Count Your Blessings

November 20, 2017

We will celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday. We will pause from our work and gather with our family and friends. We will enjoy good food and great conversation. We will rest and relax. And, hopefully, we will set aside time on that day to count up all the blessings that God has poured out on us this year. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the things I am thankful for this year.

I am thankful that God is who He says He is and that He will do all that He promises to do. God is my Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. Out of the overflow of His love, He created me – knitting me together in my mother’s womb. Because of His grace and mercy, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to save me by serving as my atoning sacrifice. And, in order that I might take hold of the life that is truly life, He sustains me daily through the work of His Holy Spirit who teaches, guides, convicts, and comforts me.

I am thankful for my church family. As you know, earlier this year, we entered a time of transition in our church. Times of transition tend to bring instability with them. Thankfully, our time of transition did not. Because our church family stepped up, we experienced a time of peace and health, rather than a time of stability. I am thankful for our pastors and staff who each stepped up to fill the gaps during this time of transition. Each of them took on extra tasks and invested extra time to make sure that things continued to run smoothly. I am thankful for our lay leaders who stepped up to provide leadership to their groups and to our church. And I am thankful for each and every church member who prayed, encouraged, and filled their role to build up the church during this time of transition.

I am thankful for David Lucas. Hopefully you have heard by now that, after fifteen years of faithful service to our church family, David is retiring at the end of this year. I have had the privilege of serving alongside David for the last twelve years. During that time, I have developed a great respect for him. He is a man of faith who loves Jesus and loves this church. Through the years, I have seen him share the Gospel with sales representatives who stopped by to sell their product, with individuals seeking benevolence, and with those we have encountered on mission trips. I have seen him help and care for many people while seeking no recognition for his acts of service. And I have seen him develop deep relationships with many in our faith family. I am thankful for David and I hope you will join us on December 3 from 2:00pm until 4:00pm as we honor his service to our Lord and our church at a reception in the Fellowship Hall.

I am thankful for our new Pastor. I had the privilege of watching the Pastor Search process up close. I observed the prayer, time, thought, and commitment that the Pastor Search Committee invested in the process. And I observed the hand of God in leading the committee to Pastor Randy and in leading Pastor Randy to our faith family. I am very excited about what God wants to do in our faith family in the days ahead and firmly believe that God led Pastor Randy here to lead us to grow in our faith and as a church. Pastor Randy will begin his ministry with us this Sunday, November 26. I encourage you to be here that day to welcome Pastor Randy and his wife, Sandra, to our faith family.

As you can see, I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Our faith family also has a lot to be thankful for this year. To be honest, I have only scratched the surface in this article. I challenge you to set aside time this week to sit down and write out what you are thankful for this year – to count your blessings. As you do, my hope and prayer is that you will see what God has done.

Happy Thanksgiving!




November 13, 2017

Stewardship – it’s not a word I use every day. It’s probably not a word that you use very often either. To be honest, stewardship is not a concept or an idea that we tend to give much thought to. Sure, once a year at church, we discuss stewardship, but other than that, how often do we really think about it? For these reasons, we may not have a clear picture of what stewardship is.
A steward is one who manages resources that have been entrusted to him or her by another person. Stewardship is this act of management. We see this at work all the time, we just don’t refer to it as stewardship. For instance, if you have a financial advisor, you entrust a portion of your finances to that advisor. In doing so, you give them some freedom and responsibility to manage those financial resources as they see fit. The management they provide over your financial resources is stewardship.

As Christ-followers, we serve as stewards of the resources that God entrusts to us. God is a good and loving Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children. Out of an overflow of His love, God entrusts us with certain resources to steward throughout our lives. While the specific types and amounts of these resources vary, they tend to fall into three broad categories – time, talents, and treasure.

When you were born, God entrusted you with the resource of time. He determined the number of days you would live on this earth. But, as His steward, He gave you the freedom and responsibility to determine what you would do with those days. Every day that you live, God entrusts you with 86,400 seconds. And every day, you get to decide how you will steward that time.

God also entrusts you with certain talents. Talents come in all shapes and sizes. Some people are born with natural talents. They come out of the womb as a natural athlete, artist, musician, thinker, or leader. Others develop their talents through the years. They are not naturally talented, but through years of hard work, perseverance, and practice, they become skilled in a specific area or practice. And, all of us, as believers, receive at least one spiritual gift when we become a Christ-follower. Though the shapes and sizes of our talents vary, the truth is that God entrusts each of us with talents and we get to decide how we will steward those talents.

In the same way, God entrusts us with treasure. He entrusts different amounts of treasure to different individuals. To some, He entrusts great riches. To others, He entrusts only a small amount of treasure. The issue is not really the size of our treasure. The issue is how we steward the treasure entrusted to us. As with our time and talents, God entrusts us with this resource and gives us the freedom and responsibility of choosing how to steward it.

Stewards are evaluated on their faithfulness and effectiveness. If you entrust your financial advisor with a portion of your finances and he leaves your account numbers lying around for anyone to see or loses a significant portion of the money you entrusted to him, you would most likely consider him a poor steward. However, if he keeps your finances in order and creates a profit for you, you would most likely consider him a good steward.

How would you evaluate your stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to you? Have you been faithful and effective with the time, talents, and treasure He has placed in your care? I challenge you to spend some time this week considering these questions. As you do, give thanks for what God has entrusted to you and consider how you can best steward those resources for the glory of God and the good of people.

Your brother in Christ,



God’s Work

November 6, 2017

God has been at work in Liberty Park Baptist Church during the last few months.

In June of this year, Pastor Scott Guffin announced to our faith family that he would be leaving to begin a new assignment as the Executive Director of Christian Ministry at Samford University. When he first shared this news with the ministers, we knew right away that this was a position tailor-made for Scott and that God was calling him to Samford to do a great work. As we processed the news, our Student Pastor, Wesley Braswell, provided a great perspective for the days ahead. He said that because we believed that God called Scott to Samford, that we should also trust that God would provide for our faith family by calling the right man to serve as our next Pastor.

On July 23, 2017, we held a Called Business Meeting to elect a Pastor Search Committee. A committee of Deacons composed of John Thomas, Gregg Deitsch, Grant Eudy, Greg Owings, and Mark Tarnakow nominated seven church members to serve as our Pastor Search Committee. The nominees were Thomas Minor, Don Day, Shelley Eudy, Bob Foster, Susan Keith, John Ott, and Gene Watterson. The nominees were approved and elected by our faith family and began their work as the Pastor Search Committee that afternoon.

Over the next three months, the Pastor Search Committee went about their duties with much prayer, diligence, and seriousness. It was evident from the beginning that the Committee understood the weight of their work. Very early on in the process, they began to refer to themselves as a “listening” committee. This reference grew out of their desire to listen to the Lord and to follow Him wherever He led.

As the Pastor Search Committee listened to the Lord, He began to lead them to a candidate. Though they were aware of this candidate from the beginning, they took their time to pray over the candidate, the do their homework, and to discern whether or not this was the man that God was calling to lead our faith family. After much prayer and diligence, they recommended that this candidate, Pastor Randy Overstreet, be called to serve as the next Pastor of Liberty Park Baptist Church. They completed their work when we voted to call Randy to serve as our next Pastor at the conclusion of yesterday’s worship service.

As I have reflected on the last few months, it is evident to me that God has been working. He was at work when He called Scott to a new work at Samford. He was at work when He quickly assembled a committee of committed Deacons to nominate the Pastor Search Committee. He was at work when He assembled the Pastor Search Committee putting the right team together for this task. He was at work leading our faith family and our staff to step up and faithfully carry on the work of the church in the absence of a Pastor. He was at work leading Randy and his wife, Sandra, to pray about serving at Liberty Park. And He was at work on Sunday morning as He led our faith family to call Randy as our next Pastor.

God heard our prayers and worked on our behalf during the last few months to sustain us, to provide for us, and to call Randy to serve as our next Pastor. I believe that He desires to continue to work in and through this faith family. I believe that God has great things in store for us in the days ahead. To participate in those great things, we must pursue Him in the same manner we have pursued Him during the last few months. We must continue to seek Him diligently, to pray fervently, to love wholeheartedly and to obey willingly. We must move forward with open hands and open hearts ready and willing to listen for and to follow His will.

I am excited about our future because God, who holds the future, has once again proven Himself to be faithful and true!

Your brother in Christ,


Where’s Your Focus?

October 30, 2017

Some days I find myself with a poor perspective on life. Some days it’s because I know I have a busy day ahead. Other days it’s because things have not gone the way I planned or the way I wanted. Some days it’s because I am tired. Other days there’s really no discernible reason for my poor perspective, it just is what it is.

Last year, God began to challenge me concerning my poor perspective days. One morning, I was preparing to go for a walk. While I walk, I like to listen to podcasts. On this particular morning, I downloaded several sermon podcasts from Craig Groeschel, the pastor of Life Church in Oklahoma. The sermons I downloaded were from a series he preached entitled, “Stay Positive.” The first sermon I listened to was entitled, “I’m Optimistic.”

As I walked and listened to the sermon, Pastor Groeschel gave an illustration that has stuck with me since then and has proven very helpful when I find myself having a poor perspective day. He said:

 “The reality is there are a lot of things going wrong in the world. 
There’s no doubt about it. We as Jesus followers are not going to put our heads
 in the sand and pretend like there’s not things going wrong. 
At the same time, God is doing a lot of amazing things all over the world. 
While there are things going wrong, there are so many things going right. 
We will often find what we are looking for, in fact, I’ve talked about this before, 
but I just love the illustration of two different types of birds. 
You take a buzzard and a hummingbird. Every single day, what does a buzzard find? 
A buzzard swerves around and finds dead things. 
Every single day, what does a hummingbird find? 
Sweet things, day after day, proving that you will always find what you look for.”

As I listened to that illustration, I was convicted that many of my poor perspective days were a result, not of my circumstances, but rather of my focus. Most of the time, the only one to blame was me. The truth of this illustration is we find what we seek. What we focus on expands. When I focused on the things that were not working out like I wanted them too, they expanded and my perspective became poor. But, on the days that I focused on good things, the good things expanded and my perspective trended positively. The bad things did not disappear, they just became less influential.

In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul encourages the believers in Philippi to focus their minds on good things. He writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV). 
Paul understood the principle that what we focus on expands. He knew the believers in Philippi would face hardship, but he did not want them to be discouraged or distraught by that hardship, so he encouraged them to think about the good things of God.

What do you focus on daily? Do you focus on the negative or the positive? Do you focus on what you do not have or what you do have? Do you focus on the problems of this world or the promises of God? 

As we enter the month of November, I want to challenge you to shift your focus. On Thursday, November 23, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, but who says we have to wait until then to give thanks? I challenge you to make the month of November a month of thanksgiving. Each day during the month of November, I challenge you to write down at least one thing that you are thankful for that day. If you are on social media, I challenge you to post your thanksgivings there using the hashtag #30daysofthanks. And as focus on giving thanks, pay attention to your perspective. I imagine you will enjoy the difference you experience. I know I have.

Your brother in Christ,



Celebrating the Lord’s Supper

October 23, 2017

When I was growing up, one of our family traditions was to celebrate Christmas Eve with my father’s side of the family. Our family, my grandparents, and my uncles and their families would all gather at my grandparents’ house for a nice dinner. After dinner, we would exchange Christmas gifts and then all rush home to get in bed before Santa stopped by for the evening.

Our family tradition actually began before dinner, though. We began each Christmas Eve, not at my grandparents’ house, but rather at their church – the First United Methodist Church of Clinton, Mississippi. We gathered there to participate in and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together as a family.

When I was a child, I have to admit that I found the first part of our evening to be confusing. At that time, I did not really understand the significance of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In the tradition of my grandparents’ church, we went to the front of the sanctuary together to observe the Lord’s Supper. When we reached the front of the sanctuary, we knelt down and waited until a pastor brought us the bread and then the cup. As a child, this was all very confusing to me, so I just did my best to follow along and finish up as quickly as possible.

As I grew older, my view of this tradition changed from confusing to bothersome. I found the tradition bothersome because it involved a good bit of waiting. We waited for everyone to gather outside the church before going in. We waited on a pew until it was our time to walk forward. We waited until everyone finished observing the Lord’s Supper before leaving. And then, we waited at my grandparents’ house for everyone to arrive, to eat, and then, finally, we could exchange gifts. For a young boy anticipating the gift exchange, that was a lot of waiting.

As a teenager, my perspective of this tradition changed again. As I entered my teen years, Jesus awakened me to Himself. He began to reveal Himself to me. And I understood, probably for the first time, the true significance of what we celebrated together as a family each Christmas Eve. By the time I graduated high school, the gift exchange had lost its luster and my favorite part of the evening was the time we spent together celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The waiting no longer bothered me. In truth, I did not view it as waiting at all. I began to view those times as times of preparation. As we waited for our family to gather, I prayed that they would all come. As we waited to walk forward, I took time to pray and prepare my heart for what I was about to do. And when we walked forward, I took my time, prayerfully taking the bread and the cup. And, in doing so, I discovered the Lord’s Supper to be a great time of communion between the Lord Jesus and myself.

During our 10:30am worship service, this Sunday, October 29th, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper together as a faith family. In preparation for our time together, I encourage you to consider how you view the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Is it confusing? Is it bothersome? Or is it truly a time of communion between you and the Lord Jesus?

Before Sunday, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read through and meditate on the passage below. As you do, ask the Lord to prepare you to eat the bread and drink the cup in a worthy manner this Sunday.

1 Corinthians 11:23-27
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Your brother in Christ,


Fall Festival

October 16, 2017

Each October, we host Fall Festival on our campus for our community. Fall Festival is designed to be a fun, family-friendly environment where people can come to enjoy rides, inflatables, food, and relationships. Through this event, we hope to communicate to our community and all that attend that we love them. We also hope to begin and build on relationships with our friends and neighbors through Fall Festival.

Fall Festival will be a little different this year. We have changed the day of the week and the time of the event. In the past, Fall Festival has taken place on a Wednesday night from 5:30pm – 8:00pm. This year, Fall Festival will take place on a Sunday afternoon from 3:00pm – 5:30pm. We made this change with families in mind. We hope these changes will allow more families to attend Fall Festival and to stay longer because it takes place on a day of the week that tends to have a little more margin and at a time of day that allows everyone to enjoy the event and still get home and get ready for the next day at a decent time.

Because Fall Festival is an event that we host for our community, it is also an “all-hands-on-deck” event for us as a church. In other words, each one of us needs to serve in some way in order for this event to successfully communicate to our community that we love them. Not everyone will be able to serve in the same capacity or at the same time, but each of us can serve in some way. Below are four ways that you can serve:

  • Pray – Pray that God will use this event to bring glory to Himself and good to our community. Pray for good weather on October 29th. Pray that people will come and will enjoy the environment and, more importantly, the relationships. Pray for our volunteers to have opportunities to have Gospel conversations with those in attendance at Fall Festival.
  • Participate in the Neighborhood Prayer Walk – Join us as we walk through and pray for our neighborhood this Sunday, October 22nd. We will meet at the church at 4:30pm to receive instructions and our assignments and then disburse to begin praying for our friends and neighbors.
  • Invite – Invite your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to attend. We have and will continue to advertise Fall Festival, but the best advertisement is always a personal invitation.
  • Donate Candy – Kids really like candy. And because we want the kids who come to have an enjoyable evening, we want to have lots of candy to give to them. As you are out and about over the next two weeks, please consider purchasing an extra bag (or bags) of candy and donating them for Fall Festival.
  • Sign up to Serve – We still have a few open spots that need to be filled for Fall Festival. If you have not already signed up to serve, please do so as soon as possible. You can sign up online at, email our Children’s Pastor, Matthew Marsh, at, or sign up in your Bible Study Group this Sunday morning.

Fall Festival is an enjoyable event each and every year. And, each and every year, it is enjoyable because of the love, time, energy, and effort that each of us pours into the event. Thank you for your continued willingness to serve our Lord by serving His church and our community! I look forward to seeing you at the Fall Festival and enjoying the afternoon with you!

Your brother in Christ,

meet the pastor search committee - don day

October 8, 2017

(This week's article is written by Don Day.)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding:  In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

It is the truth of these verses (along with others) that I trust to guide me as a member of the Search Committee.  As the committee has shared with each other we all have portions of scripture that have been an inspiration and comfort and guiding light during this process.  It has been God’s word and prayer that has directed our path.

These verses led Leslie and me to LPBC approximately 12 years ago.  Leslie and I searched almost 2 years for a church home and attended numerous churches around the Birmingham area.  In one of our visits to LPBC we heard Scott say, “I want my congregation to be known as a people of prayer.”  It was then I knew God had led us to our church home. My oldest daughter and her husband and our grandson (Lacy and Matthew Wingard and Alden) are members of LPBC also.  My son Dustin and youngest daughter Caylee became members of another church when they went off to college.  Over the years we have been blessed by the love and prayers of this congregation.   We had no idea it would be this “praying congregation” which would lift us up before the Throne of Grace through one of the hardest trials our family has ever experienced.  But through it we have been drawn closer to God, to His word, to His people and experienced the peace that passes all understanding! We have seen that only God can “bring beauty from ashes”.

I would like to thank you all for your prayers and encouragement as we have sought God’s leading to the man He has chosen as our next pastor.  I have never been so humbled by the enormity of a task, but at the same time so reassured of its perfect completion.   The perfect completion of this task does not depend upon the talents, wisdom or knowledge possessed by the members of this committee.  It depends on the willingness of each member to admit our total incapability for the task and to be totally submitted to the process of prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit----we all committed to this from the start.  We agreed we should be the “Listen Committee”, because God has already searched and found our pastor, now it is up to us to “listen” when He tells us who it is.

We all knew from the start this was an effort that had to be saturated in prayer from the committee as well as the congregation---we have felt your prayers!  I have been blessed to hear the hearts of members on this committee as well as the staff and your hearts during the “listening sessions”.   We are confident our God will bring us His man for this church!  We all know he will not be a perfect man but, he will be God’s man for this season of life of this church as we continue to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus!   There is excitement in our hearts as we anticipate seeing God’s hand at work in and through our congregation!  Continue to pray for our staff and thank them for the fantastic job they have done during this time of transition and pray for the man God has called as our next “shepherd”.   

May I close with this prayer:

Heavenly Father, may we, the people of LPBC always be a “people of prayer” committed to
seeking Your will and trusting Your way. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.


Update from the Pastor Search Committee

October 2, 2017

Our team had its first meeting on Sunday, July 23, 2017 and we have met a dozen times as a group since then. We decided early on that we are committed to bathing this process in prayer and have asked everyone else in the congregation to do the same. Our primary prayer has been for God to clearly show us the man we know He has ordained to be the next pastor at Liberty Park Baptist Church. One of our consistent prayers toward this end has been for each of us to remove the “us” and the “I” and the “me” from the process and to focus on what “He” has in store for our church.

Consistent with our confidence that God has one man picked out for this job, as seemingly viable candidates have been presented to us, we have fully vetted those candidates until God has given us a clear “no”. We have been blessed by technology and the ability to learn a lot about a candidate without ever leaving our homes. Almost all of the candidates have multiple sermons available on-line and a lot of them have published written material as well. 

The listening sessions we held were very helpful in validating the attributes that we are seeking. Nate did a great job in helping us understand what Scriptures have to say about the qualifications of a pastor and also did a great job in helping us focus on “God’s desires” as contrasted with “our desires”.

It was not a surprise that we got a lot of very consistent feedback from the listening sessions. As one member pointed out in a breakout group, some qualities are “non-negotiable”. We expect our next pastor to be a strong teacher of the Word, missional, a man of prayer, and a good shepherd for the flock.

Two additional qualities were consistently mentioned in the listening session feedback. First, we need a pastor who is gifted with exceptional leadership abilities. You used words like confident, motivator, encourager, equipper of others, energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, experienced, inspirational, and unifier. You also expect a leader who, while plugged into the power source of the Holy Spirit, can cast aspirational, God-sized vision for our church and congregation.

Finally, you said we need a pastor who can lead us to connect with, relate to and reach the community we are located in. A lot of people pointed out the challenges of reaching a neighborhood filled with individuals who have achieved great “success” in the world’s eyes but who are struggling and searching for the only thing that can eternally satisfy, the love of Christ. The feedback acknowledged that finding someone with the gifts to understand and minister to the needs of our community is of utmost importance to us.

To date, we have received almost 200 resumes. We have resumes from men in their 20s and 60s and every age band in between. We have applicants with 30+ years of senior pastor experience and some right out of seminary. Many of the pastors are from the South, some from other parts of the country and a few are currently serving in foreign countries. The process of reading the cover letters, reviewing the resumes, viewing the family pictures and listening to the sermons has been very time consuming but also has been very rewarding to see so many men who are seeking to further the Kingdom. We’ve prayed for these men and their families and current congregations. Many of them have indicated that they are also praying for us as well.

Thank you for all the words of encouragement and most of all for the prayers. As we continue the process, we ask that you continue to pray for us and for the man that God has chosen to be our next senior pastor.

In Christ,

The Pastor Search Committee - Thomas Minor, Don Day, Shelley Eudy, Bob Foster, Susan Keith, John Ott, and Gene Watterson


Meet the pastor search committee - john ott

September 25, 2017

(This week's article is written by John Ott.)

Karen and I have been members at Liberty Park for about three years, making me the newest Church member on the committee.  We have a married twenty-seven year old daughter, Abby, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky.  We were drawn to the Church because of the direct and passionate presentation of God’s Word and the welcoming and caring nature of the congregation.  We have been blessed in many ways since joining the Church.

Shortly after joining the Church, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer.  That necessitated immediate surgery.  The Church, especially our Sunday School Class, was incredible.  We were supported by prayers, visits, and – of course – great meals.  Those relationships that began at a difficult time continue to grow.

Karen and I have been privileged to serve in various ways during our relatively short tenure here.  We are members of the Missions Ministry Team.  In 2016, through the efforts of the Missions Team and with a commitment from the Church, we began a partnership with Strong Tower in Washington Park, in Montgomery.  The congregation is led by Pastor Terrence Jones and his wife Thias.  Over the last year, many of you have participated with other members of that Church in monthly community outreach events, a health screening fair, and the delivery of groceries and meals to families in need.  As a result, we have seen first-hand the challenges of serving in a community plagued with violence, drugs, poverty and fatherlessness. It has also afforded us a wonderful opportunity to serve many who do not know of Christ’s saving grace and to see how He is moving in that community.

I also have the privilege of serving as a deacon and as a member of the Nominating Committee. These responsibilities have given me the opportunity to meet and work with many wonderful and committed members.  I continue to see the welcoming and caring nature of our Church family.

As a Search Committee we continue to seek God’s pastor to lead our congregation.  Be comforted in knowing that all we do and say is under girded with prayer.  Which is why, as I close, on behalf of the Committee I ask for prayers while we continue to move forward in the process. 

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  James 5:16                                                                        


i am so blessed

September 18, 2017

(This week's article is written by Susan Keith.)

To be raised in a Christian home with wonderful parents, Bertis and Sue Whatley and Tim, my brother.  My parents enrolled me in the Woodlawn Baptist Church cradle roll as soon as I was born. As a family, we attended Sunday School, Training Union, Wednesday Night Activities, and other church fellowships. My mother began attending Woodlawn Baptist Church in 1930 at the age of five. She taught Sunday School to five-year-olds for over fifty years. She and my father showed us love at home, but also brought us in to the love of a church.

To have been member of Woodlawn Baptist Church, now Liberty Park Baptist Church, my entire life. I did spend 4 years at Campbellsville Baptist Church in Kentucky during college, but my home was at Woodlawn. Sunday School teachers, Training Union teachers, GA and Acteen leaders, VBS teachers, Youth leaders, and one very important pastor, Dr. Bruton, taught me about God’s love and about reading the Bible daily and seeking God’s will in my life. My 6th grade Sunday School teacher Mary (Bice) Williams was instrumental in me accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I was baptized at the age of eleven. As I grew physically, the church family helped me grow spiritually. The Youth Ministry provided retreats, Bible studies, mission trips, and choirs to help me grow and mature in my walk with God.

To be able to teach Sunday School to Senior High girls for over thirty years. It is a joy to see teenage girls draw closer to God and form a bond with each other in Sunday School. Watching many of these girls grow into young women and marry and follow Christ is amazing and rewarding.

To have married my best friend, Jerry Keith, on November 16, 1991.  He and my father are the hardest working men I have ever known. There is nothing my husband cannot fix or do. He has even become a good farm boy. We have one son Michael, who just graduated from Samford University and is in graduate school in Education at Samford. Our family has inherited my father’s love for the farm and animals on the farm. We are able to see God’s creation every day we go to the farm to work and play.

To have seen and been a part of God leading his people to Liberty Park. The journey to Liberty Park and the moving of God’s people at Woodlawn is one of the greatest miracles I have ever witnessed. The best part about this awesome journey is it is far from finished and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next twenty-two plus years.

To be a member of the Pastor Search Committee. It is an honor and joy to be searching for the man God has already selected for our church. I have been a member of teams all my life, but this team tops them all. My prayer life and faith have grown from the first day we met as a team.  Please keep us in your prayers as we seek God’s choice for our church.

Words from Dr. James Bruton on his retirement in April 25, 2004, “I completed fifty-four years in the ministry and thirty-three years as pastor of the most wonderful church in all God’s Kingdom.”

“By this all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35


True Satisfaction

September 11, 2017

(This week's article is written by Nate French.)

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"  - Matthew 4:1-4 ESV

As Jesus prepared to begin His public ministry, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. While in the wilderness, Jesus fasted for 40 days. Matthew records that, "He was hungry." I would imagine that is an understatement. At this point of vulnerability, the devil comes to tempt Jesus.

Knowing that Jesus is hungry, the devil challenges Jesus to seek a quick-fix solution. He challenges Jesus to prove his Sonship by performing a miracle. In doing so, he also challenges Jesus to seek His own satisfaction apart from God. By turning the stones into bread, Jesus would have satisfied His physical need, but He would also have dishonored God by seeking satisfaction apart from Him.

Jesus responds by quoting a passage of Scripture from Deuteronomy. He answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" As the Israelites had been humbled and tested by hunger in the wilderness, Jesus too was facing a test. Would He trust God to provide? Or would He seek His own provision?

As people who live in a nation where food is abundant, we are rarely tempted with regard to our physical hunger. Food is too available. When we get hungry, we simply open the refrigerator, go to a grocery store, or go to a restaurant. But physical hunger is not the only hunger we face as humans.

While we may not be hungry for food, we do hunger for other things. Some of us hunger for acceptance. We want to be known and loved. Others hunger for knowledge. We have an insatiable desire to know and learn more. Some of us hunger for safety and stability. Our lives have been tossed and turned by the winds of the world and we just want a little peace. Others  of us hunger for significance. We desire to make a difference. 

Our hungers are not the temptation. The temptation is to seek to satisfy those hungers apart from God. We may be tempted to satisfy our hunger for acceptance by being a people-pleaser. We may be tempted to satisfy our hunger for knowledge by reading and researching in areas that are unhealthy for us. We may be tempted to satisfy our hunger for safety and stability by removing risk from our lives. We seek to satisfy our hunger for significance by working longer and harder while neglecting our families. 

The real question is not, "Are you hungry?" It is, "Where will you seek your satisfaction?" Jesus demonstrated how we should respond when tempted to find our satisfaction in anything other than God. He countered the temptation with truth from the word of God. Because Jesus made a habit of immersing Himself in the word of God, He knew the truth of God. And the truth of God is that the only thing that can truly satisfy our hungers is God Himself.

Over the next seven weeks, I invite you to join our faith family as we immerse ourselves in the word of God, so that we can learn the truth of God. Join us as we read through the Gospel of John to discover more about who Jesus is. To follow along with our reading plan, visit  As you read along with us and feed daily on the word of God, may you find true satisfaction for your soul.

Your brother in Christ,

Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering

September 3, 2017

(This week's article is written by Nate French.)

As a church, we partner with and financially support other entities in an effort to help shine the light of Christ in our community, our nation, and the world. One of our partners is the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions. The vision of the Alabama State Board of Missions is to see all Alabama Baptists obeying the Great Commandment by fulfilling the Great Commission. In order to achieve this vision, they minister in partnership with churches, associations, state convention entities and the larger Southern Baptist family by fulfilling the Great Commission through reaching and growing faithful disciples of Christ, developing Christian leaders, and mobilizing Alabama Baptists for local and global missions.

In January 2016, the Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering was launched as a way to raise support for the Alabama State Board of Missions and to complement vital giving through the Cooperative Program. Funds are received throughout the year, with a special emphasis coinciding with the Week of Prayer for State Missions held each September. The funds donated through the Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering support the following ministries of the Alabama State Board of Missions:

Alabama WMU - The Alabama Women's Missionary Union encourages missional living by challenging, equipping, and empowering Alabama Baptists to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. The Alabama WMU challenges and equips children, students, and adults by mission education curriculum for all ages, by providing leader training, and by hosting conferences and festivals. They empower believers through their participation in the Baptist Nursing Fellowship, Christian Men's Job Corps, Christian Women's Job Corps, and other ministries. To learn more about the Alabama WMU, visit

Disaster Relief - Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief is a part of the greater network of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. The organization consists of highly trained, widely respected volunteers who offer help, healing and hope in Jesus' name. They are always ready for deployment whenever needed in a local, state, national or international crisis. Currently, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief is working to serve those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. To learn more about Alabama Disaster Relief and their efforts to serve, visit

Church Planting - The Church Planting division of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions serves as a valuable resource for assessing, training and coaching Alabama Baptists who are called by God to start new churches. They work passionately to start church, make disciples, and reach our community, state, and world. In the last four years, 65 church plants in Alabama have gone through the State Board of Missions church planting process. They are working to start 220 churches before 2020. To learn more about Church Planting, visit

Alabama Partnership Missions - Approximately 400 missionaries with the International and North American Mission Boards call Alabama home! Alabama Partnership Missions enable and encourage local churches to partner with those missionaries through Acts 1:8 Connections. They facilitate mission trips and travel and security training throughout the year. To learn more about Alabama Partnership Missions, visit

Church Revitalization - The Church Revitalization division of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions serves churches that have experienced plateau or decline. State missionaries and other key leaders from across the state serve as coaches and mentors for pastors in these churches. The pastors commit to a process of coaching, prayer and planning in order to lead the church to experience a breakthrough. To learn more about Church Revitalization, visit

The Week of Prayer for the Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering is next week, September 10-17. Prayer guides and contribution envelopes will be available in our worship service on Sunday, September 10. Please prayerfully consider how you might help our partners at the Alabama State Board of Missions to shine the light of Christ.

For more information on the Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering, visit


Meet the Pastor Search Committee - Shelley Eudy

AUGUST 28, 2017

(This week's article is written by Shelley Eudy.)

I t is both an honor and a humbling experience to serve on the Pastor Search Committee. 

My husband, Grant, and I have been married for 19 years and we have 3 children.  Michael is 16, Jared is 13 and Kaylee is 8. We joined Liberty Park Baptist Church in 2008, shortly after moving to Birmingham.  One thing that drew us to this church was how quickly our children were welcomed into the children’s ministry and how the teachers were excited to have them.  Grant and I felt the same welcome in our adult Sunday School class and we were amazed at the outpouring of love we experienced when Kaylee was born just a few months after joining the church.

We are blessed to be part of a church fellowship where our entire family can grow in our faith and serve together.  We enjoy coming to church because we learn solid lessons from the Bible and we experience fellowship with other believers and share our lives with them.

It was so exciting for our family to be able to serve in Guatemala this past July.  This was the first time that the five us were able to go on mission together.  Grant saw patients in the medical clinic, Michael helped with the eye clinic and he also served on the evangelism team, Jared was part of the recreation team, Kaylee and I helped with VBS and I also worked in the pharmacy in the afternoons.  Every team member had a job to do and it was amazing to watch as everything fit together perfectly.  We were doing different things but we all had one goal – to show God’s love to the people in that community in Guatemala.  It made my heart happy to watch my children show the love of Jesus by sharing the gospel or by simply playing with kids or being a friend.   I attribute this willingness to serve largely to the solid foundation our children have received by being involved in the various ministries of Liberty Park Baptist Church.

