A Rolling Stop…

I got my driver’s license on July 3, 1978. If you check my driving record, you’ll find it to be squeaky clean. I’ve received one parking ticket at the University of North Carolina, but I challenged it and won – I must admit, it was on a technicality, but it saved me $150! In over 40 years, I’ve never gotten a ticket for a moving violation – I will confess, however, that I have been pulled over three times for speeding (twice in high school and once a few years ago while traveling to a funeral in Savannah). In other words, I could have been cited, but the officers were merciful to me and just told me to slow down.

I’ll admit that my biggest challenge is slowing down – perhaps I have a bit of NASCAR in me. I’ve been pretty good about the new hands-free law, so far, though it appears I may be in the minority. There are certain traffic laws, however, that I obey to the letter.

When it comes to school zone speed limits and stopped school buses, kids are way to precious to take any chances. When it comes to handicapped spaces, I’d walk a mile in the rain before parking my car in one of those spaces. I started buckling up in college before that even became a law. At stop signs I come to a complete stop. If I ever get ticketed for a rolling stop, you’ll know it was a set up!

“Rolling stop” is the official term for slowing way down at a stop sign but not fully stopping before continuing on your way. You kinda stop but not really. It seems safe enough. I saves you maybe half a second in your day, but a rolling stop isn’t consistent with the sign’s intent.

For some strange reasons, I woke up thinking about rolling stops this morning, but not the ones that can occur while driving. I was thinking about our spiritual rolling stops. God reminds us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Too often, it seems we are in too much of a hurry to stop. We may slow down a bit from time to time. We may even come close to stopping, but our lives are so hurried and our schedules so filled that stopping seems like an impossibility.

The phrase “be still” is translated in the NASB as “cease striving.” The Hebrew phrase means to “relax” or “to let your hands drop.” In a rolling stop, we keep our hands on the wheel, strain left and right to see if there is oncoming traffic, and have our foot ready to shift instantly to the gas. That’s often what we do with our devotional or quiet times. We’re so eager to get going, the we don’t stop, relax, drop our hands, and focus for a few moments on the One who truly holds the steering wheel to our lives.

If you get caught failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, it can cost you a little. When you fail to come to a complete stop before the Lord and neglect spending some time focusing on Him, the cost to your life, your peace, and your joy is much higher.

When I Am Afraid…

Security – we all want it. We are told that building walls will bring more security, that government programs will give us more security, that finding the perfect man or woman will make us feel more secure; yet that sense of feeling secure and being at peace still eludes us. Perhaps we seeking our security in the wrong place.

Fear – we all seem to have it. Fear pounces on us when we feel insecure. Fear robs us of peace. Fear causes us to make decisions based on desperation. We desperately want to feel secure but things like finances, relationships, or circumstances beyond our control rob us of that sense of security. When faced with fear, we often resort to a fight or flight response.

When we go the “fight” route, we assume we have to take some drastic action to immediately fix our situation. If you do not have that special someone in your life and everyone else seems to have found their “soul mate,” you may rush into a relationship just to have someone there for you. I have seen women and men make incredibly bad relationship decisions – some do it over and over again. Their fear is being alone, so they are willing to do nearly anything to have the “security” of a special person in their lives.

When we default to the “flight” mode, we try to hide from the circumstances that make us insecure. If you are struggling with finances, you may simply choose to ignore that the bills piling up and the bank account that is running precariously low, and make decisions to make yourself feel more secure in the moment. I have seen people whose finances are a real mess choosing to go on online shopping sprees or head to the nearest Target for some retail therapy. It’s a band-aid approach that only hides the problem for the moment- and, in the long term, makes it worse.

I find it interesting how many times God reminds people to not be afraid. I have heard it said that the Bible contains 365 “do not fear” verses, one for every day of the year. Well… I’m not sure who came up with that number. It sounds wonderful and encouraging, but the problem is that it isn’t true. If you search or “fear not” or “do not be afraid” on an online Bible, you’ll probably get around 30 results, more or less depending on the translation. If you counted up all the verses in the Bible that could be see as God encouraging people not be afraid, you may get a little over 100. In other words, you’d have to do some major rewriting of Scripture to get anywhere close to 365.

