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They Have Nothing – Why Are They Thankful?

I recently had the opportunity to travel to a remote village in Honduras where I met some wonderful people of God. It was a joy to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ who welcomed me like family even though I looked different and spoke a different language. They allowed me to preach during a worship service that was held in the home of one of the church leaders there. For the most part, the service was much like ours. There was a lot of singing and some scripture reading, but prayer time was definitely different than the way we do it in my church. I am used to one person leading a prayer and everyone is supposed to quietly pray along with the one who is leading. In this Honduran church, everyone prays out loud at the same time! The one leading the prayer just prays louder than everyone else, and when he’s done, everyone gradually stops. There is tremendous intensity and great emotion in the prayer time. I could not understand most of what they were saying, but there was no doubt that James would have recognized their prayers as “fervent” and “effectual” (James 5:16 KJV). I finished praying before the others and just listened for a while, and was blown away by one phrase that I heard repeated over and over. “Gracias Señor.” “Gracias Señor.” I knew what that meant, “Thank you, Lord.” The meaning is not what puzzled me. The fact that they were saying it at all is what almost brought me to tears. I live in the greatest country in the world. I have more than enough to eat, a nice house in which to live, and money in the bank. Computer gadgets surround me, I enjoy all kinds of entertainment, and I can relax in my easy chair with a remote in one hand and a Dr Pepper in the other. I am healthy, have a great family, and wonderful friends. I love my job and I love my community. I have many reasons to be grateful! But these people have nothing. Most of them live in a house that would fit in my living room. That house has dirt floors and no windows. They don’t need windows because they have no air conditioning. Most of them have no vehicle and rarely leave their village. They have nowhere to go for entertainment, no TV, and no computer. If they had those things, they would not be able to run them for long because they have very little electricity. Most families either have no electricity at all or they have enough to run one light bulb in the middle of the house. The whole family sleeps in one room and they cook on a wood burning stove that was hand made. Most of the people there that day were living with some kind of ailment or illness that I could easily get cured by a quick trip to the doctor or pharmacist. And yet, they were grateful! In my mind, these people had nothing, and yet with outstretched hands they were loudly praying, “Thank you!” Their gratitude in poverty revealed a part of me that I did not want to see. I had grown so accustomed to my way of life, that I had taken luxury for granted. I expected or felt entitled to certain comforts. I have failed to adequately express my gratitude to the One who gives every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). I guess I even lost sight of what really matters. They were not thanking God for the “good things” in life, but for life itself. They were thanking God for His love, His Son, His Spirit, His Presence. They were grateful for the opportunity to know Him! It is in that relationship with the Almighty that life becomes real and meaningful. Life is not about what we have, but Who we know. Thank you to my church family in Honduras for helping me see. Thank you to the Lord for my life, my family, and my faith. But I thank Him most of all for being my God and for allowing me to know Him. Gracious Señor!

Nobody But Jesus!

Who could speak the worlds into existence and then enter into His own creation?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could take water and make it wine?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could speak to the wind and calm a storm?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could make the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dumb speak?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could heal the untouchable with a single touch?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could take a bunch of fishermen and make them fishers of men?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could explain the mysteries of God so simple people could understand them?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could turn a little boy’s lunch into a feast for a multitude?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could tell a woman her past and a disciple his future?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could be Light in a dark world and be Life in the midst of death?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could write in the sand and save a woman’s life?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could heal a sick child from long distance and raise a dead man back to life?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could master the universe yet wash the feet of those who should serve Him?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could be hated by so many and yet love His enemies so completely?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could be completely innocent but die on behalf of the totally guilty?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could suffer for hours in agony and ask God to forgive his tormentors?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could come as the Son of God to die as the Lamb of God to establish the Kingdom of God all for the glory of God?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could die a real death, lay in a real tomb, and come back to real life?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could defeat death, win victory over the grave, triumph over Satan?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who has power to bring abundant life and eternal life to all who believe?
Nobody but Jesus!

Good Intentions With Bad Results

When I was about 5 years old, we went on a family vacation. We stayed in a 2-story condo that had a large balcony where people could sit and visit in the evening. I was on that balcony, but decided I wanted to go down to the ground. I climbed through the rails that were there to protect people from falling. My plan was to grab onto one of the square columns that held up the balcony and slide down it. A family friend who was watching us told me to stop but I didn’t listen. I had a plan! As you have guessed, I fell from the balcony and hit the ground. My memory of that event is fuzzy, but I believe I broke a tooth on the curb that bordered the driveway below. I had intended to go down to the driveway. There was nothing wrong with my intent, but the results were not what I expected and I got hurt.  Where did I go wrong?

Some time after that, my brother and I were outside. He was up the tree but he was ready to come down. I was on the ground but I wanted to get up in the tree. We had plan! We got a rope and draped it over a big branch. He held onto one end and I held onto the other. The idea was simple. He would jump out of the tree and on his way down, he would pull me up. We did not consider the fact that he was twice my size and there was no way I was strong enough to hold on to that rope with our combined weight. He fell from that tree and hit the ground. When he passed out, I thought I had killed him! We had intended to get my brother out of the tree and to get me in it. There was nothing wrong with our intent, but again the results were not what we expected and someone got hurt. Where did we go wrong?

