Sunday, November 15, 2015

To Live By Faith

With desperate and hungry people camped all over the church lawn, Jesus turns, then and now, to his followers and speaks what is either a cruel joke or lavish divine humor: "They need not go away; you give them something to eat" (M.t 14:16). The disciples, fully aware that their own resources are not up to the magnitude of the need (Mt 14:17) nonetheless trust that the jest is a divine one and obey Jesus.  Thomas G. Long
Jesus' words "You give them something to eat," are a "divine jest." They are a daily dare. He's saying "I dare you to take me at my word. And see what happens. "
A few years ago, a few New Hope folks began helping out with the "Supper on Saturday" meal distribution. It's a wonderful program that brings together people from the local Methodist mega-church as well as others from other churches in trying to meet the needs of the poor among us all. After that experience, we reasoned that if some were taking 6 meals for two people, then perhaps the need was greater than just on Saturday. We were already cooking meals for anyone who came on Wednesday night, so what's a little more?
You see the picture of the shelves above? That's our pantry for the meals. It looked pretty low when that picture was taken, and it's been lower. But for 4 years, we have cooked, packed, and delivered anywhere from eighty to one-hundred twenty meals every Wednesday night. We've never missed a Wednesday, regardless of weather or holidays.
It's been part of the "daily dare" that is the walk of faith at New Hope.
During the last six years, our church has weathered severe financial hardship, coming out of debt, and dealing with the lack of resources in a way that turned a challenge into a "see what happens" chance to truly see what God can do with our faith. Our treasurer and I on many occasions have shared a private laugh over what our bank balance was, what our obligations were, and how somehow, someway, God always, always, always got us through. One week I shared that we had $1.21 in the bank during a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and my beloved church family burst out in applause. "Look what God did tonight with $1.21" one man said. "We delivered 120 meals" for less than what you could find in the couch cushions."
Now we've done what we could. I've returned to bivocational status, working as a teacher to cut overhead. We're notoriously frugal as a church when it comes to spending on things. But I believe we are notoriously generous when it comes to spending on helping people - wherever they may be. And right now I sense God beginning to move us to do more.
Friend, we're just normal people. There are a lot of ways we could improve. But I don't think we can improve on the call of Jesus to come along and see what He can do with folks who don't have much, but are willing to see what He can do with it.
Shameless plug: If you want to be a part of a church that hasn't forgotten why we're here, and tries very hard to do as much as we can, for as many as we can - come join us at New Hope.  Oh and bring some green beans - we could use them for this week's meal. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Read This

Do just the opposite of what the world calls you to do. Dive deep into a community of people who call themselves a church. Expose your best and worst sides to them. Experience their worst and their best. Love them anyway as they love you. Don't go looking for the "best" this or that. Don't go seeking to have your "needs" met. Find an imperfect place filled with imperfect people and spend the rest of your life trying to meet their needs and the needs of the souls God puts into your path.

And if you're in one of those places right now...

treasure it.

Thank God for it.

You may very well find a place that requires far less of you and presents you with that just right music, just right messages, and just right people to share it with.

But in doing so you are walking away from the HEART of what it means to be a Christian. All those passages like "the last will be first" or "take up your cross daily."

It shouldn't be easy.

It should cost you something of your comfortable life.


Dive deep.


This post is dedicated to the most real, most raw experience of "church" I have ever known, my beloved New Hope Baptist Church in Valparaiso. You guys are heroes to me and an inspiration every moment you come to mind.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The hardest kind of love

Our friends Larry and JoAnn have a dog that is nearing the point of death as I write this and it's tearing them up. His furry friend has been a part of their lives for many years and today he's not responding to them or interested in food or water. Death seems near.

Those of us who are loved by dogs go into each new relationship knowing that we almost certainly will not only have the joy of receiving the love of a new friend, but that we will also have the deep sorrow of our parting. For this very reason, many people choose to never have another dog - the bitter pain of losing one is just too much to bear.

Choosing to be there as they pass, whether naturally or with a vet's help, is one of the most gut-wrenching things I've ever experienced. One of our dogs was tragically taken from us in a freak accident, but the very last movement she made was to wag her tag one last time as I reached her fallen form.

With another furry friend, Bunny and Sean eased her passage by talking to her and petting her, though their tears were falling, until she left.

And Sean and I were there when our big friend Henley the Great Dane was eased into the next life to spare him the agony of the bone cancer that had riddled his leg. With the possibility of his next step causing an agonizing fracture, we laid on the floor by him as the drugs did their work. I have never loved a dog as much as Henley, and we only had him for 7 years.

Freddie the mini schnauzer has been with JoAnn and Larry for more than 15.

