Blog Archives


Thanks to Our Veterans!

During the last month, our church veterans have been turning in their photographs. Most have given me pictures in their uniforms from their early days in service. Dennis Elrod actually took a current picture in his old Navy uniform. He said when his unit was discharged they were told to always have their bags packed and their uniforms ready in case they were ever needed again.  He said his bag was still packed, and his uniform was still ready! Many of the veterans in our church served before I was even born.  Some fought in wars I read about in history books. The pictures of these men and women are from every branch of service and from many different conflicts from Korea to Afghanistan. What’s striking to me is how young these men and women were when they committed themselves to service or were drafted into service. That’s the way it almost always. The military takes our boys when they are barely old enough to shave; our women when they’ve just attended their last senior prom. Within three months of training, they can be shipped out to a foreign land to protect our country and even die for a cause they may not completely understand. They must be willing to fulfill their duty to our country, to defend freedom and liberty. That much most seem to grasp. Because they do, our country remains free, and our freedom is something we must never take for granted. As parents who drove our 19-year-old son and dropped him off early one Sunday morning to be bussed off to Paris Island, my wife... read more

How Can You Hold Your Work in Proper Perspective?

Most of us seem to have a love/hate relationship with work. We bemoan Mondays because we have to go to work, and we love Fridays because we get off of work. Yet, if we didn’t have a job, we’d be poor as dirt and depressed. It would be a major crisis for all of us. I have known people who have looked forward to the day they didn’t have to work only to discover they were miserable once they were not working and they soon found themselves another job. I have known people who were addicted to work, and I have known people who worked hard to keep from working. Work can be virtuous, but it can also lead to a life of dysfunction. What makes the difference? It’s important to keep work in proper perspective. One way to do that is by understanding what place God wants to play in our work. In Genesis 2:15, we discover work was ordained by God as a good thing. We can and should embrace work because God did and does. It’s safe to assume Adam and Eve sweated and were tired at the end of a day in the Garden of Eden and felt good about it. The garden was not going to just take care of itself. Part of the purpose God created humans for was to take care of creation. We were created to work, and work is part of what gave the first humans purpose and joy. If work was a part of Eden before the fall, we should expect work to be a meaningful part of our... read more

Every Flower Is Not Worthy of a Bouquet

Every Flower Is Not Worthy of a Bouquet When I was a boy, on a hot summer day, I noticed some beautiful orange flowers growing along a fence near my home. I picked a lovely bouquet of them and presented them to my mother. While she was appreciative of the gesture, I was surprised that her response was not a pleasant one. What I was handing her were poisonous flowers from a trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) vine, more commonly known as a cow-itch vine. She gave me instructions to go and immediately discard them and then to come back inside and wash with soap and water. Thankfully, I didn’t suffer a reaction to the flowers potent toxins, which can cause a painful red rash to break out on your skin. I always remembered my mother’s strong warning never to pick them again. I saw a cow itch vine grow recently near the same place where I picked those blooms about 45 years ago. Since those days I’ve learned not to run after everything that looks pleasurable or pleasing to the eye. I’ve learned that not everything that looks pleasurable will give lasting pleasure. The Bible says that there is “pleasure in sin for a season,” but only a season. In fact, that’s how this entire sin thing got started—the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). Eve was duped, and so was her husband. Our senses can mislead us. Every flower is not worthy of a bouquet. Every fruit is not worthy to be eaten. Everything that is pleasing... read more

Building Space Into Our Lives

The secret to building a good fire is to put some space between the logs so the fire can get some oxygen.   Without proper oxygen, the fire has trouble burning. We all need to build some space in our lives to keep the fire burning. Otherwise, all the demands and duties of life will eventually choke out our creativity and our joy. Jesus often pulled away from the crowds. He built space into his days to pray, to think, and to plan. He took the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a place where the springs bubble up to from the Jordan River. They join with waters coming down from the snowmelts from Mount Herman. There Jesus and his disciples could have some space from all the people. There is where Peter made his great confession that Jesus is the Christ. When we build space into our lives, we can often see and hear Jesus in ways that help keep the fires of our faith burning.   This summer, I hope you find some extended time to pull away from the normal routines of life. But if not, each day, build some space into your life so you can breathe in the fresh word God has for you on that day. cover credit: read more

