Some Things Never Change

No Change

The New Year brings a desire within many to start something new, to “turn over a new leaf.” There are other times throughout the year that changes will be made, some of those forced upon you by the circumstances of life and others that you choose to make due to various reasons.

We live in a changing world. Technology continues to advance, as does science and medicine. What was once a death sentence can now be cured; a conversation that was once restrained to a pen, paper, stamp, and a long wait for delivery is now possible in an instant. The lines between right and wrong have become blurred and many of the things that would have made previous generations blush are not widely accepted. I could go on and on, but you know the changes because you live them each day.

There are some things, though, that never change:

The sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible is still the Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). While society tries to redefine what is right and wrong, God’s Word is the standard that is definitive in those areas. Someone has said: “It’s one thing to laud the Bible. It’s another to read it and still another to actually seek to apply and obey Scripture.” We are good at the first, but need to work on the other two.

The power of the Gospel. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The gospel still changes lives! While many things within the church may change, the gospel remains the same.

The role of the church. I have served in places that thought the church existed to participate in community events and buy advertising to support such events, and I have been places where people thought the church was there to give assistance when they got behind on bills. Dealing with these mindsets can become frustrating, but the church does exist for the community; it exists to meet the spiritual needs of the community. The church has been given the responsibility to impact our communities, but it has often been passed off to government agencies. There will always be people with needs, and at the core of all needs is a spiritual need. Only the church can meet that need.

The importance of Sunday School. By definition, Sunday School is the “foundational ministry in the local church.” While the focus is often put on age-specific ministries or need-focused ministries (all of which are important), Sunday School is probably the longest-standing ministry in the church. Sunday School is more than Bible study, though, as I see personal ministry happening through the Sunday School, as well as discipleship and fellowship.

The need for workers in the plentiful harvest. Jesus said it best: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Luke 10:2). I have found that one of the most frustrating parts of ministry is the lack of desire for people to serve. The need is great! I can remember from my days of living in the rice fields of Northeast Arkansas that when it was time for the harvest, the farmers hired additional help to get it harvested in due time. If rain was in the forecast, they might even hire additional hands. In Luke 10, Jesus sees an abundant harvest but not enough workers. He instructed those He was sending out to “ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest fields” (Luke 10:2). The need has not changed, and neither has the plentiful harvest.

Prayer still works. God still answers prayers. He desires to commune with His children through prayer. Lives are changed, hope is given, direction is found, healing is delivered, and many other possibilities. Every major time of revival has been marked by prayer. Hard hearts are changed through the power of prayer. Do not stop praying.

God is in control. While none of us know what the new year holds, God will remain in control. I love the Corrie Ten Boom quote, “There is no panic in heaven, only plans.” Trust God’s plan!

Most people do not like change, especially good Baptists! While the world changes around us, “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

What Your Pastor Wants for Christmas

I have been blessed the past week to receive several Christmas gifts from church members. These are never expected and it is always humbling to be reminded of the love people in the church have for their pastor and his family.

Christianity Today wrote an article What Your Pastor Really Wants for Christmas that has made its rounds on social media. I saw a preaching conference urge church members to pay their pastor’s registration fee as a Christmas present. Since I have found many pastors to be insecure, I thought, “Well, that gift will probably get the resume circulating!”

Just as Dr. Seuss taught us in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” that Christmas is not bought in a store, I believe that the best gifts you can give your pastor for Christmas are not bought in a store. Consider these inexpensive gifts:

Your pastor wants you to attend faithfully. It takes most pastors many hours to prepare a sermon with the needs of his congregation in mind. It is frustrating in our world of convenience and competing loyalties to know that many in the congregation will not hear the Word of God because of their attendance pattern.

Your pastor wants your support. Regardless of the size of the congregation, every person has a different personality, different viewpoints, and different preferences. Your pastor wants to hear, “Unless you are violating God’s Word, I will support your leadership.”