So if you read this, pray for those who love enough to walk the last mile with their friends.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Considering the cost

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Many years ago, there was a ridiculously young couple who had their first child. He was a healthy boy, and he was named David Adam. I was working a pretty dead end, high effort low reward job, and Bunny was doing the same. We were doing our best to provide for our family, but we thought it took everything both of us could earn to make it. So we looked for someone who could keep Adam, and after looking, talking to people, and choosing a woman who was a stay home mom herself, Bunny went back to work.

It wasn't very long until the day that Bunny picked up our baby boy on the way home from work and our treasure had a scratch on him that he couldn't have made. His nanny's explanation wasn't one at all. That night, we looked at our income, then we looked at our son, and Bunny went to work the next day and quit.

The cost was so high that we couldn't pay it.

A few years later, I still wasn't getting anywhere at that dead end job. I was always interested in electronics so I started an electronic technician course. Four days a week I would leave work and go directly to my class and get home after 10:30. About half way through the course, Adam started asking where daddy was all the time. I quit.

The cost was so high, that we couldn't pay it.

On this night sixteen years ago, Bunny, Sean and I spent our first night in Valparaiso. It was also the first night we were ever apart as a family, since our oldest son Adam decided to stay in Macon, and we decided not to force him to come. Out of all the decisions we have ever made, it is this one that carries with it the deepest regrets.

There are many moments, many events that we have been through since we have been here that I remember through my grin as I remember them. And there have been times when we've been wounded that we work to not remember, believing that the salve of grace and forgiveness would heal. And it has, though there remain the faint outline of scars.

We'll bear that cost..

Looking back, we have literally chosen to forgo what the world would call a comfortable life again and again because for Bunny and me, to not do so would have been to turn our backs on the things that matter most to us - our God and our family.

And we would do it again, considering the cost.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A New Operating System

You're reading the very first devotional I have ever written using the Windows 10 operating system. For the less geeky among us, the operating system (Windows, OSX, Linux) is what makes the computer more than a collection of interesting electronic parts. Valuable those parts may be, but unless some program tells them how to live and how to live together - they're just parts.

I'm kind of liking it. Sure there are some things that I am having to learn, and some things that were in Windows 7 that I'll have to do without, but life is lived forward and I want to be sure that this guy stays up to date and ready for the next challenge.

Well, I'm sitting here thinking that there are some real parallels to what happens when a person begins their journey with Jesus. When they allow God to work within their lives, they receive a new "operating system." Then God uses them to bless other people and to tell everyone who will listen that what He's offering can't be bought for any price, He's already paid that through Jesus. But that in order to use the new operating system, you have to choose to change.

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life— and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 2 Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

Changed from the inside out. That's how God works within us to change the way we think and make us what we were created to be.

Think about it. Maybe it's time to change your operating system.

Grace and peace to you,


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Can you laminate love?

I've been sitting here reading a laminated card that someone put together to explain how a person can be saved (or begin a relationship with God.) They've listed several steps one would need to take and quoted verses from the Bible as proof texts for each.

My feeling right now is, their intent was to cordon off what they believe and then by giving it to me, to help me gain an understanding of just how those beliefs align with ours.

But I keep thinking about the love God has given in Jesus and wonder... can you really laminate love?

The laminated pieces I've collected over the years contained things like prayers, or obituaries. In those cases, sure, you could laminate the piece, because it was all it would ever be.

But the love of God?


18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
Eph 3:18-19 (NLT)


Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor would the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

I think that covers it for me.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Here below find the words of John Baillie as written in his "A Diary of Private Prayer." The language may be archaic at times, but as I read it, I found myself wondering how many of we Christians today would be willing to submit ourselves daily to such a ruthless self-examination of the practice of our faith in Jesus. All I could say after I read this was "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner."

O merciful Father, who dost look down upon the weaknesses of Thy human children more in pity than in anger, and more in love than in pity, let me know in Thy holy presence inquire into the secrets of my heart.
Have I today done anything to fulfill the purpose for which Thou didst cause me to be born?
Have I accepted such opportunities of service as Thou in Thy wisdom hast set before my feet?
Have I performed without omission the plain duties of the day?
         Give me grace to answer honestly, O God.
Have I today done anything to tarnish my Christian ideal of manhood?
Have I been lazy in body or languid in spirit?
Have I wrongfully indulged my bodily appetites?
Have I kept my imagination pure and healthy?
Have I been scrupulously honorable in all my business dealings?
Have I been transparently sincere in all I have professed to be, to feel, or to do?
          Give me grace to answer honestly, O God.
Have I tried today to see myself as others see me?
Have I made more excuses for myself than I have been willing to make for others?
Have I, in my own home, been a peacemaker or have I stirred up strife?
Have I, while professing noble sentiments for great causes and distant objects, failed even in common charity and courtesy toward those nearest to me?
         Give me grace to answer honestly, O God.
O Thou, whose infinite love, made manifest in Jesus Christ, alone has the power to destroy the empire of evil in my soul, grant that with each day that passes I may more and more be delivered from my besetting sins.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Moving the Stakes


Fred Craddock often told the wonderful story about that remarkable evening during his childhood when his father called him out into the backyard of his home in Tennessee. Fred's father asked him to lie down in the summer grass beside him and to look up at the stars... and then he asked, "Son, how far can you think?"

