About Me

I graduated from Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, LA with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. From there, I went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and earned the Master of Divinity (’91) and Doctor of Philosophy (’96) degrees with an emphasis in Systematic Theology. I’ve served as Pastor of churches in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri. As of July 2019, I’m back in the Volunteer State serving as Pastor of First Baptist Church Clinton.

I consider myself a free and faithful Baptist with an ecumenical spirit who embraces the grace of God through Jesus Christ in my life and desires to extend that same grace to others.

The 1st Amendment and Social Media

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This part of the Constitution has always been an important and precious privilege granted to us Americans. It includes parts of our lives relating to the freedom to worship or not to worship, the right to peaceably assemble and protest, and the right to speak your mind without government interference.

In response to the attempted coup at the Capitol building, social media platforms have removed President Trump’s ability to communicate with his followers–on Twitter alone the President boasts 88 million followers. Twitter explained their decision as follows:

After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.

I’ve heard a number of reactions to this decision, ranging from “what took you so long?” to “this is a gross violation of the freedom of speech.” Those who argue the first position believe the President has been gaslighting his followers and inciting violence–like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater (remember those?). Those who affirm the latter posit that this action is persecution against those who hold more conservative political and religious views–in short this is censorship.

It has been remarkable and shocking to watch the events at the Capitol building on Wednesday. It has also been, to a lesser degree, been remarkable to observe the reactions to it. I have friends whose opinions fall all over the spectrum concerning this issue. Last Wednesday is a watershed event for this country, and like many people, I will be watching to see what is yet to come. If you haven’t read President Bush’s take on the attempted insurrection, then I’d say it would be well worth your time.

I’ve heard several folks say that President Trump’s 1st amendment right to free speech is being violated. I do not agree. While the removal of the President from social media might be incredible to some, it does not violate his 1st amendment rights.

Social media companies like Twitter are private companies and can regulate those who use their platforms. Each of these social media platforms have terms of service and those who participate have to abide by those terms and conditions. Whenever the company deems a person to be in violation of those terms and conditions, then it can remove that person’s right to communicate on it. Participation on these platforms is a privilege that can be revoked. I have no doubt that this viewpoint will be challenged in the days to come. Perhaps the one caveat to this development would be having Twitter change from a “permanent” ban to an “indefinite” ban–but time and probably politics will tell. Emotions are running very high at the moment.

If there is an enduring lesson to these rapidly changing events, it would relate to what kind of presence we are going to have in our communities and yes, even (and especially) on social media. Let us move away from gaslighting and towards sharing of the Light. We need more light, and less heat.

January 6, 2021

The U.S. Capitol building was breached for the first time since the invasion of the British army in 1814. I am angry and shocked about this development, but also concerned about the deterioration of our national traditions and norms. This is not a partisan issue for me but a patriotic one. However, I believe this can be a watershed moment and a wake up call for this nation. Dissent is part of our heritage but this behavior cannot be normalized.

What happened today can never happen again. Our democracy is fragile and it’s possible to lose it–not from outside forces but those from within. I hope that our love of country will be stirred in response to this effort at insurrection.

Equally important, however, is that there must be accountability and justice for this moment. People are dead today that do not need to be because of the violence that was incited at the Capitol building. We witnessed a violation at the seat of our democracy. The kind of extremism that was on display cannot be tolerated or simply glossed over for the sake of national unity. There must be consequences to the behavior that was on display before our nation can begin to heal.

I’m reminded of the words of Benjamin Franklin when asked what kind of government had been formed for the new nation. He reportedly said, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

“Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained. There are but two parties now, Traitor & Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party”–U.S. Grant, 1861

A Desire for the Familiar this Christmas

I’m writing this on the day that the Electoral College meets to officially name Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. Typically, this moment goes by without so much as a yawn, but with all the challenges that have accompanied this election, I guess you never know what to expect.