Your pastor wants you to speak up for him. Not everyone is going to support your pastor, but when you hear of someone speaking against him because of their difference in preferences, rather than giving a listening ear, speak up for your pastor. Eventually, the detractors will get quiet.

Your pastor wants you to give faithfully. Every pastor should be modeling faithful stewardship in his own life and wants you to do the same. Your financial support of the ministries of the church allows your pastor to minister without the burden over whether ministries can continue, and in some cases, whether he can provide for his family.

Your pastor wants you to serve- and keep your commitment to serve. Every church member has heard the pleas for help. To those who ignore them, your pastor has deep feelings about you! But many hear the plea and agree to serve- only to drop out when it becomes difficult (which is often the first week). You are a blessing to your pastor when you faithfully serve.

Your pastor wants you to be proud of your church. He wants you to be excited about what God is doing in and through your church. He wants you to invite others to attend.

Your pastor wants you to share your faith. As 1 Peter 3:15 states, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.”

Your pastor wants you to pray for him and his family. Your pastor is following God’s calling on his life. It is not easy. The road can be long and lonely. But when your pastor knows you are praying for him, he knows he is not alone and he is encouraged in the journey.

As you can see, it is easier for you to go pick up a gift at the store for your pastor, and while he is appreciative of the gift, what he really wants is something more. Give your pastor what he really wants this Christmas!

Reclaiming Father’s Day

Father's Day

Sunday is Father’s Day, which is traditionally one of the least attended Sundays at church all year. Churches are full on Mother’s Day, as the kids flock to church to sit with mom and make her happy. But on Father’s Day, it is normal to head to the lake with dad or enjoy some other activity, while some simply go help dad on the grill so that the food is ready when mom comes home from church.

While this issue is reflective of today’s culture, it is an indictment against fathers. When a family’s plan for Father’s Day conflicts with worship, it shows that dad has not given the spiritual leadership God expects and that corporate worship is not a priority. This probably did not start recently, but in many cases, it was mom who always took the kids to church while dad stayed home or did his own thing. So the kids think nothing of not going to church with dad on Sunday.

I am sure there are some who will respond that attending worship is not the sole marker for spiritual leadership, and I agree. However, I have never found a man be the spiritual leader of his family that did not prioritize Sunday worship with his family.

Much has been made of the fact that men hate going to church, as well as why men do not sing in church. While there are some valid points in both arguments, we must admit that the issue is one of the heart. I have experienced my share of frustration by watching men sit at church like a knot on a log, only to reproduce sons who act the same way. It is no wonder, then, that the kids have no problem not worshiping with dad Sunday morning.

My wife and I were both fortunate to be raised by men who attended church and always participated in the service, not to mention other ways they served at church. Because of ministry commitments and distance, we will not be with either one Sunday, but we will not hear any complaints. This, too, is a matter of the heart.

What are your plans for Father’s Day? They will speak to the spiritual leadership of dad. Isn’t it time we “man up” and be the spiritual leaders of our families? It is never too late to start. Let’s reclaim Father’s Day.


“Oops!” There are several people in life that you do not want to hear say “Oops!” Your barber, your mechanic, and your surgeon come to mind. Each time I go to the barber, I pray that I do not hear those words from him! One of the first “words” a kid learns is “uh oh,” usually said when they drop or spill something, whether accidentally or purposefully.

As we get older, we may replace the expression with more forceful (and sinful) words, but the idea is still the same: I messed up!

I am sure there are numerous areas where we can look at our lives and say “oops,” but one of the greatest, I believe, is in the area of influence. There are numerous relationships in our lives that give us great opportunities to influence people for the Lord. These are people that look up to us, respect us, and might even have a hunger to have what we have in Christ. Are these relationships characterized by oops?