What Grace is About

What Grace Is About This year marks my thirtieth year of fulltime pastoral ministry. In 1988 I served my first year of fulltime ministry with Dr. Hugh Kirby as the Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. However, my ministry started long before then.   I began preparing and preaching sermons at the age of 18. I came from a tradition where people believed that when God calls you to preach, you should be given a chance–the sooner the better.  Various churches started calling asking me to preach. I filled in for one church for a month until they found a new pastor. Then another small country church with about 40 people in attendance asked me to come preach at their church. Word about my “calling” had reached their church through a member that was a beautician in town.   Beauticians are not omniscient, but they know most things that happen in a small town. She happened to the matriarch of the church. Her son later called and asked me to come preach a sermon. After that, I kept going, morning and evening for two years until I left the area to attend college at Samford University at the beginning of my junior year. During this time, I was dating Tina, whom I eventually married. Most Sundays she attended church with me.   She supported my commitment to follow God’s calling on my life. This created a strong bond that allowed our relationship to grow. This gave me assurance that she was the person God meant for me to marry. Our marriage began with an unwavering commitment to serve... read more

The Lessons The Broccoli Tree Have for Easter

Easter Sunrise Service One spring day a photographer living near the Southern shore of Lake Vattern, Sweden took a picture of a tree and posted it on Instagram because he thought it looked like a stalk of broccoli sticking up out of the ground.   Forty-three people hit “like” on the photographer’s Instagram post. Over the next several months, the photographer began uploading more pictures of the tree and life that took place around the tree in the park. Nearly a year after he took the first photo, the tree had its own Instagram and was being photographed through the seasons showing all kinds of life of the Swedish people.  The audience grew into the thousands. The photographer staged an exhibition of his photos of the Broccoli Tree at the Broccoli Tree. A Broccoli Tree calendar was published and was well received.  People all over the world began to purchase Broccoli Tree prints for their homes. Three years after the first Instagram post, a tree that most people just ignored was now famous.  People who went to Sweden went to this park just to photograph the Broccoli Tree. It could easily be found on Google maps.  Its Instagram followers grew to nearly 30,000. The Broccoli Tree became the Internet’s single most famous tree… until last September when someone or multiple people entered the park and sawed the tree down. The next Instagram post made by the photographer contained these sad but true words: “You cannot unsaw a tree.”–broccoli–tree-a-parable/ Today we live in a world where we have become afraid to share what is good, beautiful, and pure for fear that some person with evil intentions... read more

This Is How People Know You Are a Disciple

For most of us, the thought of washing someone’s feet is repulsive unless it is someone we know really, really well and even then we are not very willing. A few years ago, I served as the camp pastor at a youth camp at Ricks Institute, which is sixteen miles outside Monrovia, Liberia.  We ended our time together with a foot washing.   My son John and one of the camp counselors helped me wash the feet of the campers and the leaders. It didn’t take long before the clean well water turned the color of chocolate from the dust everyone collected from walking the dirt trails on the campus.  Most of the students and the campers wore sandals or flip-flops. It reminded me of the dirty job Jesus had washing the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room the night he was betrayed.  He assumed the role of a servant who typically did that foot washing task as people entered a room for a customary meal.  But on that night, there was no servant and no one volunteered for the job. The disciples were taken aback that Jesus would lower himself to do that job.  Peter protested vehemently.  But Jesus told Peter unless he washed his feet he could have not any part of his life. After that, Peter was all in. It’s almost as difficult to allow someone to wash our feet as it is to wash someone’s feet.  We are proud.  We are afraid of intimacy.  We don’t like people knowing that we might smell or be dirty.   We don’t like for people to know that we have... read more

