December 31

Today will be an unusual day for me. The reason is quite simple, I’ll be attending our church, but won’t be preaching. Normally on the last day of the year we’re usually in Clinton and attend church with our family. However, due to the uncertainty of the weather and the need to get back, we decided to come home last night. So what’s my responsibility today?

Well first, I have to be prepared. You’re already thinking: “I thought you said you weren’t preaching?” I’m not, but I still have to prepare my mind and my heart for worship. The ancient Jewish people put us to shame when it came to preparing themselves for worship. It began at sundown on Friday night. What do you do to prepare for your time of cooperate worship? Remember, worship is a verb, not a noun which requires an action from you. Get prepared.

Second, I’ve already prayed for our youth/missions pastor, David Honeycutt this morning. My prayer is that he will boldly preach the word in such a way that not only my heart will be touched and my life challenged, but the congregation as well. Have you prayed for your Pastor today. I can assure you that he needs it and you need the practice. (Thanks for that one Dennis Swanberg).

It’s time to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords today. I pray you’ll be blessed at your church. Godspeed my friends. Now I hope no one got my regular seat.

 

December 30

Our paths crossed yesterday for the first time in many years. I saw the boy I once knew in the young man that stood before me. Of course, not to my surprise, you didn’t remember me. You were so young and innocent and your mind had so much to comprehend. I imagine there are some things one tries to erase from their memory. I wouldn’t blame you one bit if those memories included me.

You don’t remember that I was standing in your room, still dark due to the early morning, when your mom woke you up to tell you that your Dad had lost his life. From that moment on, things were never the same. You don’t remember a church filled with family and friends who came to support you. You don’t remember a word I shared during the memorial service. You don’t remember the countless visits we shared in your home in the days that followed that tragedy. In not remembering maybe the pain is not so great as you struggled to navigate your life.

You probably don’t remember much about your Dad, for you were so young at the time. I can tell you two things. First, he was a good friend of mine. Second, I help lead him to the Lord. Because of that, you didn’t lose your Father, because we know exactly where he is.

Some day I’d like to sit down and tell you about the adult days of your Dad. You’ve heard stories of his high school and college glory days, but I want to share a different side of him. One that very few know. Until then, I’ll slip back into the deep recesses of your mind. It’s not important that you remember me, but I know I’ll never forget you. Press on my friend, you are a miracle to all who know you. Godspeed.

 

December 29

The clock is ticking. Can you hear it? It’s seems to be getting louder and faster, even though it’s not. Time has a way of doing that. However, we’re getting close to the end of another year. I’ve never been one to make resolutions about the upcoming year, but there are certain goals that I set for myself. For the most part they remain private, but some I share with others. What about you? We all have areas in our lives which need a little attention. For me, as I’ve examined my life, 2018 can be a pivotal year for me. I’m very excited as to what God has in store for me. Can I offer a couple of things which you may consider?

First, if you’re not already plugged into a church family, don’t you think it’s time you do so? It’s interesting to me that people can move into a new city and find a house to live in, a school for the kids to attend, a grocery to shop and even a hairdresser to cut and style their hair. All this can be done in a month. However, finding and joining a church takes months and even years. A community of faith is vital to survival as a Christian and a God centered family. Make that a priority in 2018.

Second, get busy reading the word of God. Just for a moment, think of how many minutes you spend on social media. Don’t you think it’s time to scale back in one area and increase the other. It’s impossible to grow in your faith without reading the Bible.

Third, start a regular exercise routine and stick with it. You only have one body so you better take care of it. You don’t have to join a gym or spend a lot of money. Just start walking for about 20 minutes 4-5 days a week. You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel. I live in fear of getting out of shape and that’s motivation enough for me to keep up my regular routine.

Finally, take time to show love and appreciation to those who matter in your life. One thing I’ve learned over the years is life is uncertain. You better tell the people you love how you feel. Who knows if you’ll have another opportunity.

Get busy setting and keeping the goals which can shape and change your life. You’ll be glad you did. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 28

There are those in life who have become experts at pointing out the faults of others. However, these same individuals have a hard time seeing their own shortcomings in their lives. It’s so much easier to see how sorry other people are because it helps us justify or even ignore the mistakes we’ve made. However, I believe it was Jesus himself who said: “Don’t talk about the speck in your neighbor’s eye, when you have a plank in your own eye.” But as long as we can judge others, we don’t have to judge our own actions.