We are all Alice in Wonderland this political season. After a contentious but not really so close election, I’m ready to move ahead and hoping the nation as a whole can do so too. Things that I never thought I’d see occur in our nation have happened. Our democracy has been challenged in ways it has never been before, and our institutions may have bent a little bit to these uncertain political winds. But, at least up to this point, they have held secure. Most recently, the Supreme Court of the United States determined not to hear the Texas lawsuit which sought to delegitimize millions of votes across several swing states. That has been welcome news.

In addition, I’ve been encouraged by the announcement of a vaccine to made public very soon. Accordingly, the next several months should see Americans taking their injections and hopefully positive COVID cases going down by the summer. This moment, taken with the Supreme Court decision, sends a wonderful message to us all that healing is on the way. It’s about time to return to some degree of the familiar and normalcy–whatever that’s going to mean.

Christmas is just around the corner, and as a pastor, I am blessed to serve in a local church to experience this meaningful season with others. To be sure, the pandemic continues to limit our gatherings but the message of the newborn King cannot be hindered. As our Advent guide title suggests, we are having “An Unexpected Christmas.”

What isn’t unexpected, however, are the familiar scripture readings about the birth of the Christ child. The nativity story with the shepherds, angels, the journey to Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph will be heard once again. There’s still “no room in the inn.” Even after all these years, it remains to be seen if there’s room elsewhere for Jesus among us.

I’m enjoying rehearsing and reading the gospel accounts once again. We will celebrate the arrival of our Lord once again–COVID cannot stop this from happening! My hope is that all of us will appreciate what we’ve been given even as we grieve the loss of the familiar this Christmas season. Maybe folks won’t gather as they usually do, but we might be able to be more grateful for the simpler and smaller things this year.

May God grant us the peace to persevere through these uncertain days as we celebrate around the very familiar and predictable story of baby Jesus. Let us never take our blessings for granted, and may God grant us wisdom and courage for the days to come. Merry Christmas!

A Thanksgiving Hope

President-Elect Joe Biden spoke to the nation today and offered some words of comfort and encouragement for the nation. “It’s really hard to care,” Biden said. “It’s hard to give thanks. It’s hard to even think of looking forward, and it’s so hard to hope. I understand. I’ll be thinking and praying for each and every one of you at this Thanksgiving.”

We need hope. Our nation needs it and the world in general is in short supply of this incredible resource. This year will be known as “the lost year” and one in which our resolve as Americans has been tested. Friends and neighbors have found themselves at odds with each other over politics and the pandemic–it’s been tough.

I’m approaching this Thanksgiving with a cautious sense of optimism though. Several vaccines are in the works and offer promising results. There will be a new administration entering office next year who needs our prayers and best wishes. Schools have struggled with fierce determination in our area to remain open and our leadership deserves our gratitude. Churches and their staff have done what they can to keep their people in contact with each other too. There remains work to be done, and we must remain vigilant in our mitigation efforts for several more months to come.

Our greatest hope is Jesus Christ–he is “the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13.8). This is one of my favorite verses of holy Scripture; a reminder that nothing affects the faithfulness and steadiness of our Savior.

I’m well aware that there are those who are dealing with death and loss this holiday season. While many people are celebrating, there are also those who are hurting and having difficulty finding a cause for thanksgiving. Let’s take a few moments to reach out and encourage those who are suffering. Let’s also take some time to count our blessings, primarily those of faith, family, and friends.

The pandemic will put many of us in different places and spaces for Thanksgiving. Regardless of our situation, may we be still before the Lord and trust for what is yet to come:

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
    I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High (Psalm 9.1-2).

Happy Thanksgiving all–

Veterans’ Day Musings

In a recent op-ed written for Dallas Morning News, Pastor Robert Jeffress admits his disappointment with the election outcome but acknowledges that Joe Biden is President-Elect of the United States.

Jeffress writes, “For millions of Christians across our nation, this is a bitter pill to swallow. It’s always easier to submit and to pray for someone when he was our preferred candidate. But the rubber really meets the road when the person who takes office is not the one we supported. Here is our chance to show that Christians are not hypocrites.”

