Friday, August 18, 2017

Reflections on Charlottesville

Needless to say, our nation is in turmoil. We are polarized on just about every issue. And, we were reminded last weekend of just how much work there is left to do in our society. Hatred, vitriol, violence and racism were all on display on the streets of Charlottesville for all the world to see. It was truly a sad spectacle to behold.

I grew up in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Era. I remember “coloreds only” and “whites only” signs in public places. I also remember the ease in which those practices were enforced. I remember the “comfortable” separation of races and the belief that it was just supposed to be that way.

I also remember the darkness of racism and just how toxic it could become. Watching the expressions of hatred and violence last weekend brought back old memories of a bygone era in my life. I remember hearing racist taunts and witnessing expressions of racism at school and in my neighborhood. I was deeply saddened to see it raise its head  again in such a dramatic and public fashion.

But, let’s be honest—racism is felt in all of our cities. Charlottesville is not alone. It may not be as violent and as public—but it is there. It is evidence of the depravity of the human heart. The darkness of racist convictions is never far from abusive and corrupt behavior. The fire of racist ideology lurks in the shadows of neighborhoods and schools across America.

As Christians, we have to stand against it. Every. Single. Time. From. Now. On.

For those of us not in Charlottesville, it is easy to condemn racism and violence from afar. It is much harder to combat it our own communities. It is even more difficult to battle it in our own hearts.

May God grant His people the wisdom and grace to overcome hatred and evil. May we be true harbingers of hope and purveyors of peace in our communities. May God give us grace to be victorious over sin in our hearts first and then to be examples of God’s redemptive work in our schools and neighborhoods. Now is the time for God’s children to act like His children.

I am praying for healing in this nation. I am praying for all of us to be true examples of God’s redemptive work. I am praying for leaders to stand strong in the face of such evil. I am praying for God’s people to reflect His glory and light across our land. I am praying for the love of God to be on display through the lives of those of us who have benefited so greatly from it.

May God have mercy on our land.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Last night, I was just about to convene a church business conference and then lead into our weekly Pastor’s Bible Study when one of our church members asked me, “Have you seen this?” He showed me his phone and it was opened to a news page reporting the tragic accident that had just occurred involving a senior adult group from FBC New Braunfels.

I announced the news to the church family during our prayer time. We prayed together for this church and all the families affected.

We have learned today that 13 senior adults were killed and only one survived the accident. A pickup had collided head-on with the bus carrying the senior adults home from a retreat at one of our Baptist camps. How incredibly tragic.

Once again, we all are faced with that nagging question, “Why would God allow this?” As Christians, we face this question often. We affirm that God is absolutely sovereign and omnipotent. We believe He could have averted this tragedy. However, like many times in the past (and many more in the future), He did not. If God can intervene to stop such tragedies as this, why doesn’t He?

I was reminded of this paradox during our readings this week in Matthew. In Matthew 14, Jesus received the information that John the Baptist had been beheaded. Matthew records that when Jesus heard this, “he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13). He took time to absorb this news. He loved John. As a human being, He was taking time to grieve and pray.

Then—Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000. Then—He walked on water. Just after that (Matthew 15), He traveled to Gentile territory around Galilee and people began bringing “the lame, the blind, the cripple, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them” (Matthew 15:30).

So, He did not intervene to save John the Baptist. But, He performed other miracles all the while. It’s puzzling, isn’t it? On the one hand, Jesus allowed a wicked despot to murder a prophet, while, on the other hand, He demonstrated His power in performing miracles for others. What do we make of it?

I don’t have a definitive answer. But, I will say that our perspective is always limited. We don’t know the full picture ever. Plus, our God is a good and gracious God. His goodness is on display every day. He still demonstrates His goodness on all fronts. And, this world is out of sorts. His Word is clear that creation has been affected by sin. Further, we have all been created for eternity.

So, until Jesus returns, we will deal with tragedy. We will stand with grieving families like those in New Braunfels today. We will face uncertainty and live with some level of ambiguity. We will have to manage our way through grief and loss.

However, we will also choose to trust God and believe in His ultimate goodness. We will rely on His power to redeem the most broken of situations. We will lean into His arms and seek His presence when tragedies arise. We will hold each other close. We will keep striving to develop an eternal perspective. And—we will pray. In fact, do that right now. It does everybody good.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Within the span of a month or so, I have traveled to Tupelo, Mississippi, Tyler, Texas and Huntsville, Alabama—to either preside over or participate in a funeral. All three funerals involved very significant people in my life. Needless to say, I have spent some time in reflection as I have considered the impact each of these folks has had on my life.

In mid-December, Cindy and I drove to Tupelo and I conducted the funeral of my good friend, Oliver Tann. Oliver died of a brain tumor at 53 years of age. He and his wife, Terry, had been members of our church in Huntsville but had moved back home to Mississippi shortly after Cindy and I moved to Arlington. We were close friends with the Tann family. Both Oliver and Terry were (she still is) great athletes and just great church members.

We played ball together on various softball and basketball teams together. We coached together, played golf together and just did life together. Oliver and I ate lunch together each week and shared life experiences as friends. An aggressive brain tumor took him prematurely from this life and his wife and two sons are now picking up the pieces and planning a new future as a family.

I began my new year in Tyler, Texas. Cindy and I drove over to Tyler so I could participate in Paul Powell’s funeral at Green Acres Baptist Church. I have already written a tribute to Paul in an earlier column. There is no way to exaggerate his influence on me and his impact on my life. What an honor to stand at the pulpit in his funeral and share a few stories and celebrate his life.

I am typing this article on a plane as I am making my way back home from Huntsville, Alabama. Today I had the distinct privilege of preaching at Dr. Ralph Langley’s funeral. Dr. Langley was the long-time Pastor-Emeritus at FBC Huntsville. He was a dear friend to me and a wonderful mentor in ministry. He encouraged me as a pastor and was a role model for me for almost 30 years in ministry. I could never repay Ralph for all he meant to me—again, I was honored to help celebrate his life today.

Three men. Three great men. Oliver was 53, Paul was 83 and Ralph was 94. Each of them lived those years well. I am so glad my life intersected each of theirs. I learned some valuable lessons from all three of them. Indeed, my life is richer because of them.

So, I have reflected upon a few things as of late. For example, life is meant to be lived! Each of these men—two preachers and a layman—lived life to the fullest. That is how it is supposed to be. I would encourage you. LIVE! Engage in life. Take some risks. Invest yourself. Be passionate about something.

These men also encouraged me to follow Jesus! Each of these men were strong followers of Jesus. They made me a better disciple as I observed their faith in Jesus. The Jesus Way is truly the way that leads to life. He has invited us to an abundant and meaningful life. I hope you are following hard after Jesus. It is a true adventure!

Life is about people! Ralph Langley never met a stranger. Oliver Tann made time for people. Paul Powell always cared about you. Life is about people. God has created us for relationship. Let Him use you in your relationships with people. Invest in people. Give yourself to others. Demonstrate your care and concern in tangible ways.

Life is short! It is too short to stay mad, grow embittered, nurse hurts, plot revenge, remain aloof, procrastinate----or whatever else we do that is harmful to us.

I have much more to say. But it will wait. My heart is full. I have been blessed by so many. In particular---Oliver, Paul and Ralph. Godspeed to all of you.