            And Fred said, "What?"

            His father asked again, "How far can you think?"

            "Well, I don't know what you mean."

            "Just think as far as you can think up toward those stars."

            And so, said Fred, I screwed my imagination down, and I said, "I'm thinking... I'm thinking... I'm thinking."

            His dad said, "Think as far as you can think now."

            After a while Fred said, "I'm thinking as far as I can think."

            "OK then. Drive down a stake out there at that point.  In your mind, drive down a stake.  Have you driven down the stake?  That's how far you can think?"

            Fred said, "Yes, sir."

            And his father said, "Now, Fred, what's on the other side of your stake?"

            Fred said, "Well, there's more sky."

            And his father said, "Then, you'd better move your stake." 
            (from a sermon by Robert Dunham)

Lately I've been reading far more than I have in a long time. Most of the year is an exhausting blur where I bounce between tasks like a steel ball in a pinball machine. Contemplation gives way to a pragmatic "Git R' Done" mindset.

But it's summer, now.

And God is at work... calling me to examine who I am in Him and how faithfully I am carrying out His purpose.

When I think I've "moved my stakes" about as far as I dare, then that still, small voice whispers "more." 

I wonder if that's what Peter felt that night when Christ called him to step out of the boat?

Friday, June 26, 2015

This good day

This good day, it is a gift from You
The world is turning in its place
Because You made it to
I lift my voice to sing a song of praise
On this good day 
- This Good Day, Fernando Ortega

In the last week, we've seen a great demonstration of the power of faith in Jesus Christ in the response of the families in Charleston to their great loss. The world, which barely notices the death of nine people anymore, paused - to hear from Jesus - through the faith expressed in the actions of people who believe with all their hearts - love wins.

We were passing through Romans 13 Wednesday evening in our Bible study. You know the passage - it's the chapter that many people trot out about this time of year to use in their patriotic service - the Bible telling people to be good citizens, obey the laws, pay their taxes, etc. To do right.

But what most don't stress is exactly what jumped off the page at me. 

That immediately after that exhortation to do right is an equally stirring call to love right.

Now this letter was delivered to people who in some cases were being hunted down, captured, and used as toys for the mouths of lions in the arena. Others were used as human candles to light the emperor's parties. (So save your anguish over Facebook beatdowns please.)

And yet, the Word of God tells them - be good citizens. Obey the laws and the ones who enforce it. Respect and honor them in their roles as servants of God.

To obey God's law it says, is to love everyone.

For the Christian, as demonstrated in Charleston, there is no other option, regardless of what the day might bring. 

In the same passage it tells us this - "Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see." Romans 13:3

For the way we live our beliefs out is what will make the difference.
You cannot be heard through hatred.
The good news only transfers through love.

This is the time for all Christians to do as the Scripture says and "clothe yourselves with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ." How do you get there?
Pray for yourself, for your brothers and sisters, for the Church and those who serve it as pastors.
Pray for your government as a whole and for those who serve God within it.
And then walk into this day confident that the One Who made it is still on His throne.
Demonstrate the power of faith in Jesus Christ. 
Because yes - love wins.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Teaching the One Good Story

“We want our children to know and believe the one good story. Every other story is a copy or shadow of this one. Some copies of it are quite good and shout the Truth. Others see only the faintest whisper of it, or, in its absence remind us of the Truth. We want our kids to know the one good story so well that when they see Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo, Anne of Green Gables, Arielle, or Sleeping Beauty, they can recognize the strands of Truth and deception in them. Saturating our children in the one good story will enable them to discern Truth and error as it comes to them from the world.” 
― Elyse M. FitzpatrickGive Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

The power of story. This quote resonated with me.

Some of my favorite times as a father have been reading my boys a bedtime story -or in Sean's case, making one up each night about the world travels of "Charles the Pig." I used to be able to recite most all of the Dr. Seuss tales, the Patchwork Fish, and several others.

Later it was my boys that pestered me until I gave in and listened to the audio version of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which I think was on about 3,000 audio cassettes.

