Blog Archives

 

Note to Self

The Christian church celebrated the breath of God on Pentecost Sunday (May 31), while our nationbegan to grieve and pour out its anger over George Floyd’s death, a man who was refused his breath until he died. We must not lose sight, because of the violence and looting that has taken place in some protests, of the injustice done to this man and countless other African Americans in similar situations. If we allow the minority of violent protesters to write the narrative of the protests that are sweeping the country, we have failed to acknowledge the underlying problems of injustice we can trace to the Jim Crow Laws and the Slave Trade. We must also speak out against the violence of police against peaceful protestors who are exercising their constitutional rights to speak out against injustice. I grew up in a Southern Alabama town with less than 700 people. Our education system was divided by a public and a private school, which happened during the early years of integration. That was the way it was throughout most of the South. Sadly, many Southern towns still look like that. In my community, many people knew Governor George Wallace on a first name basis. He was born nearby, had practiced law in the area, and was a local hero. Growing up, I heard the “N” word in reference to African Americans from many people, as if that was what they were supposed to be called. I was in college before I learned who Martin Luther King, Jr. really was, and what changes he brought to this country. However, I am thankful... read more

Generosity is Often a Team Effort

A 10-year-old boy from Liberia entered Mass General Hospital in Boston just before the COVID-19 pandemic. He was diagnosed with fibrous dysplasia, an uncommon bone disorder in which scar-like (fibrous) tissue develops in place of normal bone. This massive tissue had overtaken the boy’s face. It was cutting off his ability to breath and making it nearly impossible to eat. Time was running out for little Samakai. Then he met Henry Peabody. Henry is a social worker in New Jersey. A Liberian native, Henry makes frequent humanitarian trips to Liberia. I met Henry during the Liberian Civil War when I traveled to that country in December 1995 during a cease-fire. When fighting broke out again in April 1996, Henry returned to the Budabarram Refugee Camp in Ghana. I was later able to help him get back to Liberia, secure a visa and come to the United States. I was able to arrange for Henry to attend college. He later graduated from Mercer University. Henry has been giving back ever since. When he found this child, he called me and asked if I could purchase plane tickets for the child and his mother to come to the United States. He said he had found a doctor that would do the operation that would save his life. Samakai arrived in the U.S. just a few weeks before the outbreak of COVID-19.  Had he come any later, his surgery may have been canceled.  However, the surgery was done on schedule and he remained hospitalized about six weeks before his recent release.  Doctors say that the surgery was 100% successful.  He will need to be on medication for the rest of his... read more

Do Hummingbirds Worry?

I had a conversation with a bird last week. I’m not Dr. Dolittle, although my wife calls me that sometimes when it comes to doing housework. I asked, “Mr. Bird, why are you singing so much?” He said, “It’s springtime, don’t you know?” I said, “Yes, but people are sick.  Some are dying.  The economy is bad. There is no March Madness.  Children want to go to school, but they can’t.  I can’t play with my granddaughter.” The bird chirped back that all of that sounded terrible, but why should he stop singing? I said, “Well, my feathered friend.  I think people are going to put you way down on their priority list.  No one is rushing out to buy birdseed these days.  Only toilet paper and canned goods.” “Tweetle Dee,” said the bird. “Birdseed makes us lazy anyway. Haven’t you heard that long ago Jesus made us the focus of one of his parables?” “Look at us,” he said. “We do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet the Heavenly Father feeds us.” “I appreciate your birdseed,” said the bird. “God uses you to feed us.  But if not you, then our food will come from somewhere else.  It always has. It always will.” Then the bird flew away. And I thought about what the bird said.  I wondered how I could have a song in my heart like the bird, but I’m worried about so much right now. A little later, the bird came back.  He had something in his beak.  I took it from him and noticed that it was two blades... read more