We are witnessing something historic for all the wrong reasons–a defeated incumbent President is refusing to admit defeat and participate in a peaceful transfer of power. It is disappointing and it’s making some folks nervous.

President Trump’s antics may be entertaining political theater and he is certainly succeeding in intimidating members of his party. However, I don’t find his ongoing denials convincing or all that amusing. The world is watching us, and folks closer to home are becoming more nervous the longer this denial of reality continues.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. The New York Times recently released a news story indicating they had contacted election officials in the battle ground states for this confirmation. There is, however, widespread evidence of voters participating in the election. More than 150 million of us in fact!

It is up to us faith leaders, regardless of our personal political perspectives, to offer some stability to the nation. I think being “salt and light” is part of that admonition. Jesus also said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” These words uttered to Pilate are as relevant then as they are today. We cannot have a casual relationship with the truth.

At some point partisanship must give way to patriotism. Counting votes is about as American as you can get, and of course I’m talking about all the legal votes. Accepting the outcome of this election needs to happen sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t change the reality of what will happen on January 20. It could, however, put our country at risk during this uncomfortable transition between administrations.

On this Veterans’ Day, let us celebrate those who “more than self their country loved” and put country ahead of personal politics. Yes, we have our political views and differences, but these men and women who put on the uniform did not serve and defend blue states or red states. They came together and fulfilled their duty for the United States–surely we can do no less in the aftermath of this election.

I’m hopeful we will get beyond all the noise and disappointment relating to the loss of an election and find common ground for the love of our country. I don’t find agreement with Jeffress on many things, but I do appreciate his leadership in this area. There is too much hypocrisy in the church, and surely we can agree to pray for our leaders like the Bible instructs us to do. There is nothing partisan about prayer.

I prayed for President Trump during his time in office, and will be doing the same for President-Elect Biden and his incoming administration. Our nation and leaders need all the prayers and support we can offer. I encourage all our people to do the same and trust the Lord with the rest-DC

Election 2020 Musings

Marv Knox was an editor for a Baptist paper for years, and recently he penned an article that appeared in The Dallas Morning News entitled, “Yes, You Can Be a Person of Faith and Vote that Way” He mentioned that his mother had always told him never to reveal how old you are and also never talk about who you vote for. He explained the consequences of doing the latter.

Knox told a story about being a Sunday School teacher and building confidence and freedom among their small group. He writes, “We trusted each other, and we had discussed every religious, moral and ethical topic we could imagine. That day, I acknowledged, “By now, you’ve probably figured out I typically vote for _______ candidates” and filled in the blank. Most class members laughed, because they already had figured out what I told them. Later, a young wife and mother called to say another member quit our class. When I asked why, she told me, “She said, ‘You can’t be a Christian and vote that way.’” He responded that he actually voted the way he did precisely because of his faith in Christ.

This will be my first presidential election in this pastorate. It isn’t my first presidential election, of course, but every four years brings about a unique set of challenges as it relates to how people are going to get along during an election cycle. The COVID pandemic hasn’t made getting to know our people that much easier. Now that I’m in a new place, the same kind of concerns are coming to the surface.

I’ve been trying to figure this out for 25 years. It doesn’t seem to get any easier.

To be honest, I’m actually pretty grateful to be in a church who creates space for people who don’t agree all the time. It’s important to have a congregation who welcomes people of differing opinions and provides a spiritual home for them. I admit that this is an aspirational goal, one that I continue to hope, pray, and work towards as pastor of our people.

However, I would also have to be honest to say that the experience Marv documented is one I’ve had on more than one occasion. The refrain, “you can’t be a Christian and vote that way” isn’t that far from being verbalized when political matters are concerned. It’s actually surprising for some folks to realize that you can be a follower of Jesus Christ but not necessarily vote for the same candidates. Each of us tends to view his or her decisions through a particular theological and political lens, with faith contributing to thinking and behavior. When someone else doesn’t come to the same conclusions or vote the way we do, it can create angst in the fellowship.