The one story I pray that we shared that we not only remember but share, is the story of Jesus.

Because in the end, it's the only one that matters.

Monday, June 22, 2015

What would Robert E. Lee Do?

When you get a Family Tree DNA kit for Father's Day from your family, you could probably guess that history matters to us. Not just history, but our family's history. We don't know a great deal about the Wilson side. Poverty will do that - fewer traces left. But we know a pretty good deal about my Mother's side.

Both sides were proud of what they came from, and proud of what that meant. Mostly that meant that we were Americans - they showed that by going off to war on a pretty regular basis for this country. But for a few years in the 1860's, being a Georgian mattered more.

I can't say exactly what they fought for. I'd sure love to be able to pin it on state's rights, or just simply protecting their land and the land of their neighbors. Maybe that was it. But I also know that at least on one side of my family, they owned slaves. Don't think Tara when you try to picture it, because the same folks stuffed newspaper inside their jackets in the winter because they were too poor to buy winter coats. But still, they owned slaves and as slave owners, they were wrong. They may well have gone to war to protect their right to own another human being.

As a boy I was taught Southern History. I was a voracious reader of everything Civil War, and a great admirer of the great Confederate Generals -men like John Gordon of Georgia,and of course Stonewall Jackson and Robert E.Lee. General Lee in many ways was held out to me as a model of a Christian man. What would that Christian man do with the problems we face today?

At the end of the war, Lee refused any attempt to have him occupy any position of leadership and even thought that Confederate monuments should not be erected believing that they would only serve to inflame passions at a time when the nation needed to concentrate on healing the wounds of war.

In Charles Bracelen Flood’s book Lee: The Last Years, he tells of a time after the Civil War when Robert E. Lee visited a woman who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her home. There she cried bitterly that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. She waited for Lee to condemn the North or at least sympathize with her loss. Lee paused, and then said, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and then forget it.”

It's time to take Lee's advice. Bring the flags down. Focus on the one who brings us together, just as the 9 of our Christian brothers and sisters were doing last Wednesday night when their lives were taken.

Focus on Jesus.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day

It's been hard these last few years since my Daddy passed away. It's no problem to fix the date that he left this world for the next, but it's hard for me to know when he really left us. We realized it only after the funeral. After I preached a eulogy for my father from the point of view of a sharecropper's son.

It was clear two days later when the certified copy of your Last Will and Testament showed up. The one that never mentioned me, my brother, or those grandsons you seemed to love so much. Before that, we were coping with the loss of a man we had known all our lives as Daddy.

One thing I've realized over the past few days as I thought about this, is that apparently some people, and I guess I'm one of them,  tend to gloss over our parent's shortcomings and exalt those things that make us feel better about them.

There were moments I remember about him that I used to put on the good side that after further thought realize that they actually weren't. They were examples of times when he put his preferences over his family. He'd withdraw if he didn't get his way. Even the fact I had lauded - he worked over 20 years on the swing shift at the base, supposedly to get the extra money - was his way of avoiding having to be home with his wife and his boys everyday.

It was my Mother who played catch with us on long summer evenings - my Mother who showed up at Little League games. I can't remember one time my father did, even on Saturdays. He was always busy working on the land, fixing a tractor, or felling trees. It was a shock to look back and realize that.

Late in life he married again. He was lonely, no doubt of that, and somehow he met a woman who it turned out had been married and widowed several times. She called him honey and sugar, and fed his ego. They went on trips together - something my Mother had begged him to do but he never would. I guess she worked on his weaknesses and exposed him as less than the man I thought I knew.

At first it seemed like she'd be good for him, and in some ways there's no doubt that they both benefited. She was a severe diabetic and he was suffering from ailments too. But over the last years of his life I guess she took advantage of that weakness. Well, I know she did. The day he signed over his savings, he had just finished chemo.

I know he was weak. I know he was tired. I know she was evil. I just don't know how to balance the man I knew who loved his family with the one who turned his back on it at the end. Everything I knew of him - the Father, the Grandfather my boys loved so dearly - was shattered.

Father's Day is different now.

I focus my thoughts on the now and future - my awesome sons, of whom I am so proud, and my grandson, who makes me smile just thinking of him.

There's a wound that only God's grace will heal when it comes to my Father. I love him and have been trying for years to see total forgiveness happen. We'll meet in heaven one day and I guess then I'll understand.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Even If No One Else Does

We've been wandering through Romans on Wednesday night for 14 weeks now, and we hit a bump in the road two weeks ago. I knew going in that the passage was going to be tough, because it has some of those words that cause the normal Baptist's ears to tingle - "foreknew" and "predestination." Well, I backed up last week and tried to clear it up, but as I get ready for tonight, I'm still not sure I did. So let me try once more.