Let me make this perfectly clear so there can be no confusion. There is no big sin, little sin, or medium size sin. Sin is sin. The Bible teaches us: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That word “all” is pretty inclusive. Over the years I’ve come to realize that I’m in no position to judge another person. That’s God’s job. I’m responsible for my actions and my attitude towards others. Those actions and attitudes will either have a positive or negative influence on the Kingdom.

When we become fault finders, we actually regress in our relationship with God. When we extend grace, forgiveness, and love, we demonstrate the very nature of God himself. Be the best that you can be and life will become more meaningful and you will have less time to talk about others. Godspeed.

 

December 27

With the Christmas holidays, for some of us comes the Christmas weight. Because of all the parties and family gatherings, there’s usually a bit more goodies to enjoy. Because of these extra delicacies, there are extra inches around the mid-section and additional weight we tend to add to our bodies. No one in their right mind begins a diet in December. Usually you’ll hear family members say: “After the first of the year I plan to shed a few pounds, but I’m going to enjoy Christmas.” But on the other hand, maybe there are some things we need to start trimming from our life as soon as possible.

We might want to begin with resentment. Quite possibly you’ve lugged around the excess burden of resentment towards someone else. An action or a word inflicted great pain in your life. Over the years that resentment has turned to bitterness which robs you of the joy in life. Don’t you think it’s time to shed that weight from your life?

Another piece of tonnage which many people need to rid themselves of is an unforgiving spirit. This attitude or weight goes hand in hand with resentment. The failure to forgive another does more damage to you than the one who committed the offense towards you. It causes you to nit pick the actions of others which will result in the inability to trust anyone.

The list of things we need to shed from our lives is endless. It goes from jealousy all the way to spite. Find the one which prohibits you from growing in your faith and get rid of it. In doing so, you’ll have a happier and more productive year and life. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 26

Christmas 2017 has come and gone and is officially in the books. As you reflect on the past week or so, what words come to mind? If you could somehow sum up this festive season, how would you do it in one word? The interesting aspect of this question is, there would be different responses from different people.

For some, they might describe Christmas as “disappointing”. Quite possibly you didn’t receive the gift you asked for or a member of your family didn’t make it home. On the other hand, with all the sickness going around, you might not have been at your best physically. The Christmas season left you feeling disappointed at what could have been.

For others, the word you may choose to use is “exhausting”. With all the shopping, traveling, cooking, present wrapping, and family time, you’re absolutely worn out. You need a vacation or some down time just to recover from the holiday season. The regular routine of life doesn’t seem like such a bad thing these days. After all, company is a lot like fish. After about three days it starts to stink.

Maybe you would choose the word “pain” or “heartbroken” to describe your Christmas this year. For the first time there was an empty chair at the tables and gifts you didn’t have to buy. All you wanted to do was just survive this gut wrenching season. For some, it wasn’t the most wonderful time of the year, but the hardest.

Oh there are many other words we could use to describe Christmas 2017. Words like excessive, joyful, contentment, and sacred. No matter what you faced, the truth of the matter is, in every situation Christ wanted to make a difference. However, He could only do that if you invited Him into your home. You might not think it mattered, but time will prove His faithfulness and difference. Start preparing for a new year, I can assure you, somehow, someway, you’ll need help from the giver of life. He will make a difference. Godspeed.

 

December 24

For nearly ten years of my life I worked in a retail shop. To be quite honest, there are days I miss it. Especially during the Christmas season. Christmas Eve was always our biggest day with people waiting until the last minute to get those special gifts. In one of the shops that I worked, it was just the owner and me working on year on the 24th of December. We set a store record, that I’m sure has been broken, for most sales in one day. There was a great deal of satisfaction of helping someone find that special gift for someone they loved.

I guess in a way, I’m still in sales. But these days the gifts are a bit different. We’re in the business of selling new horizons, new beginnings, new and abundant life, and life everlasting. The gift isn’t something you can buy or earn, but rather receive. The gift isn’t wrapped in elaborate paper or a decorative bag. It won’t be delivered by UPS, USPS, or FedEx. As a matter of fact, the gift was given over 2000 years about in the form of a baby wrapped in strips of cloth. That’s the gift I’m selling and one that God is offering you this Christmas. A gift wrapped in love.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The question today is simple........Are you buying? Godspeed and Merry Christmas my friends.

 

December 23

Twenty eight years ago, while serving as pastor at Valley View Baptist Church in Vine Grove, Kentucky, my visiting partner, Carl Hiles and I were out on our weekly visitation. Every Thursday night we had the same ritual. We’d visit prospects and when we finished, we stopped at the local convenient store for a cup of coffee. In eighteen months we had over 100 additions to our church family. Many ministers will disagree with me, but I still think cold call visits are very effective.