The Mystery of Quieting the Babies

One of the favorite services of the year for most of our members is the candlelight Christmas Eve service.   It’s amazing how much musical talent we have in our church and some of this talent is always on display at this service. Latecomers missed Hannah Safley singing “Away in a Manger.”  I wonder how many of those great talents on “The Voice” got their start singing in church at age four.  In case you missed it, here is a link to her debut:  Just think, just a few years ago, she was a part of the chorus of babies crying during the Christmas Eve service. This is one service we have resisted having a nursery for because it’s difficult to get people to work on Christmas Eve.  We want the service to be as family oriented as possible and we try to make it brief. However, this year by 6:10 P.M., the babies were having their way.  They were letting their presence be known and while it gave us all reason to be thankful that 2016 and 2017 have been fruitful years for many of our young couples, we were also starting to be more thankful for nurseries during our services. Then, the remarkable happened.  When I stood up to deliver the Christmas Eve message, there was quiet.  There wasn’t a single sound coming from a baby.  I almost called attention to it, but I just made note of it.  While there is no such reference in the Bible, I am reminded of the words in “Away in a Manger,” which say “no crying He makes.” As I began to... read more

Finding Life After Loss and Grief

Almost every day my life crosses with someone who is living with some form of loss. One day I am standing in a driveway talking to a man who is slowly watching Alzheimer’s claim his wife one memory at a time. Another day I am visiting a woman in a nursing home with  the same disease that has advanced so far with her that she has lost all cognitive ability to recognize me, carry on a meaningful conversation, or even acknowledge my presence. I have listened to people that have lost their jobs, prayed with people that have lost their health, heard stories of the emotional trauma of miscarried babies, and shared the anger of those whose children have been wounded and violated by others. Not long ago I was preparing messages from the Sermon on the Mount.  When I came to the passage about divorce I thought about the many friends I have who have gone through the loss of relationships because of their divorces, not just from their spouses, but of other family and friends because the promises of a long life together came to an unexpected end. Eight times this past year I have gone to the graveside with members of my church.  Life on this earth ended for their loved ones.  No longer could they reach out and hold that person, talk to her, ask for advice, sit quietly and be comforted by his presence, or be frustrated because they could not agree or get along.   Let’s be honest.  Not everything about a loved one is missed. However, any person or anything of value that... read more

Mia, Irma, and the Butterfly

I was playing outside with Mia, my 18-month-old granddaughter, a few weeks ago when a butterfly decided to join the party. At first, it just circled, to Mia’s delight. Then, it decided to land, not more than a foot from Mia’s hand. While the butterfly was harmless, Mia was not sure that her visitor had friendly intentions. She hid behind me in delightful fear. The butterfly took wing, and Mia was again in awe and filled with joy. The butterfly came back for another visit. Mia watched but kept her distance until it flew away again. Mia and l enjoy looking out the back window of the house at our butterfly bush. The window provides a safe distance from these strange winged creatures that Mia is beginning to warm up to. She hasn’t graduated to three-syllable words yet, but her pointing and garbled gibberish communicates that she knows when one of our winged friends has come for a visit to our favorite bush. After we experienced wind gusts of 60 miles per hour as Hurricane Irma, then a tropical storm, moved through Georgia, we had three houses on our street with tree damage. The butterfly bush had a few broken limbs but maintained most of its blooms. The day after the storm, Mia was back at the window looking for butterflies. Before long, one appeared. It made me wonder, where did a creature that weighs only about a half-gram take refuge in such a storm? The resiliency of the butterfly is seen in the people of the U.S. and all of the other nations impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and... read more