The foremost area of influence is the home. As long as I have breath, I will proclaim that parents are ordained by God to be the spiritual leaders of their homes. The principles found in Deuteronomy 6 are still valid today. Many parents are afraid to accept this responsibility, or have feelings of inadequacy, but it is key to use the influence a parent has to direct their child toward the Lord. In the book It Starts at Home, the following statement is made: “Many people in our era were raised by parents who found church boring while growing up, so they decided not to put their own kids through the same experience. ‘After all,’ went the rationale, ‘they can decide for themselves when they grow up.’ Well, we are grown up now. And rather than saying ‘Thank you,’ many of us are asking, ‘How could you?'” Oops!

Many times I find parents are not willing to make the necessary decisions for their children and teenagers from a spiritual perspective. For instance, this weekend is DiscipleNow at the church I pastor. We will have students not attend because they “don’t want to.” I always want to respond, “Why do you have a choice?!?!” I am grateful for the mother who told me today, “I am making him go to DNow this weekend even though he doesn’t want to go.” I don’t think this mother will have an “Oops” when she looks back at this weekend. We need other parents to step up and provide spiritual leadership to their children.

Another area of influence is at work, the place were most people spend the majority of their time. I know that things have changed in the workforce and many people are warned not to discuss their faith. However, the influence you have with someone can extend beyond the work day. As you see people with spiritual (and other) needs, you can use your influence on them outside of the work day. While your employer may invoke fear within the workplace in regards to you sharing spiritual matters, he does not control you when you leave work! A text message, phone call, or face-to-face conversation outside the work hours with someone you work with will keep you from saying “Oops” when it comes to using your influence at work to impact people with the Gospel.

For students, the same can be said about the school day as I said about the work day. There are probably more opportunities during the school day to have spiritual conversations than there are at work, and I am regularly amazed at the number of students who are having those conversations with their classmates. One of the things that bothers me is when I think about my school days and the relationships I had, I often say “Oops!”

Home and work/school are probably the two greatest areas of influence due to the amount of time we spend with each and the investment that is made in other areas beside spiritually. Think about your neighbors that notice your faith and the way you live. Reflect on those people that you once were closer to that you are now due to changes in your life stage, but you still have influence on them. Ponder the parents of your children’s friends who wonder why your kids talk about God and sing goofy songs from church when they are playing with their kids.

Your influence is great, whether you want to admit it or not. May we not find an “Oops!” in our relationships.

A Pastor’s Best Friend

Last Friday, I returned to my previous pastorate to preach the funeral of L.D. Becton, who I called on facebook “one of the greatest friends a pastor could ever have.” People who did not know L.D. asked me if he was a young man, near my age, since that is logical to think that we are friends with people near our age. L.D. was 78 years old, so in today’s world, he could have been my grandfather.

L.D. was a pastor’s best friend because he supported his pastor. The day I was called to pastor First Baptist Church in Hampton, he told me, “As long as you are our pastor, you will have my support.” He would instruct prospective deacons that their main responsibility was to support their pastor as long as he was following the Lord and His Word. These were more than words to L.D., as many say those same words but back down from that commitment when they disagree with a decision or a sermon. L.D. lived this commitment.

I have been blessed with a couple of other men just like L.D., and as I think about them, this is what a pastor’s best friend looks like:

They are physically present. It is hard to support your pastor when your attendance is sporadic. Other than the Sunday following Thanksgiving and Easter, L.D. was always at church. He was in Alabama for a family gathering those two Sundays. When we had business meetings, L.D. would skip out on the meal part due to being a diabetic, but he was there by the time they business session started.

They do not rubber stamp every decision. I don’t want you to think that a pastor’s best friend is a “yes man.” L.D. asked hard questions and raised caution, but ultimately he supported my decision. There were times that he would tell me, after the fact, that he thought something would never work, but you would have never known that by his actions.

They do not tolerate murmuring. It is common in the church for leaders to listen to murmuring and then report to the pastor. A pastor’s best friend realizes that listening to such complaints gives validation. L.D. would stop people in their tracks, reminding them of the Lord’s work, and “nip it in the bud” as Barney Fife would say. There were a few times he would report his actions, but there was no action for me to take because it had been handled.