As we approach an election in a few days, I’m aware that millions of Americans have already voted. Voting is not only a privilege but a right. When I think of the privilege of voting, it reminds me of those who have suffered, bled, and died in the service of this country. There are countless thousands who have given what Lincoln called, “the last full measure of devotion” for their country. There are places where voting isn’t done and dictators rule the land. For this reason, it is accurate to call voting a privilege.

However, we must also understand that the privilege to vote has been understood in other ways. When our nation was coming into being, not every one was able to cast a vote. Only persons with wealth and land were able to do so. It wasn’t until the last hundred years that women were given the right to vote; persons of color were granted this ability more recently than this. Privilege, from this standpoint, is not what our country should be about. We are moving forward in becoming “a more perfect union.” There’s a long to go, but we’ve got to ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote should be able to do so.

For this reason, we must also recognize that voting is a RIGHT. Each American citizen has a right to vote. Yes, it is a privilege but voting isn’t reserved for those who can afford it or have achieved a certain economic or social status. Voting should be made available for all Americans, and when this is recognized, then voter suppression can be called out for what it is. We should make voting easier in this country, not harder. This is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue.

There are millions of mail-in ballots being cast this year. We might not know the outcome of the presidential election when Tuesday night is over. This doesn’t necessarily mean something clandestine is going on or that the results won’t be legitimate. It does mean that we need to be patient, keep breathing, and allow all the votes to be counted. Let the democratic process have its moment.

I’m hoping and praying not only for the outcome of the election but also how the church responds after its over. We are still God’s people, and have been through numerous presidential elections already. Regardless of who you vote for, make sure that you vote. It’s a privilege and right that each one of us should exercise. And when it’s over, let’s do our best to come together and show what genuine community is really all about.

Entering the Danger

A little over ten years ago, as I was getting settled into a new pastorate in Springfield, MO, our church hosted an acting troupe called “Skinny Improv.” It was (and is) a popular local entertainment group who specializes in improvisational theatre (think Who’s Line is it Anyway?). As the new pastor, it only made sense to be targeted to come on stage and be part of a sketch. I don’t recall the particulars of the story, but it had something to do with Miley Cyrus and Barry Manilow.

It can be intimidating to be in a place not knowing what your lines are going to be, or worse yet, not knowing what the other person on stage with you is going to say. But, the key component to remember is to say “yes” to whatever action is going on around you. Going with the action is necessary for the moment, even though you might not know how the scene is going to end. Of course, that’s the beauty of improvisational theatre.

A phrase relating to this theatrical approach is “entering the danger.” It means that you say “yes” to wherever the scene takes you, no matter how silly or ridiculous it might be. Saying “no” puts a stop to the action and effectively ends the scene.

I’m doing a sermon series this month called “Hope for Hard Times.” It’s not very subtle, I’ll admit, but I believe it’s where our people are right now. Last Sunday, I preached on the Call of Abram from Genesis 12.1-5, and noted that he was listed in the “hall of faith”: “By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11.8).

The phrase “going without knowing” is an apt description of the church right now. I resonate with the frustration related to the uncertainty of what is yet to come with COVID-19. Our schools are opening this week and there is anxiety about the safety precautions and how our students and community are going to respond. I sympathize greatly with all those charged with making decisions right now. It’s too easy to criticize those who are accountable for these weighty matters; what is especially troubling is the variety of reactions toward the virus. Some view this as extremely dangerous, others are likely to see it as more of a nuisance than a health threat.

It’s worth revisiting the spiritual truth that Christians are to “walk by faith and not by sight.” It’s also true that we don’t walk by our feelings. Abram wasn’t necessarily looking for a change in his life, and at 75 could have been pretty much settled in Haran and not desiring a move. Yet, the Lord began his communication with him with the word “Go”. The phrase “I will” is used six times and “bless or blessing” five times. God is the protagonist in the story and is offering Abram an opportunity to be part of a special people who would belong to God. Abram’s obedience impacted not only his life but countless others who would benefit along the way.