When I was third grade, we were playing kickball at school. The play was over and I had the ball somewhere close to home plate. My teacher, Mrs. Fulton, told me to throw the ball to the pitcher. I had a plan! Instead of throwing the ball, I decided to kick it to the pitcher. After all, this was a game of kickball, not throwball! So I dropped the ball and punted it as hard as I could. Instead of sailing out to the pitcher’s mound as expected, the ball went straight for Mrs. Fulton and hit her in the face causing her glasses to cut her nose. When I saw her bleeding, I immediately felt awful for hurting her and then I was terrified about what the school might do to a kid who actually made his teacher bleed! I had intended to get the ball back to the pitcher. There was nothing wrong with my intent, but again the results were not what I expected and someone got hurt. Where did I go wrong?

I could go on telling story after story of good intentions gone wrong. I have suffered, and caused others to suffer many times when the results of a plan did not match the good intentions that hatched that plan. When I start with good intentions, but the results are not what I expected and people get hurt, I have to ask, “What went wrong?” After many years of asking that question, I think I have discovered an answer.

When your intentions are good, but the results are not, it could be because you chose the wrong methods to accomplish your goal. There was nothing wrong with me wanting to go down to the ground when I was 5, but I should have taken the stairs. There was nothing wrong with me wanting to be in the tree at the same time my brother wanted out of it, but he should climbed down and I should have climbed up. There was nothing wrong with getting the ball to the pitcher, but I should have thrown it like I was told. In every case (and so many others since then), good intentions led to bad results because of my methods!

For example, feeling strongly about a cause does not automatically justify any actions I choose to take for that cause. If my cause is just, but I use unfair methods to support it, I will most likely end up hurting people and having results that I did not expect. Simply put, when the end results don’t match my original good intentions, I have to admit that it was most likely my methods that caused the problem. This is one of those life-lessons that I have to keep learning. How about you? Do you have to keep learning this one too, or do you have it down by now?

Support West ISD School Board

Eventually, every leader faces a problem for which there is no perfect solution. He knows that regardless of what choice he makes there will be negative reactions and perhaps even painful consequences. And yet, he accepts the responsibility of making that decision and leads the group toward a resolution.

As a board, you have been faced with a relentless series of those impossible problems. Time and time again you have been forced to solve problems that have no perfect solution. In each case, you wrestled with the problem, sorted through all of the options, talked through all of the related issues, and then settled on your decision. Even when you knew that some people would be unhappy with the decision, you made the decision that you thought was best for our school district. Each time an impossible problem presented itself and forced you to make one of those difficult decisions, you made that decision based on what would provide the best education for the children in the West ISD.

Tonight, I want you to hear that there are people in our community who are deeply grateful for the countless hours that you have put in and the tremendous personal sacrifices that you have made for our children this past year. While everyone will not agree with every decision, please know that many of us appreciate your willingness to serve and we respect the motives with which you make your decisions.

Unfortunately, real leadership is not easy. It can be frustrating and exhausting. It can even be lonely at times. Please know that you do have support. Whether we like every decision you make or not, we do care about you and your families. Rest assured that you are in our prayers. Thank you for all you have done for our community and our children. Keep on working through the tough times. Keep on wrestling with the difficult decisions. Keep on finding ways to provide the best possible education for the children in our district. And let us know how we can help you accomplish that goal.


Family Matters

Family Matters

When I preach I like to speak about topics that will relate to most of the people in the room. That’s why I don’t speak about family issues very much. We have so many different kinds of families. We have married couples, divorced people, single folks, people who lost their spouse, and students who are not yet ready for marriage. We have some adults who do not have children, some who have kids, some have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or even great-great-grandchildren. We are a diverse community, which is a sign of a healthy church.

If I speak about parenting, some will feel left out. If I speak about marriage, some might feel the message is not for them. So I usually don’t speak about family issues that much because I know I can’t address everyone at once.

However, I feel very strongly that the church must address the family. The Bible is full of valuable instruction for families, and the church should teach the Bible. Furthermore, some in our society are working hard at redefining “family” and teaching their version of “family values.” Since there are so many other voices out there talking about family, the church cannot, and must not remain silent!

For these reasons, I feel led to talk about family for the next few weeks. Our new series, “Family Matters” will begin on Mother’s Day and conclude on Father’s Day. During those six weeks, we will talk about healthy families, marriage, and parenting.

If the topic for a certain Sunday does not seem to apply to you, I encourage you come and worship with us anyway. You may hear something that you can pass down to future generations or pass along to friends and neighbors. You also may hear something that prepares you for the future or allows you to express gratitude for blessings in your past. I assure you, we will all grow through this experience, and it will strengthen us as a church family if we learn and grow together! Join us each Sunday at 10:15, because “Family Matters!”

He loved us too much to stay

He loved us too much to stay on His throne in heaven, so they laid Him in a manger in Bethlehem instead.

