Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Is What Christmas Time Means To Me

Christmas makes you feel emotional.
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me.

Those words are the introduction to one of my favorite Christmas songs. You may not recognize them but you will recognize the rest of the song.

City sidewalk, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style.
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day.

City street lights, even stop lights, blink a bright red and green,
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch, this is Santa's big scene,
And above all this bustle you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day.

It's an ageless song, isn't it? Whether you prefer Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Michael Buble, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson, or a host of other classic and modern artists, you are sure to find a recording to suit you.

Yes, it's one of my favorite Christmas songs. But there is no mention of the real meaning of Christmas. You may catch a glimpse of it in the first verse where people are happy and treating each other joyfully. By the time the second verse comes around with the focus on shopping you see the writer wasn't trying to tell us about the true meaning of Christmas.

I'm OK with that. I'm not one who thinks everything about Christmas has to include a Bible verse. I like giving and receiving gifts. I still believe in Santa Claus; he's just not who I thought he was when I was a little kid!

But you can't have Christmas without Jesus. I want to tell you what Christmas time means to me.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior. His birth was the fulfillment of promises God had made through prophets centuries earlier. Jesus is the Son of God and he IS God. he lived the same kind of life you and I live filled with the same struggles and emotions and temptations you and I experience - but he did not sin. He overcame everything life threw at him to remain holy and pure.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who was the sacrifice for our sins. God demands a perfect sacrifice and Jesus met the qualifications. His death was in my place - yours, too - so that by believing (which is not just head-knowledge but a total commitment of myself) I could be reconciled to God.

Jesus not only lived and died, he also resurrected and lives again. Even today Jesus is alive. He returned to heaven where he is preparing a place for those who believe and will return one day to gather us to himself. In the meantime, his Spirit is with us to help us live each day to bring glory to him. I want my life to honor Jesus and help others to see how they can also be reconciled to God through Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and return.

This is what Christmas time means to me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peace on Earth

Somewhere along Rushing Road about 5:20 this morning I was overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus came that there would be peace on earth. I began to pray that it would happen. Then I remembered that I believe the Bible teaches that peace will come upon the earth when Jesus returns to establish his 1,000-year reign. We may have pockets of peace before then but the pageant-wish for world peace won't really happen.

I jogged on.

"But Lord," I prayed, "what if right now we experience just a 24-hour period of peace? Can't the conflicts between nations, religions, races, and preferences come to a halt for just a day?"

I jogged on.

"Lord, just let me be at peace and be a peacemaker today. Let me hold my tongue, subdue my anger, see people with love, treat people with respect…"

I jogged on.

Within a minute I was having thoughts that absolutely betrayed my prayer! I don't know if it was Satan trying to trip me up or God telling me this would not be easy.

Only when I've kept my focus on Jesus have I been able to be at peace and be a peacemaker today. There have been times today where my focus fell from the Savior and I failed to be at peace in, keep the peace during, or bring peace to the situation.

The skies above the pastures surrounding Bethlehem were filled with angels one night long ago. They said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14 NIV).

Peace is not the absence of turmoil. It is not an attitude. It's not a response or a mind-game.

Peace is the presence of Jesus that overwhelms those who keep their focus on him.

I jogged on.

I stumbled. Not on Rushing Road. But in my daily routine trying to honor Christ in a fallen world.

The lesson is as clear as a Bethlehem midnight to me; I hope it is to you, too. Even in the midst of conflict, peace surrounds those who focus on Jesus.

Monday, December 08, 2014


I've often quoted a particular passage of scripture to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Today I am grieving. My grandmother died yesterday after five months of health problems. She turned 90 in May, went to a kidney doctor in July for a regular appointment (her kidneys had been hitting about 30%), was admitted to the hospital the next day, and has been home just a handful of days since then.

My mother is one of 4 daughters, one of which has already passed away. My grandfather passed away several years ago. My grandmother was is vibrant, leading part of our family.

By the way, the first grandchild was my sister. I was second but the first boy after the five girls (daughters and granddaughter) so I'm sure I was the favorite!

Mom (we all called her that even though she was mother to only the four daughters) went into hospice care Friday afternoon. About 48 hours later she died. The daughters and sons-in-law, most of the grandchildren, and a sister and her family were gathered in the small room as Mom took her last breath. We had thought at least a hundred times before that she had taken her last breath but after what seemed like minutes she would gasp again. So this time we waited expecting another breath.

That breath never came. I headed to the nurses station to report to them that we thought Mrs. Appleton (I felt odd calling her that) had died. The two of them came to the room and, with so much grace, listened for a heartbeat and let us know that we were right.

The tears flowed. Tears had been flowing for weeks but these were different. Earlier tears were of confusion, disappointment, frustration, of denial. These tears were from grief.

Honestly, I've only experienced tears like those a few times in my life. I've been sheltered, I know.

I've watched families go through this plenty of times. As their pastor I've hugged and held them while their tears flowed. I almost always say, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this." I don't say much else right away. Presence has been more appreciated that words - especially since words don't carry much comfort in the immediate experience of loss. "I love you." "I'm praying for you." "I'm so sorry." I've found that those words mean the most.

And I've been on the receiving end of those words for the last 24 hours. I'm convinced more than ever that the caring words of friends are of great value in such times. My friends are the best!

"Brothers, we do not want you to…grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

I've watched families grieve over the loss of a loved one in such a way as to express their lack of hope. I fully understand the hurt and loss associated with the death of a loved one. Christians - whose hope is in the Lord - grieve differently because we do have hope.

God does not say that we will not or should not grieve. He says that our grief should not be laden with hopelessness. The passage quoted above is part of Paul's words to believers to help them understand things related to the end of this life and the realities of eternal life.

These days are not filled with grief, although grief is part of these days. Hope is the banner that covers the grief. It doesn't mask or hide the grief; it helps. My hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation that what God said is true: those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord have an eternal home in heaven and one day Jesus will gather all believers for a meeting in the air that will usher in his kingdom.

Grief is a reality. Hope helps us as we grieve.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Peace on Earth

Driving through the city today making the stops necessary to complete my list of things to do, I listened to a lot of radio. I prefer talk radio - sports talk, specifically - because the music stations that play what I like are very sparse. Honestly, I spent too much time behind the microphone on my own radio show. Some of what I hear irritates the programmer in me. I should get over that, I know.

So as I listened to talk radio I heard local and national news broadcasts a few times. A particular lead-in really caught my attention. There was a confrontation between a white guy and an African American guy. I really don't have a problem calling races by color or continent of origin, but can't we be consistent? Some are offended when called a color. If a news network has determined that calling a particular race by a color may be offensive (and so they avoid it) then why don't they apply that decision to all races?

Either we're all colors or we're all continent of origin. In my opinion, both are silly. If you live in America, are an American citizen, have family roots in America, etc., then why can't we just say that you are an American? Remember the idea of being a melting pot?

In the news story I heard, the continent of origin and the color of the skin had nothing to do with the conflict. Two guys had a disagreement and settled it with force. One guy was black..or brown, the other guy was white..or beige. One guy was African American, the other guy was European American, I guess. Doesn't that sound silly?

The brokenness that sin brings upon us is most evident in this area. And it's a shame.

Later in my tour across our city I heard that the grand jury in Ferguson has made a decision and it will be made public later today. I can only imagine how the tensions between the races will be manifested after this.

I pray that the peace of Christ will rule in the hearts of all believers. Those who profess to follow Jesus should really try hard to follow Jesus during these days. The brokenness that engulfs our world can only be made right by the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed so that our sins could be forgiven.