I’m learning that long-range planning is less critical these days than knowing what to do in the moment. This “going without knowing” is where I am right now, which it turns out where I’ve needed to be all along. As a pastor, I find myself seeking to live out this admonition while passing on this approach to our leaders and congregation in general. Entering the danger is necessary. I’m learning that no script is necessary when it comes to obeying God–only “yes, Lord” Not “yes, but. . . “

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9.23). We can have confidence that our Lord will show us the way that we need to go along the way. It’s not necessary that we know how long it’s going to take to arrive at our destination. May God help us be content to walk in the light that He provides us.

A Degree by any other Name

The topic of “degree mills” came up again in conversation the other day. This is not a flattering term and is used to describe institutions who generate degrees for students who pay enough money for them. Usually the academic requirements for a specific degree are not as rigorous as those from an accredited school. Sometimes this is not a fair assessment of the education a person may receive from the unaccredited school, but in my view degrees from unaccredited schools should not be compared to those from fully accredited institutions.

Not every degree is equal. This is difficult for most church goers to understand. I sympathize especially with pastor search committees who are tasked with sorting through resumes and figuring out who might be a good fit for their congregation. A candidate with a doctorate would certainly be more desirable than someone without one, wouldn’t you think? And, sometimes pastor types can be coy about whether or not they’ve actually graduated. When I worked in the registrar’s office at seminary, I received calls from committees who wanted to know whether or not someone actually graduated with their degree as compared to simply taking classes. It’s good to know some folks are checking up on us pastor types!

I’ve been fortunate to have received my theological education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; the school doesn’t look the same in terms of its faculty and the denomination has certainly changed course since I’ve been in attendance. But, I was blessed to have been there prior to 2000 and am pleased with the education I received from those professors. I am also grateful that the school values its accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. I feel good about seeing my diplomas handing on the wall in my office.

Accreditation is important because it is a check and balance in terms of academic requirements. Students who take classes at an accredited school can attend another school and know that their coursework will be accepted by their new school. There is value in knowing there is an agreed upon standard among schools who are accredited by outside entities–there’s a difference when a school is “self-accredited.”

I think accreditation is also important when comparing one’s education with those who attend other institutions of higher learning. There’s already scrutiny toward ministers from those outside the church world as it relates to the rigor of our educational requirements. It’s helpful to know that a seminary’s accreditation sends a signal that it is willing to be held to an approved standards for its academics and degree programs.

This isn’t intended to be a long treatise on this subject; I simply want to express gratitude for my own education as well as encourage future seminary students to check out the accreditation of the school before enrolling in it. If you can’t get a direct answer from their website, then that should raise a red flag for you. It might cost you more money, but the investment in an accredited university or seminary will pay off in the long run.

Choosing Stillness

“If you don’t take a Sabbath, something’s wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.”

These words by Eugene Peterson are important during any season but are especially relevant during the unrest our nation is currently experiencing. It runs counter to our instincts to choose stillness rather than succumbing to worry and hurry. There’s a sense that we have to fix whatever it is that is wrong and work diligently towards that desired goal. But, the spiritual, emotional, and psychological issues we are experiencing these days can’t be easily resolved by additional efforts on our part.

I’ve been attentive to the numbers and trends relating to the COVID-19 virus. I’m not the only one. Schools, businesses, and churches are among the groups of people who are determining how best to respond to the data and attempt to keep their constituencies as safe as possible. As a pastor, I am particularly sensitive to not only the COVID virus but also the fear of the COVID virus and its impact upon our community. It’s stressful. There are no easy answers for people who are in positions of leadership and tasked with making decisions. What’s been discouraging and disturbing, however, is the toxic levels of discourse found on social media when it comes to mitigation efforts. We’ve got to understand that this virus is a non-partisan offender and the only way to deal with this is realize how our actions impact others.