They laugh with you. L.D. would stop by the office and the house at times for the sole purpose of laughing with (or at) me. Like the time he (as a Alabama fan) left a role of toilet paper and an empty bottle of Tide on my desk. When he stopped by, it was not always serious, which was refreshing many days.

I owe much of the success of my pastoral ministry to the “pastor’s best friends” I have been blessed with. Much like Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms in support in Exodus 17, these men have allowed me to experience victory.

These traits can be in anyone’s life. Anyone can be their pastor’s best friend. He needs you.

Quit Treating Symptoms

Unfortunately, Yazoo City has been in the news recently. The latest was a quadruple murder that occurred in the early hours Monday outside of a local club. The previous news was centered around three overdose deaths that occurred within a six-week period. No one likes their city to be highlighted for these reasons. But what do you do?

In response to these events, one group of pastors wants to have a prayer march. Another pastor called for a day of prayer and fasting. And another group of pastors is meeting to determine what are the greatest issues to address in Yazoo: unemployment, education, drug abuse, etc.

I have chosen not to participate in any of these in the past because I see them as a way to attempt to treat symptoms and ignore the sickness. The Bible is clear: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The problem is that we are all sin-sick. As a result of this sickness, people turn to drugs to fill a void. Adults are at a nightclub “enjoying” the night away rather than being at home in the bed, preparing for a day of work the next morning. Sin-sickness leads to us living for ourselves, without any concern for others and the pain our actions will cause.

The cure to this sickness is a personal relationship with Jesus, where one surrenders their life to Him and aligns their lives according to His Word. We have told people they need to change their ways and we have pointed out finger at them long enough. All we are doing is addressing the symptoms.

While I would never speak against the importance of prayer, I am afraid we use it so excuse ourselves from calling people to surrender to Jesus. We sound spiritual when we tell others we are going to a prayer march for our city. I think we need to remember Jesus’ instructions that “when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The prayers offered in secret stir the heart of God.

If we want to see true change in our community, we will spend time in prayer, but we must put action to our prayers and proclaim the Good News of Jesus, calling people to turn from their sin and surrender their life to the Lord. “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, emphasis mine).

If you have questions about this relationship with Jesus, check out this page for a simple explanation. If you have made this decision, tell someone what Jesus has done for you!

Why We Still Have Revivals

revivalA lady once asked Billy Sunday, “Why do you keep having revivals when they don’t last?” Instead of answering her question directly, he asked her a question, “Why do you keep taking baths?”

I am a proponent of revival services and have scheduled one each year I have been a pastor. But I am not talking about just some extra services for a few days. Rather, I am a firm believer in a season of revival, which I begin with a focused time of pray and personal preparation for what the Lord wants to do in our lives and within our church. For the past few years, I have put together a 40 Day revival preparation devotional. The past two years, I have asked our staff to write some of the devotionals and the response to the devotional has been very positive- and humbling.

When we spend time preparing for revival, the actual revival services are the climax and revival continues after the services are over. As the lady told Billy Sunday, revivals do not last, so why do I keep doing them?

First, we need revival. When I speak of revival, I am not referring to the services but to the fresh awakening from the Lord upon areas of our life that have grown cold. Like Jesus’ parable of the soils in Matthew 13, the worries of life and other troubles cause us to ignore God’s Word. Sin that we once despised becomes comfortable. We quit serving. We become numb to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We need revival.

Second, revival services cause us to focus spiritually. Attending revival services results in us attending church more than we do in a normal week. In a busy world, revival services are the few times when we attend church more than Sunday and Wednesday, although the average church member attends only Sunday morning.