Sins of racism can only be made right through Jesus. Hatred between people can only be made right through Jesus. We can only be "color blind" or "continent of origin blind" through Jesus who came that there could be peace on earth.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ruling or Leading

I just read a tweet that set apart leading from ruling. The President made a speech last night. I guess that's the reason for the tweet.

But it causes me to think about my role as a pastor. I must confess that there have been times in my 32 years of ministry that I have tried to rule rather than lead. I apologize for that! People are much more receptive to leaders than to rulers. (Should I remind you that the President made a speech last night?)

The Bible refers to pastors as shepherds. God's people need to be led toward fulfilling the Great Commission, to confess sin, to love one another, to live moral lives, etc. I could stand in the pulpit (sadly, I have) and demand action and response. That almost always results in no response or the opposite response I was demanding. But shepherds lead the sheep. Once the shepherd gains their trust the sheep will follow him anywhere. They trust him to be looking out for them and leading them to the right places.

A church will follow a leader much better than obey a ruler.

Years ago I worked as a training manager for call centers. One of my trainers was a bit of an independent type. She was a good trainer but not so much a good employee. Finally, I had to sit down with her to develop an action plan based on her misconduct. I had a couple of options. I could call her in my office and tell her what the rules were and demand she toe the line or else.

Instead, I chose to sit down in the training room with her. I had a blank piece of paper on which we would outline the action plan. In my mind I knew what I wanted to write on the paper and usually I would have already written it down. But as we talked about the situation, the company's policies, and the expectations for employees, she crafted an action plan that was almost identical to the one in my mind. By asking questions and getting her involved in the problem-solving process we walked away with a plan we both owned.

I felt like I had been a good leader.

People in your workplace, school, family, club, or church will follow a leader. They might rebel against a ruler. (Remember the speech last night?)

OK, I'm headed to Google to find articles on effective pastoral leadership.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First Reactions

Deana and I left for Israel on November 4. We'll be home on November 13. It's been a great trip with 52 friends and new friends - all of us associated with Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock in some way.

I married in.

It's time to pack for the trip home so I'll make this short. But I'll share more in the next few days…or weeks. Actually, I'll share my experiences for the rest of my life.

  1. The blue-ness of the Mediterranean is unbelievable.
  2. Being in a boat on the Galilee was emotional.
  3. The Via Dolorosa is a bit too commercial.
  4. A trip to Israel really does make the Bible come to life.
  5. I felt safe the entire time.

I plan to come back and bring some of you with me. Who wants to go?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A Telling Anecdote

As a preface, I'm not bashing individuals. I'm not ranting. Just making a statement based on three anecdotal observations.

Halloween is a fun time for lots of people. I'm an introvert so I don't really want to draw attention to myself by dressing up and parading anywhere. When I was a kid I loved Halloween because of the candy. As I think about it, that's still why I like the day. But I'm not going to a costume party and since Riley's a teenager, I don't have to go trick-or-treating…which really cuts down on the candy!

You can't see another house from our house. We live on a fairly busy road but there's not much reason for people to trick-or-treat our house. Trick-or-treating works better in neighborhoods where kids can score a pumpkin full of candy in a few minutes. But we turned on the porch light and had candy waiting for any kids whose parents would risk the one-house-stop. We had four kids and I loved seeing them, getting hugs from them, taking their pictures, and handing out candy. It reminded me of riding on the tailgate of my grandfather's pickup truck as we headed down Fifth Street in Paris, Arkansas forty years ago.

Halloween is not really a holiday, is it? Businesses don't close. Governments don't shut down. I'd guess that few people miss work on October 31 because they get to show up dressed however they want.

But I've read on social media that some people claim Halloween is their favorite holiday. And some of these people are Christian - maybe just cultural Christians. My concern is that people who claim to be Christian would put a day that has very little if any Christian significance (I do realize that this is also Reformation Day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door) above the day we celebrate the birth of our Savior - the Incarnation of God. Secular pleasure overtakes spiritual significance.

Then I heard a news broadcast on the radio. The anchor was reminding people to set their clocks back one hour Saturday night / Sunday morning as Daylight Savings Time comes to an end. On the lighter side, I thought, "Hey, that's my job! These twice-a-year reminders are about the last thing the government and culture allows pastors to do without harassing us!"

On a more serious note, she went on to say that if you didn't adjust your clock Saturday night / Sunday morning you would be an hour off schedule MONDAY MORNING. And she said to take advantage of the time change by sleeping in SUNDAY MORNING. Our culture has long ago left the perspective that church matters. I knew that but when the news broadcast totally ignored a worship service possibly being on someone's Sunday schedule…

I shouldn't be surprised. Even last weekend should have prepared me for this weekend. The NFL season has included playing one game in London the last few years. That was last weekend. Last Friday, the sports radio show I listened to hailed the idea of televised football on Sunday at 9:00 A.M. since the morning would otherwise be void of any usefulness. Again, church attendance and participation (and importance) are ignored.

So Halloween is the favorite holiday and Sunday mornings have little to do with going to church.

If we ever were, the United States certainly is not a nation of Christians today.

I heard a story this week that I had heard before that is appropriate for our situation. A shoe company sent a salesman to an African country. After a few weeks the company received a telegram from the salesman: "I quit! Nobody wears shoes over here." The company sent another salesman who sent this telegram a few weeks later: "Send more shoes. Prospects everywhere!"

I'm not lamenting (much) the state of Christianity in America, but recognizing the sobering reality that the fields are white unto harvest. Just look out the front door. OK, maybe I'll have to drive a quarter of a mile to see the fields.

The Great Commission demands that those who are truly followers of Christ are to make disciples. My pastoral ministries professor aptly defined this as "winning people to Jesus and building them up in the Lord." Let's don't cry in our cereal; let's pray for workers for the harvest and let's be those workers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Surrender = Victory

Leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention is calling for prayer for revival and spiritual awakening. I've been convicted about the need for a stirring among God's people and particularly within our church so I am preaching a series of messages based upon the model demonstrated within the convention. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, President of the SBC, leads prayer gatherings around the country. I participated in Little Rock a few months ago and it was a powerful time.

Yesterday was the third Sunday of preaching about praying for revival. The first sermon challenged us to cry out to God to open the heavens and pour out his blessings upon us. Last week we talked about confession and repentance. Then yesterday the topic was surrender.

Jesus is a great example of surrender. He prayed just minutes before he was arrested that God would allow the subsequent events to be different. Jesus would be arrested, beaten, falsely convicted, and crucified. I would have asked for another plan, too! But the crucifixion was necessary because of sin, and Jesus could be the only perfect sacrifice to die for our sins. There could be no other plan.

Despite knowing what would happen over the next few hours, Jesus surrendered his desires for the Father's will. He did this because he trusted the Father's plan for redeeming the lost and he agreed that the lost were worth redeeming.

Do I trust God's plans? Do I agree with God's purpose? If not, I won't surrender to him. I will continue to follow my desires, my will, my plans. I'll continue to cater to me!

In surrender, I am saying that I trust God's plans and I agree with God's purpose. Are you willing to say this? Are you willing to follow Jesus (and Jesus' example)?

The passage in Luke 22 that tells us of Jesus praying in the garden teaches us that surrendering to God's will brings about great victory. After the crucifixion, Jesus arose to live again, he fellowshipped with his friends, he ascended to his rightful place in heaven, and he will return gloriously to establish his eternal kingdom. That's all victory!

Even his death is a victory because in death Jesus secures forgiveness for all who will turn to him.

We don't usually equate surrender and victory. One army surrenders to the victor. But in God's design, surrender equals victory. Will you surrender to God's will? If you do you will gain victory in this life and in eternity.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Love, Dad

My three sons - the Loyd Boys - are 30, 28, and 13. Jim, Caleb, and Riley have sure made this Dad a proud and happy man. I haven't produced clones and wouldn't want to but sometimes I wish they were more like me. And sometimes I wish they were less like me. In his infinite wisdom, God chose to pass along to them from me as he did. I don't understand. I'm not supposed to.