As a member of the Pastor Search Committee, I want you to know that we are praying.  We are praying for you, our church family.  We are praying for the congregation to have patience during this time of transition.  We are praying for unity among our fellowship. We are praying for all of the candidates whose resumes we receive; that God will lead each of them to the place of service He has chosen for them.  We are praying for the man God has chosen to be our next pastor. We are praying that God will lead him to us as God is leading us to him.  We are praying for each other. We are praying for discernment and that we would draw close to God.  We are praying.

We invite you to join us in prayer. Pray for us as we pray for you.  What an exciting time this will be for our Church, when we are all joined together in prayer. For we know “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  - 1John 5:1

In Christ,
- Shelley Eudy

The Perfect Pastor

AUGUST 21, 2017

(This week's article is written by Associate Pastor Nate French)

Who is a pastor supposed to be? As we begin the search for the next pastor of Liberty Park Baptist Church, this a question that we must answer as a faith family. As you might imagine, the answer to this question depends upon who you ask. Through the years, a variety of opinions and ideas have been shared as possible answers. More than thirty years ago an anonymous writer penned a satirical poem to demonstrate the discrepancies. The poem, “The Perfect Pastor”, reads:

After hundreds of years the perfect pastor's been found. He is the church elder who'll please everyone. He preaches exactly 20 minutes and then sits down. He condemns sin, but never steps on anybody's toes. He works from 8 in the morning to 10 at night, doing everything from preaching sermons to sweeping. He makes $400 per week, gives $100 a week to the church, drives a late model car, buys lots of books, wears fine clothes, and has a nice family. He always stands ready to contribute to every other good cause, too, and to help panhandlers who drop by the church on their way to somewhere. He is 36 years old, and has been preaching 40 years. He is tall on the short side, heavy-set in a thin sort of way, and handsome. He has eyes of blue or brown, (to fit the occasion) and wears his hair parted in the middle - left side, dark and straight, right side, brown and wavy. He has a burning desire to work with the youth, and spends all his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time while keeping a straight face, because he has a keen sense of humor that finds him seriously dedicated. He makes 15 calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelizing non-members, and is always found in his study if he is needed. Unfortunately he burnt himself out and died at the age of 32.

With such a variety of opinions and ideas of who a pastor is supposed to be, how do we even begin to answer the question? When in doubt, it is always best to search God’s word to see how God answers the question. Thankfully, He has a great deal to say on this subject. 

According to scripture, a pastor should be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6,7).

With regard to his wife and children, he should be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5) And his children should be believers who are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (Titus 1:6).

With regard to his personal character, he should be sober minded (1 Timothy 3:2), self-controlled (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8), respectable (1 Timothy 3:2), hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8), a lover of good (Titus 1:8), upright (Titus 1:8), holy (Titus 1:8), disciplined (Titus 1:8), not a drunkard (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7), not violent but gentle (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7), not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3), not a lover of money or greedy for gain (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7), not arrogant (Titus 1:7), and not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7).

With regard to his spiritual maturity, he must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil (1 Timothy 3:6).

With regard to outsiders, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:7).

With regard to his abilities, he must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9), to serve as God’s steward (Titus 1:7), to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), and to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2-3).

As we pray for and seek our next pastor, may we seek God’s man and desire and expect of him what God desires and expects of him. 

Your brother in Christ,
Nate French


Pastor Search Committee UPDAte

August 14, 2017

(This week's article is written by Thomas Minor, Chair of the Pastor Search Committee.)

I am humbled and honored to serve on the Pastor Search Committee. Our team is very excited about the opportunity to seek out and find the man that God has chosen to lead us in the next season of Liberty Park Baptist Church. It is been a privilege to serve with such an outstanding group of brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Minor family has been calling LPBC “home” for almost 20 years. When Jerri and I moved into the neighborhood so many years ago, Caroline (now 23) was in pre-school, Walker (now 20) was just a baby and Bo (now 18) wasn’t even born yet. So many things have changed over the years but one thing has remained constant. The same welcoming and caring attitude of the congregation that welcomed us so many years ago is still alive and well.

We were blessed by the preaching and leadership of the pastor at the time we joined, Dr. Jim Bruton. We were also blessed by the teaching of his wife, Oleta, who led our Sunday School class for a number of years. We’ve felt very fortunate that God provided Dr. Scott Guffin and his wife, Beth, to continue to lead us in sound Bible centered teaching and unbelievable praise and worship for the last 13 years. As great as the last 20 years have been for us, we are more excited about the future. We can’t wait to see the great plans that the Lord has for us and especially for our church family in Liberty Park. 

Our committee has been meeting each Sunday afternoon or evening for the last month. We’ve prayed, shared devotions, talked about resumes and divided up duties amongst ourselves. In general, we have divided our duties into prayer, communication and candidates.

Gene Watterson and Don Day are heading up our prayer efforts. They will be sharing a prayer calendar in the near future and also will be organizing some specific prayer events around our search. We know that the Lord knows exactly who our next pastor will be and also knows the exact timing in which He will reveal that. We are very focused on making sure that we are listening to Him as closely as we can and trusting in His plan and provision.

Shelley Eudy and Bob Foster are heading up our communication efforts. We would like for our search to be as transparent as possible for the congregation and staff. We have had “listening” sessions with the ministerial and non-ministerial staff. We are also looking forward to the congregation wide “listening sessions” we have scheduled for August 20 and 27 (both sessions start at 5 pm). Be on the lookout for some more guest blogs, announcements, emails, and periodic verbal updates during the Sunday services. We will make every effort to keep everyone as updated as possible. 

Susan Keith and John Ott are leading our efforts around the candidates. There is a lot to do here including posting our job opening, receiving resumes, developing our screening and interview process, and ongoing communication with the applicants. We have a number of resumes in already and have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing these along with sermons from the candidates. 

We thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement and we hope that you will join us in earnestly seeking God’s guidance and direction for the process of finding the man He has chosen to lead us in the future. 

In Christ,
Thomas Minor


Ministry spotlight: Strong Tower Outreach

August 7, 2017

(This week's article is written by Karen Ott.)

The vision of Strong Tower at Washington Park is to significantly impact their community for Christ.  The challenges of serving in a community plagued with the vicious cycles of violence, drugs, poverty and fatherlessness are numerous, but so are the rewards!  Early summer of 2016, Pastor Terrence Jones spoke at a Church Plant conference held at Liberty Park and shared about these challenges and rewards.  After prayerful consideration, Liberty Park opted to partner with Strong Tower as our state wide ministry focus.  

In the year that we’ve been serving with Strong Tower, we’ve added value to their ministry in several ways.  Our congregation graciously donated funds to provide Thanksgiving groceries for selected families, Christmas Eve meals for senior adults, stockings for children & food for the first community outreach event of 2017.  These outreach events are held the third Saturday of March-October.  The events are rotated through 4 housing projects where the residents can be encouraged to attend Strong Tower for worship.  Bible Bingo for the adults with a clear gospel presentation is a regular activity.  The children also attend an interactive Bible story and participate in outdoor games.  Lunch is served.  Most importantly, it’s an ideal occasion to strike up intentional conversations with the residents who attend.  In April of this year, Liberty Park partnered with the North American Mission Board to provide a Health Screening Fair in the Washington Park community.  Because of this event, Strong Tower was able to connect with residents and they are continuing to follow up with some of those who attended the fair.  There were two professions of faith made at this event! We as a congregation have also had the privilege of partnering in prayer with Strong Tower.  

God is at work in the congregation of Strong Tower and the community of Washington Park.  An old Boys & Girls Club building has been purchased that will become their new church home!  With a new coach at Carver High School, they have been asked to provide breakfast and a 15 minute devotional for the football team and coaches prior to each home game.  They did a “dry run” during spring practice and served 65 players & 10 coaches!  What an open door for them to share the gospel with these young men.  Groups from Strong Tower served in Clarkston, Georgia & in Kenya this summer on mission trips.  Pastor Terrence sees marriages being strengthened, devotion to Jesus deepening and boldness for Christ growing.  Just recently, Fisher’s Farm held its soft opening.  Fishers' Farm is a residential discipleship center that exists to serve people of all backgrounds who struggle with the addition of drugs, alcohol, and/or homelessness. The goal is to help people break these destructive patterns of addiction and bring holistic healing through the structure of life on life discipleship, being immersed in God's Word, building healthy habits, counseling, teamwork, and more.  Liberty Park members provided the bedding for the beds at Fisher’s Farm.  See for more information on this ministry.  

How can you be a part of what’s happening at Strong Tower?  You can volunteer at one of the community outreach events.  The next event is Saturday, August 19 from 10am to 1pm.  If you’re interested in serving, please contact Wesley Braswell or Karen Ott.  Also, please pray that the vision of Strong Tower will be accomplished through their intentional mission of making disciples!

In Christ,
Karen Ott


Thank You, My LPBC Family!

JULY 31, 2017

Well, this is it--my last article as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist Church. I have thought about this missive for several weeks now, at times imagining what various shapes it might take. I thought about using this space to offer advice about the interim period between pastors, and then I thought about taking the opportunity one last time to emphasize our core values as a church. I also considered making the article a summary statement about the last thirteen years of ministry at LPBC, but neither that nor the other options felt right in the final analysis.

In fact, when I had completed the process of mentally sifting through all of my options, none of the above seemed fitting or appropriate. Instead, the thing that kept coming back to me time and time again was just a desire to express my gratitude to you, my LPBC family, for the love and care and support that you have given to my family and to me over the last thirteen years.

When I first came on board as your pastor, I was a 39 year-old young man with young children. I now leave as a 52 year-old older man with an empty nest. The time in between those two bookends has been one that has seen a lot of water under the bridge, and through it all--including several health crises--you have been a faithful and loving family. Your prayers, care and support have carried us through many good times and many difficult times as well.

On Sunday, Beth and I (along with many of our family members) were overwhelmed with the sweet and kind outpouring of appreciation that you gave us, and there is no way that we could adequately communicate to you our profound gratitude for your expressions of love that took on so many forms. We will forever treasure your hugs and kisses, your encouraging and affirming words, your cards and letters and even your tears.

While we will be moving on to our next assignment, we know that the relationships we have developed here throughout the years will continue on, and like many others that we have had in other places we have served, they will grow deeper and sweeter over time. We look forward to maintaining these friendships and to continuing to share life with you in a number of ways in the years to come.

In the meantime, we relish the many assurances of prayer as we make a huge transition into this new phase of life and ministry. For us this is uncharted territory, and the unknown always brings with it a certain amount of anxiety and concern. We certainly feel this as we think about what the future holds for us in a number of arenas. Of course, we also feel excitement too about the prospect of climbing a new mountain, and we feel more confident in doing so knowing that our brothers and sisters are praying for us.

As you move into this next phase of life as a church family, please be sure that we will also be praying for you and cheering for every victory that God brings to you along the way. In my heart of hearts, I desperately believe that God has greater Kingdom work for this church yet to accomplish, and I'm beyond optimistic about His future for LPBC.

Throughout my time at Liberty Park, I have always sought to keep us focused on and grounded in Scripture, so let me conclude with this final thought, from Philippians 1:6:

"I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will 
carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Of this, I am very, very sure.

Grace and peace,



Missions--A Critical Core Value

JULY 24, 2017

Back in 2004, when I was first contacted by Liberty Park Baptist's pastor search committee and we began to have discussions, I made it clear to them that one of my core values as a believer and one that I promoted passionately as a minister was that of missions. Throughout my career in ministry, I have been a proponent of supporting missions efforts through prayer, education, financial giving and going. In my talks with the pastor search committee, I wanted to be clear that it was my desire to serve in a church that was like-minded and that would be interested in engaging in missions on every level.

I was greatly pleased, therefore, when the search committee began to tell me of the passion for missions that characterized Liberty Park Baptist and of the work that the church had already done in that regard. Since becoming the pastor of LPBC in June 2004, I have been amazed to watch how God has taken the church's passion for missions and increased it greatly, resulting in so many of our people going on mission locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. One of my greatest joys as pastor of this church over the last thirteen years has been that of seeing the "missions bug" catch hold in the lives of so many while simultaneously bringing many more into our church family who already held that same passion.

This last week, our church experienced a great Kingdom victory as we saw a significant step occur in a mission partnership that has been five years in the making. Back in 2012, we joined retired missionary/pastor Garry Eudy in an effort to start a Baptist Church in San Andres, Peten, in Guatemala. Beginning the work in partnership with one of the flagship churches of the Guatemala Baptist Convention based in Guatemala City, we did what we've come to know well--holding a medical clinic, while doing evangelism and holding a VBS with local kids.

Continuing this work over the last five years, we've sought to work with Garry and the Guatemalans to identify and install a pastor who could start a new church in this location. This year, after much waiting and praying, God blessed us with a young pastor and his wife who have taken on the task of starting a new church with enthusiasm and excitement, thus taking a major forward step in what Garry referred to as a "pioneering work" in that area of the country that he hopes other churches will emulate.

The new pastor's name is Wilson Contreras, and he is joined by his wife Rosie, who--by his own testimony--said "yes" to this new calling even before he did. At the young age of twenty-two, it's amazing to realize that they were both teenagers when we started this work five years ago. Please be in prayer for the two of them as the settle into a new area and dive into this new work.

In our second year of working in San Andres, we were joined by Locust Fork Baptist Church, a like-minded sister church just up the road from us, and God has blessed our work each year and grown relationships among our two congregations that have proven encouraging and fruitful. Our hope is to see this relationship grow and flourish in the years to come, even as both of our church are simultaneously undergoing a pastoral transition (their long-time pastor, Rufus Harris, is retiring at the end of this month), and as David Lucas, who has led and organized the trip each year, is retiring.

When all was said and done at the end of this week, the medical clinic had seen 835 patients, the eye clinic had seen 378, the average number of children in VBS was 80 and we saw 33 people come to Christ through our evangelistic efforts. Hallelujah and amen!

What a blessing to be a part of a church that is engaged in missions! What's even better, is that while our team was in Guatemala, yet another team was working in Montgomery, Alabama, and some of our members also headed off to Greece to work with refugees. How wonderful! 

It is my sincere prayer that missions involvement will always be a critical core value of the life of this church, and increasingly so. May God bless this church family as we engage in His work!

Grace and peace,


Where God Guides ...

JUly 17, 2017

(Today's article is written by Associate Pastor, Nate French.)

In 2005, I had the privilege of serving with one of our mission teams in Venezuela. Our goal that week was to share the gospel with the people of Venezuela by providing medical clinics, eye examinations, and kids clubs in the different areas where we would serve.

Months before the team was scheduled to depart, our church prepared for this project. People purchased and donated medicines, counted and packed pills, and purchased and donated eyeglasses, children’s materials, and other supplies. As the different supplies were collected, volunteers sorted and packed the supplies in large red and black cases for transport to Venezuela. Each team member would take one personal suitcase and one case of supplies on the trip. I do not remember the exact number of cases we packed, but I do remember it was more than twenty.

On the day of our departure, we distributed the cases among the team members and each team member checked their luggage. Everything went very smoothly at check-in. After many months of planning, prayer, and preparation, we boarded our plane enthusiastic and excited to see what the Lord would do over the next week.

When we landed in Venezuela everything went smoothly at first. We deplaned and gathered our luggage. I loaded three of the supply cases on a luggage cart, grabbed my luggage, went through customs, and walked outside the terminal to wait for everyone else. A few minutes later, one of our team members came outside and told me that I needed to come back into the terminal. When I got back into the terminal, I learned that our supply cases were being confiscated. Over the next few hours, our team leaders tried to negotiate for the release of our supplies, but at the end of the evening we left the terminal with only a few of the cases. The vast majority of our supplies – including the medicines for the medical clinic – were confiscated. We left the terminal that evening confused, deflated, and a little unsure of how we would proceed.

As we processed the loss of our supplies, we began to discuss how and if we could proceed as planned. We believed that God led us to go to Venezuela. And we believed that He had provided what we needed to minister there. So, believing the old adage that, “Where God guides, He provides”, our team leaders led us to move forward with our mission. I am very thankful that they did, because we saw God work in miraculous ways that week. We knew we needed medicines, so team members sacrificially cut their personal medications in half and donated those to the clinic.  They also personally funded the purchase of additional medications from local pharmacies. When we finally made it to our mission sites, we found that our Venezuelan partners were able and eager to assist us in ministry and even added elements that we had not planned like a drama ministry. Time and time again, God provided for our needs that week and we enjoyed a very successful and God-exalting mission.

We found the old adage to be very true that week in Venezuela - Where God guides, He provides. God’s provision was different than what we expected and required more faith on our part, but it was exactly what we needed when we needed it. And through our experience, we each learned to trust God a little more.

As you walk through life this week, where is God guiding you? Will you follow Him there and trust Him to provide for you? I hope you will because our faith pleases and honors God and, because He is our loving Father, it also brings us good. 

Your brother in Christ,


The Importance of Relationships

July 10, 2017

If there's anything I've learned in more than three decades of ministry, it's that relationships are incredibly important. As I've mentioned many times from the pulpit and in writing, it's impossible to read Scripture and--if you're truly paying attention--miss the implications that our human relationships have for our relationship with God. In addition to their importance in terms of our walk with God and obedience to Him, our relationships to a great extent determine our happiness and contentment in life.

The importance of my own personal relationships has been highlighted recently, now that I am in the last few weeks of my tenure as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist. Over the thirteen years that my family and I have called LPBC our church home, we've developed strong, close bonds here, and it's the week-to-week, sometimes day-to-day interaction with church family that comes along with those relationships that we will miss the most.

Certainly, I will miss preaching every week. When you're called to preach, so much of who you are and the passions that you hold are bound up in the public exposition of God's word. The prophet Jeremiah referred to this phenomenon as being like a burning fire in his bones that he could not hold in (Jeremiah 20:9). My new position in the academic world will not likely lend itself to such weekly preaching engagements, and that will be a big adjustment for me. Although it may bring a variety of preaching and speaking opportunities in a variety of places over time, it will not be able to duplicate or replace the special and unique character of preaching weekly in the same place to the same people as you walk with them on the path of spiritual growth.

Another thing I will miss greatly is worshiping at LPBC. I enjoy our worship style and the intimate closeness that comes along with being a church of our size, and all of that is difficult to find in a church. I enjoy the music we sing, and I enjoy singing it with my church family. I love the sound of our choir and of our congregation as we rejoice together. Over these last few Sundays, I have truly savored our worship experiences, knowing that for me they are growing fewer and more precious.

Most of all, however, the absence of my continual interaction with all of you as church family and friends, as brothers and sisters, as prayer partners and as fellow workers is the thing that will leave the largest void in my life. Of course, just because I won't be at LPBC as pastor doesn't mean that those relationships will not continue. Indeed, I intend that they will! In addition to the fact that Beth and I will still be in the same geographic location for the foreseeable future, we also have the blessing of technology that will allow us to keep up with all of you in the years to come, so we have some distinct advantages in our favor as we seek to maintain our relationships with you.

On the other side of all of this, the time that you are about to go through as a congregation will be one that will require you to give careful attention to the maintaining and strengthening of your relationships as a church family. Any time that a family goes through a time of major transition, there is the potential for disunity, disharmony and disruption. The way a church family prevents any of that is by practicing the relational principles laid down for us in Scripture.

There, in God's word, we are called to bear with one another, to be patient with one another, to be kind and compassionate toward one another, to be gracious and merciful to one another and, above all, to love one another. We are commanded to reconcile any grievances we have with each other and to practice the art (and hard work) of forgiveness and restoration. When we do have differences that arise, or when we feel that we've been wronged, we are to speak to one another honestly and lovingly, seeking not just to air our grievances--and certainly not to seek revenge--but rather to bring our relationships back into godly, righteous working order.

So, as Beth and I conclude our time here at LPBC, know that we will be keeping up with you, and we hope you'll do the same with us. Also know that we will be praying for you, asking God to keep you close to Him and to each other. And, please know we'll be praying that God will lead you to ever-greener pastures, giving you great Kingdom success as you follow Him.

Grace and peace,



Next Steps

June 25, 2017

(Today's article is written by Associate Pastor, Nate French.)

On Sunday, June 18, Pastor Scott shared some very important news with our faith family about a new step of faith that God is calling him to take. He announced that he is resigning as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist Church effective August 6 in order to become the Executive Director for Christian Ministry at Samford University. When he first shared this news with me, I must say that I was a little surprised. I was not surprised that he was offered this role. I believe he is the perfect man for this role and is uniquely called, gifted, qualified, and placed to do a great work for God’s kingdom through this new work at Samford University. I guess my surprise was just because I did not expect this development at this time.

As I began to process this news, one of the first questions that came to my mind was, “What’s next?” In this article, I want to share with you the next steps we will take as a faith family to begin the process of searching for our next Pastor and to honor Pastor Scott and Beth for their thirteen years of faithful service.

According to our by-laws, the first step to take when the office of Pastor is vacated is for the Chairman of Deacons to choose four active Deacons to serve together with him to nominate a seven person Pastor Search Committee. John Thomas, our current Chairman of Deacons, has chosen the following four active Deacons to serve with him in this step – Gregg Deitsch, Grant Eudy, Greg Owings, and Mark Tarnakow. These five men met twice last week to begin the process of identifying and nominating candidates to serve on the Pastor Search Committee. In a brief time, they have already invested a great deal of prayer and thought in this process and are doing very good work. Please pray for these five men as they continue their work.

When the five Deacons have identified the seven nominees to serve on the Pastor Search Committee, the Pastor Search Committee will be presented first to the full Deacon body for approval and then to the church for election in a special called business meeting. Once the Pastor Search Committee is in place, they will be responsible for: 1) Arranging for pulpit supply; 2) Identifying and nominating an Interim Pastor; and 3) Identifying and nominating a Pastor.

The Pastor Search Committee will play a vital role in the next steps we take as a faith family. I ask now you to begin praying for the men and women who will serve on that committee. Pray that God will lead them to serve. Pray that God will grant them great wisdom and discernment. Pray that God will guard their hearts and protect them from the schemes of our enemy. And pray that God will guide them to the Pastor that He is preparing for our faith family.
As we begin the search for our next Pastor, we also want to take time to honor and celebrate Pastor Scott and Beth for their thirteen years of faithful service. Pastor Scott will continue to preach each Sunday through August 6, with the exception of July 16 when he will be with our mission team in Guatemala. One great way to celebrate and honor him is to be present in worship for the next six Sundays. I realize that this is the summer and that many of us will take vacations over the next six weeks, but when you are in town, I encourage you to join us for worship on Sunday mornings.

Another way we plan to honor and celebrate Pastor Scott and Beth is by setting aside Sunday, July 30 to recognize them. During the 10:30am worship service that morning, we will take time to recognize and remember the impact they have had on our faith family through the last thirteen years. Following the worship service, we will enjoy a lunch together in their honor in the Fellowship Hall. 

God called Pastor Scott to take his next step of faith and God will lead us as we take ours. As we keep our eyes focused on Christ, we can trust that He will lead us to take the right next steps.

Your brother in Christ,

Whatever He Asks

JUNE 19, 2017

When I was 19 years old, finishing out my freshman year at Samford University, I experienced one of the most seminal moments of my life. After having felt for several months that God was calling me into some sort of ministry, I got on my face before Him and simply committed, "Lord, I will do whatever you ask."

Over the years, I have sought to hold firmly to that commitment, not knowing where it would take me or what it would mean for me and my family. Along the way, I have been blessed to have a wife who shares that commitment and holds to it along with me. What a blessing it has been to have my sweet Beth alongside me for this great adventure!

In recent weeks, God has made clear to Beth and me that His assignment for us is changing, and once again I find myself saying to Him, "Lord, I will do whatever you ask." This new assignment will be unlike anything I have ever done in my 32 years of ministry, as God will be transitioning me to a ministry of training young men and women for ministry at Samford University, my old alma mater. 

Officially, my new job title will be Executive Director of Christian Ministry, and I will be working over the next year to develop the program and curriculum for the new Christian Ministry department that will be established in Samford's School of Arts. In light of this new direction, I announced my resignation as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist on Sunday morning. My last Sunday will be August 6, and I will begin my work at Samford on August 14.

While I am excited about this new path that God is laying out before me, Beth and I both are saddened to be stepping away from LPBC, which has been our church family for the last 13 years. In our 28 years of marriage, that is the longest that Beth and I have served at any one church, and for me, it is the longest I have been at any church, with the exception of the one in which I was raised.

Although my official role as pastor will soon be coming to an end, I will continue to be a friend and a brother. As such, I--along with Beth--will pray for you and cheer for your Kingdom success in the months and years to come.

As I step away in a matter of weeks, I do so with great confidence in the staff and lay leadership of our church. I have no doubt that they will serve prayerfully and wisely during this important time of transition. I also have confidence that the congregation at large will buckle down and begin a time of intensive praying for the leadership and for the next pastor, who God is already preparing to step in at just the right time as the new "under-shepherd."

Beth and I deeply appreciate all of the kind and encouraging words that you have expressed to us since the announcement on Sunday, and we are beyond grateful for all of the people who have already committed to pray for us as we make this huge transition.

When all is said and done, our hope is that we all have aimed for the same goal--to bring glory and honor to God through our obedience. Whatever He asks of us.

Grace and peace,



A True Hero

JUNE 12, 2017

Several years ago, I had the wonderful privilege of performing the funeral service of a true American war hero. His name was Malcolm Helton, and as an army infantry sergeant in World War II, he had earned both a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for valor during combat. He was also the father of one of my closest friends, Rogers Helton, and it was in this context I had come to know him, long after he his memory and his capacity to interact with others had been deeply impaired by Alzheimer's.

Mr. Helton, a native of Peterman, Alabama who served in the 6th Calvary Regiment (The "Super Sixth") of General George Patton's Third Army, was awarded the Bronze Star for leading a squad of men twenty miles behind German lines to find a bridge for their tanks to cross. He did so successfully, allowing their tank battalion to penetrate the enemy's defensive perimeter and to set them on the run.

Later, Mr. Helton displayed tremendous courage as he led a small squad of men, under intense enemy machine gun fire, in clearing a path through a minefield for their tanks to travel through safely, once again allowing them to engage the enemy and to force them into retreat. For his actions and bravery that day, Mr Helton was awarded a Silver Star, the U. S. military's third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat, only exceeded by the Distinguished Service Cross (U. S. Army) and the Medal of Honor.

What was truly fascinating about the above is that his own son was completely unaware of his dad's Silver Star until after Mr. Helton's death, only discovering it while going through a box of his dad's old keepsakes following his passing. In addition to the Silver Star medals and citations, his son found a book entitled The 68th Tank Battalion in Combat, a history of the battalion in which Mr. Helton had served that was written shortly after the war in 1946 by two of the battalion lieutenants.

There, on page 7 of the book was a full-length photograph of the young Staff Sergeant Helton, standing in full combat uniform, with the following caption: "S/Sgt. Malcolm Helton--The Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant who performed his every task in an outstanding manner." Although he had been well-recognized by others in his younger years for bravery, for diligence in his duties and for his willingness to put himself in harm's way for the good of the battalion and the completion of the mission, Mr. Helton was humble to the degree that he had never even mentioned all of his heroics to his own son, choosing instead just to live a quiet and exemplary life as a husband, a father, an employee of John Deere and a leader in his small, rural church in Camden, Alabama.

And perhaps this is one of the greatest signs of a true hero: a true hero simply does what he's supposed to do, never boastfully or proudly, but rather with diligence, with courage and with an eye toward the greater good, not seeking recognition for himself, but seeking rather the advancement of the mission.

Few of us will ever be awarded a medal or a citation or receive recognition for the things we do in this life. In fact, we may step out of this life having never received any sort of medal or trophy for having been a true friend, a loving mother or father, an obedient child of God or a servant of the cross of Christ. Truth is, we may step into eternity without anyone even knowing about the prayers we've prayed, the people we've encouraged, the testimonies we've given, the seeds we've planted and the people we've won to Christ along the way.

And yet, that's how it works with true heroes. They simply do their duty, not for recognition or for glory, but out of faithful obedience to the orders of their Commander, for the accomplishment of His great mission. And He surely sees it all and rewards it accordingly.

I thank God for true heroes.

Grace and peace,




JUNE 5, 2017

This week is Vacation Bible School at our church, and the building is packed wall to wall with kids and adult helpers. This year marks my thirteenth VBS at Liberty Park, and I can say without any hedging whatsoever that it's a time that I look forward to each year. It's noisy, it's loud, it's crowded and it's tiring, and I wouldn't have it any other way, because I absolutely love it.

As with every other VBS, this one has fallen into place after a great deal of planning and long hours put in by our Children's Minister, Matthew Marsh, and a host of volunteers. Before this week is done, many more adults and students will have given of their time, energies and giftedness to make the week a success, and I cannot express enough to all of them my deep gratitude for what they do and the spirit in which they do it.

Over the last couple of years, we've had an addition to our regular VBS crowd as well. CampUs--a ministry for special needs children that was started and is run by Jill Cunningham and some other ladies from Samford University's school of nursing--has held its VBS alongside ours for three days in the middle of the week. In the same fashion, they'll be joining us this week as well, and we're greatly anticipating their presence and their awesome ministry to children and families.

Of course, the goal of all this effort is not just to give kids a week of fun and excitement (and moms a break for a few hours for five days). No, the objective of Vacation Bible School is to communicate the Gospel to children in a way that they will hear it, believe it and receive it, hoping that they at some point will place their faith in Jesus Christ, trusting Him for their life and their salvation.

Why is it important for us to spend so much time and effort to focus on communicating the Gospel to kids? Here's the reason: studies have shown time and time again that people are most likely to become believers in Christ somewhere between the ages of four and fourteen. Around 85% of Americans who become Christians will establish their faith somewhere in that age span. After that time, the numbers drop off precipitously, with only around 10% making that decision between the ages of fifteen and thirty, and only 1% after that.

So, obviously, if we are going to have a major impact for Christ in the lives of individuals--and furthermore, in the life of our nation and the world beyond--our best investment of our time, energy and other resources is in seeking to lead children to a place of faith in Christ, thus establishing in them a foundation and worldview on which to build their lives.

For the above reason, VBS week is far more to me than a time of fun and excitement. It is much more than the cool themes and the catchy songs, more than good work done by willing volunteers. VBS is perhaps our church's biggest annual investment that has the potential to pay off tremendous dividends in eternity. It is our way of having an impact in the faith of a child, and hopefully, of that child's family as well.

This is truly why I love VBS, because of it's incredible Kingdom value. I hope you feel the same way, now that you know the rest of the story.

Grace and peace,



Heroes of the Faith

MAY 25, 2017

The Bible is filled with people who we would consider to be heroes of the faith--people whose faithfulness, selflessness, sacrifice and obedience place them in a category of human beings that we deem to be worth honoring and emulating. Jesus Christ would be at the top of that list, of course, but there is a whole slew of ordinary folks like us who we would hold in high esteem as well. 

Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Hannah, David, Elijah, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, Mary, Peter, John, Stephen and Paul are all names that believers recognize as being connected with people of scriptural prominence whose stories inspire and instruct us in our own faith walk. There are many more in addition to these, and from each one we draw strength, insight, wisdom and understanding that serve to encourage us as followers of Christ.

In addition to these great heroes of the Bible, most of us have people in our lives--people often close to us, like parents, grandparents, friends or church family members--from whom we draw inspiration and who we look up to as faith models and mentors. In my own life, I've been blessed to be surrounded with many such individuals, including our guest speaker on Sunday, June 4--Dr. Carol Spears, who serves as a missionary doctor at the Tenwek Hospital, a Christian healthcare facility in Kenya, Africa that is among the largest Christian mission hospitals in the world.

Several years ago, early in my tenure as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist, Dr. Spears--who received her medical education at the UAB School of Medicine--came and spoke at our church on a Sunday morning. At that time, I didn't know anything about her story or her ministry, but I was always glad--even as I am now--to hear the testimony of someone with a missionary spirit whose life was dedicated to serving God (and serving others) abroad.

I was not prepared for what I heard that day--honestly one of the most powerful and compelling testimonies that I have ever heard from a contemporary missionary. The story of her personal experiences that she unfolded to our church family revealed how her God-given calling and desire to serve the people of a far-away land overcame some of the most incredible and painful obstacles that likely would have broken the resolve and commitment of most of us.