That being said, there is no doubt that God speaks directly and forcefully to the issue of fear in our lives. Fear is incompatible with faith in an Almighty, all-loving God. We fear because of our insecurity, but God has made some precious declarations that can defuse our fears and bring real security to our hearts and minds. Here is just a taste –

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
(Joshua 1:9)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalm 27:1)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
(John 14:27)

There is no fear in love, but perfectlove casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
(1 John 4:18)

Are you insecure? Are you afraid? There is a God who promises to be your source of security. He is a rock, a fortress, a stronghold, an ever present help in time of trouble. He is not far off; He is near. Call on Him. Cast your cares on Him knowing that He cares for you. Here’s one more verse that we’d all do well to memorize and repeat to ourselves over and over…

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
(Psalm 56:3)

Thoughts on New York’s “Reproductive Health Act”…

“Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.” These are the words of Governor Andrew Cuomo after signing New York’s Reproductive Health Act on Tuesday night, January 22.

The bill not only assured access to abortion, it also removed restrictions for abortions after 24 weeks. It is now permissible for a woman to abort her child at any time in her pregnancy including the third trimester. The abortion can be performed if the child is not considered viable or under a non-existent definition of risk to the health of the mother. In addition, an abortion will not have to be performed by a doctor. Physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and midwives are also allowed to perform abortions.

I cannot say that I am surprised at this decision, but I was deeply saddened to see the cheering that took place in the New York State Senate after the bill passed. Seriously – there was a standing ovation at the passing of this bill. I am pained over the spiritual blindness of these men and women. In the guise or protecting the health of women, they applaud the intentional deaths of little girls (and boys).

I grieve over this decision. I am angered over it. In the guise of protecting the rights of women, New York has passed the most aggressive abortion law in the nation, not just entrenching the Roe v. Wade decision but expanding it. In a state where lethal injection for convicted murderers is banned, the lethal injection of an innocent child in the womb is not only permitted but celebrated. Of course, not all New Yorkers supported this bill, but the majority of their elected state leaders did.

Because I am a man, there are those who would say that I should have no voice in the abortion debate. It’s true that I have never been faced with an unplanned pregnancy, but I am not commenting as a man; I comment as a human. I am concerned for the soon-to-be mother, and I believe we should do all we can to support her in the pregnancy and afterward, but there is an innocent party who has no voice for himself or herself. Someone needs to speak up for the unborn baby who does not yet have a voice of her or his own.

As a pastor, I have counseled with women who made the choice to end a pregnancy. At the time, it seemed to be the only choice they had. I’m sure there are exceptions out there, but each of these women look back on that decision with regret and grief. Many of them are still working through that grief, and I am relieved that our local crisis pregnancy center and our recovery ministry provide resources for them. There is hope. There is healing.

There are a great many factors that have led to a culture that dismisses and devalues life – too many to list. But I am grateful for those who speak up and stand up for the vulnerable, whether they are babies in the womb, senior adults in nursing homes, severely disabled children, teenagers being sexually trafficked, young women being kidnapped from villages in Africa by radical Muslim groups, Syrian children being gassed in an uncivil civil war, undocumented immigrants facing horrific work conditions, or innocents being gunned down in the crossfire of gang turf wars. It would be easy to put our heads in the sand, but as followers of Jesus that is just not an option.

Compassion compels us to act. That may mean you join with hundreds of thousands in a march for life. It may mean you volunteer or support a local crisis pregnancy center. It may mean you donate to or volunteer at a local food pantry. You could visit a local nursing home to encourage a resident, volunteer to read to children in a low-performing school, write emails or make phone calls to your senator or representative, run for office yourself — the list of possibilities is endless.

In all this, remember that our fight for life on each front is not hopeless. A recent Marist poll indicated that regardless of whether a person considered herself or himself pro-choice or pro-life, only 15% believed that abortion should be legal for any reason at any point during a woman’s pregnancy. In other words, the action by the state of New York is out of step with the mood of the country at large. And even though an Iowa judge blocked the implementation of the law, last year that state’s legislature passed and Governor Kim Reynolds signed a law making it illegal to perform an abortion once the child’s heartbeat has been detected. In other words, efforts are being made to honor life by restricting access to abortion. Both the number of abortion clinics and the numbered of recorded abortions has been on a slow decline the last several years.