A person who had never met me told me last night that she knew I was Caleb's Dad because he and Jim and I look alike. Maybe she was exaggerating but it made me feel good.

Caleb is getting married today to Keegan. It's a happy and exciting day. Caleb asked me to officiate. Keegan let him ask me. For that, I am very thankful.

So to Caleb and Keegan I say...

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 10:6-9)

I pledge to pray daily for you. I pledge to always give you my love and support. I pledge to be an example of a godly man, father, and husband.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Things That Last

I love taking pictures. My Dad and sister are much better at it than I am. My Dad bought a Minolta 35mm SLR when I was a kid. I never used it much but thought that kind of camera was so cool! My sister was on the Annual Staff and roamed the halls and sidelines recording memories for our high school. That was before digital cameras so she learned to develop the film in the school's darkroom.

I bought my first Canon SLR in the film days then replaced it with the first digital SLR Canon produced. And I still have it. Its 6.3 megapixels don't come close to what cheaper and smaller cameras produce these days. My iPhone's camera has more megapixels than that. But the camera phones and the point-and-shoots don't take pictures like an SLR.

I'd love to upgrade but that will have to wait for another day. I have a philosophy about cameras and golf clubs: Why pay more money for new ones when you don't really know how to use the ones you have? I have a lot to learn about, too.

Some things are obsolete almost as soon as you buy them. Some things wear out over time with use. Some things last forever but get replaced by the latest and greatest.

Computers, running shoes, and cast iron skillets.

But one thing never becomes obsolete, never wears out, and can never be replaced. God's Word - the Bible - is God's expression to us of all we need to know to make sense of this life and make it to eternal life. Times change, people change, and circumstances change but God's Word is the ultimate guide to knowing Jesus. Whether a person lived before my lifetime, lives during my lifetime, or will live after my lifetime, nobody will ever discover God, forgiveness, love, and redemption outside his Word.

Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Luke 21:33).

The psalmist wrote, "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" (Psalms 119:89).

Peter quoted Isaiah 40 when he wrote, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25).

I have bookshelves laden with books. I have electronic devices loaded with digital books. None compare with the Bible. Yes, I have different translations and a favorite translation, but it is what God says to me in his Word that is so precious.

I still have my Letterman's jacket from high school...but it doesn't fit anymore. I have photos from my childhood...but they are faded. I have memories of special events...but some of the details may be missing.

I have God's Word. It will always fit. It will never fade. It will always be complete.

I hope to have enough money someday to buy a new camera. Then I'll put my old one on EBay or give it away to someone. But I'll never outgrow God's Word or get too smart for it.

Friday, September 26, 2014


This thought crossed my mind today. It was jaywalking because it was not in the regular traffic pattern of my thoughts at the time. Rather than demanding the thought pay attention to my thinking pattern, I decided to go with it. I chased a rabbit. I'm a preacher, I can do that.

The word "consider" popped into my mind; I'm not sure why. Then I began to think about the times it is used in the Bible. Logos Bible software gave me hundreds of hits of the word in English. After a little clicking here and there I found that many Hebrew and Greek words are translated "consider" in our English Bibles.

Since I was chasing a rabbit and needed to get back to the task at hand I decided to just consider a few English.

Job 1:1 says, Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job?"

Luke 12:24, 27 say, "Consider the ravens" and "Consider how the lilies grow."

Acts 15 tells of the Jerusalem council considering the question of circumcision.

Consider this... Each of these passages calls us to consider someone or some object or some issue. What is common about them? Each invitation to consider is an invitation to learn something about God.

The story of Job is not about his success, loss, and regained success. God is the center of the story. When we consider Job we see how God impacts a person's character in both good and bad times. We see God at work with complete authority over all things. We see God having no equal. We see God being merciful and gracious. We see how God's ways and thoughts are so much different that the way we think. Considering Job teaches us so much about God.

Ravens and lilies are not simply parts of creation for which God cares and to which God tends. Ravens and lilies show us God's dominion over creation so we can be confident he has dominion over our lives and problems, too. Considering God's activity in the least of creation causes us to realize he will be actively involved caring and providing for us. We do not live in a world of Deism where God created but no longer attends to the world; God is ever-present and ever-active in our lives. Considering the ravens and lilies teaches us so much about God.

The Jerusalem Council convened to discuss what it meant to be a Christian. Was Christianity an advanced stage of Judaism? If so, then circumcision must be part of the Christian experience. The council rightly determined that circumcision was not necessary to be a Christian. In other words, the trappings of religion may get in the way of truly knowing God. The circumcision given to Abraham's descendants was an act of obedience marking the people as God's chosen ones. Paul referred to the true faith-descendants of Abraham being marked by a changed heart, not a changed physique. The Jerusalem Council agreed that God is looking not on outward appearance but upon the heart. Considering how a Christian lives teaches us so much about God.

Consider this... God created you to be in a love relationship with him that brings honor to him as your worship him. Your sin stands in the way of that relationship but Jesus - God in the flesh - gave his own life as the penalty for your sin so that the relationship can be restored as God desires. Will you turn from your sin and toward God's purpose of relationship and praise? Will you follow him? Will you serve him? Will you consider following Jesus?

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Am a Champion!

I have the trophy to prove it. I am a champion golfer.

Last weekend I was part of a 4-Man Scamble Tournament of Arkansas Baptist Men. And we won our flight. By two strokes. We shot 4-under par.

I am a champion. But I'm a terrible golfer. There is no way I could be a champion on my own.

Here's the story...

My Dad called and asked if I wanted to play in the tournament. Sure I did so I asked what it cost. He said he'd pay my entry fee so I could be on his team.

The way a scramble works is that all team-members tee off. Then the team decides whose ball they want to play next. You usually choose the ball that's in the best position for the next shot. Then three players pick up their balls and play from the best position. I picked up my ball a lot! I can't remember choosing my ball more than a couple of times.

My Dad invited me. He paid the entry fee. We played his ball all day long. I picked mine up, put it in my pocket, and am a champion. All I did was accept the invitation; someone else did all the work. But on my bookshelf sits a trophy that says, "Champion."

Here's another story...

Jesus invited me to be part of his family. That's an impossibility because I am a sinner. But Jesus paid the penalty for my sins since I could do nothing about it. I've never been able to live up the expectation of being in his family (expectations I set), but he always forgives me and let's me live in his righteousness.

All I did was accept the invitation to be part of his family, my sins are forgiven, and now I am a Christian.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hypocrisy Exposed

Jesus said, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1 niv).

Do you know people whose lives are full of religious acts? They appear to be doing the right things, good things. And maybe they are. Any help given to an orphan is a good thing. It's always right to give to meet needs of the poor.

But a religious act is more than the act. Anybody can do the acts but only a Christian can do a religious act. By that, I mean actions that align with "true religion." James wrote that true religion is displayed in actions that help the helpless (James 1:27). Yet in the same breath he says that hypocritical religion is worthless (James 1:26). So why we do what we do makes a difference.

Christians must do helpful acts in the name of Jesus. Let's call that "religious heroism." The attitude with which we do religious heroism matters; let's call this attitude "godly humility." When the two are together, we get a beautiful picture of the body of Christ in action. Absent of godly humility, religious heroism is hypocritical.

Religious heroism without godly humility leads to self-righteous hypocrisy.

Is it possible for religion to be bad? When the action is not coupled with the right attitude, it stinks like soured mile or a junior high boy's gym locker! Paul challenges believers to "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).