I always tell my church that Satan will attack relentlessly during revival services. You will have a bad day at work. The children will be completely defiant between getting home from school and leaving for the service. You will have to rush homework and supper. Many other excuses are readily available for not attending revival, but when you are willing to push through and attend, you are able to focus spiritually more than normal.

Third, you get to hear another preacher during revival. As a pastor it is tough to admit, but I know that my church gets tired of hearing from me. Or they are least get used to hearing from me and think they know what to expect. When I prayerfully invite someone to preach a revival at the pastor where I pastor, it is always someone that I want to hear. To not beat around the bush: they are going to be good. And it is refreshing for the preacher to be in a new place and get to speak to new people.

Lastly, I have revivals because God works in revival services. Because we know the need for a fresh encounter with the Lord and we are focused spiritually, God uses the revival preacher to challenge His people. I have seen people make decisions in revival services that they have been needing to make for a long time, but for whatever reason they did not answer God’s call until attending the revival. And this is the main reason why I continue to have an annual revival service.

If you are in the Yazoo City area, I invite you to join us February 12-15. If you attend a church that has not held a revival recently, I hope you will consider its benefits.

On the Same Page

This past Sunday included a Deacons Meeting and a Finance Team Meeting. At the end of the day, I was tired (which is normal for a Sunday) but very encouraged, as both meetings were very positive. I was not surprised, though, as this is normally the case for both of these meetings. While I was thankful for my day, my heart was with a couple of pastor friends that were each facing a very difficult day with similar meetings.

I posted the above feelings on Facebook Sunday evening, which brought personal responses from some other church leaders. Some were positive, others were negative. Then one individual posted about how he was not a deacon or on committees because “it is too much drama.” I talked to another friend today at another church who basically stated the same thing.

I know that my situation is fortunate, but it does not happen by accident. Teams function properly when everyone is on the same page. While my original application was to the church, I also realize it applies to the marriage relationship, parenting, the workforce, and any other setting that involves more than one person. How can everyone get on the same page?

Set aside personal preferences. One of my meetings included 14 other men, while the other involved 8 other individuals. Each person has a difficult personality, background, and preferences, yet the focus of the meeting was how could we be more effective in fulfilling the church’s mission. No one mentioned what they wanted. There were no unilateral decisions. The reason many homes are in chaos is that it is survival of the fittest, rather than everyone working together for the common good.

Focus on the team’s objective. One of the reasons that personal preferences take charge is due to the fact that no one knows what the team is supposed to be doing. Therefore, someone speaks up, “I think we should…” and the rest is history.

Demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit. There are going to be difficult team on every team. If you cannot think of who it is, then it is probably you! For a team to work together, your actions are important. As a believer, you should be demonstrating proof of the Spirit’s work in your life. Paul lists the fruits in Galatians 5:22-23. When you work with others, you will need patience, kindness is a must, and self-control can cause you from making a fool of yourself.

Remember why you are on the team in the first place. If you got on the team so you would have a position or prestige, then get off of it quickly or change your motivation. Most, though, in the church get on a team because of their desire to serve. In a marriage, you formed a team because of the love for the other person. You might have taken a job simply as a ways to make ends meet. When the stress picks up, it is easy to forget why you are on the team. Taking a trip down memory lane might help you out.

Not every meeting is as good as the ones that started these thoughts, but they all can be. Most of it is up to you.

Reminders from the Past Year

The past couple of weeks have given me the opportunity to think back over the past year as I prepared sermons, anticipate our annual meeting at church, and evaluate ministries with staff. I have also gotten to speak with some friends in the ministry over the past month, some of whom are struggling. These experiences and the memories of the past year have reminded me (or caused me to re-learn) some important principles:

The power of the tongue. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a lie. We all have experiences of that, but in today’s world it does not have to be a spoken word. It can be a post on social media, an anonymous letter,  gossip, or something hollered out in a crowd — all of which are reminders that people do not have the guts to say to your face what they believe needs to be said.