On this particular night it was cold, but the sky was brilliantly lit up by the moon and the stars. We made our way to the front door of a family that had been visiting our church. The father was an officer in the army and his wife, if I remember correctly, the mother worked at one of the local banks. They were the parents of three beautiful daughters. As we talked, it was apparent that none of them were Christians. We shared the gospel with them and all 5 accepted Christ. Because it was just a few days before Christmas, I said: “Your Christmas will be different this year.” You see, they had all the decorations up, but now, they invited Christ into their home.

As we walked to our car, I’ll never forget what Carl said to me. With a tear streaming down his cheek, these words came from his mouth: “I think I just heard the angels singing.” He probably did. Hopefully you’ll make room from Christ this year at Christmas. It’s still not too late. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 22

Around 1992, while serving as pastor of FBC Canton, we started a new tradition. On Christmas Eve, I’d load up my two daughters and some of their friends and we’d head out to McDonalds for a Happy Meal then catch a movie early in the afternoon. We’d have to do this early enough to make it back for our Christmas Eve service at 5pm. The purpose of this outing was twofold. First, it got these girls out from under their moms on Christmas Eve, plus it gave me some quality time with my own daughters. Over the years one would think this tradition would die and go away. To the contrary, it has become even more important to me and my girls. Now why would something so simple be so important?

The answer, I believe is quite simple. Of all the gifts we can give at Christmas, the best is the gift of our time. For me as a minister, this time of year is extremely busy. There are programs, parties, and special events which demands a lot of my time. Sometimes my family comes out on the short end of the stick. Maybe yours does too. The gifts that we give each other are certainly important. The gift itself communicates something about the giver and receiver. When you give of yourself to another, you communicate to them that they are important.

My girls bust their tails to get home on Christmas Eve for that time. As long as they keep showing up, we’ll keep going. I’ve even thought of having a reunion with all the girls, who are now young ladies, at a movie theater. If they have children, they could bring them as well. After all, it’s about spending time with the ones you love. Godspeed.

 

December 21

In Charles Dickens’ classic work, “A Christmas Carol”, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge, the tight-fisted, hand to the grindstone skin flint is visited by three separate ghosts on Christmas Eve. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Each of these spirits helped change the life of Scrooge and made him a better man. The reality is, some of us are locked in a mindset that prohibits us from experiencing the joy of Christmas today.

For some of us we’re locked in the past. We can’t experience and joy today because we feel as though all of our good times and days are in our past. There’s a funny thing about the past, if we think back far enough, we only remember the good times. As Billy Joel once wrote: “The good ole days weren’t always good, tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” What a sad thought to think all of your good days are gone. As a child of God we need to remember that God is making all things new! We need to find the joy in the here and now.

But there’s a flip side to that coin. There are others that believe their best days are somewhere in the future. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me: “Preacher, when I retire from work, I’m going to start giving God my time.” The problem with this attitude and perspective is, today is all you’ve been promised. James in his epistle reminds us: “Life is like a vapor.” It’s here one moment and gone the next.

We need to find the joy and meaning of life and Christmas in the present. When Scrooge’s life was changed, the story ends by saying: “And he knew how to keep Christmas as well as man alive possessed the knowledge.” He knew how to keep Christmas. The question is: Do you? Godspeed and “May God bless us, everyone.”

 

December 20

I remember one particular Christmas during my childhood, all I wanted was three NFL sweatshirts and a New York Jets knit cap. (If you watch a game today, you’ll see them on the sidelines.) My list wasn’t elaborate or outlandish at all. On Christmas morning, all those things that were on my short list were waiting for me in front on my stocking. Of all the Christmases of my childhood, that’s one that sticks out in my mind. Maybe because when I put on that knit cap, there was a striking resemblance between me and Joe Namath.
I think that cap was worn until it finally fell to pieces. I might need to replace it before too long.

As a family, we never received anything extravagant for Christmas, but we always, for the most part got what we wanted. My Mom and Dad made sure there was plenty for each child during that special time of the year. However, it didn’t matter what other children got, we received what they could afford. It was never a competition with other families. We were just content with our stash of gifts.

Today, Christmas has become such a competition between various families. We feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s to the point of spending what we don’t have. In other words, we now have Excessmas rather than Christmas. During this time of year, don’t forget what is really important. Your time with your family. More than anything, your children want you. Do want you can afford and they’ll be blessed. And so will you. Godspeed. I bet some of my classmates remember that knit cap!