The Most Difficult Part of This Job

Less than two hours after landing in Monrovia, Liberia, a land that had been devastated by civil war, I stood in the pulpit of Second Providence Baptist Church in 1995 to preach a sermon. As I looked into the faces of people that had waited three hours for us to arrive, I saw the tired, worn faces of people traumatized by war and famine.  They were also hungry for words of hope.  What words could I say that would make a difference in their lives? I took a deep breath. I opened my Bible and I began to preach.  But for the first time in my ministry I asked myself, “Do I really believe what I am about to tell these people?” I forged ahead believing that the word of God transcends cultures and every human situation. After all, oppressed people wrote much of the Old Testament during times of the exile. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his letters from prison and John wrote The Revelation while exiled to the Island of Patmos.  If so much of God’s word was birthed out of oppression, it could certainly speak to oppressed people. I had just come from two of the most difficult days as a pastor. I had spent those days with members of my church who had lost three loved ones in a house fire. As the news trickled in about the tragedy, it was discovered that the fire was not an accident. The man had shot his daughter, shot his wife, set the house on fire, and then shot himself. The members of Second Providence Baptist had... read more

Recognizing Those Behind the Scenes

Every year the Jefferson City Schools begin the year by inviting the community to a breakfast, which is followed by a gathering in the Performing Arts Center.  The community joins the faculty, administration, and the school board, in a pep rally of sorts. Dr. John Jackson, the longest serving superintendent in Georgia, reminds every one of the ingredients needed for the kind of success that places the Jefferson City Schools in many of the top academic categories in the state.  Chairman of the Board, Ronnie Hopkins, introduces his chosen speaker for the year who brings the pep talk or words of inspiration to teachers as well as the community about the importance of educating our students. This year, as in other years, members of the drama department were on the schedule to perform.  The scene to be performed was from the play, “Hairspray.” “Hairspray” is a musical that features rhythm and blues from the 1960’s and the story line is laced with social issues concurrent with that era. The community breakfast served as the perfect backdrop to show off the drama talent of our high school students.  The curtain went up.  The set was revealed.  The lighting was warm and inviting.  The actors walked out on stage.  And there was silence.  And more silence.  Then the silence became uncomfortable. Finally, one of the actors said, “Does anyone know any jokes?”  The audience laughed, but not with much volume.  A little later the spotlights dimmed.  The actors stepped off stage.  The curtain lowered.  Apologies were made. A lot of disappointment was felt by all. We were disappointed for the students... read more

There is No Greater Love: A Memorial Day Tribute

Memorial Day is a day to honor men and women who went into battle but did not survive. With their lives, they paid the ultimate price. The late U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” I cannot imagine the feeling of going into a battle knowing you may not live to see the sunrise. Some at different times have had a fatal premonition of pending death, but most go to battle with the attitude of another late U.S. Army general, George Patton, who said that the goal was to make the enemy pay the ultimate price. Even so, only those who live in denial ever sling a rifle over their shoulder and step into enemy territory without some fear of death. Even with all the training soldiers have, until the bullets start flying, no one knows what soldiers are made of until they are battle tested. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes. And those having it never know for sure if they will have it when the next test comes.” You cannot bankroll valor. You can’t put it in a holding tank and call it forth on demand. You can’t categorically say what you will or will not do in all situations of war. However, people of valor are usually people of character, people with a moral compass, people with a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. They... read more

Looking for Tom

Turkey Season.  Opening Morning.  Temperature 56 degrees.  Overcast.   The alarm went off at 4:00 A.M., three hours before sunrise. My son John and I got our gear together and we ate breakfast on the go.  We drove to a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) “destination top secret.”  Once arriving we had to sign in at a WMA checkpoint.  Then we drove to our spot, hoping to beat other hunters that might have had the area picked out.  The small field we wanted to hunt was up the mountain about a mile away from where we parked. As we walked up the mountain I was reminded that I was walking with a Marine.  His days in the Marine Corps made simple hikes like this seem like a walk in the park.  He opened up a huge lead on me within the first minute and several times I had to run to close the gap.  A few times he had mercy on me and stopped and waited for his old man.   I was breathing hard by the time we got to the top of the mountain. We timed our journey perfectly as the daylight was just breaking. The small opening in the woods matched up perfectly with the aerial view on John’s Google Maps.  John put his decoys in the field and we set up on the west side of the field about thirty yards apart from each other. As light began to break, John began to make circle motions over his slate, making some soft, “yelp, yelp, yelps.”  When there was enough light to see the decoys, I took my hat... read more