Most of the time when I walk through the fresh meat section of the grocery store I move quickly because the smell of the fresh meat...well, it stinks. I can't imagine being a butcher! But take a piece of that fresh meat and put it on the grill, add a little seasoning and the aroma is delightful! I can stand over the grill and breathe it in.

Our acts of righteousness have a stench when not coupled with humility. Hypocrisy morphs the best acts into something that God will not tolerate.

Christians honor God by serving others with no expectation of personal gain. People in your community need God-honoring believers to help them. Orphans need God-honoring believers to love them. The broken ones, the hurting ones, the forgotten ones need God-honoring believers to touch their lives. Will that be you? Will that be your church?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Information Overload

On my desk is a stack of magazines that most preachers probably see each month. All of them have articles claiming to hold the key to revitalizing the church, reaching the community, or increasing offerings. You can't implement every idea for every facet of ministry, so what do you do?

On the counter at home is a stack of sales flyers that most of you probably see each month. All of them claim to have unbeatable prices on stuff I have to buy in order to have fashion in my closet, safety in my garage, or comfort in my living room. I can't afford all of it. I don't want much of it. So what's a guy to do?

On the table next to my chair is a Bible similar to one most of you have read. The Bible claims to have answers to problems I have with relationships, troubles I perceive in our culture, and forgiveness for  the sins I've committed that weigh me down and strip life away from me. Unlike the magazines and sales flyers, it IS possible to apply everything the Bible says. I can't implement everything the magazines suggest for my church. I can't purchase everything the flyers say I need. But I can apply biblical teachings without conflicting one another or overloading my life.

And I should. So should you.

Dr. Al Mohler recently spoke at a conference in Conway, Arkansas. His topic was "The Battle for the Christian Mind" and he said that the Christian mind can only be developed with scripture. The Bible must be central to our lives if we hope to think and act like faithful followers of Christ.

I kinda hate to comment about dust on Bibles because I have stacks on my bookshelves that don't get opened very often. I have some that were given as gifts. I have others that I now also have in digital form. I have a few that I go to for the great study notes in them.

So I won't ask if your Bible has dust on it because I might be guilty. Better questions are these: Is the Bible central in your life? Do you read it every day? Do you study the Bible to learn what God says about your situation? Do you try to apply biblical principles on a regular basis?

Better than "dusty" we might use the word "rusty." I visited my grandmother last week. While there I strolled around the barns that have sat empty and unused for years. My grandfather passed away years ago. My uncle who worked with him passed away just a few years later.

I found some pieces of farm equipment that had sat idle for a long time. The lack of use has given rise to rust on the moving parts. Some of those parts wouldn't move even if you took a sledge hammer to them.

Some of us  have Bible skills that are rusty from lack of use. The best lubricant for rusty Bible skills is simply using the Bible. Pick it up. Read it. Think on it. Share ideas with others. Put it into practice.

If you need a faith-community in which to do this, check out Cross Road Baptist Church. We'd love to have you join us as we try to live faithfully with God's Word in the center of our lives. We're finding that life has meaning and purpose when we live like this.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What's A Follower To Do?

The more I study the Bible the more I've become aware of God's mission in the world and my place - the church's place - in the mission. I believe God is a sending God and that believers are sent just as Jesus was sent.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!
As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
(John 20:21)

Our Lord spoke these words to his followers, his disciples. Often Jesus addressed a specific group but a larger group also heard. It was as if Jesus wanted the others to hear what he said. (In fact, he did!) But these words were spoken to the disciples, not the crowds, not the opposers.

Jesus was sending his disciples on the same mission the Father had sent him to accomplish. So what was Jesus' mission? He came to redeem lost people by taking the punishment for their sins through his death on the cross.

He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

He came to give his life to set sinners free from sin (Mark 10:45.)

Obviously, his disciples can die on a cross to absorb the penalty of sins for someone else. We aren't even an acceptable sacrifice for our own sins. We are sinners in need of a Savior and that's who Jesus is and that's why Jesus did what he did.

So what is our role in the mission of God? We are sent just as Jesus was sent but we can't do what Jesus has done. But we can point people to Jesus. We can show others who are lost in and bound by sin that Jesus has died to reclaim them and set them free.

The details of the disciples' mission is not just the same as Jesus' mission but the purpose and desired result is the same. Jesus died for sinners' sins; we proclaim this truth to them. Jesus died and rose again to gain victory over sin and death; we proclaim this truth.

The last words of Jesus that Matthew recorded in the Gospel are these:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the earth."

This Great Commission, like the sending passage in John 20, is intended for Jesus' followers. Whether that numbers in the dozens, hundreds, or millions, followers of Jesus are to make disciples - or other followers of Jesus.

We do that by joining the mission of God.

We do that by proclaiming Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

We do that by proclaiming truths found in Scripture that guide the way we are to live.

And really, aren't disciples supposed to live out their beliefs? Shouldn't what's in our mind be exposed in our actions? I think that is true. I think it does happen. Our actions do reveal what we really believe. I can't really judge if a person has trusted Jesus for salvation but often it's obvious whether or not that person is truly a follower or disciple of Jesus.

Professing believers ought to live by the instructions of the one they claim to follow. The Bible has plenty of passages that describe how a disciple ought to live, but just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. Our worship, our relationships, our finances, our priorities all fall under the authority of Jesus Christ. Our entire lives are to reflect him.

I don't measure up to well with these passages, do you? What's a follower to do when you realize you aren't following very well?
  1. Repent or turn away from your sins and seek forgiveness.
  2. Turn toward God's word for help knowing how to live.
  3. Yield to the Holy Spirit as He guides you.
  4. Huddle with other believers to encourage and equip each other to live for Christ's glory.
  5. Go and make disciples of all nations because that's God's mission.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Facing Mistakes

I'm excited about heading to Pottsville tonight for Riley's first Junior High football game. The Arkansas Baptist Eagles face the Pottsville Apaches at 7:00. I have no idea what to expect!

Heading to Pottsville brings to mind a couple or three mistakes I've made. Pottsville itself is not a mistake. We lived there for a couple of years. Riley's first home was in Pottsville. A couple of different decisions and, who knows, Riley could be on the Pottsville sideline tonight.

Without going into detail about the mistakes, I'll just say that one had to do with relationships, one had to do with stewardship, and one had to do with calling.

I believe God has a plan for each of us. If we are able to seek and understand and follow the Holy Spirit's guidance in every situation we would follow that plan without deviation. The truth is that we sometimes follow our own guidance or the guidance of others who may not be speaking on behalf of the Lord.

So we get of the path the Lord has planned for us.

I do not believe that even our mistakes are God's will or plan for us. My mistakes have led me into sin and that certainly cannot be God's desire. God's desire will bring me away from sinfulness and toward Christ-likeness.

My desires often lead me the other way. "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). The key to this verse unfolding in my life is to delight myself in the Lord. Then my desires will match his desires and he'll give me those things. I really don't think God will give me the desires of my heart if my heart doesn't match his heart - especially when those desires are result in sin and straying.

I want to do better. I want to honor God with my relationships, stewardship, and calling. A friend recently taught me that most of us want to do better, we just don't have the courage or faith to carry out that desire. The first few verses of the Book of Joshua remind me to be courageous based on God's promises and his word. My courage doesn't come from within me but from God and my faith in him to do what only he can do and to help me do what he wants me to do.

By grace God had a plan for me. He handed it to me. I messed it up and handed it back. He took it and, in grace, worked all things for good. He handed a revised plan back to me. That cycle has occurred several times in my life but grace has always answered failure. I praise God for that!

There are some reminders in Pottsville. They don't serve to keep me regretting the past. They challenge me to be courageous today and in the future so I can better achieve God's desires (which are becoming my desires, too).