That's why, when I read months ago in her missions newsletter that Dr. Spears would be back in America through July of this year, I immediately emailed her to see if she was willing and able to come back to LPBC and share with us once again her powerful story of suffering, anguish, forgiveness and commitment. She gladly agreed to do so, and I'm excited and enthusiastic to hear from her again.

The last time she was with us, God used Dr. Spears to challenge and encourage me strongly in my own faith walk, and my prayer is that He will do the same this time for all of us who hear her speak on June 4. That being said, I want to encourage you first, to make plans to attend our June 4 worship service and second, to invite someone you know to attend along with you. I can assure you that God will bless you and inspire you as you hear from a someone I consider to be a modern-day hero of the faith.

Grace and peace,



THe Silent Memorial

MAY 22, 2017

On Monday, May 29, we as a nation will celebrate Memorial Day, a time which is set aside for us specifically to honor and remember men and women who have lost their lives in defense of our nation. As is the case each year, that day will be marked by a series of solemn and reverent events at the Arlington National Cemetery, including the Presidential Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier and an observance ceremony in the adjacent Memorial Amphitheater.

If you've ever visited these memorials, you certainly recall the somberness of these places and the appropriate dignity, formality and weightiness of everything that is seen and done there. If you've never been there, I highly recommend that you take the time to visit and to soak in the history and the spirit of the place. If you have children who are old enough to understand, a trip to Arlington provides a wonderful opportunity for you to educate them regarding the sacrifice that has made and kept our country free, and the quiet and reflective setting helps to instill in them a fitting respect for the noble principles of honor, service and sacrifice.

A few years ago, my family and I were honored to spend several days at the home of Marta and General Ron Burgess, who at that time lived at Fort Myer, the military base that adjoins the Arlington National Cemetery. I clearly recall how, each morning, we stood silently on their front porch as we watched the two caisson teams go by, one with six black horses, the other with six gray horses, which would carry the caskets of our heroes as they were taken to be laid to rest. Immediately behind them was a lone soldier guiding the Riderless Horse, which was a stark sight, with its empty saddle and boots turned backward in the stirrups, symbolizing that the one represented by it would never ride again.

Unlike the changing of the guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, which we saw later in the day and which was well-attended and documented by dozens of people, the silent procession of the caisson teams and the riderless horse through the streets of Fort Myer went on day after day, mostly unknown and unnoticed by the outside world, but carried out nonetheless with utmost discipline and excellence. I was clearly reminded, as we daily watched this quiet ceremony, that there are times that we need to do what we need to do simply because it should be done. Even if no one else notices, even if there is no recognition or applause, there are things we should do based alone on the principle that they should be done.

As we approach this year's Memorial Day celebration, let me commend to you a couple of silent practices worth committing yourself to in silence and in solitude:

The prayer of gratitude. The Bible reminds us continually that we are to be thankful and that we are to express our thanks to God. In Psalm 100, we are told to "enter into His gates with thanksgiving," and in Luke 17, we read of the ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus, nine of whom went on their way, while only one returned to give thanks. The contrast between the grateful and ungrateful is clearly highlighted for us. And then there's 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which reminds us that our true duty is to "give thanks in all circumstances." As Americans--and much more so as believers in Christ--we have much for which to be thankful.

The commitment to obedience. Honestly, many of the people who gave their lives for our country had no grand vision of self-sacrifice. As they stormed the beaches, fought for the high ground, took to the air or sailed the seas, they often did so initially as matter of obedience to their superiors, knowing that those with authority over them had a grand plan for victory and that their obedient actions were necessary for carrying out that plan. Likewise, we are told in Scripture that "to obey is better than sacrifice," (1 Samuel 15:22). Sacrifice, in and of itself, can be misdirected and misguided (consider many who have sacrificed themselves for evil purposes), but obedience to God--which may require sacrifice--will always yield a positive and eternally-meaningful result.

As you take time this Memorial Day to remember and to honor those who have died in service to our country--and I hope you will--I encourage you to create some alone time and to make it meaningful.

Grace and peace,



The Class of 2017

MAY 15, 2017

This is the time of year when we begin the annual rite of holding graduation commencement ceremonies all around our nation. Whether preschool, high school, college or graduate school, these times of recognition serve as important milestones in the lives of the individuals and families involved, marking significant steps of advancement and even major life changes that are soon to come.

As a church family, we rejoice with those who rejoice as they graduate, regardless of the level, and we make it a point annually especially to recognize those who have completed a step in their education process from high school and above. This coming Sunday--May 21--will serve as our Graduate Recognition Sunday for 2017, and we'll have the joy of honoring our church family members who serve as this year's "crop" of graduates.

Before we get to Sunday, however, there is one special graduate I would like to recognize personally. While I know his desire is not to be singled out for his latest academic achievement, I believe that the completion of his latest degree program certainly deserves to be known and recognized by his family of faith. The person I'm referring to is our student minister, Wesley Braswell, who just last week completed his work for the Master of Divinity degree from The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, which, as a Southern Baptist seminary, is one of the premiere theological school in the world. While Wesley will be recognizing our other graduates this Sunday, I hope you'll take time to recognize and congratulate him, thus helping to commemorate his awesome achievement. 

As a veteran of a few graduations myself (both mine and those of others), this time of the year always makes me think back on all of the commencement speeches I've heard over the years, most of which were okay and a very few of which were great (and a couple that were just really bad). One of my favorites--one that I only read about because I was not present to experience it in person--was given in 2015 by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to the graduating class of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic all-girls school in Bethesda, Maryland, from which his granddaughter was graduating.

In his address, Justice Scalia tackled some of the most overused cliches in graduation speeches, including these:
  • We face unprecedented challenges. Justice Scalia noted that the difficulties facing humanity today are by no means new, expressing his own doubts that "the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different from what they ever were."
  • To thine own self be true. Regarding this piece of advice, Justice Scalia declared that is could either "be very good or very bad advice, depending on who you think you are." How true!
  • Never compromise your principles. Unless, as Justice Scalia's pointed out, "your principles are Adolf Hitler's," in which case you should "compromise them as much as you can."
  • Believe deeply, and follow your beliefs. Once again, Justice Scalia nailed it, highlighting the present cultural notion that this is the most important thing that we can do. He went on to instruct the graduates that "it is much less important how committed you are than what you are committed to." Amen to that!
As we recognize our graduates this coming Sunday, my hope and my concern is that each of them is listening to the right advice and following the right path of commitment--that one that God Himself has laid out before them. After all, they are the future!

And yes, I meant to use that one last cliche...

Grace and peace,




MAY 8, 2017

The month of May is always an interesting one for us in terms of all of the recognitions that come with each new Sunday. As we celebrate each one, we are reminded of the importance of the people in our lives who mean so much to all of us and who make a difference in shaping us into who we are as a church family. Being a family--the family of God and a church family--it's important for us to recognize and to celebrate each other from time to time, encouraging one another and reminding ourselves of the significance of each life to our own and to the family as a whole.

On May 7, for instance, we honored our senior adults. Now, to be honest, there's no honor itself in just living a long time, although we'll often see stories in the news that pique our interest about people who live beyond a hundred years old, just because that's such a rarity. For us, the recognition of our senior adults has built into it and understanding of the enormous role that they play in terms of bringing maturity, wisdom and experience to the table. 

We also recognize in so many of our senior adults the years and years of commitment that they have given to God's work, and we are right in expressing to them our appreciation for decades of faithfulness that is yet ongoing. What a blessing it is to us to have many brothers and sisters in Christ who, in their 80s and 90s, are still actively pursuing God's Kingdom work! Even those who are not able to do what they used to do physically have transitioned into becoming some of our best and greatest prayer warriors and encouragers.

On May 14, of course, we will celebrate Mother's Day, honoring the women who have already sacrificed of themselves just to bring us into the world! Once again, however, the simple production of progeny is not in itself alone something to be honored, but the nurturing, loving and giving spirit of a true mother is indeed worthy of our recognition, celebration and praise. We are so blessed as a church to have a wonderful contingent of moms, from younger to older, whose nurturing and caring spirits impact us all, and we thank God for the influence they carry in raising their children to love and honor the Lord in their own lives.

On May 21we will celebrate our graduates. Whether they are graduating from high school, college or graduate school, we'll rejoice as a church family with those who rejoice, in recognition of their great achievements. Just as we celebrate those who have poured into our lives--like our senior adults and our moms--we also can pour into the lives of others as we celebrate them. Such is the case with our graduates. As we, their church family, glory in their accomplishments, we hopefully build them up to go on to bigger and greater things, reminding them along the way that the greatest things we can accomplish are those that have eternal value to them.

Finally, on May 28, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we will honor and remember those individuals who have given their lives in service to our country and in protection of our freedom. It's vital for us that we never forget, take for granted or demean in any way the sacrifice of men and women who have stepped into the teeth of the enemy, offering life and limb to secure our freedom. Those who have fallen in battle while protecting the greater good represent the best instincts that we have as human beings.

As you can see, all four Sundays of May have celebrations built into them, and we are blessed as a family to have so much in each other to celebrate. As we do so, let's remember the words of Paul in Romans 12 about living in community with other believers. There, in verse 10, Paul writes, "Honor one another above yourselves." As we honor and celebrate and recognize one another, let's do so with deep gratitude to God for the gift that we have in this wonderful church family!

Grace and peace,



A Call to Prayer

May 1, 2017

This Thursday--May 4--marks the 66th observance of America's National Day of Prayer. As with each previous year, this day will be distinguished from the other 364 by a nationwide call to Christians to pray for our nation and for all of the entities that influence her health and welfare, including our government (local, state and national), our military, our merchants, our media, our schools, our churches and our families.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force ( is an organization whose mission "is to mobilize prayer in America and to encourage personal repentance and righteousness in the culture." Each year, the Task Force seeks to fulfill its mission by providing resources for individuals, churches and other organizations that specifically promote this national emphasis on prayer, and they also provide leadership--usually Christians with some national prominence--who both encourage and instruct people in regard to how to pray.

This year, Dr. Davd Butts, author of several books on prayer and president of Harvest Prayer Ministries, is serving as the chairman of the Task Force board and has posted an article on the National Day of Prayer website asking Americans to pray with these five emphases in mind:
  1. Protection - Due to America's place in the world, we are always in danger of attack from enemies who might wish to inflict harm on us. Dr. Butts asks that we as Americans pray for God's divine protection over our nation.
  2. Presence - For us as a nation, nothing is more important than the presence of the living God. In our churches, in our homes, in our schools, in our workplaces and in the halls of government, we need God to be there and to be actively working in the lives of His people.
  3. Peace - With a nation that is deeply divided from top to bottom, we wonder if there's any way we will ever be able to be at peace with each other. While our best efforts at peace will certainly fall short, God's divine intervention can bring peace where there is none. We should pray as well for Americans to find peace with God through faith in Christ!
  4. Provision - In humility, we need to recognize as a nation that our prosperity is a gracious gift from God, and we need to pray for God to continue to care for our needs, all the while giving generously to help others who are struggling to meet their own needs.
  5. Proficiency - The leaders of our nation truly need wisdom on high to govern in these days. With all of the challenges that confront us on so many levels, we need to pray for our governmental leaders to have wisdom and skill to solve our nation's problems and to lead for the benefit of the common good.
I hope you'll take some time on Thursday, May 4, to pray in regard to the above emphases. The power of even a few believers praying in tandem with one another is a powerful thing; imagine that scenario multiplied hundreds of thousands (if not millions!) of times over as we prayer for our nation with one heart and one mind!

On a personal level, I would like to ask all of you to pray for the family of Linda Voigt, who passed away in her sleep sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Linda was one of the most upbeat, positive, encouraging and committed people I've ever met, and there is no way that we can replace such a bright light as her!

As much as we will miss her as a church family, let us also pray with thanksgiving--certainly for the legacy of her life and for her many, many years of ministering to others, but also for the fact that we know where she is, safe at home, completely healed, completely whole.

Grace and peace,



Home Run Life

APRIL 24, 2017

Have you ever felt that discouraging sense that you're striking out in life? Perhaps you feel that way in regard to your commitment to God, or in your personal relationships, or even internally as you take stock of your life--what you hoped it would be as compared to what it has become. Wouldn't you love it if someone could point you to a more fulfilling life, like the one that Jesus speaks of in John 10:10, where He says that He has come to give us "life to the full"?

Starting this past Sunday and continuing on for the next three weeks, we're going to be using a baseball metaphor--the "Home Run Life"--to talk about four basic areas in which we need to discover and deploy God's game plan for success in our lives. On Sunday, we began at "home plate," which represents our connection with God. For every single individual who plays the game of life, it all begins and ends at home plate. God calls each of us into relationship with Him, and in the end, we will be judged according to whether or not we knew Him. So, we all are called to step up to home plate and to connect.

Next Sunday, we'll move to "first base" and talk about character, that internal component of self that God is seeking to transform into the image of Jesus Christ. The problem that a lot of folks have these days is that they are more focused on being a character than they are on developing character. Being a character draws attention to the self, which we as humans all crave, but a biblical approach to character focuses on placing self on the cross and humbly receiving from God a new heart and a new mind.

On the third Sunday, we'll cover "second base"--the importance of community, which refers to our relationships. I've often challenged people to read the Bible from a relational perspective--primarily in regard to our relationship with God, but also in regard to our relationships with other people. It's amazing how much of the Bible speaks to how we deal with others! If we're honest with ourselves, however, we'll admit that much of the way we handle our earthly relationships is based on emotion rather than on God's direction. We'll look into Scripture that Sunday to see what God has to say to us about hitting a home run when it comes to dealing with the relationships in our lives.

Finally, on the last Sunday of the series we'll round "third base" and address the issue of competence, which we're going to define as "doing all things with excellence, to the glory of God." We're often quick to depend on our own competence and to give ourselves the credit for our successes, but there is tremendous power for life and for Kingdom success waiting for us if we'll simply learn dependence on God as a primary focus of our life and work. God delights in blessing His children, but we're often too contented with pig slop instead. As we talk about competence, we'll focus on the source of our true competence--God Himself.

I hope you'll engage and enjoy our look at the Home Run Life. As you do, remember that we all have to step up to the plate, run the bases in order and touch every base along the way if we're going to hit a home run!

Grace and peace,




APRIL 17, 2017

There are times in each of our lives that stand out as key moments for us, occasions when things happen that we know we'll remember and hold onto for years to come. Easter Sunday was such a moment for me and for our staff, as we enjoyed a wonderful time of worship, fellowship and outreach at Liberty Park Middle School.

As I reflect back not only on the day itself but also on the year leading up to it, my heart is grateful on so many levels for what we shared together as a church family and for all that happened to lead us to that day. First, I'm so grateful to God for placing in the hearts and minds of our ministers the idea of taking this big leap in the first place. About a year ago, our ministers took a few days to go on a prayer and planning retreat, and it was during this trip that the seeds of an off-campus Easter worship service were planted in our minds. Since that time, God has opened doors--easily and clearly, I might add--and has guided the planning and execution every step along the way. I look forward with eager expectation to see what He will do with this day, both in us and in the lives of others.

Second, I want to thank the guys who serve alongside of me, our ministers. They are the ones who did most of the heavy lifting (figuratively and literally) to organize, to sweat the details and to bring this special worship service into reality. They are a gifted team. All the rest of our staff members had some level of involvement as well, helping us think through things, organize, communicate, advertise and carry out the work of making it happen. They also are a gifted and dedicated group.

I would also be completely remiss if I failed to thank Mrs. Kacy Pierce, the principal of Liberty Park Middle School. From the first time I approached her in August 2016 about the possibility of us having our Easter worship at the school, she has been completely enthusiastic and incredibly helpful and accommodating. Many of us who have had children in LPMS already had an appreciation for her administrative excellence, but my esteem for her through these months of planning has become immense. 

Another person who is due a great debt of gratitude is Marcie Haynie, who gave a tremendous amount of her time over the Easter weekend to make all of this possible for us. Every time we were at the school, she had to be there too as a school staff representative, often for countless hours, and she went beyond the call of duty, even helping us clean up and put things back in order when it was all said and done. 

Finally, I want to thank you, my Liberty Park Baptist Church family, for all of your prayers, enthusiasm and hard work in carrying out this Easter celebration. I have just been amazed at how encouraging, how inviting, how prayerful, how hard-working and how hospitable you have been throughout the entire time, from start to finish. So many of you volunteered to serve, in every way from praying to physical labor, and I was glowing with a godly pride over you on Sunday (and really the entire weekend), as you were at your absolute best. What a wonderful family you are!

On another note, however, I want to encourage and ask all of you to remember how Sunday felt to you. I want you to hold onto the excitement, the enthusiasm, the hospitality and the spiritual readiness that went into that day. My reason for saying this is that I think Sunday was not the end of something, but rather the beginning of something that God desires to do in us as a church. I would be out of bounds if I tried to tell you what that something is, but i can already see that He has awakened in us a desire to do more to reach our community and to take big leaps of faith that move us out of our comfort zone.

What I hope is that we'll develop some spiritual "muscle memory," that phenomenon that happens physically when we've repeated an action so often that our body "remembers" and can duplicate the action without us thinking about it. When our reflex as a church is to pray, to reach out, to invite, to be hospitable, to be salt and light, to be a Gospel witness--basically, to obey the Lord--then we've hit a new high-water mark as a church. I believe that this Easter moved us significantly in that direction.

I love and appreciate you,




APRIL 10, 2017

For months now, we as a church have been reminding each other that "Easter is coming!" Well, Easter is here! This is the week, beginning with last Sunday--Palm Sunday--that we commemorate the last week of Jesus' earthly life, and there is much to commemorate. Often referred to as Holy Week or Passion Week, this Sunday-to-Sunday eight day period is the most important in the annual calendar and life of the church.

With Palm Sunday comes a reminder of the regal nature of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As He rode into Jerusalem that day on the colt of a donkey, to the cheers and adulation of the crowd, He fulfilled the messianic prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9:

     Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your 
     king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a 
     donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

As Holy Week continues on, we celebrate Maundy Thursday, also referred to as Holy Thursday. On this day in the original Easter week, Jesus experienced many things that we would all do well to call to remembrance. First, there was the preparation for the Passover meal, and his teachings at that meal that are highlighted in John 13-17. During this meal, Jesus revealed that He would be betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. He also taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be given to them, and He prayed a beautiful prayer over them that is recorded in John 17

After the meal, the disciples followed Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed and sweat drops of blood as He committed Himself completely to God's will, knowing that it would culminate in His terrible, wonderful sacrifice. Then, in fulfillment of His earlier claim, Judas turned Jesus over to authorities, who carried Him to the house of the High Priest to be questioned. It was during this time that Peter denied Jesus, just as He said He would do.

Good Friday comes next. I always felt that "Good Friday" was a bit of a misnomer, from the standpoint of what Jesus experienced. Although His sacrifice was certainly for our good, He took on Himself all of the punishment for all of our sin, becoming the perfect sacrifice for all of humanity. It was on this day, prior to the crucifixion, that Jesus stood before the High Priest, Annas, was questioned and physically beaten before the Sanhedrin, was dragged before Herod, and then was condemned to death by Pilate, at the demand of "the multitude."

The Good Friday agony and struggle of Jesus on the cross was recorded for us in the Gospels, along with the grace that He showed in taking care of His mother, Mary, and in assuring the thief crucified alongside Him that he would be with Jesus in paradise that day. This day comes to a close with Jesus' death, at which time the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom, a great earthquake occurs, and the graves of several people come open, as those within them are brought back to life. Finally, the body of Jesus is gathered and placed in a borrowed tomb, sealed up and guarded by soldiers.

And then comes Easter Sunday. What an amazing day of joy! What a wonderful surprise as Jesus--who had prophesied it multiple times--defeats death and is raised to life! The empty tomb declares that death has been conquered, that Jesus is Lord of all and that His death on our behalf is effectual for granting us forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. For these reasons, Easter is a day bursting forth with eternal hope, a day of impassioned rejoicing for all who believe.

As you walk through this week, I hope you'll take time each day--and especially in the days mentioned above--to thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus and for the life that is available to us through His resurrection. I hope you'll remember Jesus' promises regarding the Holy Spirit and the work He does in our lives. And, I hope you'll make much of this coming Sunday, because Easter is here!

Grace and peace,



Prepared for Easter?

April 3, 2017

Every Monday morning, one of my first orders of business is to check my emails that have accumulated over the weekend. Although I'll occasionally glance at emails on my phone between Friday and Sunday, they typically accumulate as I'm busy with other things--especially on Sundays--and don't have an opportunity to address them until I'm at my desk on Monday.

On this particular Monday--April 3rd--I received an email with the following subject line: "Are You Prepared for Easter Services?" The body of the email went on to offer a variety of resources to ministers who, I suppose, had not yet begun to think about Easter. As I read this, I could envision a pastor sitting at his desk, a mere 13 days before Easter, reading the email, then slapping himself on the forehead and yelling out, "Oh no! It's almost Easter!! And I haven't even begun to think about preparation for the biggest day on the Christian calendar and in the life of my church!"

(I would submit that such a pastor might not be cut out for long-term ministry.)

I only offer the above absurd illustration to highlight how ridiculous it would be to think that someone who's life's calling is to minister within the church could somehow forget or have it get past him that Easter was coming and that he should have already been fairly deep into his planning and preparation for that day. We would consider such a minister to be derelict in his duties, either due to ignorance or laziness. I mean, come on, how could you miss Easter?

As all of the above thoughts flooded through my mind, however, another, deeper, question floated to the forefront of my thinking: "How spiritually prepared am I for Easter services?" You see, it's one thing to have the music and the message ready, to have all the volunteers in place, to have the advertising taken care of, to have all the logistical "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed, but it's quite another to have one's heart prepared to celebrate the resurrection of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. When we look at it that way, the idea of preparing for Easter takes on a whole new meaning--one that I would submit is far more vital and important than the logistical and service planning. 

Some Christian traditions address this need for spiritual Easter preparation by observing the season of Lent, which comes with several practices intended to set the heart and mind on the last days of Jesus' physical life here on Earth, leading up to His death, burial and resurrection. For most Baptist and other evangelicals there is no equivalent season of Easter preparation, but we should not take this fact as license to ignore any sort of preparation altogether. With this thought in mind, let me offer a few suggestions for preparing yourself spiritually for Easter:
  • Start praying with Easter in focus. Now is a good time to start asking God to get your heart ready for this big day. Perhaps you should ask God to teach you something new this Easter regarding the significance of Christ's resurrection. Or, your focus may need to be on getting your heart right by asking for forgiveness and for the strength to turn away from sinful behaviors and to turn toward doing His will, thus honoring Christ with your obedience. Maybe you need to pray about who you could invite to participate in Easter services with you--perhaps family, friends, neighbors or co-workers who are unchurched or who don't know Christ.
  • Read the stories. Each of the four Gospels includes a recounting of the story of Christ's resurrection. Perhaps it's been a long while since you've read them. Easter is a great time to refresh yourself on this story, told from four different perspectives, and to remind yourself of the power of that moment when Jesus defeated death.
  • Give sacrificially of yourself. Spend some time praying about a way to honor the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the good news of His resurrection by serving someone in a special, sacrificial way. Or, make a generous Easter donation to your church or to a Christian organization that focuses on sharing the Gospel, like the North American Mission Board (NAMB). By giving generously to NAMB's Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, you ensure that church planters and other missionaries in the U.S. and Canada receive the funding they need to reach others for Christ.
The above are just a few ways to get you spiritually prepared for Easter, but they represent a good start in that direction. So let's get ready!

Grace and peace,



We're Family!

MARCH 27, 2017

As I prepared for my sermon last week, I had the opportunity to do a great deal of thinking about the nature of the church and how we, as its members, should function, biblically speaking. Initially, I spent some time trying to think of metaphors to use in regard to the church--illustrations that would help flesh out in my mind who we are and how we are to operate together. My primary source for such metaphorical illustrations, of course, was the Bible, which as usual proved to be the best and ultimate source of material for my thinking and my preaching.

After some initial thinking and reading, the three major metaphors I homed in on were these:

The church is the Body of Christ. This concept is clearly communicated in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. As the body of Christ, we are given the responsibility of carrying out the ministry of Christ--reconciling the world to God--and of being His representatives here on this earth (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). Because we typically think of our bodies as a single unit, it used to be difficult for me to consider how the various parts of my body might refuse to work together to accomplish what my brain was telling my body to do...until I got older. 

Now, it's not unusual for me to say things like, "I wish my back would cooperate with the rest of me," or "I wish my legs would do what my head is telling them to do." As I grow older and various parts of my body fail to operate at peak efficiency like the used to, I've grown to understand in a much better way how the church, as the Body of Christ can get out of sync and out of sorts with itself, thus preventing the whole body from doing what it needs to do. Thankfully, however, we as the church have the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, which can bring all of the Body's members together and empower them to function in perfect cooperation under the guidance from the Head, which is Jesus Christ.

The church is the Army of Christ. Although this metaphor is not as explicitly stated in Scripture as the previous one, it is clearly hinted at in several places. Paul, for example, occasionally refers to his ministry co-workers as his "fellow soldiers" (see Philippians 2:25 and Philemon v.2), and in Ephesians 6:11 he calls on us as believers to "put on the whole armor of God." He also tells Timothy to serve as "a good soldier of Jesus Christ."

Like an army, the church has a mission to carry out, and we fight a deadly enemy in hostile territory. The accomplishment of our mission requires that we all function as a unit, each one doing his/her part, and that we "have each others' back" when engaged in battle with the enemy. Likewise, it's key that we have good leaders and strong morale and that we remain in "fighting shape," properly fed and exercised (spiritually speaking), ready to go at all times. Another key factor of being a strong army is that we care for our "wounded," helping them to get back to health and back into the fray as quickly and strongly as possible.

The church is the Family of God. One of the most commonly-used words in the Bible to denote believers is the word "brothers" (which is used generically and is meant to include all of our "sisters" as well). When it comes to the various biblical metaphors for the church, this one may be my favorite, because it really focuses on the relationships that we are supposed to have with one another. As such, it inherently highlights the bonds of love that we are to have for each other and reminds us of how we are supposed to "be there" for one another.

As family, we are by nature "for" each other, cheering one another along, helping, supporting and caring for one another. As family, we love sacrificially, and we forgive liberally, always hoping for the best for each other and always working for the benefit of the overall household. In love, we cheer each other on, hold each other accountable, share generously with each other and deal patiently with each other. We rejoice with each other, and we cry with each other.

Which one of the above illustrations means the most to you right now? Or, are there other biblical metaphors that speak more strongly to you (there are several others in Scripture, by the way)? I'd love to hear back from you!

Grace and peace,


Seeing God at Work

MARCH 20, 2017

"Where have you seen God at work lately?"

This is a question that our Associate Pastor, Nate French, asked of our staff recently at one of our weekly staff meetings. After some thought, each of us was able to name one or more ways that we had seen God at work in our church, our lives or in the lives of others. As a spiritual exercise, thinking about and bearing witness of the work that we've seen God accomplishing was encouraging to us, and it led us to a place of gratitude at the recognition of God's great reconciling purposes and plans in this lost and dying world.

For this reason, I wanted to relate to you some of the things that I have seen God doing as recently as this past weekend through the people of Liberty Park Baptist Church:

First, on Saturday a team of our church family members traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, to serve in partnership with the people of Strong Tower Church. Strong Tower, under the leadership of pastor Terrence Jones, is a North American Mission Board church plant in the heart of west Montgomery, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas of the city.

As an intentionally multiracial congregation, Strong Tower seeks to reach out to people of all ethnicities, serving the people of their community through ministering in Christ's name and spreading the Gospel in hopes of seeing transformation come to the lives of individuals and to the heart of their neighborhood. Our team was there to help them carry out their monthly outreach activity for March.

Late in the evening on Saturday, I was texted a group picture that included our team, the Strong Tower folks, and a smattering of volunteers from another church from the Montgomery area. The smiles on everyone's faces told the story of the joy and excitement that everyone had experienced that day as they served the Lord alongside one another.

The second place I saw God at work was in our church parking lot on Sunday afternoon, as a group of our ladies hosted a pre-Easter party for children in the Colonial Grand apartments, just down the road from the church. Fifteen children attended, enjoying the activities that had been prepared for them and listening to the Gospel story that was presented to them. 

In addition to serving as a great connecting point for kids and families in the apartments, the party also served as an opportunity to invite those involved to attend our Easter service. Even more importantly for one child, the party served as a particularly powerful day, as that child responded to the Gospel by accepting Christ!

A third place I saw God at work happened Sunday afternoon, starting out in the parking lot of the Liberty Park Middle School, where we'll be holding our Community Easter service this year. Another group of fifteen of our church family members gathered there to receive instruction and encouragement from Jim and Oleta Bruton and then to go out and prayerwalk around the school. As we spread out, we covered the school in prayer, both for the everyday activities that happen there and especially in preparation for Easter. 

I'm thankful to see God at work in our church family in such a variety of ways. I'm reminded as I consider all He is doing, that our God is always at work--and it's up to us to discover where he's at work and to join Him there!

Where have you seen God at work lately?

Grace and peace,



Near Misses

MARCH 13, 2017

Every Sunday morning, I meet with a group of men in our church to pray. We've been doing this for a few years now, and it's become an indelible part of our Sunday morning experience. In addition to praying for our families, our church, our nation, for one another and for any of a wide variety of things, we spend time talking together about spiritual matters, having iron-sharpening-iron conversations about our spiritual experiences, our spiritual growth, God's word, and anything else that is on our hearts.

On a recent Sunday morning, our conversation drifted into the issue of our own personal witnessing encounters, but rather than talking about our successes in this area, we began to discuss the times when we had failed. One of the guys mentioned how disappointing it is when you realize that God has put someone in your path to whom you could/should provide a Christian witness, and in the moment you just miss it, only to realize later on that God had opened the door and that you had breezed right past it.

Another told a story about a moment he had experienced of that very nature, an incident that had happened years ago, and how it haunts him to this day. We all agreed that such experiences are hard to stomach, due to the great disappointment that we hold in regard to ourselves in the follow-up. I broke the gloom of the moment a little by mentioning that it's kind of like striking out in slow-pitch softball. It should never happen, but it sometimes does, and it's always hugely upsetting.

As we talked further, however, we all agreed that it's a wonderful thing that we serve a God who is gracious and merciful, one who can take these "near misses" and use them as growth catalysts in our lives. Our common experience in the aftermath of these moments was that we found ourselves, in our disappointment, turning to God and praying all the harder--not only for ourselves, to have more insight, discernment and courage, but also for the individuals to whom we had failed to provide a Gospel witness. 

We also found ourselves focusing on the sovereign nature of our God, whose family is numerous and widespread and whose power and reach are without borders. We noted, with great relief, that our God, who could cause the very rocks to cry out if He chose to do so, could also bring another believer into the life of the person we'd whiffed on (that's a baseball/softball term for a complete, not-even-close miss) who would provide the very witness that we had failed to bring.

In the end, we spent some time praying together that God--in spite of His infinite ability to fix our mistakes--would not have to bring someone in to clean up our "misses." Instead, we asked that He would give us such clear discernment and awareness of the Holy Spirit's activity in our lives that we would catch what He was doing in the moment and would have the insight and the spiritual "gumption" to step up and do what God expected of us.

Have you had similar near-miss experiences as well? If not, then you are likely either an amazing witnessing "machine," or you're not paying attention to what God's doing at all. If you have, then I would encourage you first of all to pray and ask God to forgive you for missing the doors He's opened for you. Second, pray for the person who was the object of your near miss, either for God to provide you a second opportunity to talk with that individual or for Him to bring someone else into that person's life who will witness to them. Third, ask God to heighten your spiritual awareness, so you'll be ready and responsive the next time He opens a door to you.

If you pray diligently, watch carefully and speak up courageously, you'll turn that near miss into a home run for God's Kingdom.

Grace and peace,



What Is Your Life Saying?

March 6, 2017

Many years ago, back in my youth minister days, I had a young man in my first-ever youth group who was struggling a bit in his Christian walk. While I was only a few years older than he was, as his youth minister I had the charge of discipling him, even when that meant holding him accountable in regard to his faith. To this day, I remember the conversation he and I had about his life and the direction it had taken, as I sought to obey the biblical mandate to "restore gently" those who had strayed from the path (see Galatians 6:1).