 

December 19

Several years ago I read this little article entitled: “Christmas Through the eyes of a Child.”

Listen to the message of Christmas through the eyes of a child...

1. When you ask me what I want, you teach me Christmas is about getting.

2. When you tell me to be good, you teach me Christmas is conditional.

3. When you make promises you can't keep, you teach me Christmas is a disappointment.

4. When you make threats, you teach me Christmas is unpredictable.

5. When you hit me and scream at me, you teach me it is scary.

6. When you are mean and lose your temper, you teach me it is a disaster.

7. When you drink and eat too much, you teach me it is about indulgence.

8. When you hurry around, you teach me Christmas is always busy.

9. When you string lights and bake cookies, you teach me Christmas is about pleasure.

10. When I see you do for others, you teach me Christmas is about sharing.

11. When you buy gifts for others, you teach me it’s giving.

12. When you take me to church, you teach me it is about worship.

13. When you hum and are kind to strangers, you teach me Christmas is about peace.

14. When you stop and spend time with me, you teach me Christmas is about love.

What are you teaching your children about Christmas? Godspeed.

 

December 18 

The most asked question during the Christmas season is usually: “What are you going to get for Christmas? We especially tend to ask this question to children as we have encounters with them. However, a better question might be: “What are you going to give this year? The Bible reminds us: “It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.” There is a blessing in both, but the higher blessing come in giving with the proper motives. Hopefully the gifts we will give will be from the heart and with love.

I credit my brother Richard for teaching me the art of giving at Christmas time. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, he came to me and asked me what I was giving everyone in our family for Christmas. Seeing how I only had 5 dollars to my name, the thought of spending it on someone else never entered my mind. He took me to Ben Franklin’s five and dime and helped me pick out gifts for everyone in my family. It’s amazing how far 5 bucks will go when you try hard. Especially in 1969. I remember the excitement of watching everyone open my modest offerings and the joy which came with giving them.

What are you going to give this year? Whatever you decide, no matter how large or small, give it in love. After all, that’s how God gave his greatest gift. Wrapped in love. Godspeed.

 

 

December 17

The greatest gifts we give at Christmas are always personal. Those gifts which caused us to put a little thought into the process are the ones which make the biggest impact. They don’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but rather personal. It communicates to the receiver that you love and care for them.

That’s exactly what happened in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. God got personal. As a matter of fact, he became a person so that we might know what He’s like and so that He might know what we’re like. The beautiful song reminds us: “Love was when God became a man. Scripture tells us: “ The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Take a few extra moments this Advent Season and reflect on the magnitude of God’s greatest gift, the gift of His son. Jesus. The most personal gift of all time. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 16

Don’t let someone else form your opinion on another individual. In doing so you just might rob yourself of a valuable relationship. How is that possible? You never know the biases and past history that a third party brings to the table. It’s important to form your own opinion based on your personal interactions with others.

When I was serving in my first church, a deacon came to my office with a church directory. One by one he went through the pictures of certain individuals and told me who the good people were in the church and who were the trouble makers. Later on I was talking to my Dad on the phone and told him about this situation. I went on to tell him about how valuable this information was that I received. My Dad, who had been a pastor for over 30 years at that time cautioned me about this situation. I’ll never forget what he said. “Son, be careful not judge people based on the opinions of others. Remember, some people have an agenda when they do such things.” Man, was he evermore correct. Some of those so called “troublemakers” turned out to be my greatest supporters.

We’re all different in our opinions of others. Over the years I’ve been friends with people that I’ve been told were trouble, difficult, and down right arrogant. The truth is, people change over the course of a life. The Bible is full of folks who had an encounter with God and changed their life. It’s a shame and tragedy that God can accept people where they are, but we have a hard time forgetting the past actions of others. Let me just be as blunt as I can. Your friend, brother, sister, or even parents aren’t always right in their assessment of others. Who knows what happened 20 or 30 years ago. Form your own opinion on another based on what you know, not just on what you’ve heard. In doing so, you might discover that individual isn’t half as bad as you thought. The same may be true of you as well my friend. Ever thought about that? Maybe you should. Godspeed.

 

December 15

I don’t know if you realize it or not, but the majority of what a minister deals with is negative. A couple on the brink of divorce comes to the pastor as a last ditch effort to save their marriage. Parents, who have troubled children look to the church for answers. Ministers are constantly with individuals when they receive life changing news such as physical illnesses or the loss of a loved one. I can’t tell you how many funerals I’ve done in my ministry and I wish I had a dollar for every time someone got mad at me over nothing. It wears on a soul and can take a toil on a life. Many pastors suffer from burnout and disillusionment. To be honest, it’s not the easiest job to bear the burdens of so many.