...but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Go Eagles!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

I'm Learning to Be Less Selfish

Deana and I (I'm not accusing her of being selfish, she's just part of the story) spent a few hours this weekend cleaning out closets. We both have way too much stuff so we are donating clothes to the Little Rock Compassion Center.

I filled two big black trash bags and stopped bcause I was tired of doing it. I'll finish some other time.

Have you ever put on a jacket you had not worn since last winter and found money in the pocket? That's a pleasant surprise. It can be a blessing, if you know what I mean.

We decided not to have a garage sale because we just wanted to bless others without a price tag. I'm not saying that is how everyone should do it. That's just our decision this time. Maybe we'll have a garage sale next time, who knows?

So I'm stuffing these bags through the small hole in the "donation hut" in the KMart parking lot. And I'm thinking, "Did I check the pockets?"

I do a lot of laundry at the house because we have a rule: Money found in the laundry belongs to the person doing the laundry. So you can imagine my dilema knowing that as soon as the bag goes through the hole I'll never have another chance to check the pockets because I'm too big to fit though that hole!

I didn't check the pockets. I figure that the next hand that reaches in those pockets belongs to a person who needs the blessing. God has blessed me in abundance. The least I can do is not be so selfish.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Vision Talk

Last night I talked about vision with our church family. We've spent each Wednesday night in August talking about "Who Are We?" This led us through an exercise of memory as we updated a timeline chart of Cross Road's history. Nobody who attended was there in 1971 when the church was founded. Only one person in our congregation was part of that original group and she was a pre-schooler then.

The memories were more like looking through somebody else's shoebox of pictures. But we still learned quite a bit about our church. The timeline exposed the highs and lows the church experienced. Some would prefer that the timeline was not as honest as it was, but we are where we are because of where we've been. And that course allows us to project a trajectory into the future.

Doing what you've always done will get you what you've always got, right? Let me nuance that statement. Because the church's purpose is to reach people who are lost so they may choose to follow Jesus, our target is moving. The people in our community and throughout the world are different than they were in 1971. Even five years makes a difference. So doing what we've always done - even if we do it better - will probably result in getting less than we've always got.

So it's time (past time) to cast vision for Cross Road Baptist Church. I've recently stopped pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Had I continued, this would likely be the backbone of the project: leading the church to celebrate the past, assess the present, and prepare for the future.

I spent my time with our church last night preparing for the future. It was just an introduction. I don't want to dump on them what I've studied and digested for 6 years. That wouldn't be fair to them and I would get discouraged. My desire is to place the vision in front of the people frequently. I've heard it said that the people don't know what the vision is until they can finish your sentences when you talk about it. Repetition is the key!

So after considering the current state of our church (and most churches, I believe) I feel the Lord has placed this on my heart and in my mind as the direction Cross Road Baptist Church should go.

The basic underpinnings are these:
  • The church must accept her role in God's mission. "The church doesn't have a mission; God's mission has a church." We must be about the Lord's mission. In John's gospel, Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (Jn 20:21).
  • The church must be outwardly focused. Too often Christians and the churches they comprise are looking for ways to tend to themselves. Yes, taking care of the body is necessary but it cannot be the only thing the church does. We must look out into the community and the world and minister to them. I believe this is what Jesus meant in Matthew 26 when he talked about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. "Love your neighbor as yourself" must surely point to this kind of outward focus.
  • The church must be an active participant in reaching people. I tell the church, "You are the missionary and where you are is the mission field." I get the idea behind the signs on the way out of church parking lots that say something like, "Now you are entering the mission field." My pastoral ministries professor Dr. Steve Lyon said, "We have to keep our eye on the ball. And the ball is winning people to Jesus and building them up in the Lord." Not too many lost people wander onto a church campus these days but there are lots of saved people there who need to be built up. I don't see how we can draw lines to separate what is or is not the mission field.

I will take space later to flesh out this vision but let me take time now to give you the six elements I presented to Cross Road last night.
  1. Every member in discipleship
  2. Every member in ministry
  3. The church in on-going community ministry
  4. The church in on-going church planting
  5. The church in 3-yr "Send North America" partnerships (perpetual)
  6. The church in 3-yr international partnerships (perpetual)
If you are a member of Cross Road I want you to come to church often to hear more about our path into the future. You can check this blog weekly to learn more about each element. With the Lord's help and our courage to stay on course we'll change the trajectory of our church to make a greater impact on eternity.

Cross Road Baptist Church is a great group of people who love each other and love Jesus. I'm glad to be part of the church. And I can't wait to see you again this weekend!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Response to the Crisis in Iraq

In his recent blog post, SBC President Ronnie Floyd clearly outlines the issue in Iraq and our response to it. If you can give, please do. Please pray.

Dr Floyd writes:

"The Middle East Crisis is a new phase in a larger crisis that has been intensifying over the past two years. The current crisis in Iraq is driving Christians and other non-Muslim minorities — as well as Muslims who won’t submit to Islamist rule — from their homes. About 1.5 million Iraqis have been forcibly displaced. This Iraq crisis compounds the Syrian refugee situation, in which more than 9 million people have been driven from their homes. Jihadists have ruthlessly martyred Christians who did not flee.
"Many of these families are very much like our own. They owned businesses and took care of their families, but the violence has forced them to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Right now, they are enduring excruciating summer heat, and in a few months they will be facing bitter winter conditions without adequate shelter."
Please read the entire article at the here... Baptist Global Response and the Iraq Crisis

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Marathon

I've never run a marathon but I ate plenty of the candy bars that had that name when I was a kid. Do you remember the long, twisted, chocolate-coated caramel? It was about a foot long! If they had just found a way to put nuts in it, it would have been the most awesome-est candy bar ever. As it was, it was pretty good.

My interest in candy bars probably explains why I've never run a marathon.

I browse through a few blogs each week to glean nuggets of news, perspective, and ideas. Michael Lewis (@Pastor4pastors) works for the North American Mission Board (@NAMB_SBC) with responsibility for encouraging pastors. He does a good job. His post from last Friday says, "Ministry is not a hundred yard dash, but it is a marathon to be run with endurance."

I can run a hundred yards. Takes me about a minute but I can do it. But the 26.2 miles of a marathon course takes more than a dash. More training. More stamina. More energy. More determination. More.

Ministry takes more than I thought it would when I started. Preachers just work two days a week, right? And those are half-days.

We may preach for a total of 2 hours or so a week but that doesn't include the preparation time. And most pastors do more than preach. We make hospital visits, we visit shut-ins, we meet with committees, we're on the phone with members who complain, we counsel those with life issues, we write notes or send email to encourage members, we update church's social media and website, we prepare and print the bulletins for Sunday's service. And we have a family.

Some ministers have jobs away from the church.

THIS WEEK (the dash) is tough for a minister, much less the entire lifetime of ministry (the marathon). Too many men and women who start in ministry quit before too long. They get tired of it, distracted from it, bored with it. There are probably dozens of reasons a person is willing to run a dash rather the marathon of ministry.

Runners in a marathon don't do it alone. They have people who train with them and run the race with them. They have people along the route encouraging them. They have event personnel at intervals on the route providing nutrition. Maybe a man can train for and run a marathon all alone but surely it's better to do it with these others I've mentioned.

Pastors need the influence of others as they run the marathon of ministry. Someone to train with. Someone to run with. Someone to encourage them. Someone to support and refresh them. Yes, God does all that but God also uses people to do all that.

I'll be honest with you: I've not been the best at surrounding myself with that kind of support. And I'm reluctant to jump in and support others - I blame it on being an introvert. That's not good for any of us.

If you are a minister, you need folks around you to help you. Do you have them? Are these good and beneficial relationships? Are they mutually beneficial relationships? Iron sharpens iron. Three strands are better than one or two. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs for a reason: they needed each other to be most effective. I guess that's the same for us, don't you?