After discussing various behaviors in which he was participating that were outside of the lines for a Christian, I mentioned that he needed to remember that there were several younger kids in our youth group who looked up to him as a leader, example and role model. His instantaneous response was to take a defensive position and to let me know that in no way did he want to be anyone's role model or example. Further, he declared that he had never asked or signed up to be a leader of any sort, and if people thought of him that way, he wanted to make sure and set the record straight.

I calmly explained to him that, like it or not, as an older, outspoken member of our group who by virtue of his personality and school-related accomplishments had come to be regarded by others as someone to look up to, he was a de facto leader, whether he liked it or not. He couldn't choose whether or not people were going to see him in that way; he could only choose how he was going to live his life in view of that fact.

Years later, my thinking was affirmed when I heard a minister say something similar: if you are a believer in Christ, you don't get to choose whether or not you will be an example; you only get to choose what kind of example you will be--a good one or a poor one. I remember how profoundly I was impacted by this pastor's statement, knowing that he was absolutely correct. 

As Christians, we must remember that the world is watching us at all times, different people for different reasons. There are some who are looking to question the veracity of our faith, and their most effective tool is to hold up examples of Christian people behaving in decidedly non-Christian ways, claiming that our hypocrisy reveals that we're no different than anyone else. When they can find examples of believers whose lives and behaviors are even less moral and less upstanding than the "good" people they know who are not believers, in their minds our beliefs are invalidated, and they feel justified in their stance in opposition to the Christian faith. 

Others, however, are watching us to see if our faith is for real because they are grasping for life and for light in a dark and difficult world. They long to see something that is real, something that is powerful, something that provides answers for this life and hope for eternity. When they see us living our faith before them in a biblical fashion, they see in us something they deeply desire, and doors are opened for conversation and, hopefully, for their conversion.

For these reasons, it's important for us to heed the words of Ephesians 5:15--"Be very careful, then, how you live..."  It's very important for us to give serious thought to what our lives are saying to others as we do what we do and say what we say, and as we deal with life situations and with other people. How we act and how we respond will say a lot to the world around us about the reality of what we claim to believe and even (in their eyes) about the reality of the One in which we believe.

So, as you speak, as you act, as you deal with life and deal with others this week, what will your life be saying to those who are observing you? What will it say to your family (especially your children)? What will it say to your co-workers and your neighbors? What will it say to the strangers you encounter throughout the week?

Let's hope that our lives say that Jesus is real, that He loves them, and that His plan is the best plan for their life.

Grace and peace,



Joy, Peace and Contentment

February 27, 2017

If you had to make a list of the top ten greatest experiences of your life, what would they be? For me, I would certainly have to list my salvation experience, my wedding, the births of our two children, the baptisms of both of my children and my kids' graduations. Beyond that, I might struggle to choose from a mix of family experiences, epic vacation trips, mission trips and some tremendous times of worship that I've experienced.

Mountaintop moments like the ones listed above are important to us as human beings. They inspire us, excite us and define us. Perhaps as a result of this, we long for them and sometimes even work to make them happen, ever hoping to lessen the distance between one defining moment and the next.

The problem for us is that we find it impossible to remain perpetually on the mountaintop. Invariably, there tend to be great plains and valleys between these peak experiences, and we often struggle to exist in these lower places. By definition, plains are broad, flat expanses with no major ups and downs in the terrain. Much of life is like this--regular, featureless and dull. Valleys, on the other hand, are even lower places, described geographically as "depressions," which is particularly apt when used as an analogy of the low times of life that we go through occasionally.

Truth be told, it's in these times between the mountains that God teaches us some of the greatest lessons of life, as we struggle in the featureless moments and in the low moments to find joy, peace and contentment. These three states of existence are easily found in abundance on the mountaintop, but they grow increasingly scarcer the farther down we go. The good news is that God knows this about us, which is why He speaks to us clearly in His word regarding the lower moments of life, giving us advice about how to exist in the plains and the valleys with our joy, peace and contentment intact.

Among the great passages of Scripture that address the needs of our lower times and how God meets us in such moments is John 16:33, where Jesus proclaims, "In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."  Without any sugar-coating, Jesus lets us know that we will without doubt experience trials, tribulations and difficulties in this life, but He calls us to take heart (some versions say "take courage" or "be of good cheer") in light of the knowledge that He has already conquered all that might seek to conquer us.

In other passages, we are invited to hand off our anxieties to Him (Matthew 6:32-33, Philippians 4:6, 1 Peter 5:7), with the promise that He'll take care of everything for us, as a loving Father would do for His children. For me, one of the passages that most brings me joy, peace and contentment is Romans 8:28-39, a section of Scripture that is packed to the brim with wonderful reminders of what God does for us, how much He loves us and how strong the staying power of His love and provision is for us.

My awareness of messages from God to our hearts found in passages like the ones mentioned above is always a reminder to me that, especially in the plains and valleys of life, it is ever more important that I immerse myself in quiet and constant meditation upon God's word, allowing His Holy Spirit to marinate my mind and my heart with declarations of His loving help and guidance. The next time you find yourself in the lower places of life--be they plains or valleys--I hope you'll take the step of diving deep into the depths of God's word too, communing with Him in prayer as you do. You may just discover a mountaintop of joy, peace and contentment in the plainest plain or even in the lowest valley.

Grace and peace,



The Pursuit of Christ

FEBRUARY 20, 2017

What are you passionately pursuing in this life? Are you chasing with reckless abandon after a successful career? Have you plunged yourself headlong into a good education? Do you find yourself running toward a relationship that you believe will bring you ultimate fulfillment? Are you "living for the weekend"--or for retirement--when you can jettison the cares and responsibilities of work and go after your favorite hobbies or pastimes? 

It is important to identify and examine the things that we've dedicated our emotions and our energies to pursuing, because the things we value so highly that we are willing to set aside all else to chase after them reveal a great deal about who we are and where our ultimate values lie. For me, such an understanding cries out for a healthy dose of self-awareness and self-analysis that will help me to take an honest look at what those things are for me.

In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul gives us a clear and honest window into his own heart in regard to his most passionate of pursuits. After providing us with a list of the reasons for which he could, by the standards of human thinking, have every right to sit back and enjoy his pedigree and his resume of accomplishments, Paul boldly asserts that he has rejected such things so that he might engage in the pursuit of something of "surpassing greatness" (Philippians 3:8).  Actually, that "something" is a someone--namely, Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 3:7-11, Paul uses intensely strong language to describe his deep devotion to Christ, proclaiming that his great desire is to "know Christ and the power of His resurrection" (Philippians 3:10). After clarifying for the reader in the next few verses that he has "not already obtained this" and that he has not been "made perfect," he declares that his sole focus is just one thing--to forget what lies behind him and to strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal that God has placed before him--this great goal of knowing Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:12-14).

I remember reading this passage as a young Christian and being profoundly impacted by it. Until that point in my life's journey, I only understood matters of faith in terms of religious devotion and right behavior. When I discovered for myself this great truth that the life of faith is about the pursuit of a relationship with Christ, I was bowled over, and the course of my existence took a new path, as I began a pursuit of Christ rather than of Christianity, of the person rather than the religion.

With this new understanding of my faith, I began to notice how often in Scripture God calls us to seek Him or to seek His face (2 Chronicles 7:14, Jeremiah 29:13 and Acts 17:26-27 are great examples). I also began to note how God's desire is not just that we know about Him but that we come to know Him (John 17:3 is by far my favorite verse in this subject). As I began to put all of these pieces together, I realized that God's great desire for me--His top calling--is not that I merely do things for Him to honor His name, but rather that I dedicate my life to the pursuit of knowing Him above all else.

While some might be alarmed at the thought of setting aside every meaningful thing in life for the pursuit of Christ, such a concern stems from a lack of understanding regarding the richly generous nature of the God who desires to know us and to fill our lives with the very blessings we flail after in our own strength and weakness. Our God is not one who takes the heart of life away from us; indeed, He is the one who seeks to give to us the life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19). So, pursue Him passionately and trust Him completely; you won't be disappointed.

"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him."
Lamentations 3:25

Grace and peace,




February 13, 2017

 “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to
the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Philippians 2:8

The stories of believers who have given their lives in obedience to God’s calling are abundant and varied. Many of the historical accounts of martyrdom—some of them bordering on the legendary—were preserved for posterity’s sake in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, written back in 1563 by John Foxe (originally titled Actes and Monuments of Christian Martyrs) and updated numerous times over the ensuing centuries to include the stories of people who died for their faith during the tumultuous religious struggles in Europe from the 17th-19th centuries.
Back in 2007, I received a copy of a version of the book developed by the Voice of the Martyrs organization that had been updated to include Christian martyrs of the 20th century and even those of the early 21st. Having read an older version of the book many years ago and having been deeply affected by the displays of faith recorded therein, I was profoundly moved by these newer accounts, considering that they were much closer to home for me chronologically.
Reading the stories of Christian martyrs from the last hundred years or so led me to realize that dying for one’s faith is not something of the past, but rather something that occurs—and occurs often—even today. David Barrett, in the January 2007 edition of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, related the amazing statistic that more people died for their Christian faith in the 20th century than in all other centuries of Christian history combined!
Living in a nation that has religious freedom as one of its core values, I believe that we Americans sometimes forget that our blessing of liberty is not the rule but rather the exception, both historically and in the present. For this reason, I think it’s often difficult for us to really grasp passages like Philippians 2:8, which speaks of Jesus being obedient to the point of death and calls us to an identical type of obedience.
Now, let me be clear: while this passage does call us to an ultimate kind of obedience, it does not say that we are to go around seeking ways to die for our faith. The idea of pursuing intentional martyrdom for the sake of gaining reward—suicide by martyrdom—is not a Christian theological principle (that’s why you don’t see Christian suicide bombers), but the idea of being willing to follow God’s calling obediently, regardless of the cost to one’s self, is one of the central theological themes of our faith.
This is where the difficulty lies for most of us as American believers, especially in our context where standing for our faith does not result in the loss of freedom or the loss of life. Existing in the blessings that we do, we sometimes find it hard to be obedient to the point of inconvenience, let alone obedient to the point of death. For this reason, I’m always amazed and profoundly moved by those Christian brothers and sisters who have “loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11) and who have lived in humble obedience to God’s commands without regard for the consequences.
Such a life might sound like one of misery and anxiety to some, but the testimony of the martyrs of history has been clear, in that they discovered deep and profound joy and contentment in humbly obeying God’s direction in their lives. The consequences of such obedience have been clear as well, as the faithful obedience of the few has served to encourage and embolden the rest of us and, throughout history, has often resulted in even the persecutors and tormentors coming to faith in Christ (for a great example of this phenomenon, read End of the Spear by Steve Saint—or watch the movie by the same title).
I’m personally challenged by the lives of these believers whose humble obedience led them to give the ultimate sacrifice. The challenge to me personally is to consider the depth of my own humility toward God and the breadth of my own obedience to anything that He asks of me, and to grow my faith from one of convenience to one of humble obedience that says “yes” to God with no holding back.
How about you?
Grace and peace,


Is your life full?

February 6, 2017

How would you answer if someone asked you the question, “How full is your life?” Would your answer be something along the lines of, “My life is so packed right now with work, family, activities, church and other obligations that I can barely breathe”? Or, would your answer be more along the lines of, “I am experiencing wonderful times of connecting with God in prayer, I see His hand at work in and through my life, and I’m excited to see what He’s going to do with my life as I submit myself more fully to Him”?

The first answer reflects a quantitative view of life—meaning that we determine the value of our life at any given moment based on how much is going on. The danger of such an approach is that, while we can certainly fill up our lives with a never-ending assortment of obligations and adventures, we seldom find that a full life of this sort is truly fulfilling.

The second answer reflects a qualitative view of life—meaning that we determine the value of our life at any given point not according to how much stuff we’ve crammed into it but rather based on the ultimate meaning that is embedded in what we’re doing.

If you had to sit down and truly evaluate your life at this given moment, would you have to say that your life is fuller in the quantitative sense or in the qualitative sense? Are you busy investing your time and energy in things that have eternal value, or are you just busy?

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we tend more just to be busy than anything else. As a result, we are more likely to have lives that are full than lives that are fulfilling. If this is the case with you (as is often the case with me too), how do you change things around? How do you move from a life that is merely full to one that is fulfilling?

First, it’s important to evaluate and take inventory of the ways we are investing our resources of time, energy and effort. Consider, for example, the amount of time the average American watches television or spends on social media. While I’m not advocating that you necessarily give up such things entirely, it could be that it’s time for you to rein in your media practices and spend that time in a more eternally valuable fashion.

Second, we should all take stock of how we might inject the eternal into what we’re already doing. Consider, for example, the amount of time we spend with family—especially for parents who are raising young children. A parent who has an eye for eternal things can “redeem the time” by making sure that he or she is making an intentional effort to teach their children to pray, to teach them the great stories of the Bible and, as they get older, to spend time having conversations about eternal matters.

The same can be said for the leisure activities and hobbies that we pursue. These things that we enjoy so much—and that we often enjoy engaging in with other people—can become wonderful bridges for Gospel conversations, and God can use them to bring people into our sphere of influence who may need Christ or may need to be encouraged or strengthened in their faith. When our time and our involvements are given over to the Lord, there’s just no telling what He can and will do with them!

In light of the above, here’s my challenge to you: take some time to do the primary life evaluation that has the potential to transform your busy-ness into your Father’s business. Then, start the hard work of making the changes that will accomplish such a renovation in your life. You’ll be amazed how God Himself will help you once you commit to the process! And, when it’s all said and done, you’ll be pleased to see how faithful He has been to take what you’ve dedicated to Him and make it into something of eternal worth.

So—how full is your life?

Grace and peace,



This week's article was written by Worship Pastor, Ryan Leffel, and his wife Kelly

A Full Plate

January 30, 2017

At church the leadership has been hitting home the church’s strategy, Worship-Serve-Grow. So in looking at that as a couple, we began to see that we needed to reach out past our reality and begin to consider what life may be like for others.  We’re in our thirties and forties, and have a  FULL plate.  We are busy with jobs, marriage, raising kids (school activities, sports, friends), church activities, family, friends, etc. We live in a wonderful and safe neighborhood, with top rated schools. Basically, our (your) reality and our (your) circumstances are good, possibly enviable. So, how do we do that?  How do we Worship - Serve - Grow?

We began to think about our own children and how their reality is vastly different from that of so many. While we feel extremely grateful about where they are growing up, we know it’s our job to expose them to what life is like for others. To give them the opportunity to serve others as Christ would. We thought back over our experiences growing up and especially our times as members in a Youth group. Those years as a teen in a SBC church were filled with so many opportunities to serve. Summers were full of mission trips & projects. We recalled the hard work that was involved, but also the joy, gratitude, and humility that it brought to our young lives. We thought back to the times before we had kids and how we were able to go on some mission trips with the youth from our former church. We realized how we missed those times and how desperately we needed to be serving again. We felt that God was asking us to begin serving again.

Fast forward to today and our FULL plates. As a ministry family it was hard to consider that weren’t serving, because we are serving at church all the time. But we also needed to serve by “being the church” to those with a different reality. How do we make that happen? What is keeping us from serving? We realized that time, schedules and responsibilities aren’t quite as flexible as they used to be. However, that was just an obstacle that needed to be overcome.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” –Matthew 25: 35-40. The Bible is clear...we serve Christ by serving others. Our wonderful church offers many opportunities to serve, locally and internationally. We thought about the missional mandate of our church, “Liberty Park Baptist Church exists to glorify God and make disciples by inviting our community to enjoy fulfilling lives in Christ”.  We thought about our Bible Study group, we were already GROWING together, so why not SERVE together?

We wanted to provide an opportunity for our Bible Study group, to get out and serve, so we contacted the Jimmie Hale Mission about serving on a Sunday evening. They had a need for help serving dinner at the Shepura Men’s Center. This center is a place where men, “in desperate straits find new direction and hope through Bible-based counseling, education and discipline.” They provide shelter, food, clothing, counseling, and spiritual guidance. They also house overnight guests, most of whom are homeless or transient. Now we had a plan!  Eight members from our class, loaded up on the church van to go and serve dinner. While, I’m sure there was some nervousness among the group, the night was great! The men we served were so gracious and we were so encouraged that God was working. It was a blessing to us to put aside our excuses and fears and to step outside our reality and into someone else’s.

Our hope is to find more ways to serve and to find opportunities for our families to serve together. We encourage you to discover a way to step outside your reality and SERVE…God is waiting!

Grace and peace,  

Ryan and Kelly Leffel


Self Service

January 23, 2017

When I was a kid, I used to enjoy going with my Mom or Dad to get gasoline when their vehicles were in need of fuel. We frequented a particular Chevron station in my hometown of Gardendale, and the owner--Mr. George Bailey--or one of his workers would always come out and pump the gas for us, as they did for all of their customers. In addition to filling the gas tank, the gas attendant would check the oil, check the condition of the windshield wipers, check the tire pressure, clean the windshield and give everything a quick once-over. All of that seems very Mayberry-ish today, but I remember how utterly cool the whole experience was and how back in those days the term "service station" truly meant something!

Not too many years removed from that, "self service" became all the rage, and even more so with the advent of being able to pay at the pump. No longer having the patience to wait around for an attendant who might be busy with other customers, we've sacrificed the personal attention of the "service station" days for the sake of speed and convenience. Most days I don't mind the trade-off--honestly, most days I don't even think about it--but there are the occasional moments when I long for the niceties of that long-gone era.

Beyond the gas station industry, the wave of self service has flooded other markets in recent decades as well, so that it's a fairly common occurrence for us to fill our own plates, to refill our own drinks and to ring up our own groceries. Still, the convenience of it all outweighs (for me anyway) the sacrifice of giving up being personally served, so much so that self service has really become my preferred mode of service.

Think about that statement for a second: "...self service has really become my preferred mode of service." While such a sentiment may mean one thing when it comes to how I like to obtain my food or my gasoline, the words and the thoughts behind them take on a whole new meaning when applied to the things of God's Kingdom. After all, we're told that our primary mode of service on a spiritual level is to be service to the Lord rather than self service. In Deuteronomy 11:13, we are told to "love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul." Secondarily, we are tasked with serving others, as commanded in Galatians 5:13--"through love, serve one another."

As human beings, however, our standard approach to life is to serve ourselves first--self service in a different way. Then, if we have anything left, we'll get around to God and maybe others. Sadly, it's this very approach that leaves us dry, empty and unfulfilled in lfe, an ironic situation considering that our intent in being self-serving is primarily to see to our own needs, wants and fulfillment first.

Which reminds me--another thing I recall from my childhood is a remedy to the tendency to serve oneself first, taught to us using the acronym J.O.Y., which stood for Jesus, Others, You. As a young child, I was instructed by my Sunday School teachers and children's church leaders that following the simple plan of serving Jesus primarily, serving others secondarily and then tending to my own concerns last would lead to a life of joy. 

And you know what? They were right on target. Not that I've always followed the J.O.Y. pattern in my life, but I've always discovered when I do that joy and fulfillment follow right along with it. And such a discovery motivates me to move away from a life of self service to a life of serving the way that God intends it.

Hey--all of this talk has gotten me a little nostalgic. If anyone knows where I can find a good, full service gas station where the gas attendant will check my oil and my tire pressure and clean my windshield while he fills the tank, would you let me know? Thanks!

Grace and peace,




JANUARY 16, 2017

We human beings are worshipers by nature. It seems, looking at history and present-day culture, that we are hard-wired down to the core of our beings to worship something or someone. Among the earliest archaeological treasures that we have discovered connected with our species are religious objects that indicate that humanity's propensity has always trended toward worship.

Even in societies that one would deem to be secular, scientific, atheistic or intellectually "enlightened," we find that people will always find an object or a person to lift up and venerate as being worthy of praise, honor and glory. We run the gamut with this tendency too, idolizing our "heroes" in any field of endeavor, including academics, business, politics, technology, military conquest, humanitarianism and sports, among many others. We have even developed a category in recent years of people who we idolize simply because they are famous for being famous (hello, Hiltons and Kardashians), and culturally we follow their every move as if our well-being depended upon their happiness, fawning over them and making much of them and their goings-on (sounds like worship to me).

In examining things truthfully, I would have to conclude that for us as human beings, there's no real discussion about whether or not we'll BE worshipers; no, the real discussion comes down to asking what or who it is that we'll be worshiping. In tackling this question, the Bible has some interesting things to say about our choices as they relate to God and to anything or anyone else that we might worship:

First, there's the simple command found in Exodus 34:14--"You shall worship no other god..." If we needed something just simple, plain and clear to us, this is it. The Bible is full of such imperatives regarding the sole worship of the Lord. Second, however, is the reminder that other gods we may worship are not really gods at all, as seen in Psalm 86:10--"You alone are God."  Because they are not gods at all--indeed, they have only been fashioned as "gods" by human hands, hearts or minds--they carry no real power and no real authority. First Chronicles 12:26 declares that "all the gods of all the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens."

The Bible is also clear about the consequences of engaging in "worthless worship." In speaking of His own people who had begun to worship the idols of the surrounding nations, God said in 2 Kings 17:15"They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves."  I don't know about you, but "worthless" is not a description by which I would like to be known, and especially not so by God Himself! 

In contrast to the many, many scriptural prohibitions and warnings regarding the worship of anything or anyone other than God, there are numerous calls to worship God and to serve Him only. Space prohibits me listing all of them here, but a simple search through the Psalms alone will leave you with a clear understanding that God's unalterable call to us is to worship Him and to do so with all of our heart and soul. One great example of such a call is found in one of my personal favorites, Psalm 95, which says in part, "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!...Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!"

Take some time this week to consider what or who you're really worshiping in this life. What/who gets most of your attention and affection? What/who have you come to idolize? As worshipers by nature, we're going to be inclined to worship, so let's worship the Lord and Him alone!

Grace and peace,



More New year's Thinking (A Cautionary Tale)

January 9, 2017

As we continue to plow into this new year, I want to continue to attempt to spark your thinking in a variety of categories. One particular area in which I would like to encourage/challenge you a little is in regard to new commitments that put God's agenda on the front burner in the new year.

In my previous article (which you can read at, I challenged you to commit to spending daily time in prayer and Bible study, seeking not only to discover the "new thing" that God desires to do in your life this year but also truly to understand that "why" behind it. The reason for this call for understanding stems from the fact that when we "get it" in regard to God's greater purposes and plans, a whole new world opens up to us in terms of our daily focus and priorities. When this happens to us, we are challenged down to our very core, and we're left with decisions to make that may radically alter our life and the lives of those around us.

Years ago, in my very first pastorate, I saw an example of this in action: Upon my arrival at the church I was serving, I began to guide a group of church leaders through the Experiencing God study. As we delved deeper into the curriculum, the group began to discover deep spiritual truths that put some of the group members in a state of spiritual crisis due to their challenging nature. Sensing that we were on the cusp of a potential revival, I was very excited as a young pastor to see how the group was responding, and I was hoping and praying for a great move of God.

As we reached a high point in the study, I was visited one day by our deacon chairman, who had made an appointment with me, simply saying that he wanted to "talk about the study we're doing." I was elated, thinking that he was coming to me to declare his intent to make significant forward strides in his spiritual walk and to lead the church in doing the same. Instead, I was heartbroken when I heard him say, "Brother Scott, I'm going to have to drop out of our study." When I asked why, he told me that it had gotten to the point where he was going to have to change his thinking and the way he lived if he kept on with the study and was honest with himself and with God.

I tried to explain to him that such transformation was the whole point and that God desired to do some great work in his life and that of the church, if he would just listen and respond to the Holy Spirit. He replied by saying that it was "just too much" for him, and he carried through with his plan to discontinue the class. The chilling effect of his decision on the church was immense, and his choice to drop out of the study led a couple of others to do so as well. Rather than changing to fit God's agenda, they opted for the comfort of the familiar. In about twelve years, a mere decade following this momentous decision to step away from the "new thing" that God sought to do in this congregation, the church, which had been in a thirty-year decline, shut its doors for good.

So why this discouraging story right here at the beginning of the new year? Well, there is a vast wealth throughout human history of stories that have been passed down as "cautionary tales" meant to warn us of the consequences of certain actions--or, as in this case, the dangers of inaction. I also know that the natural stance of the human heart is to maintain the status quo and to rock the boat as little as possible. This truth is especially in force when it comes to spiritual matters, because changes of this sort often require a new way of thinking, being and doing that reverberates deep into every nook and cranny of our heart, mind and life, calling for transformation that may rock us at the deepest levels. More than just calling us to make casual "resolutions," God calls us to make covenants, deep, life-changing commitments that have the capacity to change who we are, to make us into new creations. 

So, is there anything that holds you back from such transformational commitment-making? Like the man in my story, is God's agenda "just too much" for you? Or, is this the year that you finally take that huge leap of faith that you know you've needed to make and experience the "new thing" that God has been holding in store just for you? 

Grace and peace,



The Understanding Christian

January 3, 2017

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
Isaiah 43:19

As we roll into the beginnings of a new year, many of us will make resolutions or at least determine that we in some way will try to better ourselves or our situation in the coming twelve months. Some of these commitments may revolve around taking significant steps of maturity and challenge in regard to spiritual matters, and it's these in particular that I would like to address in this week's article:

Often, people who are well-meaning believers will make commitments that aren't necessarily in line with the "new thing" that God has prepared for them. Over the years, for instance, I have seen very highly-committed and well-intentioned Christians determine to engage in a particular area of ministry for which they were not gifted or which they were not capable of fulfilling for some reason, like poor health, lack of time or lack of passion of aptitude. As a result, they experienced a mix of difficulties, including anxiety, disillusionment, confusion and even burnout.

The sad thing about this set of circumstances was that it wasn't necessary at all for them to go through such a struggle, especially when a little insight and understanding applied upfront to the situation could have prevented the problem entirely. Here's what I mean: in the above passage, God informs His people that He is doing something new among them, calling on them to see and acknowledge it ("Behold..."). Immediately thereafter, however, God asks them whether or not they "perceive it." 

His question regarding their perception of what He's doing really gets to the heart of what I'm talking about here. God doesn't just want them to see what He's doing: He also wants them to understand it, to "get it." To "perceive" something means to have a mental grasp of it. When it comes to the things of God, however, I would argue that it means to have a "spiritual grasp," by which we catch on not only to what God is doing but also to why He is doing it. It also means that we grasp its greater meaning in terms of God's purposes of redemption, and we comprehend our role in it.

Because God has put the Body of Christ together according to His plans, in order to accomplish His purposes, it's important for us to gain understanding into what His purposes are and what role He has called us to play in them. Thankfully, God is not coy in such matters, openly proclaiming to us that His intent, stated by Christ, is "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). He has called us to join Him this great mission as well, commanding us to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and to make disciples as we go through life (Matthew 28:19-20).

While the above gives general information regarding our role in God's saving work (witnesses, disciple-makers), the specifics can sometimes be a little harder to discern. This is where two of our old friends--prayer and Bible study--come into play. Through prayer, we grow to know God relationally, and it's in this knowing of Him that the Holy Spirit gives us wise counsel regarding God's plans for us. We also gain understanding through studying the word, as noted in Psalm 119:130: "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple." 

So, regardless of the initial plans, commitments or resolutions you've made for the coming year, I would like to offer two more--first, that you commit yourself to spending quality time with God in prayer, growing in your knowledge of Him, and second, that you spend time reading and studying the Bible, which God will use to illuminate and enlighten "the eyes of your heart" (Ephesians 1:18). These two great gifts, properly utilized, will bring us the amazing blessing of understanding in 2017!

Grace and peace,



The Trail of God's Handiwork

December 27, 2016

I always find the time between Christmas and New Year's to be an odd time. Christmas has passed, which means that our biggest church events of year's end have come and gone, and the new year is on its way, with a whole slew of things waiting to be done, but everyone's still in a kind of holiday mode, putting everything in limbo for about a week or so. 

Knowing that the usual routine is going to be suspended, I usually try to get some "housecleaning" things done, like updating my files (both digital and physical), cleaning off my desk, and tending to open-ended tasks that have been left untouched for a long while. Today, I found myself finally delving into the thousands of emails that have built up over the last few years, as I would save items that I deemed important and valuable for future reference or would just fail to delete them because I forgot and let them build up day after day.

Regardless, it was interesting to go back through a few years of emails, reminiscing over good times and difficult times, noting both the struggles and the triumphs. It was fun to relive some of the lighter moments of life that were referenced in emails and it was hard to walk back through the sadder moments. 

Some emails were very encouraging and uplifting, while others were difficult to read, some so much so that, knowing their contents, I deleted them quickly without even reviewing them again. The ones that were sent as notes of encouragement--most of them from you, my church family--I re-read, allowing me once again to draw strength from your words. Some of them I even took time to print out, saving them for a future day when I might need a reminder of a kind word or a prayer offered on my behalf.

Tucked amid the emails that I examined were those written by friends we've lost in recent years, reminders of those relationships and their importance to me. There were even some emails written by my Dad, who passed away back in February, some with links to articles he'd read that he thought I would find interesting, others that were routine in nature. 

There were also emails with attached photographs, reminders of church events, family times and mission and ministry efforts. And then there were the routine, day-to-day emails related to the business side of leading a church--and there were lots of lots of those.

As I continued to go through the emails (and I'm not close to being done yet), I noted how reflective they are of life, displaying the trail of God's handiwork along the way. Many of our days and hours are the routine business of life, and yet there are those days and moments when life is much more poignant and memorable, such as the days when we experience the victories of life or when those we love encounter a major breakthrough of some sort.

There are those life moments that we hold onto because they are reminders of loved ones who have gone home, and there are moments we'd just as soon forget because of the pain associated with them. All in all, however, it is the mass accumulation of these moments and days that our God weaves together for our good, and although there are those we would be happy to quickly delete, they have purpose and meaning for us too, as long as we're trusting the Lord in every one of them.

With this in mind, I look back and reminisce, but I also look ahead with excitement and enthusiasm, knowing that they same God who has been there in each moment in the past is guiding every moment to come. And with that in mind, I wish all of you a very happy and prosperous New Year, not knowing what it will bring, but knowing that God's hand will be guiding it all.

Grace and peace,



Waiting with Hope

December 19, 2106

One of my favorite songs of Christmas is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, a hymn whose modern version goes back to the early 1700s and which has roots possibly as far back as the 13th century. In addition to its melody, which moves from dirge-like to majestic and celebratory, I love its message, which speaks powerfully of the expectant longing for the promised Messiah of Israel in the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ.

As I think about this song, rolling its tune and lyrics around in my head, I'm reminded of how often we as believers find ourselves waiting on the Lord to move in our lives in fulfillment of the promises we read in Scripture. Such times can be anxiety-inducing and faith-testing, but they also can yield maturity and strength when handled in the proper fashion. For this reason, we find in Scripture numerous encouragements and instructions regarding our waiting on the Lord, and we also find descriptions of the rewards that come to those who wait patiently and faithfully, as seen in these powerful passages:

     But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with
     wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

     “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, "therefore I hope in Him!” The Lord is good to 
     those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope 
     and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:24-26

     Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14

     It will be said on that day, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him that 
     He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and 
     rejoice in His salvation." Isaiah 25:9

I deeply appreciate and find strength in the above passages, because they remind me that, as I am waiting, God is working all things together for my good, including the timing in which He will reveal His answer to my pleas and concerns. 

Like the ancient Israelites, you may be waiting on the Lord this Christmas season as well, longing expectantly to see Him move, work or speak in some significant way in your life. If so, you can take encouragement from the fact that God's timing and His responses are always perfect and completely on target with our deepest needs, which He knows more about than we do ourselves.

And yet, there's the waiting, which is just so hard to do. So, while you wait, hear the words in the chorus of the ancient aforementioned Christmas hymn: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel." Note that these beautiful, powerful lyrics call the hearer to rejoice in what is anticipated, not in that which has already arrived. Let these words likewise encourage you, reminding you that, while you may be waiting on God to move in your life, you can rejoice in the fact that He will indeed act in accordance with His great and precious promises for us who believe.

Merry Christmas to you and to yours in Christ Jesus!