Here's the meat of the passage from the Message.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger?

What you need to know about this passage is this.

Even if you don't believe you can become more like Jesus, even if you can't see any way the old you will ever fade away, even if your family and friends don't believe this Christianity deal is anything more than a passing fad with you and that you will fail...

Even if no one else believes in you...       God does.
In fact, He can already see you changing, already picture you becoming more like Jesus.

29-30God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

He knows you can do it. And he's planning on your seeing it through - walking with Him, relying on His Holy Spirit to guide and direct your paths while he is working everything together for your good.

So we shouldn't end this passage doing anything but praising God.

Because God will see us through to completion through the power of His Holy Spirit.

God believes in you, beloved. Even if no one else does.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Jimmie Hill Funeral Message

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We're sure going to miss her. I don't know how many people I have talked to since Jimmie's passing who didn't say two things - the first words out of everyone's mouth was some variation of this - "she was the sweetest person." Oh they might have said "very kind-hearted,", or "the most compassionate," or "she was good for a guaranteed smile every time," but in some way they expressed what a loss it is to have the person who carried that smile, who made us feel loved and cared for, leave us.

There's no doubt that she had a rough few years here at the end. When I saw her at church a couple of weeks ago, she could barely make it to the door. After apologizing to me for taking so long to get to the back door and me telling her not to be silly, she sat down for a moment, struggling to catch her breath and then proceeded to ask me about my grandson.

And for the last time in this world, I got to see that smile.

That's the other thing everyone mentioned. "That sweet, loving smile" someone said, and then someone else pointed out that Jimmie had it almost all the time. Friends, think about that for a moment. Especially those of you who knew her far better than I ever did. If that was the natural way Jimmie approached life, with all that she had gone through, was going through, she must have known something that gave her the ability to keep that smile.

This life - It goes by so fast. So fast you don't even realize it until you're forced to slow down, or on days like this, to stop long enough to remember.

The Bible says it this way:

1 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. 2 A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. Eccl 3:1-4 (NLT)

For Jimmie Hill it began October 4, 1938 in Magnolia, Mississippi. Just to remind those of you who weren't there, or anywhere then, times were hard. 20% of America was out of work and especially in areas that produced raw goods like Mississippi cotton towns. But like most folks, they pulled together and made it through.

I don't really know much about Jimmie's childhood, growth to adulthood, as I've only been here and known her a little over 15 years now. Those of you who have read the well written obituary have seen that she was preceded to her rest by her sister Clarice. Others also went ahead of her into eternity - her husband, and son-in-law.

She left quite a few loved ones behind. Three children - daughters Theresa and Cindy, and her son Larry. Then there are the grandchildren and great grandchildren who live on to carry her memory, and I hope also, some of the qualities that made Jimmie so special.

When the Bible talks about there being a time for everything, as usual, it says a lot while also only saying a little. How do you even begin to say it all? You begin as a child, and the world seems magical. You look at a beautiful flower or a beautiful sunset and are told by adults that it won't last.

And yet you, in the wondrous hope that is childhood, say back to them, "there will be other flowers, other sunsets and they may be more beautiful."

They may just be. There may be more beauty to come.

But we go into adulthood with but a faint memory of that childhood hope and carry it into our marriage, into having children and making a family. And in that part of life some days are beautiful and some are not. As the obituary described her though, Jimmie was someone who knew who she was and was going to do her best for herself and for her children.

Jimmie experienced the joys of  having her children - I don't know if you who are blessed in that way ever stop to realize just what a blessing it is. Sometimes in making a living and giving everything you have to just get by, we forget how precious a gift they are - until we become grandparents and then everything those kids do seems amazing.

Well when the Scripture talks about "a time to plant and a time to harvest" it's not just talking about crops. Giving of yourself, giving up (or planting) so your children can get - to make sure they have what they need and a little bit more than what you had - so you can enjoy seeing them grow (or your harvest) is what drove Jimmie to work all those years.

I've been trying to decide if I'd have wanted her to be my Supervisor at work. I have the feeling it would have been a two edged sword. She'd have definitely treated me with her kindness and compassion, but she also probably would have expected that same drive and purpose she had in life to show up in my work habits. I suspect she was that way about her family too.

Jimmie was like many of us who want so much for our children and grandchildren. For most we cannot make a great difference materially, so we focus on trying to give things that matter a lot more. A clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. The importance and value of hard work. The worth of family. And then the one that matters most of all.

An example of Christ-like faith. For a Baptist preacher I've probably held off longer than some expected to mention Jimmie's faith.