If you aren't a minister, you can (and should) be part of the support system every minister needs. He needs friends and accountability partners and golf buddies. He needs to talk about current events while drinking coffee and the local cafe. He needs to coach third-graders in soccer. He'll be a better pastor with you alongside him. He'll be much more likely to finish the ministry marathon.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


This was a brisk, clear morning for a jog. It felt more like October than August. As I walked from the house to the church parking lot, I thought that maybe I should have worn sweat pants.

I like cool mornings and can't wait for the temps to range between 40 and 70. As far as summers go, this one has been much more to my liking.

Not a cloud in the sky at 5:00 A.M. The moon was big and high overhead. I'm writing this at 7:50 and it's not much brighter outside than it was then.

Our exercise takes us down Colonel Glenn Road onto Rushing Road. There aren't many street lights but we didn't need them. Sometimes when it's cloudy or the moon is low on the horizon or visiting another hemisphere, the pavement disappears beneath my feet. That used to bother me but I've learned to trust that the road will be there.

No such worries today. In fact, as we passed the last street light I noticed two shadows on the road. One was stronger right at the light but grew fainter as we ran on. And it grew longer and more fuzzy.

The other shadow disappeared while I was closest to the street light but grew stronger as I moved away. Its length remained constant and its clarity never changed.

The shadow from the light of the moon was stronger than the shadow from the street light. It was more consistent. It was there even when there were no lights around, only one above.

You can divide the influences in your life into two groups: those of this world and those of a heavenly world.

The influences of this world originate from people and things around you. Some are better than others. Your closeness to them varies. Their influence on you strengthens and weakens. The shadow they cast in your life is inconsistent though sometimes overshadows the influences from above.

But the influences of the heavenly realm never change. Even when the rest of the lights go out, you can still experience their impact. These influences are consistent so you can count on them. You can trust them.

We have to guard our hearts to make sure we aren't negatively influenced by inconsistent sources. Fixing our gaze upon Jesus assures us of a trustworthy source of guidance and protection.

Jesus uses godly people to positively impact the lives of others. I want to be around people like that. And I want to be that person for others.

Godly people help each other as we follow Jesus. That's the "iron sharpens iron" principle. So find godly people and get to work growing in Christ together.

Godly people also help people who are following other influences turn to Christ for love, forgiveness, and redemption. So today look for someone you can point to Jesus.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sometimes God...

Sometimes God surprises me with a subtle change that helps my perspective. Deana's sister is moving and is not taking much furniture with her. So she's giving stuff away. Deana was excited when she told me about a tall dining/breakfast table and chairs. I've talked about those for a while but we have a dining room table and don't have space in the kitchen. Actually, we rarely eat in the dining room; mostly in our laps in the living room.

But we thought about getting the table and where we might put it. Deana suggested at the window in the living room. I could see it becoming the place where we eat and I didn't really like that. Plus, we would have to rearrange the living room to make room for it. Deana and Riley kept offering suggestions on how to rearrange and next thing you know...

Now I have a great work-at-home space with an AC vent at my feet. Here's the "Sometimes God..." part of all this. The serenity of the view into the backyard from my tall chair (trying not to call it a high chair) helps me focus. Somehow I feel like I'm sitting in a library with a view of a wooded landscape.

We have small group Bible study in our home from time to time. The new arrangement of the living room is going to be good for that. Maybe a few more seats but much more space. So God worked out something my family likes, I like, and the Bible study group will like.

How 'bout that!

Think about how many times you are reluctant to change like I was with the living room furniture. We - Christians, church people - resist change as much as anybody. We ought to start new Bible study classes but we like the "feel" of the one we have. We ought to update the facilities but we don't want to spend the money. We don't like it when someone messes with the look or sound of the services. We want to grow or reach more people but we don't want to lose the quaint coziness of our church just like it is.

Sometimes God wants us to change. When we dig in our heels and resist, not much good will happen. But when we roll up our sleeves and get to work at whatever it is God wants us to do, watch out!

How 'bout that!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A, B, or C

Pick one. If I asked you, "Discussion of which of these topics do you think I have enjoyed more this morning? A. Baseball B. Golf C. Egg Plant

You'd guess A. Baseball, wouldn't you? I love baseball but that's not the right answer.

So you'd guess B. Golf next, wouldn't you? I like golf. I'm no good at it but I like to play every once in a while and I'll watch it some. But golf is not the most enjoyable conversation topic this morning.

Egg plant? Really? I've eaten egg plant just a few times in my entire life! I didn't hate it but I just don't order it and nobody I've ever lived with fixes it.

My first memory of egg plant is from Wyatt's Cafeteria in Central Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I didn't eat it or even order it but I saw it as I hurried from the hamburger steak to the yeast rolls to the chocolate pie. There it was hiding among the other vegetables. It is a vegetable, isn't it? As a 6-year old boy I avoided vegetables so my skill at recognizing them is not up to par. Pie? I can recognize pie! But not vegetables.

Egg plant is purple. My favorite purple food is a grape sno-cone. You can't tell a kid that egg plant tastes like grape sno-cones because both are purple. Not with a clear conscience. If you ever try that you should have to live a long, long time with heavy guilt. It's not right.

So I'm as surprised as you are that the most enjoyable topic of my morning was egg plant. I drove from our home ten miles west of Little Rock into Argenta in North Little Rock. I needed a cup of Mugs Cafe coffee. And I needed to go to the Argenta Farmers Market. But not to buy egg plant. Not even to talk about egg plant.

On the drive to Argenta I had the radio tuned to a sports talk show. For ten minutes - which is a lifetime on the radio - the two hosts went on and on about the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox. I like the Yankees and would love to have been around when some of the greats played at the Stadium. My Dad was a Yankees fan - still is?- and I heard him talk some about Mickey Mantle.

I never saw or heard a game that "The Mick" played in. My Yankees memories begin with Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurmon Munson, Goose Gossage, and a handful of others. I didn't like them much because they were Cincinnati's opponent for the 1976 World Series. The Reds swept the Yankees. The Reds had beaten the Red Sox in 1975 even though Carlton Fisk waved a ball to the fair side of the foul pole for a home run to push the series to Game 7.

Back in the day when I was learning about baseball, the Reds appeared in the 1970, 1972, 1975, and 1976 World Series. Baltimore and Oakland beat them in the first two, but the Reds won back-to-back in '75 and '76. It was settled forever for me: the Cincinnati Reds are my favorite team.

So all this talk about the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry gets old in a hurry. Had the hosts said something new, maybe I could have stood it. But ten minutes of rehashing something I don't care for was all I could take. I turned the station and listened to music the rest of the way to Argenta.

I can't make a stop in Argenta without going to Mugs Cafe. You shouldn't either. It's a great place to eat or hang out. I did neither today, though. I was on a mission to find some information about a bluegrass group that played during the farmers market a couple of weeks ago. So I grabbed a cup of coffee to go and headed across the street in the rain to the farmers market.

I didn't expect to find the band playing because it was raining but I went anyway. The lady at the main booth for the farmers market couldn't remember the band I was talking about but she was sure another person at the market today would remember. We caught up with Sarah as she was buying vegetables.

Sarah had two reusable shopping bags over her shoulder. She looked much younger than me but acted like she had grown up in the 60s. Apparently she also played in a bluegrass band so she was the source I needed. The farmers market lady and I waited patiently while Sarah made her purchase - one egg plant.

