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

Feature Image

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.