In a way, that was my deliberate choice, because I've found that those, like Jimmie, who live out their belief in Jesus as their Savior, as their Lord, and who follow His teachings in every area don't really need that shouted out at times like this. You know Who she loved.

As someone who prayed with and prayed for Jimmie, and as someone who has talked with her on quite a few occasions about her life, her family, and what she wanted for them and out of this life, let me just say this clearly. Jimmie Hill's faith in Jesus Christ has meant that when she closed her eyes in this life, she opened them a moment later in heaven.

The Bible makes it plain that for anyone who surrenders their life to Christ through confession of their sins, acceptance of forgiveness for those sins, and shows the effects of that through a life of obedience to the teachings of Jesus, to those who have done this - at the end of this life, something better awaits. Something more beautiful than we could imagine, even as a child.

In an encounter with someone else who had lost their loved one - in her case her brother named Lazarus, Jesus Himself makes it plain.

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” John 11:25-26 (NLT)

The Bible also tells us that unless “unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Matt 18:3 (NLT)

"Turn from your sins," means decide you have had enough of life as it is, with a constant rub between what you want and what you know is right in God's eyes - and you agree with God that you are wrong and need His forgiveness for a new direction - out of darkness and into His light.

"Become like little children..." - that means you have to rely on someone else because on some level you know you can't make it without them.

Praise God, Jimmie had made that choice. I don't know when and where, I don't know if she was baptized by immersion or sprinkled, I don't know whether she preferred the KJV or the NIV or some other version of the Bible. I don't need to know any of that, because by the way she lived her life, by the words she spoke and the heart she had for Jesus, I know she lives with Him.

So when Jimmie fell asleep, that smile reached its destination. That something she knew that kept that smile on her face turned out to be that she knew Someone - Jesus, who had made her a promise a long time ago, that when the time to live was over, and the time to die had come, He'd carry her in His arms, home. Hear the words of Jimmie's Savior - and yours if you'll turn from your sins and believe in Him

1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.   John 14:1-3 (NLT)

God guaranteed that through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus. So when it's that "time to die"

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 1 Cor 15:21-22 (NLT)

New Life! No more sorrow! No more heartache! No more troubles. No more pain!

I still can't help thinking about the last time I saw Jimmie. She was so pale, so weak so could barely catch a labored breath.

But now?

Happy, whole once more.

Praise God.

So what now for those of us left here?

We can take comfort in knowing that Jimmie is home, is whole, and that her smile will never cease again.

And too, to the extent that Jimmie's example points us toward a life lived trusting in Christ and affects us so deeply that we want what she had, Jimmie Hill can live on, in us. When we meet people with arms wide open; when we treat others with love and compassion, when we give of ourselves so that others might have their needs met, she will live on.

But don't forget why she smiled. You can have that smile, but only if you embrace the reason for it. There's a God who loves you so much that he'll love you - he has loved you from before you were born - every day of your life - and if you'll let Him - will love you forever with Him in eternity. If you want that smile take a moment to meet its maker as I pray.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

176 days in

The school year is like the baseball season - it seemingly goes on forever. And also like baseball, the significance of any one day or game really seems fairly meaningless. It's in the day to day routine of working on the skills or standards as we call them, the patient but confident building of abilities and molding of character that things happen. As a teacher now for a while and a pastor for much longer, I've learned the routines and accepted them.

When a batter is in a slump, one of the first things he does is to go back and watch film of when he was in the groove. If it's a really bad slump, he might even reach out to an old coach. I've read of stars who were struggling calling in high school coaches.

When a teacher can't reach a student, they do check to see if they are teaching the fundamentals well. They examine their interactions with the child, and talk with others who interact as well. They try other approaches. They seek to find a motivating tool to use to get the student to perform in a way that will help them grow.

176 days in, after doing all of that and much more, after being at the point of frustration many many times, I think it happened.

I was hugged by a nine year old boy.

He's so very bright. I have never had a child who has asked so many questions that were worthy of adult conversations. Of course most all of those occurred when we were discussing something else, but...

Yet he is always on his own path, that only occasionally coincides with what all the adults who want desperately to see him grow have planned.

But Friday, after a typical day of trying to encourage him to persevere in doing his best and finding him doing far less, we had a conversation. Nothing unusual on my side - another try at getting him to see that if he'd set his sights on a goal and work hard until he got there, all the adults who care so much about him would not only rejoice in a way the heavens would hear, but he would find that all the structures we've constructed to keep him in line would fall away, like training wheels taken off a bicycle do once the skills are mastered.

He listened and went back to work.

Then right before he left, he came up to my side and gave me a hug before he left.

176 days in.


It made me wonder... "Lord Jesus, how in the world do you put up with us?"