The neat thing about a farmers market, as compared to a supermarket, is that the vendors and the customers have a relationship based upon the goods being sold. You don't see that at Kroger or Walmart. It reminded me of my days in high school back in Dardanelle when I worked at IGA. Woody Hamilton was the produce guy and he talked with everybody who came down his aisle. It seemed to me that Woody knew them and they knew him. He'd also whistle and sing. Sometimes the songs were popular songs you might hear on the radio; sometimes he sang little ditties that only he knew.

As Sarah talked with the vendors my mind drifted back to IGA and Woody's produce aisle.

Sarah spent about ten minutes talking about how to prepare egg plant. Remember that my only experience with egg plant was the casserole thingy at Wyatt's. You probably already knew most of this but it was news to me. You can boil it, broil it, grill it, fry it. Use it as a filler-kind-of-mixture in all sorts of dishes. You can even make a burger-type patty with it but you have to add some tomato sauce or salsa or something to give it flavor.

I was more interested in Sarah's monologue of the uses of egg plant than I was with the sports guys' endless puffing about a baseball rivalry that matters only to fans of two teams - and probably not all their fans actually would have listened to them go on and on.

Best of all, Sarah knew the bluegrass band I was looking for but she couldn't remember the family's name. So we asked her husband who was buying okra at the next vendor. By the way, their child was eating okra raw. Again, I really only approve of one way to eat okra: breaded and fried like my mother does it. I've heard of other ways to prepare okra but never considered eating it unprepared. But he seemed to like it and Sarah said it was good.

Sarah's husband couldn't recall the name of the band, either, but Sarah would not be denied! Within a few seconds she was on the phone with the host of a radio show that has bluegrass bands play live in the studio. JD and Sarah talked for a couple of minutes and produced the name. I had heard the Davanzo Family Band play at the Argenta Farmers Market two weeks ago. My mission was complete; I could head home.

With that bit of information tucked away in my iPhone, I jumped in the car, beat the River Rail to the intersection, and headed over the river and west on Hwy 10. I hit the button to turn on the radio.

Another sports show was on so I figured the talk of The Great Rivalry was over. It was. These guys were talking about golf since the PGA Championship is this weekend. Rory McIlroy is poised to win his second major in a row, having won the British Open last month. Rory and I both play golf the same way. Well, we hold the club with two hands. Past that, not much in common.

Quickly, the conversation between the hosts turned to Tiger Woods. Really? Tiger used to be the best golfer in the world. Some say he is the best to ever play the game. Maybe so. But he's hardly worth the ten minutes of airtime these guys were giving him. They have bought into the myth that nobody cares about golf if Tiger is not in the conversation. Instead of talking about Rory and the others who actually play the game at a high level this year, they went on and on about Tiger.

As they each gave their opinions about who would win more majors for the remainder of their careers - Rory or Tiger - I turned them off and drove the rest of the way home in silence. Almost complete silence except for the egg plant recipes replaying in my mind.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Love One Another

I'm drawn to John 13:34-35 again and again as I study the Bible and try to learn about the Christian life. Jesus said,

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Years after memorizing this passage during MasterLife, love for one another is in the front of my mind. I've found this principle in so many other passages. It's proven important in relationships and ministry. Clearly, God's people are to love one another.

For some reason that I do not know - I suppose God directed my thoughts - this morning I wanted to post quotes from Baptist leaders from generations ago. I went to Google and search for Luther Rice, one of the leaders in organizing Baptist work in the United States in the early 19th Century. As I browsed the search results and looked at a few sites, I thought I should move away from internet sources like wikipedia (Riley's school forbids him to use this as a source!) and use more credible sources.

I'm so thankful for Logos Bible Software! I digitally pulled Leon McBeth's two volumes on Baptist Heritage and quickly went to letters written by Luther Rice. I have both volumes on the bookshelf but like most of the hard copies there, I'd rather use the digital version. Agains, thanks, Logos!

In 1823 Rice wrote to his friend Adoniram Judson who was serving in Asia. The last paragraph in the letter led my thoughts to John 13:34-35. I can imagine that Luther Rice loved his Christian brother Adoniram Judson and the work he was doing spreading the gospel.

Your last letter to me is dated the 6th February 1822, and has been in hand several months. I have just read it afresh. I seldom weep, and almost never in sight of any one—but your letters I can never read without tears. I still cherish some hope of seeing you again even in this world, as well as of spending a blessed eternity with you in heaven!

The challenge to me - and I hope you'll accept it, too - is to love fellow Christians and the gospel mission in which they are engaged. May we shed tears of joy for the faithfulness of one another and tears of sorrow for those who do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Image courtesy of tungphoto /

Saturday, July 26, 2014


A headline this week highlighted an NBA star doing a freestyle rap song...or whatever that would be called. Freestyling is when a rapper makes up his song (or whatever) as he goes. It seems to be cool when a rapper can do this turning rhymes and staying in rhythm.

When you say "freestylin'" you'll probably get responses relating to rap music...or whatever.

Have you ever heard of Mac Davis? He's known for writing and recording songs like "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me," "Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble," and "Stop and Smell the Roses." Before his own recording career, he wrote hits for Elvis (yes, Presley). Do you remember, "Memories" and "In the Ghetto"? Those were written by Mac Davis.

What I most remember about Mac Davis was his variety show that aired on TV in the mid-70s. And my favorite part of the show was when he would sit on a barstool at center stage taking song ideas from the crowd. He'd hear an idea he liked and then sing a song about it. He made them up on the spot. Freestylin' before freestylin' was cool (if I may adapt a line from a Barbara Mandrell song).

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. I'm pretty sure he was not thinking about 20th and 21st Century artists (although the Holy Spirit surely was) but that points out a truth regarding scripture. God's Word is relevant today and still speaks into our lives. We don't have to make up life as we go and figure out if there is a God or who he is, we have a guide that tells us who God is, what he is like, and how we can know him and please him.

I don't really care whether you are impressed with today's rappers or yesterday's balladeers. But I want you to be impressed with God the way I am. Styles of music - and virtually everything else - change, but God is always the same.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Job's Friends

I've been reading through the Book of Job in the Bible the last few days. Job was afflicted with all sorts of agony. He lost is children, his livelihood, his wealth, and his health. And he didn't know why.

Job was a righteous man. God knew it. Satan knew it. Everyone knew it. So his sudden losses were unexplainable.

But some people don't like for things to be unexplained. Job had some friends like this. They couldn't stay away and they couldn't just be there for him. They had to explain to Job why he was in his situation.

I've read this story several times but as I listened to them advise Job this time I realized that they do exactly what today's Christians might do.

Much of what they say about God, sin, judgment, and repentance is right on target. They often get the truth right but miss the application. Distorted truth makes for an awful personal application because distorted truth is really no truth at all.

Have you ever heard someone say, "He knows just enough to be dangerous"? That's a good description of Job's friends and it's a good description of some of us who profess to be Christians.

We are to live according to God's Word while living in this world. The life experiences you face each day must be viewed through the lens of the Bible. This is called a Biblical Worldview. We all use something as the primary lens through which everything else is viewed or filtered. Your worldview is extremely important!

Job's friends wanted to use Job's circumstances to describe or explain God. They looked through circumstances to see God. They should have seen the circumstances through the truth of who God is.

Circumstances change. God does not. Your lens or worldview must be fixed - that is God - or you'll constantly feel frustration and confusion.

Yes, circumstances impact decisions and actions, but those decisions and actions will be productive and God-honoring when God's will and purpose provide perspective.

Job's friends got it wrong even though they had a sense of truth. A Biblical Worldview allows you to both properly discover and properly apply truth.

I've decided that I should further ground my worldview in God's Word. I'll do that by continuing to study the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to teach me truth and how to apply it.

Monday, July 07, 2014


I can be a better encourager.