DECEMBER 12, 2016

It's pretty universally known among pastors and ministers that the Christmas season is unique in the amount of opportunities that it presents to invite people to church-related activities and to present the message of Jesus Christ. Unlike any other time of the year, people are more open to our invitations and overtures, and the giving nature of the season offers churches and believers in general a wonderful pretext for generosity and kindness toward others. The very fact that the entire holiday itself is focused on Jesus Christ (regardless of what secularists say) sets the stage for us to engage with others in conversations about our Savior and the ministries of His church.

With the above in mind, it is with great gratitude that I reflect back on Sunday evening's Christmas in the Park event, during which I saw my church family take an all-hands-on-deck approach to meeting the opportunity provided by the season to communicate to others the love of God and good news of the Gospel. With all that was going on, I wasn't able to keep track of all of the puzzle pieces that made the evening what it was, but I certainly took note of how many of our family members were engaged in being hospitable and inviting and how many used their gifts and abilities to make a great impact in the lives of others.

I'm sure I'll likely miss someone who was a key part of our efforts, but I do want to thank our choir and musicians, our welcome team (consisting of the parking lot team, senior valet, greeters and ushers) our hospitality team (both those who served our choir and musicians and those who manned the coffee bar), the live nativity volunteers, our support staff and ministers, and everyone else who participated. I thank God for your heart and your effort!

I also want to encourage you--maybe even challenge you--about some events we have coming up that will complete our Christmas season and that may provide you further opportunities to pray, to participate, and to invite others to hear the Christmas message:

  • Christmas Party at the apartments, Saturday, December 17 - This is one that I'd like to ask you to pray for specifically. Some ladies in our church have stepped up and out to plan a party for children who are residents of the Colonial Grand Apartments adjacent to the church. Pray for them to make some great connections with families!
  • Movie in the Park, Sunday, December 18, 5:30pm - Our children's ministry is sponsoring a showing of Polar Express. Because rain is in the forecast, we are bringing the movie inside to fellowship hall. Hot chocolate and popcorn will be complimentary.
  • Christmas Eve services, Saturday, December 24, 3:00pm and 5:00pm - This year, our early service will be an interactive, kid-friendly service. We'll have glowsticks instead of candles, and the children will help tell the story of Jesus' birth. Our later service will be a traditional one, with candles and traditional Christmas carols.
  • Christmas Worship in the Round, Sunday, December 25, 10:30am - "What is Christmas in the Round," you ask? Come, enjoy this unique and celebratory time of Christmas worship and find out!

I want to reiterate how grateful I am for you, my church family, and I want once more to encourage and challenge you to take advantage of the remaining opportunities we'll have this Christmas season to share our hope and to shine His light!

Grace and peace,



The First and Greatest Gift of Christmas

December 5, 2016

On Sunday, we began our focus on Christmas in earnest, as we sang our first Christmas song, had Santa in the service to read the Christmas story to the kids, and spent time looking at the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 9 regarding the coming of Christ, the first and greatest gift of Christmas. In this passage, we noted the necessity of the gift due to our darkened, desperate and dead natural state. We also talked about the nearness of the gift, as we are reminded in Matthew 1:23, that Jesus is Emmanuel, which means "God with us." Last, we looked at the nature of the gift, highlighting the statements regarding Jesus' authority, His name and the everlasting peace that He brings to us.

In this article, I wanted to delve further into the names of Jesus presented in Isaiah 9:6, because I believe they are deeply important in helping us understand how "God with us" affects our everyday lives. In this passage, we are told that "His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Let's look at these four names a little more closely:
  • Wonderful Counselor - Psalm 1:1 says, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers..." When it comes to the kind of "counsel" we receive from the world at large, it's pretty much filled with all of the above. The "wisdom" that we often receive even from well-meaning people can be completely off-base and send us in a direction that is in total contradiction to what God would have us do. For this reason, it's good to know that we have a "Wonderful Counselor" on whom we can depend, one who will always guide us rightly and whose wisdom will never fail us. Psalm 73:24 sums up well the relationship we can have with the counsel of the Lord: "You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory."
  • Mighty God - In the Old Testament alone, there are around 350 uses of the terms "Lord Almighty," God Almighty" or "Lord God Almighty." The reason for this is to emphasize the fact that we don't serve a weak, insipid God whose accomplishments are dependent on others or on circumstances falling into His favor. In Isaiah 46:10 God declares, "My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please." It's good to know in a world of shifting sands that there is One who cannot be moved, whose purposes and will cannot be thwarted by enemies or swayed by popular opinion. It's good to know that our God who can and will keep all of His promises and can be counted on never to leave us or forsake us. What an amazing comfort to know a God "who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20)!
  • Everlasting Father - When we speak of our God, we speak of the eternal. We don't just speak about it from a hypothetical perspective, but rather from a relational perspective, as the dearly-loved children of a Father in heaven who has granted us everlasting life and who has placed in our hearts the hope of an eternal home in heaven. This year, many of our church families--mine included--will celebrate the holidays minus the presence of a dear loved one who has died in recent months. As we do, it's comforting to know that, having died in Christ, they are truly at home, sharing in the eternal celebration of the saints who are absent from the body and present with the Lord. What a wonderful gift to have this relationship in our lives--children of an Everlasting Father!
  • Prince of Peace - There's an old song that has this line in it: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." While most people in the world will express a desire for peace, we struggle to keep it--both in our relationships and on a global scale. Our history reflects our struggles: out of the 3400 years of recorded history, only 268 are considered peaceful in terms of international conflict. That's only about 8%! Truthfully, we as human beings are not too good at the whole "peace thing," and we desperately need someone to intervene for us and grant us the peace that we ourselves cannot find or manufacture. The person we need is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who gives us a peace that the world cannot produce--an internal kind of peace that surpasses our ability to understand it. His peace is the kind that exists even when everything else around us is a raging firestorm; His is the kind that truly brings us rest.
As we go deeper into the Christmas season, I hope you'll take some time to reflect on who Jesus is to you and how the above aspects of His nature and character speak to your needs. Pass the word along to someone else too!

Grace and peace,



The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

November 28, 2016

Now that we've gotten past Thanksgiving, most of us are turning our attention toward the Christmas holiday. With "Black Friday" and the newer addition of "Cyber Monday," people are focused on purchasing gifts for Christmas, and the retail industry has furthered our fixation on the upcoming celebration with the addition of all the Christmas decor, along with the mall Santas and the Christmas background music playing just about everywhere.

Into this mix of Yuletide activity comes all of the church celebrations and events, and we are certainly no different than anyone else in this regard, as we make much of the opportunities offered by this time of the year to invite our community to find and to enjoy fulfilling lives in Christ. Here's a quick rundown of some of the big things coming up in December:
  • Provence Neighborhood Movie Night, Friday, December 2 - On this night, we're sponsoring an event in the Provence neighborhood that will include food trucks, hot chocolate and cider and a couple of classic Christmas movies shown in the park. It kicks off at 5:00pm (movies will start at 6:00pm), and everyone's invited!
  • Sunday with Santa, December 4 - We'll have the "big guy" himself in the service with us, telling the kids the real Christmas story, sharing a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" party with them in Kids Own Worship and remaining after the service for pictures.
  • Young at Heart Christmas Lunch, December 4 - Immediately after our worship service, our Senior Adults will enjoy lunch and entertainment as we kick off the season with Randy Overstreet.
  • Christmas in the Park, Sunday, December 11 - This year, we're having two performances of our Christmas musical (4:00pm and 7:00pm), with a Live Nativity in between (5:30pm). Plan to attend, and bring some folks with you!
  • Polar Express Movie Night in the Amphitheater, Sunday, December 18 - Bring a blanket, a chair and some guests to enjoy an outdoor viewing of Polar Express at 5:30pm in our amphitheater. Popcorn and hot chocolate will be provided!
  • Christmas Eve Candlelight Services, Saturday, December 24 - Plan to attend one of our Christmas Eve services with your family in celebration of Christ's birth. This year, we're having a family-friendly version at 3:00pm, followed by a traditional version at 5:00pm.
  • Christmas Day Service, Sunday, December 25 - Christmas Day is on Sunday this year, so we'll celebrate with a time of worship at 10:30am (Bible Study Groups will not meet). Come as you are, and join us for a casual, family-friendly time of recognizing the amazing gift of Jesus!
As you consider the above and how you might participate, I want to encourage you to do the following: 1) keep yourself aware of all that's going on by reading our publications and listening for announcements (you can go to for this information as well), 2) invite your friends, neighbors, family members, coworkers and others to attend the events and activities we'll be presenting during this time, and 3) be aware of opportunities that the season offers for you to have Christ-centered conversations with people who God places in your path.

I'm hoping that God will especially bless us this year with the wonderful gift of people coming to know Christ through the life and ministry of Liberty Park Baptist Church!

Grace and peace,



A Thanksgiving Miracle

November 21, 2016

If you're planning on enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday this week, you largely have Sarah Josepha Hale to thank for it. Born in 1788 in New Hampshire, Sarah was educated by her mother and brother, and she later became both an author and the editor of a prestigious women's magazine. Sarah was a writer of poetry and novels, but her most famous work was a children's poem she penned entitled "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (originally "Mary's Lamb"). Perhaps you've heard of it!

By the 1840s, Sarah began a fascinating crusade, lobbying presidents, senators, congressmen and every governor in the United States, sending them letters advocating the development of a national holiday dedicated to giving thanks. She continued this campaign for almost twenty years, through the administrations of five presidents, before finally gaining the attention and the support of Abraham Lincoln.

Sarah's last letter to Lincoln on the subject was sent in September 1863, and on October 3, 1863, he declared that the last Thursday of November would be set aside as a national day for giving thanks--Thanksgiving Day--and every president and congress since that year has continued this tradition of setting aside an annual national Thanksgiving holiday in November as well.

While this is a great story on its own, it made me stop and think about the perseverance of Sarah Hale, campaigning and lobbying year after year, writing letters by the dozens to leaders who gave her little if any notice. Undeterred, she plowed ahead, firm in her conviction that we as a nation needed to set aside a day to express our gratitude for our blessings.

In addition to the perseverance of Mrs. Hale, I'm also impressed--staggered, really--by the fact that it took so long to convince anyone to listen and then to act upon her idea. Truthfully, though, isn't that how we are as human beings--quick to complain, quick to become angry, quick to claim that we are victims of some injustice or that we're not being treated as fairly as the next person?

From the time we're small, we have no trouble learning words like "Mine!" and "Gimme!" but we have to be taught (and sometimes forced) to say "thank you" and to express basic gratitude. Even then, our thanksgiving is not so much heartfelt as it is coerced, and that often under the threat of punishment!

So, here's a good Thanksgiving question for you to ponder over the holiday: How does one go about changing the primal tendency of humanity to be ungrateful and transform the human heart into one that truly feels thankful and overflows with expressions of gratitude?

If you want my quick answer on this, I'd have to say that both personal experience with my own heart and many years of observing others has brought me to the conclusion that we are woefully under-equipped when it comes to having what we need to accomplish such a feat of transformation. My strong feeling is that this sort of transformation can only come about through the work of God in the life of a person. To move the human heart from cynical, complaining and ungrateful to a place of gratitude is truly a Thanksgiving miracle, and one that only our God can accomplish with staying power.

With this in mind, let's spend some time this Thanksgiving holiday praying with gratitude for all that God does for us, and while we're praying such prayers, let's ask God to do a work in our hearts to much us thankful people from the inside out.

Grace and peace,



The Five LEvels of Stewardship

November 14, 2016

The issue of stewardship is a vital one when it comes to our growth as Christians. What exactly is stewardship? In answer to this question, let me first give you my less-than-scholarly definition: stewardship is all about what you do with everything that God gives you. When it comes to your time, energy, spiritual gifts, abilities, finances and even your experiences, the way that you utilize these things in your life is what is meant by stewardship.

At heart, the very idea of stewardship is founded in the understanding that all we have really belongs to God, and even we ourselves are "living sacrifices" (see Romans 12:1), people who have surrendered ourselves to God and who belong completely to Him. As such, we are simply called to be "stewards"--technically defined as the managers of another's property--of these things that belong to God.

With this in mind, we approach our annual stewardship Sunday, when we as a church are asked to make a commitment to giving financially and to serving in ministry in some capacity in the coming year. This Sunday, November 20, we are asking each individual or family to return their 2017 Stewardship Commitment Card and to place it either in the collection boxes that are located both upstairs and downstairs or to place it in the offering plate during the service. Our hope is that we as a church family will make a solid statement regarding our commitments both to give and to serve in 2017.

I'm realistic enough, however, to know that different people and families are not all at the same place in regard to their stewardship, so I'd like to mention the five levels of stewardship that we as a church have studied recently in our Bible Study Groups. As you read these, I hope you'll be inspired to commit to giving and serving, and perhaps even to taking a step into a greater depth of stewardship in the coming year:

  • Beginning Giver. This person is new to the idea of stewardship and has a desire to begin giving/serving in some capacity as a step of obedience to Christ. This person's newly-awakened desire requires a big leap of faith and a reorientation of priorities in the right direction as he takes steps to move from desire to action.
  • Consistent Giver. The consistent giver has experienced how God uses his willingness to give/serve and has developed a desire to do this on a regular basis. The move from "occasional" to "consistent" requires discipline and commitment, but this person finds great blessing in the doing of it.
  • Tither. The tither aims for the ten percent level that is laid down as the scriptural principle for giving in the Old Testament and reiterated in the New Testament. Giving ten percent of one's income requires a readjustment of personal spending habits, but this person finds great joy in giving God a tithe of the "firstfruits" of his income. Likewise, in regard to serving, this person's aim is first to serve God, then to pursue the other things in life that require time, energy and effort.
  • Expanding Giver. The expanding giver is already a tither, but now has reached the level of commitment that he is looking for other opportunities to "take it up a notch" and give/serve in special ways beyond the basic tithing commitment. This person has discovered that we cannot outgive God, taking up His challenge in Malachi 3:10 to test God in this matter of giving and to watch as He pours out blessings in response.
  • Extravagant Giver. This person has reached a level of reorienting his life and his finances so that he is giving and serving in radical ways, reveling in God's blessings as he does. Typically very quiet and private about his commitments, he silently gives and serves with powerful Kingdom results.
Which of the above best describes you? Which would you like to become? Perhaps God means for you in the coming year to take your stewardship commitment to the next level, and you sense that He is drawing you in that direction. If so, I want to encourage you to take a leap of faith and to test God in this matter of giving and serving. You will be surprised how God will "open the windows of heaven and pour down for you a blessing" (Malachi 3:10)!

Grace and peace,



Fear God. Honor the Emperor.

November 7, 2016

I am writing this article the day before our presidential election, but most of you will read it after the election is over and the votes have been tallied. With this in mind, I want to address what happens after the election, because I know that, divided as we are, when all is said and done we as a nation have the potential to be even more deeply torn asunder by the results, one side exulting in their victory and the other angrily stewing over their loss and the possible future that it represents.

I want to remind all of you first, that we as believers are not ultimately beholden to any president, king, emperor or other human leader. We have one Lord, and one alone. As I write this, however, I also want to clarify that Christians are certainly called to be lawful citizens who submit to legal authorities. In 1 Peter 2:13-17, the Apostle Peter wrote that we are to "be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperors as supreme, or to the governors as sent by him." Peter notes that such civil obedience is "the will of God" for us.

I think it's important to note that Peter did not write this passage as the citizen of a free nation that protected his right to practice his religion freely but rather as the subject of an often-tyrannical Roman government, led by the emperor Nero, who would eventually command Peter's execution. This is noteworthy because, while we as Christians will certainly not declare that any institution of government is our lord, we need to be clear that our Lord has declared that we should submit ourselves to our governmental institutions.

While Peter seems to communicate no caveats or exceptions in this matter, it helps to balance this passage out with the rest of Scripture, especially the stories of Peter and John in the early life of the church as related in the book of Acts. In Acts 4:1-20, and again in Acts 5:17-29, we read about Peter and John being arrested for preaching the Gospel and then being released with the command of the authorities no longer to preach or teach in Jesus' name. The powerful response of Peter and the other apostles was clear and telling: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

In light of the potential that our nation may become a place with leadership that is more and more unfriendly to Christians and that seeks to minimize our impact on society and our voice in matters of public policy, how are we as Christians to respond? Do we follow Peter's words in 1 Peter 2, or do we follow Peter's example in Acts 4-5? While this is a question about which many books and dissertations could be written, let me provide a little biblical perspective on the matter:

First, we need to be clear that, barring unusual circumstances, our basic stance toward governmental authorities is to be that of lawful submission. Now, this does not mean that we never disagree, and it certainly does not mean that we sit back passively, not utilizing our rights as citizens to influence the direction of policy. Living in a participatory system as we do, we should pursue every legal means available to us to seek to bring our country in line with biblical principles and to choose leaders who are godly people with strong moral character and integrity.

Second, we need to understand that the times we choose the path of civil disobedience must only be those in which our civil authorities have commanded us to do things (or not to do things) that go in direct contradiction to the commands of God. There is a vast difference between things that we as believers strongly disagree with that are allowed in our nation versus those things which a government might force upon us. When we disagree, our response may be to seek change through policy, through peaceful protest, through electing leaders friendly to our cause and/or through making legal challenges to existing laws, among other things.

It is only in those moments when we must make the decision--is Caesar our lord, or is Jesus our Lord--that we are given the freedom to act in civil disobedience. Please understand that I am talking about us as individuals; there is a whole other argument to be made in regard to political uprisings such as the revolution that led to the creation of the United States of America (although it did begin with a strong emphasis on religious freedom).

So, as we deal with the aftermath of our national election, regardless of the outcome, let's realize that our greatest priority is the spread of the Gospel, not political success. This being the case, it behooves us to heed and to follow the commands laid down for us in 1 Peter 2:17--"Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

Grace and peace,



Opening My Mouth Boldly

October 31, 2016

Over the years, I have heard a great deal said about the lifestyle that we as believers are called to live and how it can be a strong and impactful influence in the lives of others when we live with uprightness and integrity. In Scripture, the commands given to us in that regard are plentiful and clear, and they relate to us in no uncertain terms that it is our responsibility to live such good lives among unbelievers that our righteousness shines like a light in the darkness and inspires others to glorify our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:14-16).

I would venture to say that most of the Christian people I know truly uphold this responsibility, living lives characterized by moral goodness, treating people with compassionate kindness, giving generously to various charitable causes and seeking to live in a manner that does not bring any shame or stain to the Gospel or to Christ's church. Although we all have our areas of struggle and our moments when our lights don't shine so brightly, it seems to me that most people who are serious about their faith live what most people would describe as pretty good lives.

Our hope, of course, is that the influence of goodness spreads and impacts the society beyond us. In the midst of our present election cycle, a cursory glance at the scandal-ridden campaigns of our two main presidential candidates highlights for us how desperately our societal underpinnings need to be exposed to the light and thoroughly cleansed--or perhaps even replaced altogether! Either way, the need for a strong and godly Christian presence in our society is certainly needed.

In addition to lives lived well that impact our neighbors, communities and culture at large, our nation needs Christians who are prepared and ready to "give an answer" (1 Peter 3:15-16) regarding what we believe and why we believe it. Truth is, a passive influence can only go so far, and people simply observing our good, quiet lives will only benefit to a certain degree, after which they need to hear from us verbally regarding why we live the way we do and how they also can discover the truth of the Gospel and the new life that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Now, I know there are lots of Christians out there who say, "I just live the way God tells me to live, and I let my life speak for itself," but I must confess that I've never seen or heard of anyone coming to Christ as a new believer solely because they watched someone living the Christian life and then just figured it all out through observation. While a godly life might initially intrigue non-Christians and even arouse their curiosity about why the Christian is so different from everyone else and lives in such a way the rises above cultural expectations, the only way that non-Christians will ever know the eternity-altering truth behind the good life of the believer is if someone actually opens their mouth and tells them.

After all, Scripture is clear that "faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Common sense alone tells us that the only way that a person can know about Christ and how to place their faith in Christ is by having it communicated to them by another human being. Let me be clear in this: as the ones entrusted with this truth and knowledge, we are the ones responsible for the telling of it!

So let's be prepared and ready. Being prepared means that we have done our homework; we've familiarized ourselves with the truth of the Gospel, and we've learned how best to communicate it to others in a way that is clear and that leads them to a place of making a decision for Christ. Being ready means that we are in the right place spiritually, attuned to the Holy Spirit through prayer, keenly alert to opportunities we may encounter and strengthened with boldness to share courageously the way to faith in Jesus Christ.

The words of Paul in Romans 10:14 ring loudly in the silence today, crying out, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are the to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?" In answer, may Paul's request for prayer in Ephesians 6:19-20 be ours also, as we seek to become bold sharers of God's truth: "[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel...that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak."

Grace and peace,



The Power of Love

October 24, 2016

In the early history of the Christian faith, there was not much love given to the Christian community by the culture at large. Among the Jewish people, Christians were viewed as a new, upstart offshoot of Judaism that had wandered outside of the boundaries of orthodoxy and needed to be eradicated (you may remember the Apostle Paul's previous career when he was Saul, and he was "ravaging the church" --see Acts 8:3).

Within the larger Roman Empire, Christians were seen as a group of people who obstinately held to their religious beliefs, many of which went against the cultural norms of the day--like an absolute opposition to abortion (yes, it was a thing way back then) and infanticide (families would often kill female newborns due to their lack of perceived value), a prohibition of homosexuality, and a strong stance in regard to sexual chastity and purity and fidelity within marriage. In addition, Christians were accused of everything from treason (for refusal to honor Caesar as lord) to cannibalism (some took literally that Christians consumed the body and blood of Christ in communion), and many felt that harsh punishment was just and appropriate.

As a result of the above views of the Christian faith, believers were routinely persecuted in a number of ways, from simple social ostracism to the terrible and torturous deaths in the arena, where they were made a spectacle for the entertainment of the masses. Some of the most horrific stories of Christian persecution are connected with the emperor Nero, who would hold dinner parties where the lighting was supplied by the bodies of Christians who had been impaled on stakes, covered in pitch and set afire.

And yet somehow, in spite of such terrible persecution and punishment, the Christian faith within a few centuries would become the official religion of the Roman Empire, displacing the Roman pantheon of pagan gods by act of emperor Theodosius I in 380 AD. Aside from some of the political maneuverings that went on during the decades leading up to Theodosius' official decision, what in the world could move a religious group from being the persecuted outcasts to becoming the celebrated center of an empire's religious life?

While the details of this transformation are likely many and certainly complex, one of the most recognized elements that led to Christianity's rise in the Roman Empire centered on two great epidemics that occurred in 165 AD and 251 AD. Both of these plagues were well-documented in their time, with physicians of the day describing their symptoms in great detail. The first plague, known as the Antonine Plague, was likely smallpox, and the second, known as the Plague of Cyprian was either smallpox or measles. In both cases, the plagues were devastating, killing around one-third of the population each time.

The typical response among the Romans was to flee from infected people, with families even abandoning their loved ones to escape what was almost certain death. In the first plague, Rome's greatest physician, Galen, fled to his country estate to wait until the danger had passed.

Christians, on the other hand, took seriously the command of Christ--"love your neighbor as yourself"--and ministered to those who were sick, risking their own death in obedience to their Lord. These believers knew that if obedience meant death, they had a better reward waiting for them in heaven. Thus, they cared for one another and for their pagan neighbors as well, with little regard for their own health.

Author Rodney Stark wrote in The Rise of Christianity (1996) that modern medical experts who have studied these plagues believe that Christians' "conscientious nursing without any medications"--providing hydration, nourishment and basic care--cut the potential mortality rate of the plagues by two-thirds or more. While pagans abandoned even their own and left them to die, Christians, in obedience to Christ's command to love, fearlessly helped others at great personal risk, and the sick recovered in large numbers, remembering who had cared for them when no one else would.

Writer Greg Scandlen asks, "What religion could be more appealing?" This, my friends, is the power of radical love carried out in faithful obedience. It transforms a group of hated outcasts into an appealing community, and I believe that it's the one thing that we as believers hold as our greatest weapon in combating a negative societal view of us--both in the past and now in the present.

The question for me is not about the power of such love, but rather whether or not we will hold up to its demands, living it out as we are commanded, even in regard to our enemies. When we do, it's powerful, transformative stuff.

Grace and peace,



Fight or Flight

October 17, 2016

Way back in 1915, Walter Cannon, chairman of the Department of Physiology at the Harvard University School of Medicine, published a book entitled Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage, in which he examined the physiological changes that occur in animals when placed under extreme stress. In this work, he coined the term "fight or flight response" to describe an animal's gut-level, immediate reaction to the aforementioned stimuli that causes it either to go into attack mode (picture a cornered animal that viciously bites and claws) or to run away in a panic.

In the one hundred years since Cannon's revelations concerning animals, other scientists have noted that we as human beings are affected in similar fashion, likewise experiencing physiological changes that provide us with great bursts of energy to be applied either to a fight or to flight. I am personally inclined to believe that we also have a spiritual "fight of flight response" that can occur in us when we as human being encounter a crisis of faith. Let me explain what I mean:

Last Sunday in our Bible Studies and in our worship service, we looked at the story of Jonah. You may remember that Jonah was a prophet, called by God and tasked with the responsibility of communicating God's word to people. In the biblical story, Jonah was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrians, known by history and by the biblical record to be a brutal, warlike people. Jonah's assignment was to go to Nineveh and to preach about the impending judgment of God on the sins of the Ninevites.

Instead of going and preaching, however, Jonah chose to flee from God's presence, traveling about two thousand miles in hopes of shaking God off his trail. Jonah did this because he was both afraid of the Ninevites and because he deeply despised them and desired their destruction. As you may remember, Jonah's plan didn't work out too well, as God redirected him in such an amazing and miraculous way that it became one of the greatest stories of all time.

On the other side of the issue, we also have many stories--biblical and historical--of God's people who have, in moments of crisis, moved headlong into the fray, choosing not to run away but rather to stand and to engage the enemy, with powerful effect. The greatest example of such a person is Jesus, of course, who experienced the emotional stress displayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He sweat drops of blood under tremendous duress, completely aware of the great sacrifice He was destined to make on the cross.

In the end, abandoned by His closest followers, Jesus chose to fight--but not in the way that we would traditionally think of fighting. Jesus did not engage in physical warfare, taking on Roman soldiers hand-to-hand and slashing His way through the jeering crowds with a sword. No--Jesus instead took on our greatest enemy, and through His own sacrifice provided us with the opportunity to receive the great gift of eternal life.

For those of us who are believers, our "fight or flight" moments are often similar--we experience a crisis of faith as we are faced with a decision to follow God in obedience or to run away in cowardly rebellion. Ironically, for us, a "flight" response may simply mean that we do nothing or that we ignore God's assignment for us in the moment. A "fight" response may not involve fighting at all as we normally perceive it, but rather us choosing to engage in the spiritual battle before us, perhaps even doing something counter-intuitive in the moment, such as loving an enemy.

We have learned in our hundred years of studying the physiological fight or flight response that it can be altered through training and conditioning, allowing a person to experience transformation that helps them cope with the stress. For those of us who are believers in Christ, it's good to know as well that our spiritual response is not just something hardwired into us, but rather that God can transform us too such that our gut reaction is is not running away in disobedience but rather running obediently into the fray, directly into the battle for the souls of our fellow human beings.

So--which is your greater inclination when it comes to God's assignments for you--flight or fight?

Grace and peace to you,



Religion and Politics

October 10, 2016

It has been said that in "polite conversation" the two main topics you shouldn't discuss are religion and politics, reason being that both are sure to tap into some of our deepest-held emotions and to elicit overly-passionate responses. Even when we think we might be safe in the confines of people who only think like we do, our opinions in regard to these two subjects can be so varying that we can quickly find ourselves at odds with one another, arguing vehemently for our way of thinking while seeking to utterly demolish the arguments of others.

This presidential election has further complicated matters, as many people across the nation feel that neither of the two candidates we have to choose from are fit to lead our nation, and it's difficult for a person of faith to advocate for either one. On the one hand, we have a candidate whose political career has served up one scandal after the other and who has proven to be less-than-honest in her dealings with the public. In her most recent governmental post, she was regarded by the FBI director as "extremely careless" in handling the most classified of materials and may have even opened up state secrets to hostile actors through her lack of proper diligence.

On the other hand, we have a candidate who has shown himself to be arrogant, insulting and crude, whose greatest claims to fame are his hotels, golf courses, casinos and his reality TV show (and his money, of course). During the campaign--especially recently--we have been served a constant diet of his rudeness and vulgarity, and his response to each new revelation the depths to which he has gone is not true repentance but rather a defensive excuse-making stance that then turns into an attack on the other candidate (or her spouse--and spouses and ex-spouses in this election or a whole other story).

For those of us who hold dear our Christian principles, this election has turned into quite a struggle, as we have sought to wrestle with what a vote for either of these candidates means for us and for our nation. If we vote for the democrat candidate, we vote for someone who holds many positions that are diametrically opposed to our faith, and we risk the development of a Supreme Court that would be stacked with progressive liberals who would potentially take the country down a path that would be even less friendly to conservative Christian people. Additionally, we risk placing someone into office who will support organizations that we deem to be despicable and hostile to our morals and values.

If we vote for the republican candidate, however, we risk placing someone into the role of president who will diminish the character of the office in ways that we might never have anticipated. While we might (and I emphasize "might" because we surely do not know) get Supreme Court justices who would be friendlier to the causes we hold dear, we have to ask ourselves, "At what cost?" In gaining the presidency, would we forfeit any moral high ground we might hold be voting for someone so unrepentantly immoral?

There is, of course, a third option--the independent candidate who has already conceded defeat and who appears to be inadequate for the job based on his lack of competence and knowledge. Not to mention that, historically, a vote for a third party candidate has accomplished nothing politically other than taking votes away from one of the main candidates.

So what is an evangelical Christian to do? We seem to have found ourselves in an unresolvable dilemma. While some Christians have already chosen not to vote at all, others are promoting a third-party vote as a vote of conscience. Yet others are saying to hold your nose and vote issues, not personalities.

I wish I had the answer. I know God has an answer, but I fear that His answer is that we as a country, come January 2017, are going to get what we deserve. So, what I'm going to do, and what I'm asking you to do as well, is to pray that God will do something amazing and miraculous between now and November 8 to rescue us from this mess into which we have gotten ourselves.

And please--pray hard and pray often.

Grace and peace,




October 3, 2016

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." - 1 Peter 2:9

It's abundantly clear from a basic reading of Scripture that we who are believers are called by God to be different from the rest of the world. We are told that even the very beginning of our walk with Him changes the very nature of who we are as we are born again (see 1 Peter 1:3) and created anew (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

As people who have experienced this new birth, our biblical mandate is that we continue on in this same vein, or as Paul puts it in Romans 6:4, that we "walk in newness of life." Walking this path of newness is not easy, however, considering that we live in a world that seeks to pull us back down into the muck and mire at every turn and in every way, always appealing to our lusts and our pride.

We also live with our "flesh" (see Romans 7:21-25, 8:5-8), that natural, internal part of us which wars against God's activity in our hearts and which seeks to focus us on our passions and desires as opposed to obedience to the greater purposes of God's will. To top it off, we have a personal enemy, the devil, whose mission in life is to steal, kill and destroy (see John 10:10), and who will tell us all kinds of lies (see John 8:44) to sidetrack us from God plans in our lives.

And yet, in spite of all that wars against us and within us, God has promised to those who humbly submit to Him that He will cause them to be overcomers, hyper-conquerors (see Romans 8:37) who, through the strength placed in us through God Almighty Himself, are able to overcome the flesh, the world and the devil himself (see James 4:7-8)

This victorious stance and the life that it brings makes us very different from the rest of people who surround us. This is not to say that the average person cannot experience joy, cannot do a selfless act of kindness for another or cannot discover a certain level of peace and tranquility in this life. After all, all human beings are created in the image of God, so we all are capable of acting in ways that reflect God to a degree.

For the Christian who is fully submitted to God, however, the difference is clear, especially in regard to how we handle the difficulties of life, how we interact with and care for others, and how we desire for others to know and experience the hope that we ourselves have found in Jesus Christ. And such has always been the case for people of true and abiding faith.