Monday, May 18, 2015

Harry Potter and the Hope Eternal

As a young boy, I read every Superman comic I could plead for, later enjoyed the works of Mark Twain, and others who took me to places and times I'll never inhabit - except through their prose.

As a pastor, over the years I have received different responses from people about the Harry Potter series when they found out I had read them all. And at times I've had questions from parents about whether their children should read them - those questions coming not because of what they knew personally about them, but what they had heard.

Well after finishing the last of the Harry Potter series again recently, I'm not sure that as time goes by we might not see theologians treating the books and their author much more kindly. For in this book I found words I have always treasured in the most uncommon places.

When Harry ventures back home to where his parents are buried, he comes across the gravestone of his mentor Dumbledore's mother and sister. The Mother was killed trying to protect the daughter from herself, and later the daughter died too. On the gravestone were these words.

Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.

This of course comes from Christ's words in Matthew 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6:19-21 (NIV)

Then Harry finds himself at the graves of his parents, who both died trying to protect him from an evil wizard, and the reader sees these words on their monument.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Coming again from Scripture - 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Cor 15:24-26 (ESV)

The themes of "the Greater Good", of sacrifice, of selflessness, of laying down your life for your friends run all through this last book. If you cannot see that, it's not that you have read too much fiction.

It's that you have read too little Scripture.

Reading for information isn't enough.

You have to read the Bible with a sense of anticipation - of wonder, relief and amazement that God - this God - the One and Only God - would sacrifice His One and Only Son - for you.

And that through your love for Him, you would lay down your life for your friends - no matter what.

You know you are flawed, but that He is able to use you to change lives for eternity.

And you have to be convinced in your very soul that your life matters to God - that what you do matters. You have a part in the Big Story of God's reconciling the world to Himself.

If you can see that connection with your own life's walk, then it will be easy to spot it wherever it appears in any variation whether explicitly Christian or not - even in fictional books like the Harry Potter series.

I'm grateful for J.K. Rowling's work, and the treasures I found in The Deathly Hallows. But I'm immeasurably more grateful to the God who through the sacrifice of His sinless Son, gave me freedom from guilt and shame, a purpose for living, and the hope of eternal life with Him, when death will be destroyed and love triumphs over all.



Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Red Ink and Laughter - A Teacher's Influence

If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching.8 If your gift is to encourage others, do it! Romans 12:7-8 (NLT)

How many people have you met in your lifetime? You probably can't count that high. Okay, how many can you say made a real difference? Chances are, out of a list of the top ten, there will be a teacher in there somewhere. Think back - who would you choose? What teacher affected you the most?

You'd probably not choose someone who laughed at you while scrawling a big red "F" on your essay. But that's exactly why I'd put Dr. Catherine Futral high on my list of women who've affected my life.

After a long time away, I had returned to Mercer University in Macon, GA to finish my undergraduate degree. I was majoring in business, because that's what my company would pay for, and was checking off the squares of required courses when I ran head on into Dr. Futral. A fixture for years at Tift College in Forsyth, she was teaching in the evening college after Mercer had absorbed her beloved campus. My goal was to get all my English courses out of the way as quickly and as easily as possible. Her goal seemed to be the destruction of the ecosystem by flooding the world with red ink.

To give you a mental picture of her wouldn't be hard. Think English teacher. That was harsh. Okay, think English teacher with a great smile and eyes that twinkled as she explained just how miserable she would be making our lives for the next 12 weeks.

She was a woman of grace, peppering her lectures with humor, and her comments on our work with wit. A committed Christian, and member of First Baptist Church of Forsyth, she'd often bring her faith experiences into her lectures. She'd quote Shakespeare, Faulkner, and the Psalms all in the same example of how to write a compelling paragraph. But when she evaluated your work - well, you'd better be ready to hear the truth.

I'll never forget one paper I wrote which received this comment: "Until the very last line of this paper, I felt that it was one of the best I had read. However, your thoughtless comma splice in the last phrase ruined it for me - and you." Beside that snippet she inscribed a large red "F".

Can I call that the gift of encouragement?

It was for me. My mission from that point on was to make Dr. Futral see the error of her ways. She kept trying to change my style, wanting me to use less punctuation - create shorter sentences - eliminate the passive voice. At one point, I ran a paper through a grammar checker program (new technology at the time) and handed it in. Her comment? "This isn't your work." "Oh yes it is," I replied, "and it's perfect." "It may very well be perfect as far as grammar is concerned," she shot back," but it is perfectly awful prose." You've never seen a smile leave anyone's face as fast as mine did. "You can do better," she said now smiling as she handed it back to me, "write it like David this time - from the heart."