One of my faults is that I expect the routine things to be done and to be done well. Not much wrong with that except that I neglect to thank those who did them or to encourage those doing them. I need to tie a string around my finger to remind me to be encouraging and thankful.

I'm especially convicted of this shortfall when others encourage me.

Within the last week I have been encouraged in some really phenomenal and right-on-time ways.

My friend Archie Mason is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He and his staff pray for other pastors regularly. I received a card in the mail from the CBC staff last week letting me know they had prayed for me and our church. Pastors have their ups and downs like anyone else in any other job. This card came at a perfect time for me. Thanks, Archie!

One of my mentors passed away last week and his funeral was Saturday. Wylie Jones was my pastor when I surrendered to the ministry. He was the first pastor I served under. He was the first pastor to mentor me in ministry. I owe a lot to him. The church where he and I served together was packed. His daughter and son-in-law led the service. As they talked about Wylie's life and his commitment to serving the Lord, I realized that any Christian's life should be marked by that kind of commitment. Even in his death Wylie Jones was still mentoring me. Thanks, Wylie.

I stepped onto the stage at church Sunday before the worship service started to put my things where I needed them. I noticed a mess on the pulpit! It was more than a dozen sticky notes that the children's Bible study class had put there. Each one had a note or a picture on it. The kids and their teachers had taken time to encourage me. I use a small, lightweight pulpit so before I took the notes off I picked up the pulpit and showed the whole church what the kids had done. That was a great pick-me-up. Thanks, kids!

Sunday afternoons usually provide me a very short period of time to sit in my recliner in gym shorts and tshirt. Sometimes I watch a little NASCAR. Sometimes I piddle online. Sometimes I nap. Sometimes I edit the audio from the morning sermon. Yesterday I was in between piddling online and editing the audio when the doorbell chimed. I opened the door and there stood a friend from my high school days in Dardanelle. Mitchell Smith and I played football together and hadn't seen each other in over 30 years. We are Facebook friends, so you know that means. Anyway, Mitchell had posted a few month ago that when he came to Arkansas this summer he would come to church with me. He lives in Washington and got in late Saturday night. He missed church but still came to see me.

Mitchell shared his testimony of turning to the Lord and the blessings he encountered since then. He said he's listened to just about everything I've posted in the sermon archives. We talked for about 45 minutes and just shared how good God has been to each of us. It was one of the best Sunday afternoons I've ever had since playing in Dado's cotton trailer with my cousins 40 years ago . That was such an encouragement. Thanks, Mitchell!

So now I want to encourage you. I don't know what you face today. Every circumstance is different. But I've found that a kind word goes a long way. My kind word to you is, "Keep going! And trust God to help you keep going."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

VBS 2014

This week is VBS week at Cross Road Baptist Church. We are using LifeWay's Agency D3 material.

VBS requires a lot of volunteers and we have the best! I need to brag on them a little. We've had 52 kids enrolled so far; youth and adults are doing a great job keeping up with them and teaching about Jesus.

Here are the volunteers:

Angie Andrews - 5th/6th grade Bible study leader
Juanita Criswell - recreation leader
Nick Criswell - recreation helper
Sibyl Davis - records
Raven Dillard - 1st grade Bible study helper
Seth Dillard - 3rd/4th grade Bible study helper
Joyce Garrett - snacks helper
Theresa Hinkson - 3rd/4th grade Bible study leader
Deana Loyd - crafts leader
Riley Loyd - 2nd grade Bible study helper
Marcia Justice - music leader
Melissa Lumpkin - music helper
Karson Lumpkin - 1st grade Bible study helper
Gwen McCallister - 2nd grade Bible study leader
Shirley Meux - 1st grade Bible study leader
Pat Mitchell - snacks helper
Betty Smith - snacks leader
Anne White - 3rd/4th grade Bible study helper
Judy Wood - missions leader

So the week is going smoothly. Everyone is prepared and excited. They've loved on the kids and shown them what it means to follow Jesus.

I'm looking forward to the next three days for more of the same!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Communicate Clearly in Conflict

Let me get this out in the open early: I don't like conflict. Those who claim they do must be sick. As a matter of fact, sometimes conflict makes me sick. I used to avoid conflict but I'm better at addressing it now. I'm not good at it, just better than I was.

Conflict occurs when two or more parties have a difference of opinion. Conflict is not necessarily negative but can get there in a hurry. So you better communicate clearly, early, and often.

I spoke with a church member yesterday about making a visit to her home today. We made the appointment and I went on about my business. About an hour later I received a call from someone else reminding me of our appointment at the same time for today. I had created a conflict on my schedule.

I've noticed that many conflicts I get into are of my own making. Maybe I insinuate something I didn't mean to insinuate. Or I was just afraid to state my opinion or desire. And then there are times when I just don't fully know what my position is on a topic.

That's basically what happened with the conflicting appointments: I wasn't aware of all I needed to know. Many times, conflict can be avoided by knowing what you should know before making a statement or a promise.

Then there are those times when conflict arises because of attitudes. Someone is snarky. Another person is easily offended. This guy is bullheaded. That woman is condescending. It's hard to have civil conversations when attitudes stink. A little respect and kindness and humility go a long way in heading off conflict before it starts or resolving conflict once it's going.

I called the church member back as soon as I got off the phone with the first appointment-maker. I apologized and asked if Thursday at the same time would be OK. She said it would. That wasn't a conflict where anyone was mad or speaking hateful words but the process of dealing with a small conflict in scheduling is about the same as dealing with the big stuff.

Keys to resolving conflict include loving the other person enough to be fair and honest with them, having enough humility to admit your own mistakes, communicating clearly to aid understanding, and realizing that some people would rather argue than resolve.

What would you add to this list of keys?

Monday, June 09, 2014

We Shall Come Rejoicing Bringing In The Sheaves

Remember the hymn from your childhood (or earlier!) called "Bringing in the Sheaves"? A friend of mine says that every time he heard in the church he grew up in it sounded like a funeral dirge. Yes, farming is hard work and harvesting by hand must have been great labor. But the song talks about sowing the gospel and reaping a harvest of those who accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. "We shall come REJOICING bringing in the sheaves!"

The idea of rejoicing while bringing in the sheaves comes from Psalm 126. The writer starts by reminding his kinsmen how joyful they were after they returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. They had been exiled because they strayed from God's commands. While in exile they returned to the Lord and the Lord brought them home. It must have been an exciting time. They were full of joy and hope.

But the middle of the psalm holds the writers cry to God to bring them back to the time of joy and hope. He wrote the psalm after enough time had passed since being released from exile that the people had grown complacent with the freedom and restoration God had provided. Can you hear the godly man crying, "God, take us back to that time of refreshing"?

God responds with a simple reply: "If you want to return to the joy and hope you once knew you will have to sow in tears." In other words, they must repent of their sins. Repentance was the key to renewal after exile. Repentance was the key to renewal after complacency. Repentance is the key to your own renewal. If you are not walking as closely with the Lord as you once did, repentance opens the avenue to restored joy and hope that is missing in your life now.

Then God adds a statement that speaks of his mission in this world. Those who have repented and experienced the joy are then sent with a bag of seed (the gospel) to share with others. Do you remember the story Jesus told about the farmer who scattered seed among the different types of soil? We are to sow the gospel among all those who do not know Jesus as Savior. We must have a burden that all will hear the Good News. If we are faithful to spread our bag of seed we can be assured the joy of knowing people will follow Jesus and escape the punishment of hell for their sins.

Do you remember a time when you confessed your sins and repented of them? Remember how liberated you felt? Remember the joy and peace that swept over you? Remember what it was like to be so "right" with God? But have you drifted away by sin into complacency or busyness? Those who sow in tears will reap in joy! You can know that nearness again. And you can help others come to or return to the Lord, too.