Lent Reminds Us to Seize the Moment

Signs of spring are slowly arriving.  The buttercups are opening up.  The rose bushes are covering their thorny stems with new leaves.  Trees will soon begin to bud and pollen will begin to fall. Robins will arrive. It will not be long before hummingbirds make their long migration back to North Georgia. Farmers will be turning the soil and preparing the ground for seed. Butterflies will emerge from their chrysalises. Bream will spawn in ponds and riverbeds. All around us nature is waking up. Preparation is being made for another growth cycle. Within this growth cycle of spring, Easter is coming. It finds its way into the spring calendar every year, its date moving like a Mexican jumping bean. Have you ever wondered why? Why don’t we have a fixed date for Easter as we do for Christmas? In the early church, bishops in the East and those in Rome were celebrating the Easter feast on different Sundays. Apparently, there was no unanimity on the date of Jesus’ resurrection. So, when the bishops came together to address some deep theological matters in Nicaea in 325 A.D., they addressed this practical issue of ensuring the same day was chosen to celebrate the Easter feast every year. Because there was no strong consensus on the original date, they felt Sunday was the most appropriate date to celebrate. Changing to a uniform date did away with any future arguments about the true Easter date. The new system, determined by the moon’s phases, ensured that the Easter feasts would jump around within a small window of dates. Tying the dates to the moon... read more

Dining With the Most Important Person in the World

Outside of your family, who would you name as the most important person in the world? Let’s imagine you have been chosen to honor that person by preparing or by having a meal prepared for him or her.  Also, you are invited to dine with that person. Imagine the time you would spend pouring over the menu and making sure every detail was right and that the food was the best. Before you carried the meal and served it to this very important person, you tasted each dish.  Mmmm.  It tasted even better than you imagined.  It was so good, you went ahead and ate some, and even asked the cooks to eat some with you. It wasn’t because all of you were starving.  It was just because that meal smelled so good.  It was all of your favorite things to eat.  You couldn’t resist. After you finished, you put the lids back on all the food and put them in the warmer, and off you went to see the most important person in the world, hoping this person wouldn’t mind eating the leftovers. Without shame, you served this meal that way.   You opened all the dishes revealing that someone had already helped themselves to a sizeable portion of the meal. The serving spoons were not even washed.  The bread was almost gone.  The potatoes were cold.  How embarrassing would that be? No one should surpass God’s importance to us.  God asks us to honor Him by bringing something to honor him: time, abilities, volunteering, talents, part of our income. Instead of giving God our “first fruits,” and the... read more

A Template for Making this World a Better Place

It was a warm sunny day in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962. John F. Kennedy stood before 40,000 people in the Rice University football stadium to deliver a speech that helped launch American astronauts to the moon. Most Americans were not convinced that we should embark on such a bold endeavor or believed that it was even possible. But that day, John F. Kennedy began winning people over to the idea that America could put people on the moon in a decade. We forget how much opposition there was to this ambitious plan now because landing on the moon is such a proud achievement in American history. Less than a year later, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 250,000 people to deliver his famous, “I Have a Dream Speech,” that helped move the Civil Rights Legislation closer to adoption and end the Jim Crow Laws. Both of these men were dreamers. They were optimists, and they dared to lead with courage. Nehemiah was such a man who lived about 450 B.C. He was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, King of Persia. He was a Jewish descendant of those exiled from Jerusalem after the Babylonians conquered it. Nehemiah learned of the dire circumstances in Jerusalem because the walls and the gates of the city were destroyed. When he heard about this, he could have said, “Ah, there’s nothing I can do.” Instead, the news broke his heart. He wept. He fasted, and he prayed. Nehemiah was a dreamer. He was an optimist. He believed he could help engineer an effort to rebuild... read more

Something That Can’t Be Taken From You

Not long ago, I needed to water some plants in my backyard.   Mia, my granddaughter, was over for a visit and she wanted to help. I felt a little bit like Tom Sawyer, handing that hose over to her, but I didn’t have to convince her that it wasn’t every day that a child had a chance to water plants. She took the job on with a smile.  I gave her instructions on where to point the water. But like most new things, it wasn’t long that the novelty wore off and she said, “Here P-Paw. You do it.” She was hot and tired of the heat, so she began to make her way to the house. She was about halfway there when I turned the hose in her direction.  To her delight, it rained a few drops on her head.  “Do it again,” she said.  It rained some more. “Do it again,” she said.  This exchange continued until she got an idea of her own. She wanted to have control of the water hose.  When she turned it in my direction, she laughed even harder.  But it didn’t just rain; it flooded on me. As I danced around trying to escape her surprisingly good aim, I was caught up in her laughter and the joy of the moment as I got wetter and wetter.  It was pure joy, innocent, spontaneous, and playful. After a while, she realized that I might be having more fun getting wet than she was using the hose, so she handed the water hose back to me and asked me to turn it on her. Before... read more