Maybe she was from another time, when teachers could demand more and not worry about their student's self esteem. All I know is that she gave her best and expected ours in return. I think of her often and thank God for her. In a sense I'm still writing partly for Dr. Futral. She believed in me. Every time I write I remember, "from the heart."

Do you remember someone who encouraged you along the way? Someone who helped you become the person you wanted to be?

Let them know it. 

They gave you their gift - pass it on.


David Wilson

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Hey! Little Help Here!

What do you know about this picture without any doubt whatsoever?

That turtle did not get on that fence post by himself. Someone else had to put him there.

That popped into my admittedly strange mind when I was reading the first of the letters attributed to the apostle Peter. That rough hewn Galilean fisherman is one of my favorite characters in all of Scripture simply because of his so obvious flaws in character. Impulsive, unlearned, rough, crass, and with an opinion of himself that didn't square with who he really was, Peter was as they say all over the South, "a real piece of work." Now for those of you who are not clued into Southern expressions, that one has more to do with how much work is yet to be done than it ever has with what sort of person the "piece of work" is now.

Peter needed work.

A LOT of work.

Oh he had his moments, but there were always others coming down the road that showed everyone just how short of the mark he was. At root, Peter was all about Peter and how things affected him. He's the absolutely last person I would ever expect to write something like this.

8 Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.
1 Peter 4:8 (MSG)

See, I read that and it made me go "Whoa! How'd he get there?"

I'd say Peter had help getting to that point in his life. He'd been led past "what's in it for me?", and made his way by "what difference does it make?" To "Christ is all. He is enough. He is here- for me -no matter what."

Now, with everything he has within him, he's practically begging his fellow followers of Jesus to make love the end all be all of their lives - of every waking moment.

What changed Peter?

His great failure, and Christ's great forgiving grace.

Peter never forgot just what Jesus had done for him. Have you?

Do you need a touch of God's amazing grace today?

Open your heart, confessing your need and accept His love as help for your soul. Find the freedom that only a life hid in Christ's love can give.

You can't get there without help.

Grace and peace,


Monday, April 27, 2015

Sharing Jesus As A Grace Driven Church

We're walking through a series of messages that examine the purposes of the Church through the lens of grace. Today, we looked at evangelism. When I laid out the series,I felt that this would be the hardest to deal with. Now after I have delivered it, I still think that's the case.

We need to live out our love for Jesus in such a way that even those who oppose our worldview admire the way we live it. It means holding those beliefs tightly, but opening our hands and hearts to be good neighbors, regardless of whether those neighbors agree with us on a number of areas.

It means seeking the common ground that the apostle Paul wrote about.

My prayer is that we at New Hope would be people of grace, always ready to give an answer to the question of why we love God, love each other, and love others. And that we give that answer gently, gracefully, with respect for the person who asks.

Here's the You Tube link.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Taking It Personally

1 Thes. 5:11 (Msg)
So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it.

One day a young boy came home from school with a note. It suggested that his parents take him out of school. Partially deaf, the boy was having problems keeping up with the other students. But rather than help him, they sent him away. The note said that the boy was "too stupid to learn." 

When the boy's mother read the note, she said, "My son Tom isn't 'too stupid to learn.' I'll teach him myself." When Tom, then known as Thomas, oh and Edison was his last name - died many years later, the people of our nation paid tribute to him by turning off the nation's lights. which he had invented, for one full minute. Thomas Edison invented not only the light bulb we read by, but also motion pictures and the rec­ord player. He has over one thousand patents to his credit. You might very well have known all that. 

But you wouldn't have if Thomas Edison's mother, Nancy, hadn't taken that offense personally and set out to prove the school system wrong. Edison himself later said of her, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had some one to live for, some one I must not disappoint." 

Everyone needs someone like that. And many of you are that "someone" to others around you. You are making a difference, most of the time going unnoticed and unappreciated. That's why I'm writing this. 

I'm writing today to thank all of you who have heard society tell you that teenagers won't amount to anything - then set out personally to prove the critics wrong by investing your lives into those of countless boys and girls. 

I'm writing today to thank all of you who hear all the time about how churches don't make a difference any more - and have dedicated your lives to proving them wrong by serving your communities in countless ways, sometimes at great cost. 

I'm writing today to thank all of you who have been told that your church was dying - and took it personally - telling the devil and all his henchmen - "Not on my watch" - and are doing the hard work of loving people and inviting them to come and meet God in worship. Heart by heart, you are building God's church. 

And I'm writing today to all of you who see the wrongs and try to right them, who see the hurts and try to heal them, and who never hear one word of praise. That aggravates me. You could say I take it personally. 

Thank you for what you do. It matters. May God bless your efforts. Keep on doing it. 


David Wilson