Last Sunday, we began to discuss how we are different from the rest of this world and how God has called us out as His people to live differently in the world, that we might have an impact for Him in this world. We began by noting the fact that we are forever in a spiritual struggle, and the quicker we realize this fact and prepare ourselves for spiritual warfare by being strengthened by God, by taking up His armor and by learning to wield His weaponry, the more victorious we will be.

In the weeks to come, we will talk about taking a stand as people of faith, about not running away from God's calling, about loving others "ridiculously," and about learning how to give an answer to others about why we believe what we believe and live like we live. And that's just for starters. So, I hope you'll commit to dive in weekly to our topics, and if you can't be in each service, to download each week's message from our sermon archive ( so you can remain current with our studies.

And remember as we continue over these next several weeks that as a believer, God has made you different from the world that you might make a difference in the world for Him.

Grace and peace,



On BEING a friend

September 26, 2016

"If you want to have a friend, you have to be a friend."

I cannot tell you how many times I heard a saying along these lines when I was a kid, but it was certainly a bunch. Such folksy advice is fairly common, communicated to us by parents, teachers and adult leaders of all varieties who seek to inject a little wisdom into our lives as we grow. We also see these sayings printed on kitschy items in collectible stores, sewn into throw pillows and crafted into little cross-stitch pictures that are perfect for hanging up in someone's grandmother's house.

Sometimes, due to the fact that these sayings are so common, accessible and well-worn, we tend to bypass them, along with the wisdom that they contain. In our dismissiveness, however, we stand to lose solid advice for living that often has firm foundations in Scripture itself.

Take, for example, the saying at the beginning of this article. The idea that one's best route to making new friends and keeping existing friends is by being a friend in a proactive, preemptive fashion finds some pretty strong support in Scripture. Consider passages like these:

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." - Proverbs 17:17

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." - Roman 12:15

"Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up." - Romans 15:2

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up..." - 1 Thessalonians 5:11

"Greater love has no one than this, than someone lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13

Each of the above passages speaks to our calling as believers to be a friend to those who need a friend and also to the expectation that this faith-based friendliness serve as a core aspect of our character, particularly in relation to how we deal with others.

And while being a friend may be to our benefit in that it gains and maintains friendships for us, it's an even bigger deal when we think of it in relation to our mission of serving as Christ's ambassadors in the world. If we truly believe that it was God's preemptive, proactive love, grace, mercy and kindness that moved Him to send Christ to us (the greatest act of friendship ever) as our example, as our sacrifice and as our Lord and Savior, then it only stands to reason that we, in imitation of our Father, would reach out in like manner to those who are similarly in need of someone to be a friend to them.

Of course, true friends look out for the highest good of their friends, and we happen to believe that the highest and greatest good that another person can discover is in a faith relationship with God in Christ. This means for us that the greatest act of true friendliness is found in introducing another person to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, letting them in on the good news that they can have life eternal through faith in Christ.

With this in mind, how would we evaluate ourselves as biblical friends? Are we simply setting out to make a dent in the epidemic of loneliness in our society, hoping to give someone a friend for a moment, or are we intent on doing the best thing a friend can do--introducing another person to Christ and giving them a friend for eternity?

That's really what friends are for.

In Christ,



Community Church

September 19, 2016

One of the characteristics of our present-day society is that of transience--meaning that people do not tend to stay in the same place for long periods of time, choosing instead a life of mobility and continual uprooting and replanting. This impermanence in regard to where we live, where we work, where we attend church, etc., has brought with it several consequences, including loneliness and a loss of community among people.

Gone are the days, apparently, when a family settled into an area for multiple generations, all of them graduating from the same schools, attending the same churches and living in the same towns together. Such multi-generational familiarity has given way to this new reality that, while bringing with it the excitement of newness, also leaves individuals and families with the inability to know and to be known by others on a deep level.

Liberty Park, the community in which our church is located, is a prime example of this phenomenon. Created as a planned community in 1994, Liberty Park is only twenty-two years old, which means that if a person was born here the first year that our community existed, that person would just now be a senior in college. What this means functionally for Liberty Park is that, at this point in its life cycle, no one is really from here. Basically, if you live in Liberty Park, you are transplanted from somewhere else.

For people living in our neighborhood, this means that community--not the physical clump of adjacent houses in a geographical area, but rather the relationships that give one a sense of belonging, of support, of knowing others and being known by others--the feeling that this is "home"--is much more difficult to obtain, and this dislocated-ness not only affects the neighborhood, but also the church as well.

Our struggles in regard to finding community in our community mean that we, as a church, must be even more intentional in seeking to build deep and abiding relationships with one another and with people in our neighborhood. As a family of faith, we already have something--someone, really--in common, which means that we should have a leg up in regard to establishing community with each other in a way that hopefully affects our neighborhood in positive ways as well.

As an example of how this can work, let me refer you to the block party event that our church held in the Provence neighborhood of Liberty Park last Sunday afternoon. As an "I love you" to this neighborhood, we hosted a party that included free food and a big, inflatable bouncy-house for the kids. Around forty-five of our own people turned out for the event, and many of the Provence residents enjoyed it as well. As we intentionally built relationships, one of the things I kept hearing from people was something along these lines: "Thanks so much for hosting this event; very seldom do we get to have something like this where we get to hang out with and meet our neighbors."

As I heard this refrain over and over, I was reminded that we--the church--can be a prime influence in helping build community in our community, of providing opportunities for people to establish and grow relationships and to foster a sense of "home" among people who are otherwise dislocated from home. As we do this, we hopefully communicate to our neighbors that we genuinely love them and care for them, and these new lines of relationship hopefully open up for us opportunities to share our faith with our neighbors and encourage the faith of our neighbors who are believers.

One of the unique features of Liberty Park Baptist Church is that we are truly a community church in a day when many churches are seeking to develop regional reach and influence. As God continues to open doors for us in our community, I hope we will pray and watch for God's guidance as He leads us to be a light for Christ here in Liberty Park.

In Christ,



Building Bridges, Burning Bridges

September 12, 2016

Which are you more adept at doing--building bridges or burning them? I'm speaking metaphorically, of course, specifically regarding our relationships with other people and how we handle them. So, understanding the context of my question, how would you answer it? Are you far more skilled at and inclined to be a person who works to extend yourself toward others with an eye toward developing a friendly connection? Or are you rather more like a "relational arsonist" who seems to have a knack for torching your connections, leaving them to go up in the flames of your temper, your desire for control, your petty grievances or your overall negative approach to life and people?

It's really not a difficult question to answer. All you have to do is look around at the relationships in your life and see if most of them are healthy and flourishing or if they are damaged and under duress. In more than three decades of ministry, I've seen a lot of both--people who just seem to be so open and caring that others desire to be around them and know them, and then on the other side those people who just seem to hurt and to drive others away with their bad attitudes, harsh words and selfish agendas.

I've always been in awe of people who are gifted "bridge builders." You can tell these people by their gracious, kind and compassionate way of speaking and dealing with others. You can see in them an honest desire and intentional effort to hear from and learn about others rather than promoting themselves first. Ironically, some of the best bridge builders I've met are very interesting people who have amazing life stories, yet their goal in any given situation is not to highlight themselves but rather to get to know those with whom they are interacting and to speak and act in ways that benefit others.

And then there are the "bridge burners." Typically self-focused, the bridge burner approaches others with a bad attitude and disposition. Although not always evident at first, the attitude will certainly surface in time, often to the surprise and shock of its targets, and the conflagration begins. Bridge burners find it difficult to listen to others, because their agenda is the most important thing in the moment (in their minds, at least). Often cynical, sarcastic (not in the funny way) and bitter, they angrily lash out at others--or go silent and cut them off entirely, which is merely aggressive quietness--when they no longer find them pleasing or useful.

Sadly, many of the bridge burners I've met over the years wonder why their relationships are so difficult and in such shambles, having no idea that they are the ones causing the trouble. In counseling sessions with such people, I have sometimes had to suggest that, if everyone around them seems to have issues with them and vice-versa, perhaps they should consider that they are the common denominator, the one with whom the problem really lies. Sometimes pointing this out has brought help, improvement and transformation; other times, the person has angrily cut me off as well and moved on to find someone who will tell them what they want to hear.

There is another option that I've not mentioned, by the way: there are people who choose not to build bridges at all. Typically lonely, they exist in self-imposed isolation because they refuse to reach out to others for the purpose of growing relationships. While a person might be in such circumstances for a variety of reasons--suffering from past hurts, deeply introverted, too busy/preoccupied, "hiding" due to shame or guilt, etc.--this failure to extend relational overtures to people or to accept the friendly overtures of others can be damaging to the human psyche as well.

Truth is, God created us to be in relationship with Him and with others. When we work at becoming expert relational bridge builders, we come closer to falling in line with God's plan for us and obeying that second greatest command, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

So--how are your bridge-building skills?

In Christ,



The Second Greatest Command

September 2, 2016

The manner in which we are to deal with our human relationships is a central theme of Scripture. Consider this: when Jesus was asked to identify the greatest of God's commands, He replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). Then, without being asked, He offered, "And the second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). What's revealing about this is that Jesus felt so strongly about our human relationships that He took the opportunity afforded by the question to pointedly identify that the second greatest commandment out of everything that God expects of us is focused very clearly on how we deal with one another.

If the second greatest command from God Himself deals with our relationships with other people, we should clearly take from this that God is deeply concerned with how we relate to each other in terms of our attitudes, thoughts, words and behavior. Now, if this Scripture was the only one that dealt with human relationships it would certainly be enough to guide the way that we think about and act toward other people. The truth is, however, that much of Scripture--in both the Old and New Testaments--is dedicated to providing us guidance in fulfilling God's command to "love your neighbor as yourself."

Believers who are inclined to be serious about their obedience to God's commands typically give a great deal of energy and effort to searching the Scriptures to discover how better to relate to God and to practicing spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study to help them develop a deeper walk with God. In light of Jesus' declaration about the second greatest command, however, can it be truly said of us that we put the same amount of energy and effort into studying the scriptures and practicing "relational disciplines" to assist us in developing better relationships with other people?

If we're honest, we'll likely admit that most of us work a lot harder at the first and greatest command than we do at the second greatest. And yet, Jesus remains crystal clear that, while the "love your neighbor" command is secondary to the "love the Lord your God" command, it is by no means something that we can afford to set aside and ignore, only taking it up once we feel that we have gained mastery over the first command. On the contrary, Jesus reveals to us the our human relationships impact our divine relationship. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus offers this instruction:

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

In this passage, Jesus appears to be saying to us that God's not interested in dealing with us until we've dealt properly with each other. Such a revelation is in stark contrast to how we usually think about things--that we'll deal with God first, and then, if necessary, we'll deal with other people. Truth is, Jesus reverses that thinking, showing us that God's desire is for us to get right with each other, and then we can get right with Him.

Noting the impact of our human relationships on our relationship with God, we are going to take three Sundays--September 11, 18 and 25--to look at some relationship basics in our Bible Study Groups and in our worship service. I want to encourage you to plan to attend and to invite others, because we all can use some help with it comes to our relationships. Remember--loving others is not an optional thing; it's God's second greatest command!

In Christ,



Created to Grow

August 29, 2016

Growth is a basic characteristic of life. When God created life--microorganisms, plant life, animal life, human life--he encoded all of it with the trait of growth. This is such a well-recognized fact that the world of biological sciences lists "growth" as one of the key identifiers that allows us to differentiate between that which is alive and that which is not.

Likewise, we as believers in Christ have been created anew (2 Corinthians 5:17) with the trait of growth encoded into our "spiritual DNA." In Scripture, we read clear calls regarding God's intention for us to grow in our faith, in our obedience and in our intimacy with Him:

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter 3:18

"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow
up in your salvation." - 1 Peter 2:2

Such clarion calls as these remind us that God does not intend for us just to get saved and then to go about our business as if nothing happened. Neither does He plan for us to climb to the level of the most common denominator and stop there. The biblical evidence, rather, makes it clear to us that God's design is for us to be conformed to the very image of Jesus Christ Himself, which means that perfection in regard to our character, thoughts, attitudes, behavior, speech, interaction with God and treatment of others is the goal that God has set before us.

This is no small thing, and most of us with any sense realize that it is entirely beyond our reach, because we as human beings are inherently sinful and prone to weakness and failure. Nonetheless, God has intentionally set the growth bar high, giving us a lifetime pursuit as we aspire to become more and more like Christ. So, with Christ as our goal, our job, so to speak, is to continue on the upward path, growing throughout our lives, as God reveals more and greater things to us and uses us in higher and deeper Kingdom pursuits.

And the great news is that God does not leave us to make this happen on our own. Rather, as we commit to grow and in submission to His Lordship begin to make efforts in that area, God's promise is that He is there guiding and effecting the process, as is noted in Philippians 2:12-13:

"...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose."

This is why it's so alarming that we as believers often seem to be very settled with complacency in regard to our spiritual growth. To be sure, sometimes it's difficult to maintain our focus on growth, as we get sidetracked by a variety of concerns, including everything from our own sinful rebellion against God to the trials of life that tend to knock us down a few pegs from time to time.

Still, it's imperative that we focus on growing in our understanding of God and His will, on growing in the closeness of our walk with Him and on growing in our obedience to God in every facet of our lives. It's vital because He has important things for us to do, people for us to impact, missions for us to accomplish. And He stands ready to make these things happen for all who are willing to humbly submit to His plan of growth.

This week, I want to challenge you to set aside some time to take an inventory of where you are spiritually. Ask yourself questions like, "Where in my life have I seen God at work lately?" "What new understanding have I gained in regard to God and His will recently?" "How have I been engaged in God's work in the past months?"

As you answer these questions honestly, let God speak to your heart about how He would have you get back on the path of growth. And remember, you were created to grow.

In Christ,



Comfortably Sidelined

August 22, 2016

Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of Friday nights at Gardendale High School football games. From the time I was a small child and all the way through until I went to college, our family routine was to get to the stadium early--regardless of whether the game was home or away--to stay until after the team left, and then to go out and grab a late, late supper with the coaches. It's not that we were super-fans or anything, but rather that from the first year that Gardendale High School created its football program, my dad was the team doctor, all the way up until he retired and quit practicing medicine.

When I hit my junior high school years, I actually had the fun opportunity to work alongside my dad on the sidelines, taping ankles, making ice packs, doing water-boy duties, and handing supplies to dad as he performed first aid on the players, including the occasional stitching job (remember, this was "back in the day"). My eighth grade year was the last year I served in this capacity, and it just happened also to be my older brother's (Brian) first year playing varsity.

One thing I remember about that year is how desperately Brian longed to get on the field in a game and get his jersey dirty, indicating that he had not only played, but that he had been in on some of the action. I'll never forget the night he finally got some playing time in a regular varsity game; he was proud beyond words to have dirt and grass stains on his uniform and to have some blood (he bragged that it was not his!) on his jersey. I was pretty fired up too.

When I think of my brother's eagerness to get in the game and utilize the meager skills he had at that time, I recall being inspired by his enthusiasm. I also remember being impressed by how hard he worked to prepare himself, working out like mad in the off-season, memorizing the entire playbook, giving 100% in practice to impress the coaches and always hanging right by the coach's side during games so he could be right there if the coach needed someone to go in the game quickly--no matter that he was a third-stringer.

Fast-forward to Brian's senior year in college, and I remember the pride I felt as his younger brother when he received the MVP trophy for Samford University's football team. Here was my brother, who I had seen go from a slow-footed, scrawny kid to a swift, muscular, hard-hitting, college-level wide receiver/defensive back, and I knew it was because he always had an incredible zeal just to get in the game and play. He worked hard just to get to play, and when he played, he gave it his all.

I compare such zeal and determination to what I often see in churches these days, where there are people who are gifted, talented and strong--spiritually speaking--who seem very comfortable just sitting on the sidelines. In an age where most churches are hurting for leaders and workers, it's heartbreaking to know that we have all of the people resources we need--but that they are very comfortable sitting on the bench.

Believe me, I understand the reasons why some folks are there: they've been wounded by other believers, or they're burned out from being called on too often, or they're scared to step up, having seen others do so only to become a target for negative and critical people. Perhaps they are afraid to fail, or they feel inadequate spiritually or training-wise for the tasks before them. I get it, because I've been in all of those places at one time or another too.

At some point, however, your love for the "game"--and more importantly, your love for and loyalty to our "Coach" must kick in and override all of the things that keep us comfortably sidelined. So, here's my challenge in the 2016-17 church year to the folks who've grown comfortable with bench-sitting: It's time to step up, snap on your chin-strap and get into the game. When it's all said and done, God will not reward us for how much energy we conserved on the sidelines but rather by how much of ourselves we expended for Him on the field of play. It's time to get in the game.

In Christ,



Serve Out, Serve In

August 15, 2016

From the title of my article, you might be inclined to think that you're about to read a write-up on Olympic tennis. That would be a good guess, but it would be entirely wrong. Instead, what I would like to address in this week's article is the calling that each believer has on his/her life to serve (see 1 Peter 4:10). As we consider this matter of service, it's important to note that God calls us both to serve within the church walls and outside of them as well.

On Sunday morning, we began to address this issue of serving, particularly focusing on "serving out." We looked together at Christ's proclamation in Acts 1:8, in which He let His disciples know that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to become His witnesses beyond the walls of the church. He additionally outlined for them in this passage a common-sense strategy that would guide their "outwardly-focused" efforts in that arena, noting that they would begin in their local area (Jerusalem), broaden their efforts regionally (Judea), reach beyond their region to the historical borders of Israel (Samaria) and then go on to the ends of the earth.

We know from the biblical record and from the history of ancient Christianity that Christ followers through the ages have followed this approach quite literally, and each time believers have adhered to it--empowered of course by the Holy Spirit--they have found success in spreading the Gospel and reaching people for Christ. For this very reason, we as a church have worked to develop a clear "Acts 1:8 Strategy" for the coming church year, with the hope of maximizing our disciple-making efforts locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

In our Sunday worship service, I took the third point of my message to introduce the major projects in these four areas that we will be focusing on as a church in the 2016-17 church year:
  • Our Jerusalem (local) = We will be holding multiple prayerwalking emphases and outreach events in the various neighborhoods in and surrounding Liberty Park this church year. Our first will be in the Provence neighborhood, on Sunday, September 18.
  • Our Judea (regional) = We have committed to develop a partnership with Strong Tower Church at Washington Park ( in Montgomery, AL. As this relationship develops, we will be assisting Pastor (and NAMB church planter) Terrence Jones in his work to reach western Montgomery for Christ.
  • Our Samaria (national) = An old, familiar door has reopened for us in Damascus, VA, where we will be traveling once again to minister and witness to Appalachian Trail hikers at the Trail Days event. The dates for this trip will be May 18-20, 2017. In one previous trip, I personally had Gospel conversations with people from 28 different states and 6 different countries!
  • Ends of the earth (international) = God has thrown the door open for us in Guatemala as our friend, missionary Garry Eudy, has received an eager invitation from the incoming president of Guatemala to carry out ministry and church planting in that country. We will travel to San Andres, Guatemala, on July 14-22, 2017, but we will be engaged throughout the entire year in a variety of activities to keep our hearts, minds and prayers focused on the task ahead.
This coming Sunday, our focus will remain on serving, but we'll be looking more at our calling and responsibilities in regard to "serving in," that is, serving within the walls of the church. I won't give my message away just yet, but rather I want to encourage you to prepare your heart for Sunday morning as we look at how God calls each of us to consider how He would have us "serve in" and how He equips us for the work to which He calls us.

If you're willing to ask God how He would have you serve, and then if you're willing to listen/watch for His answer and to follow Him obediently as you discern His guidance, you just might end up being amazed at what He does in and through you, and how He blesses you deeply, in the coming church year. I challenge you to give it a try and see what God does with your willingness!

In Christ,



An Olympic Effort

August 8, 2016

It's time for the Olympics again, and I've always been a big fan of the Games. From my earliest years, I remember watching with awe the athletic pursuits of American Olympic legends like Mark Spitz, the swimmer who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Games, or Sugar Ray Leonard, who won gold in boxing in 1976, or the American "Miracle on Ice" hockey team that won gold against all odds in 1980. In 1984, I was enthralled by the amazing prowess of track and field phenom Carl Lewis, the graceful athleticism of gymnast Mary Lou Retton and by the strength and skill of wrestler Bruce Baumgartner (I could go on naming the names of those who've impressed me over the years, but it would pretty much take my entire article).

And then there's the music. I've always enjoyed the song that since 1968 has been widely-recognized as the "theme song" of the Olympics, with its powerful brass and pounding timpani drums (it's actually the fanfare from Leo Arnaud's Bugler's Dream, written in 1958, and not for the Olympics). In 1984, when the Games were held in Los Angeles and American composer John Williams (composer of the themes to Star Wars, Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark) debuted his Olympic Fanfare and Theme, I was blown away. When I actually got to play the song in my college orchestra, I thought the chill bumps would never go away.

Regardless of whether it's the athletics or the music, one thing that I've always appreciated about the Olympics is the tremendous amount of effort and focus that goes into this one, brief period that only occurs once every four years. This year, I was blown away by the story of American swimmer Dana Vollmer, who already held four gold medals from previous Games (2004 and 2012) and has won a silver and a bronze thus far in these Olympics. Just sixteen months ago, Dana gave birth to her first child, and yet she's back, less than a year and a half later, winning medals again. That type of focus, energy, hard work and drive just amaze me.

As I consider such excellence and effort, I often wonder how much of an impact we as believers could make on our world if we gave a true "Olympic Effort" to the causes of God's Kingdom, serving in Christ's name and making disciples. Now, I'm not under any mistaken impression that everyone has in them the ability to be an Olympian; honestly, some people are more genetically inclined to be stronger, faster and more skilled than the rest of us. There's no doubt that they have to work very hard and give up a great deal to be the best of the best, but for most of us, regardless of how much effort and sacrifice we gave it, we would never so much as make the team.

While we could draw a parallel from that spiritually--"Hey, I'm no Billy Graham"--there's a major difference between the world of Olympic-level athletics and Olympic Kingdom efforts that we need to keep in mind: although we are not all on the same, level "playing field" when it comes to our spiritual gifts, our abilities and even our opportunities, every one of us as a believer has the Holy Spirit living within us and empowering us to do what God asks of us. Each of us is accorded a place of service and the ability to serve in keeping with God's grace in our lives (see Romans 12:4-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-7), and God's expectation of us is that we will fill the role to which He has assigned us, utilizing the gifts He has given us, and that we will do so for His glory.

As we prepare for the 2016-17 church year, my question for you is this: have you discovered God's gifts that He has given you for ministry, and have you deployed those gifts in service to Him? If not, let this be the year that you make your first "Olympic Effort" in regard to the things of God. If your answer is "yes," then I encourage you to keep up the effort, knowing, as Paul wrote, that our "labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Let's go for the gold--not for a gold medal that hangs around our necks, but rather for the prize that goes to all who run the race that the Lord has set before us!

In Christ,



The Pursuit of Pure Worship

August 1, 2016

Most of us who are believers in Christ can point back to powerful worship experiences in our lives, times when we connected deeply with God and were overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, who we
felt in and among us at those moments. For me, one such experience happened in Birmingham in
the early 2000’s as I attended a Michael W. Smith concert that turned into an incredible worship
service, complete with a powerful message delivered by Max Lucado.

You see, as a Pastor, there are few times that I can experience worship and have nothing else on my mind (like preaching, meeting guests, making announcements, troubleshooting, etc.) So that
night, coming in with no other responsibilities and fully prepared for my heart to engage with God, I was able to enjoy one of the most meaningful worship experiences I have ever had in my life. I’ve often looked back on that moment fondly, reminiscing about how amazing it was asking God to help me once again to engage with Him in such moments of pure worship.

Knowing that such distraction for me is a hazard of my job, I have begun to pray in recent years, not that the distractions will go away (I’d have to do something different career-wise for that to happen), but rather that God will teach me the great spiritual lesson of learning to set my heart free in worship of Him in spite of the things that otherwise demand my attention.

As I tell you this, let me confess up front that it is a growth edge for me. Many are the Sundays that I step into the sanctuary, carrying a load of diversions, and I find myself having to work very hard to focus my heart, mind and spirit on the One I’m there to worship. And I know that I’m not alone in this. I know that for many of you, the experience is similar and that you, too, find yourself distracted and your attention diverted by things internal and external, when your true heart’s desire is to focus your mind’s attention and your hearts affection on the only true and living God.

So, I want to encourage you in this pursuit. I want to urge you not to give up or to give in when it comes to pursuing those amazing moments of pure worship, because I believe that God honors such spiritual efforts, and I believe that His desire is to grant us our heart’s desire of worshiping Him in spirit and truth.

And for this reason, I want to make you aware of one of the keys in discovering such moments. One of the most important things we can do in preparing to worship God on Sunday mornings,
is to focus on worshiping Him throughout the week in between Sundays. You see, if our hearts spend six days devoid of interaction with God—not encountering Him in prayer, not engaging with Him through His word, not focusing on glorifying Him through our own thoughts, words and actions—then we’ll be hard-pressed to try in one lone hour on Sunday morning to get our hearts and minds in the right place to experience the kind of pure worship that we desire. If, however, we’ve spent our week taking time each day to intentionally be alone with God, and we’ve kept our focus on Him as we’ve sought to honor Him in all that we do, then the likelihood is much, much greater that we’ll be able to pick up with that same theme and continue along with it through the Sunday morning worship service.

What we as Christians often fail to understand is that each Sunday’s worship experience to a great extent is the culmination of the worship we’ve experienced in the six days prior, just as much as it is a preparation for the six days to come. Keep that in mind this week, and take some time each day to worship God with your thoughts, your time, your words, your deeds and everything else in preparation for Sunday morning. I assure you that it’ll truly make a difference as you pursue that moment of pure worship.

In Christ,

- Scott


A Brief Report on our Guatemala Mission Trip

July 25, 2016

It's always a joy when we as believers have an opportunity to see God at work, and even more so when we are allowed to be a part of that work that God is doing. Such was the case for a group of thirty of us from three different churches who served God and others alongside one another in San Andres, Guatemala, July 15-23. In partnership with the mission organization founded and led by Garry Eudy, our team went for the fourth time in as many summers to the region of Guatemala known as Peten, an area that is known for its ancient Mayan ruins but also for its poverty and its dearth of strong evangelical churches.

For these reasons, our church, along with Locust Fork Baptist and Prospect Baptist (in Eclectic, Alabama), sent representatives to spend a week engaging in four main areas of work:
  • Medical - Technically, our team was to hold a medical clinic Monday through Thursday, providing free medical care, free medications and reading glasses for those who needed them. Our team ended up taking part of Sunday to see the staff and families of the Christian School with which we were working, held the clinic on Monday through Thursday as planned and then held a "mini-clinic" for the staff and families of the hotel where we've stayed on each of our four visits. In all, they saw and treated around 1200 patients!
  • VBS - At the Christian school where we held our clinic--and where previous teams of ours had done some building upgrades--another part of our team held a VBS for the students. Although not entirely like its American counterpart, this VBS still included Bible stories, games, recreation and, most importantly, the presentation of the Gospel to the children.
  • Construction - A team of a dozen men worked through numerous setbacks and difficulties (one of the main being the unrelenting heat and humidity) to build the entire outside of a new pastor's house in less than a week. Starting with just a concrete slab on the school's property (where we also hope to see a church started within the coming year), these men worked tirelessly to construct a house that will help in the process of settling a pastor and his family into this town to begin a new work there.
  • Evangelism - Though technically a part of everything we do, there was a designated evangelism team (along with others who rotated in and out) tasked with ascertaining the spiritual status of every person who came through the medical clinic and then encouraging and praying for believers and sharing the Gospel with those who were not and praying for them as well. Because all information on new believers was left with a local pastor, we didn't get any final numbers on how many people received Christ, but we do know that it was several dozen, with our highest number in a single day being twenty-eight new believers.

By the time the week was done, much had been accomplished, and the groundwork had been laid for subsequent work to be accomplished, on the local level, on the national level by the church from Guatemala City that is sponsoring this new work in San Andres, and on the international level, as all three churches--Liberty Park, Locust Fork and Prospect Baptist Churches--all committed to a partnership that will culminate in another mission trip to San Andres next summer and hopefully will continue beyond that trip as well.

In the meantime, I would ask you to pray--for the Christian School in San Andres, for the new believers there and the local church that will be following up with them, for the church in Guatemala City as it works to locate a pastor for the church plant in San Andres, for Garry Eudy and his team as they think strategically about the expansion of their work in Guatemala, and for the partnership of three Alabama churches that are already planning for the coming year.

It's always amazing to watch God at work--and this mission trip was certainly no exception!

In Christ,



Students of the word

JULY 18, 2016

As an undergraduate at Mississippi College, I took my first Greek language class with Dr. G. Roger Greene. On the first day of class, Dr. Greene looked at the 20 of us who sat before him, did some simple calculations in his head, and said, "Only 5 of you will complete all four semesters of Greek." Needless to say, for those of us who had signed up with hopes of learning, reading, and understanding Biblical Greek, we were shocked and a little disheartened.

As the semester began, we quickly learned why Dr. Greene said what he said. He expected a lot from his students. His expectations were not unrealistic, they just required discipline. The discipline required was of a greater level than many of us had ever participated in before. The expectation that sticks out in my memory the most is his expectation of study. Dr. Greene believed that in order to truly learn and grasp the Greek language that you must live in it every day. Therefore, he required his students to study at least an hour every day. You may wonder how he knew whether or not we were meeting this requirement. When the roll was called at the beginning of each class, our response was not "Here" or "Present", but rather the number of hours we had studied since the last class meeting. If our answer was less than an hour, we were in for a long and very uncomfortable class.

As I look back on my experience with Dr. Greene, I see the wisdom of his requirement. Language is not something that can be crammed into your brain. It is something that must become a part of you. To truly master a new language, you must live in and with it day after day until it becomes a part of who you are.

The teachings of the Bible are this way, as well. We cannot just cram them into our brain. In order for them to become a part of who we are, we must dwell in them day after day. We must live in and with them until they become a part of who we are. They must not only guide our thoughts, they must eventually become our thoughts.

As Christ-followers, our lives will be directly impacted by our knowledge of and obedience to Scripture. The people we encounter each and every day will also be impacted. As Christ-followers, you and I serve as examples of Christ for those in our circle of influence. Just as the students in a class expect their teacher to be familiar enough with the topic to lead the class, our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers expect us to be familiar enough with the truths of the Bible that we claim to believe to help someone who is searching to grow in their relationship with Jesus. How do we get there? As Dr. Greene recommended, we get there by investing a little time in study every day. We cannot wait until the night before to cram. We must invest time everyday living with God's Word, so that we will be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ when presented with an opportunity to share.

By the way, I am honored to say that I did complete all four semesters of Dr. Greene's Greek. And, he was right. Only five of us made it to the end. May we, as servants entrusted with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, be faithful to the end in our study of His Word.

In Christ,



Life in These United States

July 11, 2016

If you're an American with any sense of concern for our nation's unity, safety and security, the events of last week left you wondering, along with millions of other citizens, what will become of our nation if we continue down this path of anger, hatred, discord and disregard for the value of the lives of our fellow Americans. I'm referring, of course, to the deaths of two African American men last week who were shot by police officers--one in Louisiana and the other in Minnesota--along with the ensuing attacks on police in various areas of the country, the most horrific of these being the cowardly sniper shootings of a dozen officers in Dallas, Texas, that left five of them dead.

Regardless of one's thinking in regard to each of the aforementioned killings--and I realize that there is great variety in attitudes across our nation--as fellow human beings, we should grieve the loss of life and the development of any circumstances that lead to the death of another human being. Even if the death of another human being is justified (as in self-defense, the protection of others or in a just war scenario), for anyone who believes that all humans are created in God's image, the loss of someone's life is a serious thing, and it should be viewed with the appropriate gravitas befitting such a occurrence.

In addition, as we consider the impact that these deaths have on the broader community, it should give us pause and move us to pray for families, for friends, for coworkers and for others affected by such tragedies. As we reflect, for example, on the death of Officer Brent Thompson, just married in the last two weeks, or Officers Patrick Zamarripa and Michael Smith--both husbands and fathers --we cannot help but realize that the loss of their lives will permanently alter the lives of their families as well. Basic human compassion should cause us to weep alongside the families of all whose lives were lost last week, as they mourn their sudden, tragic loss and wonder about how life proceeds from here.