However, there are moments when the tables turn and the one you’re ministering to actually touches your heart. It happened to me twice yesterday. I had the opportunity of visiting with two individuals who are on hospice care. In other words, they’re in the last days of their life here on earth. You would think if anyone had the right to gripe and complain, it would be these two. But just the opposite was the case. Both of these patients and their families were so kind and encouraging that it actually lifted my spirits. There was laughter and tears. There was gratitude and encouragement. At the end of the visits, I almost felt guilty at how they blessed my life. That’s when you simply bow your head and say: “Thank you Lord for reminding me why I do this.”

Maybe we need a little perspective as to how bad we really have it in life. What I’ve noticed over the years is this: “You will die just like you lived.” Live your life in such a way that you will bless those who are around you. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 14

Do you have any dysfunctional relationships in your life? Chances are, if you’re breathing, you do. It could be a unreasonable family member, a high maintenance friend, or an unreasonable co-worker. No matter what you do or say it’s never good enough or satisfactory. There always seems to a wedge or bridge between the two of you. Over time you find yourself worn out and frustrated because you never seem to make inroads in making this relationship better. The longer I’m in ministry, the more I’m aware that this is a problem in a majority of people’s lives. The Christmas season seems to bring these relationships to a climax. Let me offer you a bit of advice that might save you a bit of time and frustration.

It’s quite simple. Stop chasing crazy!!! The reason I say this is twofold. It’s exhausting and you never catch it. Think back on this level of dysfunction, aren’t you the one that’s always making the concessions? Don’t you always have to alter your schedule, make the first move, apologize for your time? That my friend isn’t a healthy relationship, but rather a form of abuse. Life is too short to surround yourself with individuals who pull you down and demand much of you and give little in return. The truth of the matter is, in these cases, your best will never be good enough. Accept that and move on with your life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a mean spirit on your part. I’m also not suggesting that you become hateful towards these people. What I am pointing out is, this individual who demands so much of you, will have a negative effect on your healthy relationships. I’ve seen that far too many times. Your job is to love and pray for these people without letting them dominate your life and destroying your disposition. It’s not worth it.

Over the years as a pastor, I’ve come to understand there are certain people who aren’t going to like me. That’s just a fact. I will still be kind to those folks and will minister to them. But I know and understand I’ll never win them over. With that in mind I can do one of two things. I can either let them destroy all the good in my life, or I can love them and move on with life. I choose the latter. Why? I don’t chase crazy. I don’t have the time nor the energy. Neither should you. Godspeed.

 

December 13

God has blessed me with a pretty good memory. I have the ability to remember the lyrics to a great number of songs, both sacred and secular. Scripture memorization is fairly easy for me. From time to time I’ll have someone in my congregation ask me what version of the Bible I use each Sunday. I respond by saying: “ The NIV, but most of the time I’m quoting and a few words are left out.” I still remember the words from the opera I was a part of when I was in the 5th and 6th grade, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Want me to sing a few bars? I’ve been told that my mind is filled with useless trivia. From music all the way to lines of movies or TV programs.

However, there are times when a good memory is a curse as well. The evil one comes to my side and reminds me of all my failures, sins, and discretions. He reminds me of the hypocrisy which has existed in my life and the moments of embarrassment I’ve brought to my family, friends, and myself. He whispers in my ear: “If only the people out there knew everything you’ve done in your life. And you call yourself a preacher and a Christian.”

Then another voice calls me to remember that though I’ve sinned, He has forgiven me. He beckons me to remember I’m a child of the King. He encourages me to remember the decision I made to follow him and a mistake in life doesn’t mean divine foreclosure. He reminds me that His love is unconditional and nothing will ever separate me from His presence. Maybe that’s what we all need to remember. After all, it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters. If you know Him, that’s all you need to remember. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 12

Tonight we’ll have our annual widow’s and widower’s banquet at our church. We started this ministry five years ago to let these special people know they’re not forgotten during the Christmas season. Our deacons serve them a delicious meal and they’ll enjoy a time of entertainment. It’s all about ministering to these wonderful people during a hard time of the year for them.

Each year I remind them that no one really wants to be a part of this group, but it is our privilege to honor and love on them and bring them a bit of joy for a moment. It’s always our prayer that this event will bless someone in a special way.

