VERNON, Texas (BP) – For 32 straight days now, Toby Castleberry has stood behind the pulpit at Calvary Baptist Church to deliver the greatest message he says has been missed in a time of seemingly nothing but bad news and division.
“Last October me and others in the church were noting how you heard nothing but about the election and pandemic,” he said. “It was just fighting everywhere and left you feeling hopeless. We started talking about what we could do and realized we need to hold up Christ for others to see.”
About a month later, Castleberry felt led by God to preach for 100 straight days about Christ’s love.
“I told a few folks and they thought it was pretty radical, but we know Jesus is the answer for these situations,” he said.
Early this summer, he settled on preaching through the Gospel of John and began on a Saturday evening, Aug. 7. Since then, he has worked through it verse by verse for his Sunday morning messages and each evening at 6 p.m.
The Series is called “So Loved” and focuses on the central verse of John 3:16, pointing out how God so loved the world that He sent His only son to die on behalf of its sins. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the best news of all and, as far as Castleberry is concerned, the news that takes precedence over all others.
Two congregational songs precede each sermon, except for Wednesdays, when Calvary’s student band leads worship, and Saturdays, which Castleberry described as a “gospel music service with a full band and choir.” Ten minutes before each gathering, a group meets in Calvary’s foyer to pray over the service.
Barely a third through the 100 days, he admitted that the physical toll is harder than he expected. Ten years ago, he preached a seven-day revival meeting, but no others beyond three or five days. “You have to have the mindset that you’re going to do it one more day,” he said.
It’s not like he doesn’t have other things going on, either. The Castleberrys are also a tennis family. And though it’s traditionally regarded as a spring sport, his daughter, Sarah Jo, begins her sophomore season for Dallas Baptist University this week. His sons, Kell and Will, also play. His wife, Carrie, is the head tennis coach at Vernon High School where, yes, the Lions play tennis in both the fall and spring.
“We’re busy all the time, but God led me to preach this series,” he said. “These messages are about how loved we are and how the closer we look, the greater we see His love. It’s astonishing. We’re halfway through the sixth chapter and it becomes amazing how compassionate God is to sinners.”
Each service is live-streamed and placed on the church website as well as Facebook and YouTube. Messages are also available by podcast.
“Last week 24 countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, watched the message as did 29 states,” he said.
On Aug. 1, the final Sunday before beginning the “So Loved” series, Castleberry completed another series titled “Preparing for Something Great.” In that final message he noted how God tends to work in two ways – through what is unlikely and what is unorthodox.
Preaching 100 straight days during one of the busiest times of the year checks both of those boxes. But Castleberry has witnessed the series’ impact, both from the viewership around the world as well as within his congregation.
“It’s been amazing to see the church members who have not missed any days,” he said. “Our older adults have been encouraged and are attending. It’s been better than I would have imagined, honestly.”
Castleberry has been in the ministry for 16 years and has read through John several times before. But any focused Bible study, he added, brings new life to Scripture for the reader.
“Time spent in God’s Word is a blessing,” he said. “And the more you spend, the greater truths you see about who Christ is.
“As believers we need to be reminded and encouraged about our Savior’s love. That propels us to tell the lost how loved they are. The world has done so much to twist the message of Christ, when really He is the message.”