On a broader scale, we as Americans should be deeply alarmed at the divide in our nation and at the seemingly un-fixable problems that have brought us to this level of discord. Beyond just disagreeing with each other, we appear to have come to the place as a nation where we no longer even hear each other, seeking instead to shout down, shut out and dismiss as inconsequential the feelings, thoughts, attitudes and arguments of others.

As an American who senses the national feeling of anxiety that seems to be spreading across our nation, let me express some of my thoughts regarding how we begin to respond to what's happening in our nation:

First, let's remember that anger, malice (desire to see another person harmed), and disregard for others are not biblically defensible ways of dealing with fellow human beings. In fact, Ephesians 4:31 says that we are to "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice." Our approach to others should rather be that of grace, mercy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love.

Second, we should recall Jesus' words regarding our calling as peacemakers in Matthew 5:9--"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called son of God." Where we can impact our society, or even the interactions between groups and individuals, by bringing peace, we should seek to do what we can in that regard. We are not to be stokers of the flames (not even on social media!) but rather seekers of peace.

Third, we must not forget the power of God in all of this. We as humans seem to busy ourselves making a mess of everything, twisting it all into a knot that cannot be untangled. We easily reach the place of impasse and impossibility, where we can no longer undo what we've done. While we are powerless to address and to repair our society, God is not. Last week did not catch Him by surprise, and He is not standing in heaven wringing His hands and wondering what to do. He always has an answer and a plan for redemption. He is the God of the impossible, the Great Untangler of our most interminable of knots. We, therefore, should seek Him with all our hearts, crying out for wisdom and listening and watching carefully for His answers. This really does matter.

The above is just a start, but it's a good start. There is no easy way back from where we've come, but our Father assures us that He will walk all the way with us. We just need to stick with Him.

In Christ,



One Nation Under Duress

June 27, 2016

Next week on July 4, our nation--The United States of America--will celebrate its 240th birthday. As usual, there will be the singing of patriotic songs, verbal affirmations of the greatness of America, expressions of gratitude for our freedoms and loud and bright displays of fireworks marking the celebration of this noteworthy day.

As we enjoy the festivities of our Independence Day, however, there is doubtless a sense of foreboding and anxiety felt by many, regardless of political stance, party affiliation or cultural leanings, that underlies and perhaps undercuts the joy that we feel. Deep down, we know that our nation is in precarious circumstances in a number of arenas, the major ones being political, economic, cultural, and spiritual. Consider these concerns:

Political - As we approach a presidential election this November, there is no clear-cut leader that the majority of Americans seem to be excited about. On either side of the aisle, it appears that many will vote holding their nose, so to speak, because the candidate representing their party carries immense baggage and comes with major questions regarding their ability to lead our nation. Additionally, our views on hot-button issues like immigration, gun control and religious liberty are continually debated with intense passion from both sides, with little view toward compromise or even civil, grown-up discussion.

Economic - In spite of fairly steady stock market gains for the most part in recent years, it's hard to escape the fact that our nation's leaders are spending vast amounts of money that we simply do not have. Our economic circumstances have grown to resemble someone who has taken out a bunch of credit cards and loans, using one to pay on the other, all the while posting minimum payments on interest just enough to keep the creditors at bay. Anyone with sense at all knows that an individual--and a nation--can only do that for so long before something has to give. With our unprecedented national debt now soaring over $19 trillion--an amount too astronomical to consider--Americans know that our financial outlook nationally is fear-inducing at best.

Cultural - In regard to our cultural and societal mores, we are certainly a nation divided. Whether in regard to the nature of marriage, gender identity issues or our values in regard to human life, sexual morality or the having/raising of children, there is a clear chasm of understanding and worldview that exists among Americans. Because many of these issues carry with them mutually-exclusive conclusions, there seems to be little if any desire or ability for people to agree with each other on any level, thus intensifying the debates and deepening the divide.

Spiritual - Much of the above cultural debate stems from various people's stances in regard to spiritual/religious matters. One need not be an elite reader of the spiritual tone of our nation to note that there is a colossal, growing split between religious and irreligious citizens. Furthermore, there is a distinct rift between religious conservatives' and religious liberals' points of view on a number of issues. Overall, I think it's fair to say that the spiritual character of our nation is a matter of great anxiety to those who are concerned about such matters (that should include us!).

What are we to do with/about all of this? While it may sound simplistic, I would say that our first and primary order of business is to pray. We also need more than ever to live our faith--and not with slogans, t-shirts and bumper stickers, but rather "in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). Further, we need to advocate for our beliefs and values and vote in ways that are consistent with biblical principles. Finally, we need to realize that who we are called to be and how we are called to live before God and in regard to others never changes, regardless of the winds swirling around us.

So, let us be the salt of the earth, children of God living with integrity among our fellow Americans, shining like stars in the universe as we hold fast to and hold out before us the word of life, hoping and praying that our nation can become once again one nation under God.

In Christ,



An Amazing Display of Christian Unity

June 20, 2016

Each year in the middle of June, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) holds its annual meeting. This year, the meeting was held in St. Louis, Missouri, and more than seven thousand messengers from Southern Baptist churches around the nation gathered to hear reports from convention entities and to vote on matters of importance to the denomination.

Among the matters to be voted on this year, the one that garnered the greatest amount of attention from those of us who gathered there was the election of a new convention president. Although there were three candidates who had been nominated for the position, two had come to the forefront in a race that was as hotly-contested and potentially contentious as any in recent memory.

One of the candidates, Dr. Steve Gaines, formerly served as the pastor of Gardendale's First Baptist Church (my home church) and presently is the pastor of the historic Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, following in the footsteps of great pastors like Adrian Rodgers and R. G. Lee. As an older pastor, Dr. Gaines appealed to his supporters as someone familiar with convention structures and processes whose ministry has been characterized by prayerful, revival-centered preaching and leadership.

The other candidate, Dr. J. D. Greear, is a younger minister who serves as pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, a church that has grown under his leadership from 300 people to more than 10,000. Dr. Greear is also the author of several books and formerly served on the International Mission Board, working its outreach efforts to Muslims. His supporters were enthusiastic about his potential to bring new and visionary leadership to the denomination, and his appeal was very strong among younger SBC messengers.

Following our initial presidential vote on Tuesday morning, we were informed that no one had received a clear majority, and a second vote would be required that afternoon as a runoff between the top two candidates--Dr. Gaines and Dr. Greear. That evening, during our worship time, we were told that, once again, no clear majority had been reached (in fact, the candidates had only been separated by fewer than 150 votes) and that a third vote would be taken the next day.

When we gathered on Wednesday morning at the time appointed for the vote, both candidates were called to the platform, and most of us assumed that we were about to hear speeches in support of their candidacies. Instead, Dr. Greear told us that the night before, when the need for a third vote was announced, he immediately decided that he would pull out of the race for the purpose of preserving unity in the convention. He went on to inform us that he had approached Dr. Gaines about the matter, and his response was the same--that he had also decided to remove his name from consideration for the sake of unity.

After much prayer with each other and consultation with other SBC leaders, the two men concluded that Dr. Gaines should serve as our next president, and he reluctantly agreed to do so. Dr. Greear was asking that as a result, the convention elect by acclamation Dr. Gaines as our new president. We did just that, and the moment served as a dramatic and wonderful display of unity and brotherly harmony unlike anything we've experienced in our convention in years.

You see, we Southern Baptists have been known to have a good fight from time to time, and most of us expected that this presidential election, with its clearly-defined sides, would be no exception. How wonderfully surprised we all were! As we dismissed for lunch, it was gratifying to hear the conversations as people glorified God and expressed thanks for this great display of humility and agreement by these two godly leaders.

I'm telling you about this not merely for informational purposes, but rather because I want you to know about this amazing moment in the life of our denomination. It was great to see our leadership exemplifying through their attitudes, words and actions the best of who we can be and should be as believers in Christ. And I just thought you should know about it.

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" - Psalm 133:1

In Christ,



the Southern Baptist Convention

June 13, 2016

For many years now, I've often referred to my Christian upbringing by saying that I started going to Gardendale's First Baptist Church nine months before I was born. A few months ago, I heard a speaker who had an even better way to describe his background, referring to himself as a "prenatal Baptist"--a term which I immediately borrowed, because it even more aptly describes my life experience. Truth is, I'm a lifelong Southern Baptist--born, raised, educated by and ministering in Southern Baptist churches all of my years. In all likelihood, I will remain a Southern Baptist the rest of my life and die a Southern Baptist when it's my time to go on home.

This week, I will join thousands of other Southern Baptists in St. Louis, Missouri, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, where we will worship, fellowship, enjoy the preaching of God's word, listen to reports by the entities of our convention and vote on matters of denominational importance. I look forward to such gatherings, because I enjoy reconnecting with ministers I've known over the years, and I also appreciate hearing updates on the Kingdom work our missionary agencies, seminaries and other groups are doing worldwide.

Mixed in with the rejoicing, felowshipping and thanksgiving, however, will be some serious sadness and concern, as we will once again--for the ninth year in a row--note a decline in both baptisms and church membership within Southern Baptist churches. In fact, membership numbers across the board in our denomination are down by more than 200,000, and baptism numbers are down another 3.3%. These declines come in spite of a renewed emphasis on church planting over the last several years that has led us as a denomination to have more churches than we've ever had (more than 46,000).

While we are still the largest protestant denomination in the United States (at more than 15 million members), the negative growth trend among Southern Baptists has seen our membership numbers reduced by around one million members since 2003. During that same time, there have been multiple other religious trends of interest that may relate to Southern Baptists declines:
  • The aging of our denomination. As Southern Baptists grow older, they are not necessarily being replaced by new generations. Younger generations raised in Southern Baptist churches are not only smaller; they also have less denominational loyalty than their predecessors.
  • The rise of non-denominational churches. Following on the previous trend, the lack of denominational loyalty--and in some cases a stance against denominationalism--has led to a subsequent meteoric rise in churches with no denominational affiliation (more than %400 in forty years). One need look no further than the explosive growth of Birmingham's Church of the Highlands (partly fueled by many former Southern Baptists) to find an example.
  • The rise of the "nones." Over the last few years, there has been a steady and growing rise in the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever. This trend is especially strong among the younger generations. For SBC churches, this means that the climate for evangelizing is not as friendly and open to our efforts as it used to be.
  • The consistent growth of the Assemblies of God. This trend is interesting because it reveals that not all American denominations are seeing declines. In fact, even as the SBC has posted consistent losses, the Assemblies of God have experienced 25 years of consistent growth.

In addition to the above, there are many other trends and matters of interest that intersect with our denominational decline, some of which may have an impact on it, others of which may be coincidental. What cannot be numerically measured is the spiritual state of the SBC, and my heart tells me that we're in deep need of revival and renewal on many levels. Regardless, one thing is clear: if something isn't done to reverse this trend, we're headed for trouble as a denomination.

So, as I head off to the convention this week, I ask for you to pray--for our church, for our denomination, for our leaders--that we might experience spiritual renewal and that we might, once again, be a denomination on fire, in love with the Lord, in love with His word, Spirit-filled, and dead-set on reaching souls for Christ.

In Christ,



starting anew

June 6, 2016

Way back in 2004--twelve years ago--I began my first day as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist Church accompanied by a few hundred creaming kids. The reason for this was that my first day in the office coincided with the first day of Vacation Bible School that year, and, while people apologized profusely to me that I had to start on such a crazy and raucous day, I would not have had it any other way. You see, I'm a huge fan of VBS; and besides, I've been a pastor before of a church with quiet hallways, devoid of the voices and laughter and messiness and general loudness of children--and I didn't like it one bit. I would far, far prefer to have a church covered with kids, because the alternative signals the death knell of a church.

Today, we started the 2016 version of VBS at LPBC, and once again, we are experiencing the beautiful cacophony generated by hundreds of loud and messy kids. And, there in the midst of it all, is another new face that belongs to another minister starting his very first day on the very first day of VBS, just like I did twelve years ago.

His name is Matthew Marsh ("Mr. Matt" to the kids), and today he began his work as LPBC's new Children's Minister! As Matthew gets the ball rolling here, he also brings with him his family--his wife Kelly, and his kids Haley, Ailee, Avery, William and Paisley. It's great for us as a congregation to have the pleasure of welcoming them into our church family, and I want to encourage everyone who's a part of LPBC to be intentional about getting to know them.

Please pray for Matthew and his family as well as they make this major transition. It's always tough on a minister's family when moving from one church to another. Even as you make new friends, encounter new challenges and enjoy the excitement of a new ministry setting, you leave behind good friends, people with whom you've partnered in ministry, a church family in which you've invested yourself, and lots of good memories. As their new church family, it's on us to smooth out the transition for the Marsh family, praying for them, befriending them, helping them and encouraging them. The good news is that I know from personal experience that you're up to the challenge!

I also want to ask everyone to pray this week for a successful VBS! One of our young moms--Rebekah Payne--has worked for months as our VBS director to plan, organize, recruit and prepare, and we're hoping that everything this year will go as planned, without a single hitch. She's joined this week by dozens of volunteers, all of whom are taking their spot on the team and working hard to make this VBS the best it can possibly be.

The most important thing, however, is that every child in attendance has the opportunity to hear the Gospel. We want them all to hear the message that God loves them so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to live and to die for us, and we want them to know that through faith in Christ they can receive forgiveness and eternal life. This is really why we go to all the trouble to hold VBS every year in the first place!

So--pray for the kids to hear and receive the Gospel, and pray for this wonderful message of God's love and salvation to be communicated to entire families as well. Thanks for your prayer support!

In Christ,



Say "Yes!" to VBS!

May 30, 2016

Some of my fondest memories of my own personal church involvement prior to my time serving as a minister involve Vacation Bible School (or "VBS," as most Baptists refer to it). I remember during the summer following my second grade school year being in my mom's VBS class and being blown away at how awesome she was with crafts. Although we only made a little baby bird using cotton balls, googly eyes, tiny paper wings and a little glue, I was amazed at my mom's craft skills (as a student helper, I would later have the privilege of serving one summer in VBS as her "craft assistant").

I also recall being in fourth grade VBS and acting out a variety of stories from the life and ministry of Jesus in full biblical costume, as our teacher took Polaroid photos and gave one to each kid to take home as a keepsake (you younger readers will have to Google "polaroid photos" to see what I'm talking about--or ask your parents, and they will explain this seemingly miraculous photo-making process to you). All of the scenes were photographed outdoors where the ground was being cleared for a major construction project, and we utilized the big piles of dirt and other available features for maximum effect. We even had a fake dove attached by fishing line to a long pole that a kid held over the head of "Jesus" as we reenacted Christ's baptism. Talk about great special effects! Believe it or not, it was fun stuff for kids in the era before the explosion of video gaming systems and the constant presence of digital media!

I also remember with great fondness my years working as a student helper/leader in VBS, starting in the 7th grade and going all the way through the 12th grade. By my 9th grade summer, I had settled into working each year with a great lady named Gail Griffin, who taught 6th graders. We made a great team, and she even let me do some teaching along the way--my first ever forays into what would become my lifelong calling of communicating God's word. Thus, for me, VBS was just as important from the leadership end of things as it was when I was a kid. From both perspectives, the lessons I learned impacted me for life, serving as a firm foundation for throughout my entire life and ministry.

For the above reasons and many more, I greatly value VBS! As I have said many times before, I believe that it is the single greatest tool that we as Southern Baptists have for communicating the Gospel to children, for encouraging children to make decisions for Christ and for reaching out to families across the board. It is a no-brainer for me, therefore, that this amazing ministry must be given a high, high priority and that it must be an "all-hands-on-deck" proposition for our church.

In fact, if you haven't yet volunteered to serve in some capacity, I urge you to do so now by going to and signing up today. Even if you can't serve during the day, there are other places to serve. If you're only able to do one or two or three days during the week, there are places to serve. Basically, if you are willing and able, there are places to serve. Here's an example: some of the ladies in our church family have to work Monday through Friday during the day, so they are unable to serve while VBS is in session--yet they want to help. So, the VBS team has them working as the "Reset Team," coming in each evening after work hours to assist the daytime workers by readying their supplies for the next day and doing a number of other helpful chores. Another example: several of our deacons will meet on the Sunday afternoon before VBS begins to create the "corrals" where kids will gather each morning prior to the worship rally. Other examples abound; basically, if you're willing and able, there's a place for you!

I hope my telling of my VBS stories prompted recollections of your own fond VBS memories. As you recall your stories, I hope that God will ignite in you a desire to help make this year's VBS the most successful ever. Praying, volunteering, inviting others to attend and following up with unchurched guests are among the many ways that you and I can serve. Why don't you say "Yes!" to VBS this year? You'll be blessed and thankful that you did!

In Christ,



thank you!

may 23, 2016

Almost two years ago, on the occasion of my tenth anniversary as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist Church, you, our church family, did something very generous for us. As a gift, you as a congregation gave us a monetary gift with the expectation that it would be used "to take a trip to a place of religious significance." Although it took us a couple of years to get around to planning and taking the trip, we finally did, leaving for Rome, Italy, on May 13 and arriving home late on May 22, after touring through Rome, Pisa, Florence and Venice.

Why Italy? Well, for starters, Rome became the central base of the Christian church by AD 380, when Christianity was named the official religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Theodosius I. Leading up to that time, the Christian church had a very contentious relationship with the Roman Empire, with Christians being horrifically persecuted from the time of the Apostles Peter and Paul (both of whom were said to have been put to death in Rome) through AD 313, when Emperor Constantine I decriminalized Christian worship. We also know that there was a strong Christian community in Rome by the latter part of the first century AD, because Paul wrote the book of Romans as a letter to the believers there. In addition, Rome is the seat of the Catholic Church which has, both for better and worse, been a powerful influence in the in the development of western Christianity since the 4th century AD.

While in Italy, we visited Vatican Square, toured St. Peter's Basilica (the largest Christian church building in the world), and toured the Vatican Museum, including a visit to the Sistine Chapel, the ceiling of which is famous for its paintings by the legendary artist, Michelangelo. We also visite d many ancient Roman sites, including the Palatine Hill, where we stood in the ruins of the palace of Caesar Augustus (see Luke 2:1 for his significance to biblical times), and the Colosseum, where thousands of Christians died a martyr's death, torn apart by wild animals and killed by gladiators to the delight of merciless Roman crowds who saw it as wonderful sport and entertainment.

Among the other amazing sites we saw were the massive cathedral in Florence (the third largest Christian church building in the world), the cathedral in Pisa (where the pulpit was hand-carved in marble by the great artist Giovanni in the early 1300s) and St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, which was built around AD 1063 (the original was built in AD 828 but was burned down in a political rebellion). During our visit to the Florence cathedral, we were also able to tour the crypt. There, archaeologists have excavated for decades, uncovering ruins of earlier church buildings going all the way back to the AD 400s!

Honestly, by the time we had finished our first day there, I realized that there was more history, more artistry and more beauty than anyone could possibly take in during the time we would have there, perhaps even in a lifetime. In fact, we as a family took thousands of pictures, knowing that with many of them we would have to come back home and do some real studying to gain even in inkling of the history and significance of what we had seen.

I look forward to sharing about our trip with you as I have opportunity to do so, but even more so I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my family for making it possible for us to take this epic family trip that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Many times during our stay there, we reminded ourselves that you, our church family, did this for us, and we prayed several prayers of thanksgiving for you while in this special place.

God bless you all, and thank you so much from the Guffins.

With love and thanksgiving,

-Beth, Blake, Bailey and Scott


Let the Little Children Come

MAY 16, 2016

One day, while Jesus was ministering in the community, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and grandparents began to bring little children to him. They had heard his teaching and some had even seen his miraculous healings. Having heard and seen these things, they brought their children to see Jesus, hoping He would place His hands on them and pray for them.

When the disciples observed what was happening, they sprang into action. Jesus was their teacher and they thought he was too important to be bothered with little children. They fanned out in the crowd and began rebuking the people who were bringing their children to Jesus.

Jesus, always observant, noticed what the disciples were doing. Seeing that the disciples were turning children away from him, he addressed his disciples. What he said probably surprised everyone standing there. Jesus told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus wanted the little children to come to him, and he still does.

In just a few weeks, we, as a church, have an opportunity to invite and encourage children to come to Christ. The first full week of June, June 6-10, we will host Vacation Bible School for children ages four through 5th grade. Each year, VBS provides a unique opportunity for our faith family to pour ourselves out by investing our time and talents to serve our community and share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who will attend.

Our VBS theme this year is Submerged. Throughout the week, children will be encouraged to submerge themselves in God's Word. As they do, they will discover that Jesus saw people differently. He didn't just see what's on the outside; He saw who people (including children) were down deep. As kids learn to see themselves and others as Jesus sees them, they will realize that everyone needs a Savior - even those who look like they have it all together.

As we make final preparations for VBS, there are four ways that you can help us to invite and encourage the little children to come to Jesus.

  • Pray – Pray that God would prepare the hearts of the children who attend VBS to receive the good news of Jesus Christ. Pray that our volunteers will be prepared to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the children through word and deed. Pray that God will raise up additional workers for the week of VBS. Prayer requests will be posted daily on our Facebook page, If you have not done so already, like our page and pray daily for VBS.
  • Invite – As the school year comes to a close, you will most likely attend end-of-the-year parties or programs with your children or grandchildren. This is also the time of year where you may have opportunities to watch them play baseball, softball, etc. When you have those opportunities, be intentional to invite the children of the other families present to attend VBS. If they are interested in more information, direct them to our website,
  • Register – For those of you with children who will attend VBS, please go ahead and register them. By registering your child(ren), you will help us to determine class sizes, place volunteers, and order materials. You can register them at
  • Serve – If you have not done so already and are available to serve the week of VBS, please sign up to serve at We still need people to help with setup, to serve as guides, and to reset everything each night.
Jesus wants the little children to come to him. As his followers, we want what he wants, so let’s be intentional in the next few weeks to invite and encourage children to come to Jesus by inviting and encouraging them to come to VBS.

In Christ,

- Nate


the power of recognition

may 9, 2016

When was the last time someone recognized you, honoring you for an achievement, or for your station in life, or just because you're you? Although most of us don't enjoy the spotlight, isn't it nice when people show their respect and gratitude by honoring you in such a fashion?

Each Tuesday, our ministers meet together following our larger staff meeting for a time that we have specifically set aside to plan our worship services. During this meeting, we discuss every aspect of our worship services, from the welcome and announcements to the music and the message. Everything about the service is on the table, and we hold nothing back in our assessment and in our planning process, praying over every portion of the service and seeking God's guidance as we prepare.

When we get to the latter part of March each year, we begin to look ahead to the month of May (we try to plan at least six weeks in advance), and we always find it to be a challenging month, due to the number of "recognitions" that naturally fall during that time of year. Here's what I mean: the first Sunday in May is broadly recognized as Senior Adult Sunday, the second Sunday is always Mother's Day, the third Sunday is our annual Graduate Recognition Sunday, and in those months of May with only four Sundays, the last one encompasses Memorial Day weekend, a time in which we remember and honor those who have given their lives in service to our country.

As a younger minister, I used to be bothered by all of this recognizing, feeling that there that we were taking up a lot of valuable time patting each other on the back, time that could be devoted instead to worshiping or studying God's word. Several years ago, however, as I was studying through Romans 12, my thoughts were captured by verse 10, which says that we are to "be devoted to one another in brotherly love, giving preference to one another in honor."

The latter part of this verse is what struck me so strongly, because it clarifies that one of the ways we show a familial love toward one another is by honoring our brothers and sisters in a preferential way. The idea presented here is that we as believers should go out of our way--even go over the top--to recognize each other, to celebrate each other, and to show our gratitude for each other. The extent to which this is to be done is highlighted in the English Standard Version's rendering of this verse: "Outdo one another in showing honor."

While we might be more inclined to "tone down" such recognitions and celebrations, God's word is unequivocal in calling us to step it up, working hard to make our brothers and sisters feel loved, accepted, honored, appreciated, wanted and valued. So, here's my encouragement/challenge to you: If you begin to suffer from "recognition exhaustion" as we go through the month of May, remember the words of Romans 12:10, and recall how much it means to you when your faith family shows you how much they love you and appreciate you.

And then, taking up the call to "outdo one another in showing honor," celebrate your brothers and sisters with reckless abandon, knowing that as you do so, you're fulfilling God's command, saying a big "I love you" to your church family members in the process. As you do this, you just might transform from a "recognition curmudgeon" to a "celebration expert"! And couldn't we all use some of those in our lives?

(Let me remind you that in this Sunday's worship service we will recognize and honor our church family members who have achieved a great milestone in life by graduating from high school, college or grad school. I hope you'll plan to join the celebration!)

In Christ,




may 2, 2016

Sunday, May 8, is Mother's Day, and in honor of our moms, I thought I'd share with you a few quick, random facts about this holiday in America:
  • A fourth of all flower purchases in any given year in the are made in the days leading up to Mother's Day.
  • Carnations are a popular flower choice for Mother's Day. Traditionally, wearing a colored carnation meant that your mother was still living; wearing a white one meant that your mother had passed away.
  • About 133 million Mother's Day cards are given each year.
  • American consumers will spend roughly $21.4 billion celebrating Mother's Day.
  • In the early 1900s, Mother's Day was celebrated by all of the family going to church with mom, writing letters to mom, and giving mom hand-made cards.
  • As of 2015, it was estimated that the tasks performed by the mom in an average household would be worth $65,284 in the professional world. Go, moms!

I love trivia like this. While it undoubtedly takes up space in my brain that I probably cannot spare, i enjoy learning and knowing random facts like these.

Because this Sunday is Mother's Day, however, this set of facts is not entirely random, but rather carries with it the intent of helping us all think about our moms and how important and influential they are in our lives.

In my years of working with people in ministry, I've had a front-row seat in seeing how a mother's life and love impact children from their earliest of years and all throughout every stage of life, well into their adulthood. Moms are among the most important and powerful molders and shapers of our personalities, and their influence goes so deep that we often don't even recognize it, because its so deeply ingrained into who we are.

Because of their great role in the determining of so much about our lives, I cannot think of anything better to do in regard to the moms in our society than to pray for them, to encourage them and to affirm their value to us and to our culture at large. I also consider it to be of utmost importance that we as the church highlight godly moms who are raising their children to be godly adults, thus spreading their influence and challenging all moms to follow their example.

I hope you'll take time this week to pray for and with your mom (and husbands, pray for the mother of your children). I hope you'll make her feel honored and valued, and I hope you'll affirm the good things that she does and the positive influence that she has on your life.

Even more so, I hope you'll make an intentional effort to point out to her how her motherly care and nurture resembles the heart of God, who multiple times in Scripture mentions His desire and His activity of hiding and guarding us with His "wings," just as a mother hen or other bird does for its babies (see Matthew 23:37 and Psalm 36:7, 57:1, 63:7, 91:4).

To all of our moms--Happy Mother's Day!

In Christ,



the best thing ever--love

April 25, 2016

Do you have a favorite love song? Perhaps it's the song that first fanned the flames of romance in your younger years, or maybe it's a special song that you share with your spouse that still makes you hold hands when you hear it. Regardless, most everyone enjoys a good love song, which probably explains why there are so many of them and why, decade after decade, there are timeless classics that remain popular in the hearts of the masses.

On the whole, it appears that we as human beings are hard-wired for emotional connectedness, and when we encounter something like a song that speaks right to our heart and touches on our innermost longings to be connected in the deepest way with another human being, it sticks with us. The degree to which such things effect us can be seen in how we can go without hearing a song for years and then, upon hearing it again, we can be mentally and emotionally transported to a place of our fondest and sweetest memories.

Still, even the best love song cannot come close to encompassing what we as Christians have come to understand about love--if we've paid close attention to God's word and have learned from His Spirit and through experience how a God-kind of love is supposed to look and work. In 1 Corinthians 13, which has become known as "the love chapter" in the Bible, Paul describes in detail the nature of the love that Jesus commanded us (see John 13:34) to have for one another.

Here's how Paul characterizes this exceptional kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

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

Now, let me be ultra-clear about something in regard to this love: Jesus commands us to love our fellow Christians with this love (once again, see John 13:34). He does not suggest it. He does not offer it as one among many alternatives. He commands it. Because of Christ's clear expectation of a love like this, we have no other choice as believers than to commit to, grow into and work hard at loving our brothers and sisters in this fashion. I'm certainly under no illusion that this task is always an easy one to accomplish, but it's clearly the thing which Jesus Christ has demanded of us.

So let's get to it.

When we do love in this fashion, we will discover that what Paul said about this love is true--that this love is the best thing ever (he literally calls it "the most excellent way" in 1 Corinthians 12:31 and "the greatest of these" in 1 Corinthians 13:13). We will also discover that it is a tremendous witness for us (see John 13:35), making it clear to everyone we encounter that we are true followers of Christ, sold out to Him and deeply obedient to Him.

Because of the unique nature of this kind of love, it will attract people who are hungering longingly for such unconditional acceptance and community. Our love will then open the door for us to speak to them about God's love, which is the model and the source for ours. And perhaps then, they themselves will discover through Christ the greatest love of all.

And isn't that what we all want?

In Christ



Relationships that Matter

April 18, 2016

Many years ago, I heard a pastor talking about how God seemed to use him to speak into the lives of other people just about every time that he traveled somewhere by airplane. He noted that, as he would strike up a conversation with a person in an adjacent seat, he would remain in a state of spiritual openness toward God, waiting and watching for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to make him aware of opportunities to inject the Gospel into the conversation, or, if he had ascertained that the person was already a believer, to speak a word of encouragement or help to that individual.

Knowing that people would sometimes clam up and shut down when they would find out that he was a pastor, he had started referring to himself as a "relationship expert" when others would ask what he did for a living. His reasoning for this made-up job title, as he explained from the pulpit, was that much of his calling as a minister centered around connecting people with God or helping people navigate their connections with others--both inside the church and outside the church--so his unique career description was not at all inaccurate.

This Sunday, we will focus on relationships too, as we turn our attention toward the topic of "Enjoying God's Family," which is the last of the four measures of a disciple that we'll be studying (the previous three were "Connecting with God," "Pouring Myself Out" and "Shining His Light"). It's not really possible to talk about family without talking about relationships, and the Bible has a great deal to say about how our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ ought to look and work.

Ideally, all of our relationships as believers should carry the clear identifying marker of love. In John 13:35, Jesus was clear that this is how everyone will know that we belong to Him--by the love that we have for one another. Beyond the overarching factor of love, however, I want to offer four other characteristics of meaningful Christian relationships that we should seek out as we connect with others in God's family:

1. Prayer - At the center of all strong Christian relationships is prayer. As we pray with one another and for one another, we develop a godly affection for each other and a sense of responsibility for the well-being of our brothers and sisters. I've sometimes heard people say during and about desperate circumstances that "all we can do now is pray." Instead of viewing prayer as a last-ditch effort to gain God's attention to address a difficult situation, making prayer a preemptive activity in regard to our fellow believers puts us in a place of considering their welfare in advance of hard times and bad days. Prayer is the best place to start.

2. Encouragement/Edification - These two words go together, because they both speak of intentional efforts to build others up through our words and our actions. When was the last time you thought about a spiritual family member as someone that God had assigned to you as a "building project"? Typically, we as human beings are far more adept at tearing others down, but the calling of Scripture in this regard is clear: it is our responsibility to build each other up (see 1 Thessalonians 5:11)!

3. Accountability - All of us need people in our lives who we trust to lovingly hold us accountable as we seek to live out our faith. In true godly Christian relationships, we feel the safety and the freedom to keep each other accountable, often with a gentle nudge, and sometimes even with the occasional loving rebuke. Relationships like this are rare--those in which we can be completely open, completely vulnerable and not at all defensive and self-justifying--but they are deeply helpful and refreshing when they are developed.

4. Growth - Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." As believers unite around the study of God's word, we have the opportunity to experience mutual growth and sharpening of our knowledge, our wisdom, our ministry skills and our work for God's Kingdom. In the loving and supportive back-and-forth of the study of God's words and His ways, we challenge each other, we embolden each other and we partner up with each other to live the God-kind of life.

The above are just four (but an important four) of the characteristics of strong Christian relationships--what others come to your mind?

