Folks lose faith by losing the Word of God. They move towards circumstances. God doesn’t change – we do. Read the Word of God.”
Dr. Stanley then added, “The Spirit of God that is within you is still the same. He keeps His promises. We change our focus and therefore our relationship with Him wavers.”
“Our first freedom is our relationship with God.”
Our conversation continued as we discussed how freedom is in jeopardy. The baritone voice of the 80-year old man began to share his concerns about the lack of knowledge of our history.
“People don’t know history. Who we are and where we came from – these are things we are not taught anymore. In order to keep our freedom, we must have a sense of responsibility for our freedom,” Dr. Stanley asserted. “Without history you are in jeopardy for anything that comes along.”
“Loyalty and devotion were part of the steps that got us here throughout history,” he added. “We’ve lost sight of those two key areas.”
As I continued listening, I was reminded of a quote by Dr. Stanley that I read when I walked into the In Touch building.
“Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.”
Today’s Communication or Lack Thereof
I asked Dr. Stanley about his thoughts on communication, in a world filled with so many different ways that are supposed to keep us in touch.
“We are so disconnected from each other – from emotional relationships and from God. Our capacity to have an intimate relationship with others is not there,” Dr. Stanley said.
The various venues that are now available to reach everyone “on the face of this Earth” are, according to Dr. Stanley, one of the positive changes he has witnessed over the years.
“We can guide and drive positive messages all over the world by using the technology that is now available,” he added.
While the message can be transmitted, the ability to form relationships appears to be in jeopardy.
“There’s a sense of gloom and doom in the mind of people that needs to stop,” Dr. Stanley commented when our topic changed to today’s news. “Today’s news creates an emotional dilemma and we tend to forget the genuine truth. What did God say?”
“We shift our focus on circumstances and live in a society that is guarded,” Dr. Stanley added.
When I asked him how folks viewed Jesus today, his answer surprised me a bit.
“The Jesus of today is a character.”
I asked why that was the case.
“Jesus is not in our minds; we are living in a guarded society where Jesus doesn’t have the same impact,” he stated. “We lack respect and honor, reverence and obedience.”
Dr. Stanley also mentioned how our society does things that “draw us away from God.” “As we continue to move further away from Him, the harder it will be to bring us back.”
Walking through the building that is home to In Touch Ministries, I was fascinated by the beautiful and exquisitely mounted photographs that adorn the walls. Since age 13, Dr. Stanley has been interested in photography, a hobby he has mastered and shares with all who wish to see the beauty of this world. His photos focus on nature, birds, landscapes and animals.
“God has given me the ability to capture the beauty of our world,” Dr. Stanley reflected. “When I see something, through a lens, I focus on what belongs there – and that which doesn’t belong goes away.”
In 1962 while traveling to Haiti, Dr. Stanley realized that photography was a passion and he began his quest for perfection in this art.
“I am not a quitter. When I decided I wanted to learn to be a good photographer, I began reading books by Ansel Adams,” Dr. Stanley stated with a peaceful smile. “I am certain I own every book by Ansel Adams.”
Adams was an American photographer and environment activist best known for his black and white photos of Yosemite National Park and the American West. Along with Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print.
Not only did Dr. Stanley research the topic of photography, he attended seminars on the subject and even built his own darkroom.
He recalled the moment when, while in his darkroom, he realized his tenacity had paid off.
“I can do this,” he said to himself. Since that moment, photography has been Dr. Stanley’s alternative to preaching. Photography is an inspiration for Dr. Stanley. He is fulfilled and, as he explains, it [photography] allows him to capture what he sees in order to show others.
“When I have my camera, I am able to focus on something through a lens that takes away what doesn’t belong there,” Dr. Stanley explained, as he gently moved his hands into focus as he depicted the focal point that a lens brings to the naked eye.
“You see, we all need to have a deviation from our normal routine, an alternative. Otherwise, our brain never rests,” Dr. Stanley asserted.
I Love to Tell the Story, Dr. Stanley’s most recent book, is a beautiful photographic journey into lands that we may perhaps never see. The book is, as noted in its title, an expression of the beauty of God’s creation through photography.
Until We Meet Again
As our time together came to a close, I realized that I had been given the opportunity of a lifetime: a conversation with a trusted and most eloquent religious leader that filled my mind, and heart, with joyful hope and happiness.
Of course, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to show Dr. Stanley a few photos (on my cell phone) of my beloved island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Who knows, perhaps someday I can share with him the beauty of yet another one of God’s treasures on Earth.
“I love to tell the story,
for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting
to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory,
I sing the new, new song,
’twill be the old, old story
that I have loved so long.”
From I Love to Tell the Story by Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911.
Dr. Stanley’s Helpful Path to Faith and Freedom
- Read the word of God. The Bible is the foundation of spiritual truth.
- Make your personal relationship with God a priority.
- Focus on the message of God, not social issues.
- Begin to take care of each other – uphold each other.
- There are 30 life principles – read and apply them.
By Julie Brennan
Published in 2013