The Blog of
John Michael Helms
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Jefferson

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

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