Have you ever thought about doing something for a hurting person during Christmas? I can assure you, the blessing will come back to you ten fold. So often, following December 25th, we’ll ask others: “What did you get for Christmas?” Maybe, we should ask instead: “What did you get from Christmas?” This year can be different as you learn to take the spotlight off of what you get and put it on what you give. Think hard today of someone who needs a little extra attention and go lighten their burden by giving the gift of your time and love. Then my friend, Christmas will have a new meaning. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 11

I have the same Christmas stocking that I’ve had since my childhood. Because it’s over 50 years old, it’s beginning to show a bit of age. The Christmas tree which is on the front has lost a few of its decorations. The shape, however has held up pretty good. There’s no way in the world that it will ever be replaced. The reason is, my Mother hand made that stocking for me. Every year it’s hung by our fire place, it reminds me of her love in every stitch she sowed in that special stocking. There are 7 more which are similar to it. Each of my brothers have one and all of the daughter-in-laws as well. I bet, without knowing, that all 8 of those Christmas stocking are prominently displayed each year. I know ours are. They are a reminder of the past.

Some of the best gifts of Christmas are the personal ones given in love. It’s not the price of a gift which makes it special, but sometimes the sacrifice and time put in it. Why do you think parents love hanging ornaments on the tree which are made by their children? Because of the time, effort, and love that went into making them.

Christmas calls us to remember that God got personal when He entered our world in the form of a baby. That type of love and sacrifice beckons us to journey back to Bethlehem and kneel before the manger and worship. Why, because that gift was given in love. Godspeed my friends.

 

December 10

When was the last time you saw or heard a report of someone having an encounter with an angel? Such talk is dismissed these days because we’ve become too sophisticated for such nonsense. We’ll put angels on the top of our Christmas trees. We’ll make them a part of our Christmas programs. But the thought that they actually exist is hard to fathom.

However, maybe this day we need to be still and listen for the sound of the angel’s voices. Who are these Heavenly beings. They are the Heavenly Court, the Celestial Choir, God’s Army. They are sometimes the vehicle that the Lord uses to communicate with us on earth. Scripture tells us that at times: “When we are kind to strangers we actually host angels.” Imagine that.

The angels were the first to announce the birth of our Lord and Savior on that first Christmas. Their pronouncement came to a group of lowly shepherds keeping watch over their sheep at night. The first thing the Angel said was: “Fear not.”

We know what it’s like to live in fear today. Fear seems to dog our path at every turn. However, our God comes to us with the assurance that He is here! No matter how dark the night, how deep the hurt, Not matter how hopeless the moment, He can make a difference. It could be that we need to hear this message today, especially during this Christmas season.

Do angels really exist? You bet they do. But only those who have eyes will see and only those who have ears will hear. Who knows, you might meet one today. Godspeed.

 

December 9

    As I was lying in the bed earlier this morning, my mind drifted back to my childhood at 1101 College Street in Cleveland, Mississippi. I remembered how excited I would be around this time of year. There was no internet, but we did have the Sears Wish Book to thumb through and make our list. Back then, Sears was one of the only places you could get NFL apparel. Each year I’d get something with a New York Jets emblem on it.

    I remember the year I got my blue Schwinn stingray bi...ke, complete with the banana seat and book baskets in the back. I recall the year the electric football game was all I wanted and sure enough, it showed up. I sure remember when I was real young and received my first teddy bear. (It’s over 50 years old and my daughter, Melanie still has it.) We never received an abundance of gifts, but we never thought we got too little. It was always perfect.

    I must confess that I can’t remember everything I received for Christmas. But I can recall the feeling we felt in our home. Maybe, just maybe we need to become a little childlike this Christmas. It could be that grumpiness and apathy need to be replaced with wonder and awe. Maybe we need to journey back to our childhood and remember the time when we truly believed everything about Christmas. I know at times, I do. It’s easy to become cynical as we grow older, but maybe our hearts need to return to what’s real. The birth of a Savior reminds us that we have a reason to celebrate with expectancy.

    May this Christmas season be filled with joy and childlike wonder for you and your family. Godspeed.

     

    December 8

    This morning when my alarm clock was going off, we were getting reports from our girls in Clinton that it was already snowing there. I walked outside to check our area, and nothing was happening. I looked at the hourly forecast for our area and it said we would be receiving the white stuff in about 45 minutes. It was just enough time to get in a four mile run. Actually, I was hoping the snow would start during my run. There’s just something fun about running with the snow falling all around you. Sure enough, as I was finishing up, down it came. Within 45 minutes the entire yard was covered in a blanket of snow.