After completing my first year in East TN, I’m realizing that I know more fellow pastors in the Volunteer State than I thought. I’ve gone to school with a number of them, and have been making efforts to reach out in attempts to encourage and be encouraged as we lead our people. This virus has infected pastors who have had to quarantine themselves and discontinue in person worship services for their congregations. It is a difficult time to be a pastor and be faced with how to respond responsibly during this pandemic.

Through the years, I’ve tried to find value in whatever it is that’s going on, even when circumstances make it difficult to do so. One of my friends in ministry reminded me, “With God, nothing is ever wasted.” No one wants to be in this situation, but if there is a positive we can glean from this it is that we all need to come together for mutual strength and encouragement. What divides us isn’t nearly as important during a pandemic; what is important is coming together for prayer and to show empathy for those who are suffering.

I’ve been preaching through the Psalms this summer, and most recently spent time around this passage: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

It’s ironic but true that stillness requires effort on our part. Stillness means that we stop and “cease striving” in order to rest in the reality of the presence of God in our world and in our lives. We can’t have any real sense of peace without embracing the truth that hurrying and worrying won’t fix anything. Control freaks are going to have a particularly difficult time right now, because we can’t change people and there’s not much we can do with the national malaise.

But, we can focus on ourselves and making the world around us a better place. We can choose to love God and love the people around us. We can rest in the truth that everything begins and ends with God–that’s literally how Psalm 46 is structured. Despite what is going on around us, God “will be exalted” among the nations and the earth. The Psalmist indicated the reality of God’s exaltation twice in this passage, so this emphasis must not be lost by our being distracted by what’s going on around us.

Stillness is a choice–it’s also a spiritual discipline. There’s enough bitterness and divisiveness in our world as it is. May God help us as the church to be a non-anxious presence and be good neighbors to those around us. And, let’s work on being still before the Lord to be reminded of this basic truth: God is still God.

Let’s stay encouraged–

Making Our Wants Few–An approach for these days

Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”These words written so long ago are an apt description of how to find happiness and contentment these days. We continue to navigate these COVID-19 days with a degree of uncertainty, doing our best to stay informed and take practical steps to help avert the spread of the virus. Churches, schools, and businesses are all forced with difficult decisions relating to the pandemic.

Now I’m hearing about a Sahara dust cloud heading toward the United States. Nicknamed “Godzilla” for its unusually large size, the dust cloud began to emerge off western Africa. It has now traveled over 4,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico; we should be experiencing this phenomenon soon.

I’m resisting the urge to say, “What else could happen?” This year hasn’t turned out to be anything like anything any of us could have imagined.

It has been said that “we may be through with the virus, but the virus isn’t through with us.” With this in mind, our church staff has been seeking to lead us effectively and well through these frustrating times. Our desire has been to monitor changes and challenges related to the virus, seeking to be intentional about phasing in different activities along with way.

As you know, our church resumed in person worship services on June 7th. Obviously, our attendance hasn’t been close to what we’d consider normative. But, I am grateful for those who are with us in the building AND those who participate through our online media platforms. It’s important to be where you need to be during these days—just know that I miss seeing all of you!

I did want you to be aware that there will be a large group Sunday School class meeting at 9:30 am in the Family Life Center beginning July 12th. Lori Chisholm will be teaching a three Sunday series on “Faith over Fear” and I encourage you to participate.

Finally, please know of my sincere gratitude for your prayers and support related to the death of my mother. She lived to be 89 years old, yet her death was still a shock to us. Yet, she lived in a state of readiness to meet her Lord and now her faith has become sight. Lori, Cally, Lucy, Matt, and I are grateful for all the expressions of love and kindness; we are grateful to be part of your lives and have you in ours.

Let’s work on making our “wants” fewer and learning to find contentment in Jesus Christ alone. Our Lord is still speaking through His Word and has a purpose for us–nothing has taken God by surprise!