In Christ,



One Step Forward, Two Back, Three Sideways

April 11, 2016

I once heard someone describe his life by saying that it was like he was always taking one step forward, but then two steps back and three sideways. I remember thinking what an apt description that was for how life can be as we try to make progress on many fronts, and yet we find ourselves either set back or distracted by prevailing issues that demand our attention. When applied to our spiritual lives and progress, this analogy is particularly apropos. In my own experience, I've discovered that my spiritual progress can be easily impeded by the "stuff" of life getting in the way or demanding my attention to the extent that the things of utmost importance get covered over and smothered by the things that are urgent.

Think for a minute about the times that you have made significant spiritual commitments--to pray more, to study the Bible more seriously, to participate in a ministry of some sort, to focus on witnessing to others, etc. How often have you experienced interference from other matters that demand your time and attention, ultimately unmooring you from your commitment, away from which you slowly drifted? For me, this has been a common experience. Whether it's family issues, health issues, financial issues, car issues, house issues, job issues, or whatever else happens to crop up, it seems that there's always something that steps in the way, demanding my attention and frustrating my efforts to focus in and make important forward strides in my faith commitments.

And I know that I'm not alone. As a pastor, I hear time and time again from church family members who are likewise just struggling with all that life can throw at us. I hear them talk about how they wish things would go and about the spiritual progress they so desperately crave, and I hear them talk about how life just gets in the way, setting them back or turning them to the side every time they seem to be advancing. I also know--from watching their lives but even more so from looking in the mirror at my own--how the continual avalanches of problems, trials, struggles, difficulties and just plain old busy-ness can step in and prevent us from making progress in climbing the mountain of spiritual development.

As I thought about this common problem, I began to consider solutions, and here's what I came up with in terms of a few steps to help us in minimizing the backwards and sideways steps:

1. Pray, pray, pray - Prayer always helps. I'm convinced that there are times that God will allow things in our lives to get our attention focused on Him. If our automatic reflex is to pray when life begins to pile on, then we may see God intervene more quickly and more decisively (from our point of view) in resolving or providing answers to the issues that detract from our spiritual growth.

2. Make yourself accountable to someone - It's always a good idea to have someone in your life who will hold you accountable for your spiritual progress and development. Find someone you're comfortable sharing your goals and commitments with, and then make a plan to check in regularly to see how you're doing. Sometimes just knowing that someone will be expecting accountability from you will make all the difference in terms of keeping the most important things in the forefront of your thinking.

3. Take a long view of things - I've always loved the title of Eugene Peterson's book about growth as a disciple--A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The title is a wonderfully descriptive phrase that reminds us that we're engaged in a marathon, not a sprint, and that strong spiritual development happens more often over the long haul. In The Complete Green Letters (a book that was formative in my own early spiritual growth), Miles Stanford notes that God is more concerned with growing "oak trees" than "squash," and growing oak trees takes a good bit of time. Don't expect to become a towering oak tree of the faith overnight!

And one final word--never give up!

In Christ,



Following Hard After God

April 4, 2106

On a train trip from Chicago to Texas in 1940, A. W. Tozer--a pastor and author in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church--was struck with inspiration and conviction and began to write down his thoughts. By the time he had completed his trip, he had taken another journey of sorts, completing the rough draft of a book that would be entitled The Pursuit of God (published in 1948). Now considered to be a twentieth-century Christian classic, Tozer's work is not only inspiring and insightful but also deeply convictional, calling all who read it to a higher plane of reverence for and interaction with God.

Central among the matters that Tozer addressed in this book was his concern that, while the churches of his day were doing a good job of focusing on correct biblical interpretation, there seemed to be a pronounced lack of the manifestation of the presence of God in them. Tozer decried the spiritual dryness of his day, wondering if the church had ever seen such "a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb." And yet, even in the midst of this spiritual drought, Tozer took great encouragement, noting that, "in this hour of all-but-universal darkness, one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself."

As I read these words of Tozer, written some 70 years ago, their truth and their relevance glare out at me as if he'd written them in regard to 2016. In light of the state of American Christianity today, Tozer's words ring louder and truer than ever, and we would do well to read them and to heed them. In his preface, Tozer declares that "the only real harbinger of revival" that he was "able to detect anywhere on the religious horizon" was the small number of believers he encountered who were "athirst for God." And, although he sized up this group as being like "a cloud the size of a man's hand," he was yet encouraged that there were believers around who would "not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water."

Generally, speaking, the basic purpose of The Pursuit of God is to speak to such believers, giving them guidance and encouragement in their quest for God, while also serving as a challenge to other believers, pressing them to take up this all-important pursuit. Tozer teaches along the way that God has made (and is always making) loving overtures toward us with a desire to connect deeply with us, and he reminds us that it is our obligation in response to pursue Him in "positive reciprocation" of His gracious drawing of us to Himself. Tozer explains that "if we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face."

If you've never read The Pursuit of God, I want to encourage you to do so. You'll find it to be a challenging yet encouraging read, and you'll discover that its message is just as pertinent now as it was 70 years ago, because the human heart has remained the same, regardless of changes and advances in other arenas of our existence. You'll discover, as I did, that Tozer's words speak directly to the Christian and the church of today, and you'll gain instruction and insight from your reading that will lead you to greater heights of interaction with God and greater depths in your understanding of Him and how He honors the hearts of all who draw near to Him.

Among the treasures you'll find in this book is Tozer's closing prayer in the first chapter (a chapter that is entitled "Following Hard after God"):

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away." Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.
If you take up the challenge to read The Pursuit of God, I'd love to hear what God teaches you through it and about any changes you make as you "follow hard after God"!

In Christ,



He Destroyed Death!

March 28, 2016

As I was preparing my message for Easter, I followed my usual pattern of looking at several passages of Scripture, both for the purpose of identifying the main passage I would base my sermon on and also for narrowing down the list of those that I would use as supporting verses for the material I would cover. One of the verses that particularly spoke to me this year was 2 Timothy 1:10--"...but it [God's grace] has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (the brackets are mine, not in the original verse).

As I read this verse, there was one phrase that stood out to me in a very strong and powerful way: "He destroyed death." What an amazing declaration! Consider this: of all the enemies humanity faces, the only one that has proven to be absolutely unconquerable for us is death. Regardless of what we do to hold it off through medicine, technology or through other means of prolonging life, death is an inevitability for even the best and heartiest among us, and every single one of us is bound at some point to be reined in by its all-encompassing grasp.

This is why, for me, the idea that someone could even be capable of defeating death is an amazing thought. How is this possible, considering what our experience tells--that no one gets out of here alive? Curious, I knew that I needed to delve further into what this Bible verse was saying, so I pulled out my Greek Bible and my Bible study tools and started investigating.

What I found was interesting. The Greek word that is translated "destroyed" in the NIV Bible is typically translated as "abolished" in the most widely-used English versions (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV), while the New Living Translation renders it with the phrase "broke the power of." In my Greek Bible dictionary, the word "abrogate" was used to describe what the Greek word means.

This is fascinating, because "abrogate" means "to abolish by formal or official means," or "to put aside or put an end to." These definitions are consistent with the biblical understanding that Christ, through the "official" and authoritative act of His resurrection, abolished death as the final say in our lives, negating its power and transforming it from a fearful dead-end to a welcome doorway for those who believe. Of even greater fascination to me, however, was this one other definition of "abrogate" that I found to be of particular interest when applied to the Christian view of death in light of Jesus resurrection. This other description defines "abrogate" in this manner: "to treat as nonexistent."

I found this definition to be spot-on in regard to how we, as believers in Jesus Christ, may view our death in light of His life. Knowing that death is not the end for us, recognizing that "death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:54) and that it no longer carries any "sting" for us, we are blessed to have the stance from which to treat death as something nonexistent. Now, I'm not denying the existence of physical death. As a minister, I've been up close to it way too many times to say that it doesn't happen. What I am saying, however, is that the idea of death as the end for us is nonexistent, that its finality is a myth and that its absolute power as our ultimate enemy is not reality for us. Instead, for those of us who believe, "to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

And in that regard, Jesus has indeed destroyed death, abolishing its sway over us, negating its fearfulness and rendering it--when our time comes--a welcome portal into eternal life, to the extent that the Apostle Paul was able to say, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (Philippians 1:23). Certainly, like Paul, we should hope until that day arrives to experience "fruitful labor" for Christ (Philippians 1:22); but when that moment comes, isn't it good to know that the One we know "destroyed death"?

In Christ,



the Echo of the Empty Tomb

March 21, 2016

Easter is a really big deal. I say this because I'm not always sure that we as Christians understand how big a deal it is and give it its just due. Let me show you what I mean:

There are three huge moments in the life of Jesus Christ that Christians have historically focused on the most and that have garnered the greatest amount of attention throughout the centuries: His birth, His death and His resurrection. In celebration of Jesus' birth, people around the world have come to celebrate the Christmas holiday in glorious fashion. It has become so deeply ingrained into cultures across the globe that it has almost become a universal time of worldwide celebration and generosity. And, in spite of the desire of many to secularize Christmas, it cannot be denied that the origin of this holiday is completely and uniquely grounded and rooted in the celebration of the birth of our Savior. Without a doubt, Christmas is the largest and most pervasively recognized moment in the life of Christ on a broad, culturally popular basis.

In spite of all this, only two of the Gospels--Matthew and Luke--include narratives of the events surrounding Christ's birth--the angelic visitations to Joseph and Mary, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, the stories of shepherds, wise men, etc. John, meanwhile, tackles the event from a more theological perspective, and Mark says nothing at all about Jesus' birth, picking up the story of Christ with His baptism at the beginning of His time of ministry. I don't say this to undermine the significance of Christmas, but just to point out that the birth narrative is not a prevailing theme throughout the New Testament.

Biblically speaking, the most attention appears to be given to Jesus' death. References to the cross, to Jesus' blood, to His atoning sacrifice and to our redemption and forgiveness that result from it are abundant in Scripture. The cross is central to the presentation of the Gospel, as Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 2:2, where he declares "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." As believers, we focus on the death of Christ in our practices as well, with the Lord's Supper (or communion, Eucharist, etc.) taking a major role in our worship. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 Paul notes that every time we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until He returns. Even symbolically, we highlight the death of Jesus every time we employ a cross in representation of our faith. In terms of our biblical and practical focus, the death of Christ clearly sits squarely at the center of our attention.

Theologically speaking, however, Easter rises to prominence, because without it, the other two moments in Jesus' life lose their meaning.While Easter doesn't receive the greatest amount of attention in terms of its popularity as a holiday or even in terms of the amount of attention given to it biblically--or even in our worship practices--Paul clarifies for us its importance in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19:
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith...
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also
who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be
pitied more than all men.

Paul lets us know that the empty tomb of Jesus casts a loud, resounding echo over all else, reminding us that it is through the resurrection of Jesus that He is declared with power to be who He says He is--the very Son of God (see Romans 1:4). As you and your family celebrate Easter this year, I hope you'll do so with this understanding in mind. And I pray that you will appreciate with joyous gratitude the amazing importance of the truth that we serve a Savior who is RISEN--indeed.

In Christ,



Shamelessly Audacious Prayer

March 14, 2016

Are you ready for Easter? Have you bought your Peeps, your chocolate bunnies and your fake grass to put in the Easter baskets? Have you finalized your plans for the big family Easter egg hunt and Easter lunch? By now, most people who intend to engage in such holiday fun are well along in their preparation, making and solidifying their plans. But what about your spiritual preparation? Are you ready for Easter on a far more important level? Are you seeking to engage with God in a deeper way, focusing more intently on Him and on His purposes as we approach this holiday of incredible significance for us as Christians?

One good way to prepare spiritually is to make a concerted, renewed effort to pray on a deeper level. In order to help our congregation do just this, our Missions and Evangelism Council has put together an Easter prayer guide that you can pick up at the church or access online at, where you can click on the prayer guide link. We will also be holding a 24-hour prayer vigil from 7:00am, Saturday, March 19, to 7:00am, Sunday, March 20, asking people to pray in 15 minute increments in preparation for Easter. You can sign up to participate by going to or by calling the church office to reserve a spot.

The point of these efforts is to move us as a congregation to be more focused and engaged in prayer, recognizing that we're living in a moment in time when God's people need to be "hitting our knees" and asking for great things from God. Considering the nature of our political discourse as of late, the obvious division within our nation, the increasing secularization of our younger generations (who claim no religious affiliation on a scale beyond anything we've seen in our nation) and the state of America's churches (80% of which are at best static, at worst declining), it's time for believers in America to start asking God with reckless abandon for a new and fresh visitation of His Spirit on our nation, our churches, our families and the world at large.

As I was preparing for my sermon last week, I was deeply convicted and moved regarding this issue when I read Jesus' parable in Luke 11:5-10 from the new update of the NIV Bible. The story Jesus tells in this passage is of a person who has a late-night surprise visitor who has journeyed from afar. Because he doesn't have enough food to take care of his friend, he goes to a neighbor's house at midnight to ask for a loaf of bread. The neighbor is initially dismissive, but, due to the person's persistence and insistence, he gets out of bed to answer his neighbor's request. In the older version of the NIV Bible, Jesus referred to the "boldness" of this man (Luke 11:8) as he sought his neighbor's help. In the newer version, the word "boldness" has been replaced with the phrase "shameless audacity."

Intrigued by this alteration, I looked in my Greek Bible to see what the original said. What I found was that Jesus uses a word, for which we don't have an exact English equivalent, that refers to a complete lack of shame or modesty. In various versions of the Bible, this word has been translated as "persistence," "impudence," and "importunity." Because the word "persistence" is not strong enough, and because most folks don't really know what "impudence" or "importunity" mean, I guess the translators of the updated NIV Bible decided to use the more descriptive phrase "shameless audacity."

And I have to say that I really like it. I like the way that it reminds us that God's expectation for us is to pray big, to pray boldly, and to pray persistently until we hear from him. This is vital because, unlike the man in the story who begrudgingly fulfills the midnight request because his neighbor won't let up, we have a Father who is deeply desirous that we seek Him and His purposes and plans. As such, He stands ready to bring answers and solutions and to respond to our shamelessly audacious and persistent prayers. He's just waiting on us to pray in the manner that Jesus describes.

This makes me wonder if a lot of our problems in America and in America's churches go back to a lack of prayer, or at the very least a lack of shamelessly audacious prayer. What if we started praying this way? What do you think God might do in response? I'd like to try it and see. Would you join me?

In Christ,



Four Ways to Start Celebrating Easter Now

March 7, 2016

It's hard for me to believe that we're already into March and that Easter is just around the corner! Like many others before me, I am finding that, as I grow older, the days seem to move along much faster, at a seemingly accelerated rate, with holidays, birthdays and anniversaries flying by. Unlike the days of childhood, when it seemed like the next thing would never arrive, the years have given way to the sense that everything arrives far too quickly. Regardless of our perception of time, however, Easter is just over the horizon, bringing with it a special season that cries out for us as believers to reflect on the meaning of the season and to listen for God's calling to times of deeper commitment as we approach the day when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Has the Easter season "snuck up" on you too? If so, please allow me to throw some ideas your direction that will make this time more meaningful and perhaps even more spiritually productive for you:

1. Read the Gospel accounts of the Easter story. If you're somewhere else in your Bible reading, take a break and spend the time remaining before Easter focusing on the accounts in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) that tell of Jesus' experiences from the beginning of His last earthly week of ministry all the way through to His post-resurrection ascension to heaven. The chapters to read are Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 19-24 and John 12-21. As you read, pray that God will give you fresh insight into the story and deeper understanding of its meaning.

2. Commit to pray through Easter. This week is our week of prayer for the Annie Armstrong Eater Offering, when Southern Baptists as a whole focus on giving for North American Missions. In addition to giving (our church goal is $11,000), we are called to pray for our missionaries and their invaluable work. If you did not receive a prayer guide brochure, you can get it online by going to, clicking on "Resources," "Print Resources" and then clicking on "Prayer Guide English." We're also going to be holding a 14-day prayer emphasis in the two weeks leading up to Easter, including a 24-hour Palm Sunday prayer vigil the begins Saturday, March 19, at 7:00am and concludes Sunday, March 20, at 7:00am. You can sign up for a 15-minute prayer time during the vigil by going to

3. Talk to someone about Easter and what it means to you. A good place to start with this is with your own family. If you have kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews, make sure they're fully aware of the reason for the Easter season. Also, make it a daily point of prayer to ask God to bring someone into your sphere of influence who needs to hear the Gospel message that is embedded in the Easter story. Ask Him to give you the spiritual sensitivity and awareness to know when that opportunity arrives and the courage to speak up in the moment. As with Christmas, people are more open to spiritual conversations around Easter than at other times, and you just might be surprised how God honors your willingness and your courage to have such a conversation.

4. Invite someone to attend Easter worship with you. People are also more open to attending church on Easter than at other times of the year. Joyfully invite them to attend church with you and your family, and then do your best to serve as their host for the day, meeting them in the parking lot (or giving them a ride if they need it), guiding them to where they need to go, and then making sure that they have a great place to sit during worship. You just never know who might take you up on your invitation!

As you put any or all of the above into action, I'd love to hear back from you! Did God give you new insight? Did He open new "prayer avenues" to you or answer your prayers in unique and powerful ways? Did He bring someone into your path who you could tell about Christ? Did someone say "yes" when you invited them to attend Easter worship?

Email me and let me know what God does to honor your Easter focus!

In Christ,



Concerning Spiritual Gifts...

February 29, 2016

This week's article is very special, because it represents an absolute first for me. In my eleven years and eight months of writing weekly articles in my tenure as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist, this is the first time I've ever written an article that was posted on February 29! If my calculations are correct, this leap-year date will not coincide again with a Monday (the day I write my articles) until the year 2044. If Jesus hasn't returned by then and I'm still alive and kicking, I'll be 79 years old then, and hopefully retired. So, this is both a first, and most likely a last as well!

That being said, the focus of this "special" article is not about days of the week and leap years. No, for this article, I would like to focus in on the subject of spiritual gifts, something we began to look at in both our Bible Study Groups and in worship last Sunday. It was about this matter that the Apostle Paul declares, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed," (1 Corinthians 12:1). As a means of combating such ignorance in God's people on the subject of spiritual gifts, Paul writes extensively about them and their utilization in both 1 Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12. The Apostle Peter also addresses spiritual gifts in 1 Peter 4:10-11, urging believers to put their gifts to use as if it is God doing the work through them as they serve as stewards of His grace. In this article, there are three quick matters I want to tackle that I think every Christian ought to know regarding spiritual gifts and their use:

1. It's important for us to discover what spiritual gifts we've been given. In 1 Peter 4:10, the Apostle relates to us the idea that each one of us has a gift or even multiple gifts, and we are to put them to use for God's purposes. If this is the case, it would seem to be an important matter to know what one's spiritual gifts actually are. Consider this: how can I possibly put my gifts to use if I don't even know what gift or gifts God has given to me? Now, you may rightly ask the question, "But how can I know what gifts I have?" My answer to that question is fourfold: First thing you can do is to make it a matter of prayer, asking God to reveal them to you. Second, take a spiritual gift survey, much like we distributed in our Bible Study Groups on Sunday. Third, ask other believers who know you and who've worked alongside you to give you their assessment of your giftedness. Fourth, find some area of ministry that matches your passions, interests and skill set, and get to work. Soon enough, you'll know where your gifts lie.

2. It's also important to determine where and how we should utilize our gifts. There is no shortage of good things that a believer can do that are of eternal significance. At some point, however, you have to make a call on what direction you're going to go as you put your gifts to work. Sometimes, this requires some stops and starts, some hits and misses, some victories and some failures. For instance, I have always had a love for music. Having participated through the years in both instrumental and vocal music, I wondered, early in my ministry, if music ministry might be a part of my calling. In the church I was already serving as youth minister in my early twenties, an opportunity opened up for me to test this out when our minister of music left for another church with just six weeks to go before Easter. In addition to it being a big Sunday already, that particular Easter had the added significance of being our first Sunday in a new sanctuary and also the target date for a big Easter musical. Asked by the church to step in and help, I jumped at the chance, and things ended up going very well, so much so that the church offered to make me the minister of music and youth. I accepted the position, and within a year and a half--in spite of some good successes--discovered that music was not my calling. You may go through similar times of trial and error before you land on your true calling too.

3. It's absolutely necessary that we then deploy our gifts. When we discover how God has gifted us and we decide--under God's guidance--where our calling lies, it's important that we deploy our gifts in service for the accomplishment of God's Kingdom purposes. God does not provide us with these gifts that we might leave them static and stagnant, but rather that we might put them to work, passionately pursuing God's calling in our lives, investing ourselves eternally for the accomplishment of His Gospel mission. For this reason Paul writes in Romans 12:6-8, "If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

So let's commit to discover, our gifts, to determine where and how we'll put them to use, and them to deploy them in pursuit of our calling. What amazing things God will do as we serve Him according to the gifts He's given us!

In Christ,




February 22, 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016, is a date that will forever be etched into my memory, because it was the day that my Dad passed away, stepping from this life into eternity. In Dad's final days and final hours God was very gracious and merciful to us, as Dad fell asleep and went home peacefully and quickly, not in pain and not in distress. God's people were also gracious to Dad and to us as a family, pouring out expressions of love, support and admiration, as they prayed us through this difficult moment in our family's life.

Having been admitted to the hospital the week before his death with symptoms that indicated that he was nearing the end, Dad became very intentional with the moments that remained, spending time with with my brothers and me individually to talk with us about a number of things. First, he walked each of us through the things that he knew--as a medical doctor--that he was about to go through physically, preparing us so that we would know what to expect with each change that would occur. Next, he talked with us about matters such as taking care of Mom, handling estate-type matters, and what his wishes were regarding a variety of other issues that needed to be dealt with once he was gone.

More importantly, Dad spoke to us as a father to his sons, telling us that he loved us, that he was proud of us, and expressing admiration for each of us in our areas of work. I will always treasure hearing him say, "Scott, there's just no telling what wonderful things God is going to do with you in the years to come." Such love and encouragement from our earthly fathers is so deeply important for us, no matter how old we are, and I encourage fathers everywhere to be similarly intentional in expressing such sentiments to your own children, no matter how old you are, no matter how old they are.

The most important thing that he told us, however, was that he was ready when the time came for the end of his own physical life. He told us that he was not scared, he was not angry or upset, he was not anxious or worried, but that he was prepared. He declared to us, "I know where I'm going, and I know that it will be so much better than this." As a result of his deep, abiding faith, he was at peace, and we, therefore, were at peace also. And we still are.

The night before Dad's funeral service--which was a worshipful, beautiful celebration of life--I sat with my brothers, Brian and Grant, and we talked about Dad, shared stories with each other, laughed, and discussed what I should say about Dad as the representative of our family who would speak at his service. Brian, the oldest of the three of us, made the observation that Dad always sought to be "prepared and wise" in everything he did. Those words stuck with me, and I've pondered more on the truth of what Brian said and what a legacy such an approach to life is for us all.

I've also given a tremendous amount of consideration to how Dad's efforts to ensure that he was ready in every way one can imagine being ready, combined with his wise intentionality in making sure that we were also prepared, made this time one that has not devastated our family, but rather one that has strengthened and even blessed our family, in spite of the loss of a key figure in our lives. I've also come to realize that such an acknowledgement begs some questions: Are we ready? Have we taken intentional steps to ensure that those around us are ready? Being ready is an amazing thing, a blessing to us and to everyone who knows us. Are you ready?

In Christ,



Pouring Myself Out

February 15, 2016

Since the first of January, we have been focusing on the measures of a disciple both in our Bible Study Groups and in our Sunday worship services. We've had a rich time of digging through God's word together as we've sought to uncover what the Bible says about this deeply important topic. Over a period of several weeks, we've unpacked together the idea that a true disciple is someone who connects with God, noting that this means surrendering to Christ, abiding in Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit, praying in faith, living in the word and worshiping in spirit and in truth, among other things.

This past Sunday, we began to focus on a second trait of a true disciple--pouring myself out, which means that the person who is a sold-out follower of Christ will do as Jesus did, when He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Although emptying oneself sounds like a simple, straightforward matter, it is not something that comes naturally to us as human beings. Consider, for example, how we spend most of our lives concerned not with emptying ourselves--pouring ourselves out--but rather with filling ourselves up.

For most of us as human beings, our lives are consumed with making sure that we have not only what we need but even what we desire as well, and the more the better. Whether it's material wealth, attention, fame, authority, place, status, achievement, power--you name it--we just cannot get enough. I'd love to say that as believers we are immune to such a self-filling focus, but I'd be lying, because we all struggle as well, which is why even churches and individual believers so often fall into dispute and division (see James 4:1-3).

As we engage in this seemingly unending struggle to get to the top of the heap and to stay there, the words of Jesus Christ ring in our ears: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Clearly, the call of Jesus for anyone who desires to be a disciple is to follow His example of emptying oneself of self. Thus, anyone who is serious about following Christ will be beholden to His requirement of self-denial and death to self.
Unfortunately for us, our natural "wiring" as human beings directs us in the opposite pursuit. Fortunately for us, Christ is in the business of transforming us, exchanging our natural self for a new, redeemed self, one that desires to please Him above pleasing self, and He does this every day for those who are willing to submit themselves to Him and abide in Him. This is good news, because our own pride and selfish ambition seem to be intent on pressing us in a direction that is exactly opposite of what Christ desires for us, and we are too often willing to go there as directed.
When a person does follow the route of self-fulfillment and feeds his own pride and tends to his own ambitions above all else, we will often describe that person as being "full of himself." Generally speaking, we don't like people who are full of themselves; there is something within us that just finds such an attitude to be repulsive. Perhaps that's an indication that, deep down, the part of us that is created in God's image and recoils against self-focused, self-aggrandizing individuals is crying out to us to recognize that God's will is not fulfilled in being full of oneself but only in the emptying of oneself.

As we have already seen, a reading of Scripture reveals that God's desire is for us to pour ourselves out; barring that, however, God is prepared to do the work for us: "The Lord tears down the house of the proud" (Proverbs 15:25). On the other hand, those who preemptively humble themselves (pour themselves out, empty themselves) find God's grace and support in abundance: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:10).

So--pour myself out and receive God's grace and uplift or be full of myself and let God do a forced emptying. To me, that's an easy call. Let's pour ourselves out in obedience and service to Him, as true disciples of Jesus Christ.

In Christ,



Available and Ready?

February 8, 2016

If you've never been to the mountains of North Carolina this time of year, I highly recommend it as a travel destination. Nate--our associate pastor--and I were there just last week, attending a gathering of pastors and leaders from churches around Alabama who had all traveled there for the purpose of focusing our hearts, minds and efforts on making disciples. Thursday through Saturday, we all met with Billie Hanks, Jr., a man whose life's work has been dedicated to disciple-making. During our time together, we heard amazing stories of God's work, both past and present, and we were informed, enlightened and encouraged regarding the vitally important nature of disciple-making as a matter of lifestyle and as a central emphasis in our churches.

Among the key things I took home from this meeting was a new understanding of what God is doing around the world in countries where the Gospel was formerly all but unheard and where Christians were scarce. For example, Billie shared with us that he had just held a similar gathering the week before with Christian leaders from several nations, including one leader who was there representing 162 million evangelical believers from abroad. In this meeting was also a representative from Thailand, which just last year saw 92,000 people brought to Christ and baptized as believers. He was there to learn from Billie how best to follow up with these new babies in Christ, helping them to become lifelong disciples who also make disciples.

In addition to such encouragements were also challenges, including the fact that there was one leader at the previous week's gathering who testified that forty-eight members of his own family had been killed for their faith by Muslims in his country. Such news reminds us that we are blessed in this nation still to be able to worship and to hold to our faith freely, and it also calls us out to pray and advocate for believers in places where their freedom is limited and their lives are in peril because they believe in Jesus.

One of the most encouraging pieces of news we received was that these Christian leaders from around the world took a few hours one day to travel to Billy Graham's conference center (The Cove) just outside of Asheville, NC. There, these godly men got down on their knees and prayed for spiritual revival in America. Yes, you read that right; THEY prayed for US, because they know the influence, the resources and the untapped potential of the church in America. They also know that if the church in America were to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to become intent on obeying God completely, we could see worldwide revival in our day.

In addition to hearing all of this wonderful and inspiring news, all of us Alabama Baptists were challenged to our core to commit deeply and seriously to making disciples, just as Jesus Christ commanded. In addition to receiving some training about how to grow disciple-makers in our churches (you'll be hearing more about this in weeks and months to come), we were told to consider our own calling to make disciples and to begin to pray in that regard. In fact, Billie recommended that all of us begin every day praying something like this: "Lord, I am available; I want to serve You. Please make me sensitive to your Spirit, and bring people to me who need to know You. Or, take me to them. Please give me the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with someone today."

Billie told us that this is his daily prayer, and he shared with us how God had honored and blessed that openness by giving him opportunities to lead people to faith in Christ time and time again, sometimes in miraculous ways. He encouraged us to pray and to be ready for the "adventure" that God was sure to take us on as we maintained a state of open availability to Him each and every day.

When the weekend was all said and done, I was glad to come home, but I was very glad that I had traveled to Sapphire, NC, to a mountaintop retreat for a few days to be reinvigorated, renewed and reignited as a disciple and as a maker of disciples. In the days, weeks and months to come, would you join me in praying that God would pour out His Spirit on us? Would you join me in praying daily the prayer that Billie recommended, declaring our willingness and availability to God and asking for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit? And would you commit along with Nate and me to realign our priorities as individual believers and as a church, so that we are focused on the same thing that Jesus was focused on--seeking and saving the lost (see Luke 19:10)?

I cannot wait to see what God will do with a church that is thus committed to Him!

In Christ,



The Importance of a Strong Core

February 1, 2016

When it comes to keeping one's physical body fit and in shape, one of the key things that physical trainers stress is the importance of a strong core. If you're not aware of what your core is, simply put, it is a complex grouping of muscles at the center of your torso that keep the body stable and balanced. Years ago when I first started having back trouble, I was sent to a physical therapist who right away started assessing and strengthening my core to support and to ease the tension on my spinal column. She stressed that one of the keys to my physical well-being is to have a strong and stable core. Knowing that she was correct, I followed her instructions carefully.

I thought about that this last week, as we were focusing on living in God's word as a key aspect of discipleship.I considered the fact that each of us also has a spiritual "core," a center from which our thoughts, ambitions, values, morals, ethics and priorities emanate, and the thing that keeps us stable and balanced down in the deepest parts of our being. It is from this spiritual core that the weight of our lives is supported, and it is out of this core that we act and react. It determines how we view life and how we view and treat others. It impacts our relationships and our behaviors; it is our compass that points the way in all of our actions and interactions.

Thus, it is vitally important that one's spiritual core--as is the case with the physical core--be strong and stable. The greatest source of such strength and stability is found in a life that is grounded upon the sound foundation of God's word. Jesus was clear about this principle when He told the story of two men who built houses--one on loose, sandy soil, and the other on a foundation of bedrock (Matthew 7:24-27). When storms came along, with rains and floods and winds, the house on the bedrock stood, but the house built on the sand quickly and easily collapsed.

If what Jesus said is true (and I certainly believe that it is), then I would think that His words should guide us to evaluate carefully our spiritual cores. Because honestly, I think it's an easy and a common thing for people who are Christians and even regular church-goers to walk through life with little regard on a moment-to-moment basis for the biblical principles on which all of life should be grounded. I'm convinced that we often, think, speak, respond, emote, plan, purchase and all sorts of other things guided not by the bedrock truths of God's word but rather according to our own feelings and desires, impacted and determined by things other than Scripture. Some of these things that drive us might be evil; others might be benign; some of them might be admirable. None of them, however, can substitute for the eternal word of God when it comes to guiding our paths correctly.

In regard to my physical core, the therapist I worked with started off by educating me a little and then by guiding me through a physical assessment of my core. She had me do a variety of exercises to test my strength, my endurance, my flexibility, my control and my functionality. When all was done, she pronounced that while I was not too bad, I had some serious and hard work to do to get my core where it needed to be, and she set me to work.

While I'm certainly not qualified to be a physical therapist, let me serve for a moment as your spiritual therapist and ask you to assess your spiritual core: When it comes to how you live your life in all of the aforementioned categories, how does God's word guide and determine the way you live? Is it the deeply-embedded ori