    There’s something unique about a snow covered landscape. It can make a garbage dump area look pretty. It covers all the imperfections of the area with the beauty of a white blanket. Everything looks the same. You can’t see the dirt, the grime, the leaves, or the dead grass. All you see is beauty as far as the eye can see.

    The same is true with a life, once it has experienced the grace and forgiveness of God. Even the vilest of sins are washed away. Cleansed, as the Bible tells us, white as snow. The garbage of your life, forgiven and covered by the love of God. If you look outside your window and see the beauty of the area in which you live, remember, the same can be true in your life. All you have to do is ask and it will be done. Don’t you think it’s time? Godspeed.

     

    December 7

    There are basically three things which matter in life, faith, family, and friends. The rest is just fluff. The problem with so many of us is, we’re placing too much emphasis on the fluff and not the substance of life.

    Faith allows us to live with hope. I can’t tell you how many memorial services I’ve done over the years. It just never crossed my mind to keep up with such numbers. However, those services would be a sadistic ritual apart from our faith. Because of what Christ did on the cross, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Faith offers us a future and that my friend is everything.

    Our families are at times complicated because every one of them has a level of dysfunction. I don’t care who you are or what the circumstance, there is no perfect family. Why? Because there are no perfect people. Every family has junk they have to navigate on a daily basis. Some do a better job of concealing the problems than others. However, at the end of the day, family matters. You can choose your friends, but your stuck with your family. Remember, there will be moments when family is all you got.

    Friends can either make or break you. The reason I say that is some haven’t learned the lesson that true friendship is two sided. High maintenance friends aren’t really true friends. In other words, stop chasing crazy because you’ll never catch it. I’m blessed in my life to have a reservoir of real good friends. God looked down on my life and thought: “That boy is going to need all the help he can get.” Therefore he put quality people who have impacted my life. A friend is a gift you give yourself. Choose wisely the gift you place in your life. They will either elevate you or bring you down.

    Concentrate of these three elements of life: faith, family, and friends. If you have them in your daily walk, you are rich. Godspeed.

     

     December 5

    The other day while checking out at the cash register at a local store, the clerk realized there was no paper to print out a receipt for me. Now the paper being used wasn’t your normal paper style, but rather more slick and sticky. The lady frantically tried to undo a new roll of paper, which was acting more like tape at this time. She failed in her first attempt, and grabbed another roll. I could sense her frustration and finally said to her: “Take your time, I’m in no hurry.” A tear came down her cheek and she said: “That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me today.” How sad is that?

    We fly through life in such a rush that we fail to see others. We’re too busy running from here to there that people just become objects before us. We fail to speak a kind word, hold a door open, or just extend a word of encouragement. I’ve noticed over the the years that it doesn’t take much to make some people feel special. Wouldn’t it be nice if the world would see a bit of Christ in us, especially at Christmas?

    Take time today to be light in a dark world. You’ll never know if the words you speak will be the kindest another person will hear that day. Godspeed my friends.

     

    December 4

    Do small churches still matter? In an age of mega churches and satellite campuses, many small congregations are left to ponder the question: “Are we still needed and are we relevant?” The answer is quite simple, you bet you do!

    Several years ago, the church where I was pastoring was hold a revival. We were honored to have as our guest preacher an individual who had pastored one of the largest congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention. His church had led our denomination in baptisms for 12 years in a row. Our church was a county seat congregation that wasn’t experiencing a great deal of growth. Oh don’t get me wrong, we were doing fine, but we weren’t busting at the seams. To say the least, I was a bit intimidated by his success. How could we do what his church had done?

    One day, during our series of services, he and I played a round of golf. During that time together, I’ll never forget what he told me. He said: “Bill, you have a great church and you need to understand your role. You guys aren’t going to baptize hundreds of individuals, because of your demographics. However, you are responsible for developing future church leaders. The youth and children of your congregation will be the deacons, Sunday School teachers, and even future church staff members. That is a tremendous opportunity and I hope you seize the opportunity to impact the Kingdom.”

    He was absolutely correct. I️ was raised in a somewhat small to medium size church. However that church, Immanuel Baptist, shaped me to be the pastor I️ am today. Small churches, don’t forget how much you matter. Our current church is a medium size Body of faith. However, in the past few years we’ve had up to three of our college students serve in Christian camps during the summer. Never forget the impact small churches have on people’s lives.