I Place My Life in this Hope

We have a golf cart at our church that the staff uses to move around campus on occasions. It can sit for several days, sometimes for a week or more before we use it. That’s long enough for wasps to find it be a suitable home for their home. Last week I told our office manager that I had some business in a couple of the buildings on campus. I had several items to deliver, and the cart was helpful. The last thing she told me when I picked up the key was to check the cart for wasps. I deposited the items in the back of the cart, did a quick look for wasps, and seeing none attempted to sit down in the driver’s seat. My butt had not even touched the seat before a wasp came off a hidden nest like a kamikaze and stung me on the tip of my nose. I said a few things unbecoming of a preacher and walked around, holding my face in my hands before I began to look for the nest that I had overlooked. My office manager must have heard my painful moans. She didn’t even have to wonder what happened. She came out of the door with a can of wasp spray. She was kind enough not to say what she had to be thinking: “I tried to warn him.” “Men, you can’t tell them anything.” Or “It’s his own fault.” I could have easily seen the nest had I taken the time to inspect the cart from all sides, but from the driver’s side, it was hidden.... read more

I Need to be More Like My Dog

I Need to Be More Like My Dog Our thirteen-year-old Labrador Retriever, Dixie, died a couple of years ago. We loved our dog! She was a part of our family when our boys were teenagers. After she died, it was the first time in almost 30 years that we had no children and no pets in the house. After two years, I had grown content living with my wife alone. Alas, my wife said one day, “I really would like to have a dog again.” So what does a husband do? He does the only thing a sensible husband can do. He gets a bird dog, so he has another reason to go hunting! We are now three months into our new dog experience. My wife seems less enamored with our dog than I had hoped. Puppies have bad habits that are easily forgotten in the infatuation stage of having a dog. Yet this dog has already proven to be a great teacher. Despite his small bladder and great desire to chew on anything that makes his gums feel better, here’s something important I’ve learned from our dog, my wife and I named “River.” Our dog wants to be where we are. River has learned that we are the ones that will care for him, feed him, love him, groom him, protect him, and give him companionship. He’s never far from us. Even after we let him run outside, soon he’s at the door, wanting to be with us—and where it’s cool, of course. Even as I train him on birds in the field, he never wanders far from... read more

Without Compassion, We Lose Our Humanity

I have spent a lot of time in Liberia, a country on the Western coast of Africa. I wrote a book about a 12-year civil war that devastated that country. There has been unspeakable savagery through the years, but there has also been Christ-like sacrifice, like the compassion and sacrifice of Napoleon Braithwaite. Napoleon worked for the Minister of Health in Monrovia, so he was well schooled about Ebola, a disease of severe internal bleeding that is spread through infected body fluids and is frequently fatal. Napoleon was also well schooled in the Liberian way of life, a life of suffering and hardship.  His first wife died during childbirth. His second wife died because of a lack of medical care.  During the war, the rebel soldiers invaded his home and took everything he owned. They even removed his toilet. However, throughout the war, Napoleon and his third wife raised a family of eight children, and he preached hope to his people. After graduating from the Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary, he became the pastor of Peaceful Baptist Church in the early 1980s. One September morning, a very sick woman knocked on his door and asked to use his phone to call an ambulance. She knew he was one of the few people around who had a phone. An ambulance was called, but she was told they could not respond. Knowing the risks of what he was about to do, he put the woman in his car and drove her to a hospital. He knew he would be able to make it through the various checkpoints along the way. Napoleon’s compassion... read more