The power of the tongue goes beyond saying something about someone. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do everything without grumbling or complaining” (Philippians 2:14). Everything. While I have seen relationships and churches destroyed because of words, I regularly see God’s work hindered because of grumbling or complaining.

The requirement of forgiveness. When words hurt or frustrate us, forgiveness is required. Most are slow to give it, while some never come to that point. Let us remember that it is a matter of the heart, and when we are slow to forgive it shows the hardness of our heart.

The importance of supporters. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Exodus 17. The Amalekites attacked Israel and when Moses raised his hands, the Israelites were winning, but when his hands were lowered, the Amalekites prevailed. If you have ever raised your arms up high for a length of time, you have experienced the difficulty that comes as the time builds. “When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat down on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up- one on one side, one on the other- so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” I am thankful for those through the years who have stood with me and supported me, and there is nothing more fulfilling to be that person for others. It is an opportunity to see the Lord work!

The priority of missions. Last January I took a group of 11 others to Chile. For most, it was their first international missions experience. And it set a fire in their hearts for the Mapuche people. In August, I went with a group to Crest Hill, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to serve at a local school. Each of us left with a commitment to see a church planted in this community. Quarterly, I join with many others in our church to love on Yazoo. It reminds us of the need around us. Each of these missions opportunities ignite a passion for the people to encounter the Lord personally.

The brevity of life. We are all forced at some point to admit that life is short, but when we see someone we consider “young” to die, our perspective changes. This past year, I had several men close to my age (which I still consider young) die. I had multiple spiritual conversations with these men. They all struggled. They had various degrees of interest in living for Christ. But none of them knew they would die before the year ended. We often think that we have time to do what we want, including time to have a right standing with God. The writers of Hebrews reminds us that “Today” is the time. Do not put off til tomorrow what you need to do today.

There were other things in the past year that I learned, including the importance of perseverance as the Cubs won the World Series, but these are the ones that I needed to be reminded. What did you re-learn this year?

Open on Christmas


Christmas is just 2 days away. For years, pastors and faithful church attenders have laughed at those that attend church on the Sunday before Christmas and on Easter. Church signs proudly displayed that they are open between these two holidays. But when Christmas falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, being open on Christmas isn’t such a sure thing as many churches have cancelled their services.

This will be the third time since I have been a pastor that Christmas has fallen on Sunday. I remember the first time that there were few people in church, then the second time the church was packed. I have no idea what Sunday will bring, but I have never considered not having church on this day.

I have read several debates about this issue: we do not have church on Christmas when it falls on another day of the week; Sunday is not the biblical Sabbath anyway; Christmas is not a day of rest anyway; and several other ways that church leaders have excused their decision.

My concern is that the heart of the decision to not have services since Christmas falls on Sunday is made out of convenience, not out of conviction.

I will be the first to admit that Christmas morning will be busy. We will open presents, we will cook and have breakfast that will not include cereal or something in the microwave (which only happens on Christmas), we will start getting stuff ready for lunch, and we will get dressed and be in church before 11:00 (one of us will be there before the others).  But what kind of lesson would I teach my kids to say, “We are celebrating the birth of Jesus today, but we will not go to church today like we do every other Sunday because Christmas is just too busy”?

You see, this issue is greater than Christmas being on Sunday because we have settled for convenience over conviction for a long time. I see families each week that decide not to gather for Bible study and worship because there is too much going on. Sunday is the only day they have to sleep in. The kids are tired. It was a rough week, blah, blah, blah. These parents would state that they are followers of Christ, but they choose regularly to skip the command to worship corporately because it is more convenient.

Yes, I believe you should be in church on Christmas this year, but I also believe you should be in church every Sunday. Even if I was not a pastor, I would hold this conviction, which was modeled by my parents and I consider it my responsibility to model the same to my children. When faced with conviction or convenience, maybe they will think of the busy Christmas morning and the priority of corporate worship.

I hope to see you Sunday morning!