He loved us too much to stay at the parade on Palm Sunday, so they laid Him on a cross on Good Friday instead.

He loved us too much to stay on the cross of Calvary, so they laid Him in a rich man’s tomb instead.

He loved us too much to stay in the tomb, so He came back to life instead!

He loved us too much to stay here confined in a human body, so He returned His throne in heaven!


Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  Romans 8:34b

What I Have Not Lost

We say that our disaster happened on April 17, but that’s not completely accurate. Yes, our disaster happened in an instant, but it feels like it just keeps coming in waves. There is just one challenge after another. Over these past few months we have all lost a great deal. Last night I was thinking about what I have lost and what I haven’t lost.

I have lost my house.
I have lost some furniture, some clothes, some personal belongings.
I have lost some friends.
I have lost my appetite, and the ability to sleep at night.
I have lost my patience and I have lost my temper.
I have lost my routine and the comfort that came with that routine.
I have lost my ability to focus at times.
I have lost the chance to get my injured knee fixed any time soon.
I have lost some of my pride when people said negative things about me.
I have lost a lot of tears and a little more hair.
I have lost a lot. Some of what I lost I will get back, and some will be lost forever.

But there is a lot that I have not lost.
I never lost sight of what’s really important, and how blessed I am to have my family.
I never lost my faith in God or the confidence that God is good and West is blessed.
I never lost hope that someday we will rebuild and be stronger and better than ever.
I never lost my integrity or my commitment to this church and this community.
I never lost trust in our deacons or staff.
I never lost my gratitude or the ability to rejoice in the Lord.
And through it all, I never lost the love of my Heavenly Father – and neither have you!

Organized Religion

A few months ago I started this blog.  Less than a week after I posted my first article, an explosion rocked my town and changed my life forever. On April 17, 2013 the fertilizer plant in West blew up. 15 people were killed, half the town was torn apart, and our world was turned upside down. Since that day, I have been so busy that I have had no time for blogging. Now, almost 3 months later, things are beginning to slow down a little and I finally have time to think and to process what we have been through.

In the next few posts, I hope to share some of the life-changing lessons I have learned and some of the amazing things that God has done. For now, I just want to share with you a quick observation.

I was in a meeting last week that included representatives from the various charities and service groups who were working in West to help us with our recovery. As each person reported on their work over the past ten weeks or so, I noticed something very interesting. We heard reports from a Methodist group, a Catholic group, a Baptist group, a Lutheran group, a Mennonite group, a Church of Christ, and the Salvation Army. No civic groups, no clubs, no private companies, no individuals. The people who came quickly and stayed long enough to really help the people of West were churches and denominational groups. Think about that the next time someone tells you they have a problem with “organized religion”.

The people who talk about “organized religion” usually do so with a snarl and great disdain. It’s popular to bash organized religion and some even consider themselves too spiritual for it. Please remember, if it were not for organized religion we would not have most of our hospitals, universities, orphanages or children’s homes. We also would not have most of the help that we desperately need after disasters. Almost all of that work is done by groups who represent “organized religion”.

The day after the explosion, leaders from my state convention and my association were in West taking care of me and helping me figure out what to do next. They have walked through this whole experience with my church family and me. I cannot imagine how we would have gotten through this without them. For that matter, ask my town how we would have gotten through this disaster without the hard work of the Texas Baptist Men or the Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief Team.

The next time someone complains about “organized religion”, remember how important organized religion is to our health, our education, our families, and our communities. I hope you never go through a disaster, but if you do – I pray that organized religion shows up!

A View From the Vine

What is “A View From The Vine?” Glad you asked.  Based on John 15:5, I am a branch that is connected to the Vine, and this is my view of life from that vantage point.

Jesus said, “I am the Vine and you are the branches (John 15:5).” The Vine and the branches make up a beautiful and powerful image of Christ and his church. While not generally considered one of Christianity’s most beloved images, don’t underestimate the power of the Vine and the branches.

As the Vine, Christ has placed the branches within Himself.  Like a grapevine gives life to the branches that grow from it, Christ gives abundant life and eternal life to believers who are connected to Him.  The key to life is that relationship with Christ.

The grapevine also unites the branches.  It is the vine that holds them all together.  In Christ, individual believers are united.  Each of us is unique and created with our own personality, interests, and gifts.  But in Christ, we are brought together in a marvelous and mysterious way.  “We are one in the bonds of love.”

The vine also provides direction for the branches.  They must go where the vine leads them.  As the Vine, Christ directs His branches and we go where He leads us.

What a great picture of the church!  Christ is the Vine and we are His branches.  He gives us life, unites us, and directs us.  He is in charge.  Only by being rightly related to Him can we hope to bear fruit.  Only in Him, through Him, and by Him can the church be the church!

I have been blessed to be the pastor of First Baptist Church of West, TX for almost 20 years.  For over a decade now, John 15:5 has been our theme verse at FBC West.  We use it all the time to keep us on track.  It summarizes well how we relate to Christ, to each other, and to the world around us.