Removing the Johnson Amendment Would Make Us “Great Omission” Churches

I prayed for President Trump during a recent Sunday morning worship service. The prayer prompted one man to ask following the service, “So, did your man win the election?” His wife tried to rescue me by interjecting, “Now you should not put the pastor in that position. He’s not supposed to tell who he votes for.” And I didn’t. I did tell him that whoever is elected is my president, and we are scripturally obligated to pray for that person and our leaders. We continued a brief conversation about some of the changes and challenges ahead. Little did we know. Little do we yet know. The political arena is making it harder to lead a church, not easier. Politicians on both sides are polarizing, and they find little common ground on issues. There is little decorum, common courtesy or respect for the opinion of the other side. Politics trumps the common good of almost any problem. This kind of demeanor has had a trickledown effect from Washington into state and local governments. When we see this at the local levels, it becomes personal and painful. Local churches, large or small, can be filled with their own internal politics. There is a huge difference between serving out of the power of love and serving out of the love of power. When people get in the church and use a bunch of Jesus language but their motivation is power, there’s trouble coming. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves,” Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15. On the flip side, when God’s... read more

Are You Listening?

On a recent early morning walk in the woods, I was captivated by the sounds around me.  The frost-covered rye grass crunched beneath my feet.  The wind swished through the loblolly pines.  The crows “cawed” to each other in a language only they understand. We would understand each other if we spent more time listening to one another, trying to see and understand the world through each other’s perspective. In the movie, “The Social Network,” founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is portrayed as brilliant and arrogant.   While at Harvard he and some friends launched what is now the world’s most used social network. Since his Harvard days, Zuckerberg sees the world much differently. The arrogance of his former years is giving way to a more humble and open-minded approach. He sees the enormous good that his company and wealth can have in the world.  He and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to give away 99 per cent of their wealth to philanthropic causes! This year Zuckerberg will complete a tour of all 50 states.  He is meeting with people in small towns and universities, offices and churches. He is meeting with teachers and scientists and taking suggestions from people along the way about where he should go and with whom he should meet. Mark realizes that he has a special job to do, which is bringing people together during a time when we have difficulty listening to one another. While technology has helped bring us together on many formats, Mark wrote on his Facebook page that it has also contributed to “a greater sense of division... read more

Looking to the Amish for a Lesson in Humility

Last October Tina and I vacationed in Maine. For three days, we stayed on a working Amish farm. I learned that the Amish dress alike because it provides less opportunity for vanity.  If everyone is wearing the same thing, no one worries about how much to spend for dresses or shirts.  It helps keep them humble.  No need to look at catalogs from Macy’s or Belk. Also, there’s no such thing as an Amish megachurch and it’s not just because Amish churches meet at people’s homes.  In Amish country, you go to church in the district where you live.  And this is not just about convenience. A district averages about 135 people or 20 to 40 families.  When the membership grows larger than that, a new district is created.  Just like that, a new church is born.  (“A Pocket Guide to Amish Life,” Mindy Starns Clark, Harvest House Publishers: Eugene Oregon: 2010, p. 36) They keep these districts and their churches small for two reasons: 1) For spiritual intimacy; 2) It prevents any one district from becoming too powerful or too prideful. (Ibid, p. 37) The Amish care about relationships, but the relationship they care most about is their relationship with God. They are willing to break up and downsize their religious gatherings to keep groups from becoming too powerful or too prideful. That’s so unlike many of us.  We like to say, “Supersize it.  The bigger the better.”  Most Baptists can’t even get a Sunday school class to divide for the right reasons.  However, many Baptist churches were planted and started with this kind of pioneer spirit. To... read more