The Church is a Hospital for Sinners

Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most respected leaders of modern history. Despite being a Hindu, Gandhi admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi’s rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practicing Law in South Africa. After studying the Bible and teachings of Jesus, he was attracted to the Christian faith and seriously explored becoming a Christian. He decided to attend a church service. As he went up to the steps of a large South African Church, an elder barred his way at the door. “Where do you think you’re going, kaffir?” the elder asked. Gandhi replied, “I’d like to attend worship here.” The church elder snarled at him, “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here, or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.” From that moment, Gandhi decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but he never again considered becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church. Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” (storiesforpreaching.com) One of the Church’s greatest problems is poorly representing the Christ we profess to serve. Our judgmental attitudes towards others, while we have sin in our own lives, is clearly seen and turns people... read more

God Speaks Through Whomever God Wishes

Standing beneath a tent beside a freshly dug grave on a very hot May afternoon, I listened to the granddaughter of the deceased read the 23rdPsalm. After sharing how she would remember her grandfather, she comforted her family with words beyond her years that indicated she understood grief. She was pastoral in her delivery, with compassion in her words and tone of voice. The way she described God being present with us in our suffering resonated with me. I had never met this young woman, but I knew she had gifts of ministry. Later, when I spoke to her, I discovered she recently graduated from Campbell UniversityDivinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina. She said that she been able to preach on a couple of occasions. I wondered, had she been a man, would she have been given more opportunities to preach by the time she graduated? Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, stirred the pot again recently when he said he said that women should not be allowed to “preach in the church gathered for the Lord’s worship.” So, it seems that what this young woman was doing out by the graveside was acceptable, according to Mohler’s standards. Yet, if she had said this in the church on Sunday morning, behind a pulpit in the role of a preacher with a “Rev.” before her name in the bulletin, and especially if she had been called to preach as the congregation’s pastor, that would not be OK in his view. Mohler parses his words carefully because he doesn’t want to offend people like... read more

Maintaining a Healthy Approach to News Consumption

When I was a boy, my grandfather worked twelve hours a day pushing dirt with a bulldozer.  When he came home, he was tired to the bone. After he ate his supper, he collapsed in a chair, pulled off his boots, and sat down and watched Walter Cronkite share what had happened in the nation and world that day.  Then he would listen to the local news.  After that, he’d turn to the local paper to fill in the gaps. Before Pop died, cable television was on the scene.  Being confined to his home much of the time, he was watching a steady diet of 6-8 hours of cable news per day.   It seemed that the more he watched, the angrier he became about politics and about living in this country. Rare was the time we got together that he didn’t get off on some political topic that had gotten under his skin from cable news.  If he were still alive today, I’m convinced it would be even worse. I see this often in people I meet, especially those that are retired and find a lot of time to watch television.   However, you don’t have to be retired to be overdosing on the news.  Regardless of which station you choose, if you do not watch the news in moderation, it’s not good for you. Today, more than ever, much of the news is presented with some bias.  Most networks have an agenda.  When news is used to shape the minds of people around a political agenda, good journalism can be compromised to some degree. We cannot get to a point where we are afraid to hear the truth or ask... read more

Spark Some Laughter In Your Life

Susan Sparks is a breast cancer survivor.  A nurse where she was tested for cancer told her that the Lord would take care of her. Susan reacted with sarcasm, “I think the Lord should have started a little earlier in taking care—like a couple of years ago when these cells started growing!” When the nurse put her arm around Susan and once again assured her that the Lord would take care of her, Susan rolled her eyes and said, “He has never had breast cancer, so I seriously doubt that he has any idea of how to ‘take care’ of this!” In her book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace,” Susan is refreshingly transparent about the anger she felt when she first learned of this devastating news. Anyone diagnosed with cancer or any disease can understand her pain and anger.  But Susan soon learned that her path to healing wasn’t found in her anger.  She began to rise above her pain and transcend her grief through the power of humor. She remembers drinking out of a coffee mug that said: “My Oncologist Can Beat Up Your Oncologist,” and she had a magnet on the refrigerator that said, “Cancer—it’s not just an astrological sign anymore.”  I think the saying would have been funnier if it had ended with these words: “it’s just an ass.” Soon humor became the sieve that allowed her to see, hear, and bear the truth. I saw a video of a parent trying to feed a baby, but the baby wasn’t having the food from the jar. So the parent dangled an ice cream cone in front of the... read more

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: fanpop.com... 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.” https://www.wimp.com/the–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

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