    Tomorrow I will assume the responsibility of being the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Our Vice President of our Convention Board is Jon Daniels. We both were both raised in Immanuel Baptist in Cleveland, Ms. Don’t tell me small churches don’t matter anymore. They impact the Kingdom far more than they realize. Keep on keeping on my friends. Godspeed.

     

    Decenber 3

    Are you ready for Christmas or are you waiting for someone else to make it happen for you? Quite possibly you’ve already put out your decorations and trimmed your tree, but are you getting ready? Many of us have shopped for presents and made travel arrangements, but are we ready for Christmas? You may have planned your holiday menus, but are your prepared for Christmas?

    December 25 will come and go and the sad part is, many will miss Christmas. The other day I️ heard someone say: “I️ love Christmas because it’s all about being with family and friends.” In reality, that’s just a small part of the Christmas experience.

    If you’re really going to be ready for Christmas, you have to be willing to open the door of your heart and home to the presence of the Living God. Take time to reflect on the true meaning of this time of year. Throughout my ministry, I’ve dedicated the month of December to the preaching of the Christmas story. I’ve never understood how the greatest story of all time could be reduced to one Sunday.

    Maybe if we’d focus our attention on the true meaning of Christmas our celebration and lives would be different. Let your gift giving remind you of the gift the Magi brought to the child. When you travel, remember Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. When you gather with family, be reminded that we belong to the family of God. Then Christmas will take on a new meaning and we just might remember why we celebrate this season. Godspeed my friends.

     

    December 2

    When does the hurt go away? That’s a question which has been asked to me on countless occasions following the death of a loved one. The pain and the anguish is so real and so raw that many long for relief. In some instances, the hurt cuts so deep that the wound seems like it will never heal. In reality, it never does. The holiday season also seems to not only heighten the pain, but at times reopens those old wounds.

    I have actually had individuals say to me: “It has been a year, why is that person still so grief stricken?” This attitude is usually reflected by one who has never known the depths nor the pain of losing a loved one. My response is always the same: “They call it a grief process and not a grief month or year.” Individuals have to walk through this valley at their own pace. It’s different for different people depending upon the depth and closeness of the relationship. Also, remember, we never know how someone truly handles this situation because we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.

    If you have a friend, or if you’re the one trying to make it through the loss of a special person, there is no simple way of doing it. There are no magic words nor spiritual salves which can eliminate the pain and the hurt you’re experiencing. I️ will tell you this, there is one who shares in the suffering with you. There is one who truly understands. There is one who will never leave nor forsake you. He may seem silent, but He is there. How do I️ know this? Because He’s made the difference in my dark hours. Oh, at the moment the pain was at its worst, I may not have felt Him. But looking back, He made all the difference. Of that I’m quite sure. Godspeed and I️ love you.

     

    December 1

    Every time I get inside my automobile and crank it, I’m greeted by the same message: “The driver is responsible for the safe operation of this vehicle.” Wait a minute! Why am I the sole one responsible? Don’t others out there bear a little bit of the burden of responsibility?

    What about the manufacturer of the car itself? After all, they were the ones who designed, created, and assembled the dog done thing! Don’t they share in the safe operation of this vehicle? And by the way, who are they to remind me every time I start the blasted thing that I’m the one responsible? The nerve of those people!

    Doesn’t my drivers ed instructor share in the responsibility as well? After all, he was the one who logged all those hours with me and ultimately gave me a passing grade. He gave me a certificate stating that I️ had met all the requirements necessary to receive my drivers license. However, that message never mentions his name at all.

    How about the Highway Patrol officer 

    who administered my written and driving test? He was the one who ultimately gave me my license in the first place. Why in the world isn’t he responsible?

    Finally, how about my parents? Surely they have to assume part of this unbearable pressure which I’m reminded of each time I drive myself somewhere. They were the ones who let me drive in the first place! They even encouraged this by buying me my first car! Yep, I’m not the only one responsible here! I️ can continue with a whole list of folks who need to step up and accept their role in this unfair role I find myself in each day.

    However, in reality, the car is right. I️ and I alone am responsible for the safety of that vehicle while driving it. And you my friend are responsible for your life and your actions. You can’t blame your parents, siblings ministers, coaches, teachers, society, or anyone else. You and I need to assume ownership of our lives. That’s part of our problem in society today, no one wants to be held responsible for their actions. We just want to hold up our hand and say: “ I’m not at fault here!” The truth is, we are and it’s time to come to terms with it. When we do, it’s the first step in becoming healthy. Godspeed my friends.

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