What Charlie Brown and Linus Teach Us About Christmas

As a boy, I looked forward to all the Charlie Brown specials the way an astronomer looks for the return of comets. Charles Schulz knew how to pull empathy from us as we rooted for Charlie Brown to win at least one baseball game.  This natural born loser had children all over the country begging him not to trust his sister as she held the football for him to kick. We hoped along with him that he’d get at least one valentine on Valentine’s day or one card for Christmas.  While we knew no Great Pumpkin would appear on Halloween, we waited with him and Linus in the pumpkin patch anyway. It was a cartoon, after all.  Anything can happen in a cartoon. But the Charlie Brown Christmas TV Show was received with great excitement because I knew Christmas Day was near. Charlie Brown was a gift to me.  Charlie Brown was a worrier.   I could identify with that because there were some things that I fretted over as a child, evidenced by the fingernails that I kept bit to the nubs and the nervous stomach that plagued me. You might say Charlie Brown was a worrier with good reason.  Rarely did things turn out well for him. While Lucy put up a good front, she seemed to be infected with this problem, too.  Lucy longed for someone to call her beautiful and when Schroeder didn’t, she just got angry and bullied him.  She didn’t have much true joy.  It must mostly a front. Compare their personalities to Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy.  Charlie Brown didn’t understand him and Lucy hated... read more

Making Room for the God’s Spirit

December 11 Most of us are busy, especially this time of the year.   In addition to work, school, family, church, sports, the time we volunteer, and sleep, there’s parties, shopping, decorating, and lots more stress. But even then our days are not full. We might tell people our schedule is full, but there’s so much more to life than this. Need I remind you of all the smaller things you do every week: washing clothes, paying bills, studying for finals, preparing meals, getting dressed, driving children to school, raking leaves, cleaning house, taking care of the pets, and grooming. All of these things and so much more are important parts of our lives, and they all have to be done. That fills up our lives, right? Of course, not.  There is so much more to life than this.  We aren’t robots running around just doing things.  We are filled with emotions. We have hopes and dreams.  Our days are filled with love, fear, doubts, anger, empathy, trust, anticipation, and surprise. Sometimes we filled with sadness, but hopefully most to the time we are happy and filled with joy. But what is the secret to joy?  Is it filling our life with stuff? Is it marrying into wealth?  It is winning a state championship or landing the job you want? Our lives become so full, even of good things, that it is a big temptation to say we have no room for the One that promises to bring us lasting joy, the Spirit of God. Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears... read more

Coulrophobia Has Me in a Tizzy

I doubt I will ever play this fool again, Tizzy, my alter ego.  Even before the recent insane outbreak of scary clowns that have terrorized children across the country, coulrophobia has been on the rise, mainly because of the use of clowns in a deranged way in movies, like Stephen Kings, “It.”   Even McDonald’s has officially put their icon, Ronald McDonald, in hiding.   What’s Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus supposed to do? This is a sad day for me.  I have entertained thousands of children over the last 30 years as Tizzy the Clown. I was trained in makeup and costume by Daisy Rademaker in Louisville, Kentucky. At graduation, our class marched in the Pegasus Parade which is held before the Kentucky Derby.  Daisy was famous for walking behind the horses and taking a daisy from her hat and planting it in a freshly deposited pile of horse manure.  As for Tizzy, he debuted by riding his unicycle in the parade. Tizzy once had his picture on the front page of the Northeast Georgian riding his unicycle in the Mountain Laurel Festival.   That didn’t seem novel enough.  By the next year’s parade, he was on a six-foot unicycle. That day Tizzy was riding high, waving to the crowd, soaking in the applause, but he drew the most laughter when he lost his balance and fell.  Instead of just dropping to his feet, he fell sideways and the bracing of his fall dislocated his shoulder.   He pushed the unicycle the rest of the parade with a dislocated shoulder as people shouted, “Hey, clown, why don’t you ride that... read more