So, what should our approach be. I offer a few suggestions:
(1) PRAY. It is by far the most impactful thing you can do.
(2) VOTE. Know where the candidates stand when it comes to valuing life.
(3) SUPPORT. Give to and support organizations that promote and protect life.
(4) VOLUNTEER. Give some of your time through your church or other groups that respect life at every stage.
(5) SPEAK OUT. Don’t be silent. Be firm and persistent, but be as respectful as you are able to elected officials and people in general.

Today…Our Daughter Gets Married

It was just a year and a half ago that I had the joyous honor of performing the ceremony for my son and his wife. They began their new life in a whirlwind of new jobs, a new home, and new pets (I refuse to call them my “grandchildren” – even with quotation marks). Only a year and half, and yet it’s hard to think of them in any other way than as a couple. I pray for Jay and Lacie, and I am at peace.

Today is a bit surreal. On this day, our first born, our only daughter becomes a wife. I will have the privilege of both walking her down the aisle and performing the ceremony. The swirl of emotions are a bit overwhelming. If I close my eyes, the images come and go like waves washing up on a beach. In all of this, remarkably, I am at peace. I know God holds both Jackie and Jonathan in His more than able hands.

I expect tears will fall. They started yesterday as I viewed the video at the rehearsal dinner. And, yes, that means I made it through the rehearsal itself unscathed! I won’t be crying because I’m losing a daughter. I won’t be crying because I’m dissatisfied with her choice of a husband. I won’t even be crying because of the cost of the wedding – those tears come later. I will be crying tears of remembrance and of joy as my curly-haired princess joins her life with soon-to-be rocket scientist husband.

For a few days in the hotel, Jackie’s wedding dress hung on a command hook beside the bed. It was the first thing I saw when I woke up each morning. In just a little while, she’ll be wearing that very same dress as we start our short trek down the center aisle toward a waiting and anxious groom. Boom! It’s all getting very real now.

I am grateful for the Lord’s guidance in Jackie’s life. I am grateful for the experiences both positive and negative that helped to shape her into the woman she had become. I am grateful for the people God has placed in her life all along the way from Bethel to Isle of Hope to Greensboro to Birmingham. God used each of these to help mold her into the person she is. Jonathan, too, has had events and people shape him – for that, too, I am grateful. Today, I’m the guy gets to say, “I now pronounce you are husband and wife,” but I am confident that the Lord had this planned all along… so I can say once again, I am at peace.

So, let it begin. Let the music play. Let the tears flow. Let the vows and rings be exchanged. Let there be both a communion and a kiss. That precious little girl that I held in my arms on the day of her birth, I am ready (I think) to hold her in my arms as we dance to Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” I can say from a grateful heart – I am at peace.

Jesus and a Lamborghini…


Recently a Greenville, South Carolina pastor gave his wife a gift that caused quite a stir on the internet. Admittedly, it was a VERY nice gift – a new Lamborghini Urus (similar to the picture above). The car company describes it as a “Super Sport Utility Vehicle” a “super sports car soul and the functionality typical for an SUV.” The price tag is over $200,000 depending on how the car is equipped.

Now, I don’t have time to do in-depth research on John Gray, but here is some information I discovered to provide some context. Gray is pastor of Relentless Church, a megachurch in Greenville. According to reports, 8,000 to 10,000 people attend Relentless each week. The church is multi-cultural in both its membership and its staff.

Before starting Relentless, Gray served in various church roles to youth and young adults. He also served as an associate pastor to Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church in Houston. He and his wife have a TV show on Oprah Winfrey’s network that will be going into its fourth season. In addition, Gray has written two books and is working on a third. He has appeared on the Fox News segment called “The Preachers.” Pastor Gray met with President Donald Trump earlier this year to discuss prison reform, a decision for which he received harsh criticism from some.

John Gray is not an obscure small town preacher. He is winsome, humorous, charismatic, intelligent, hard-working, and undoubtedly an effective communicator. He is not perfect. He’s made his share of mistakes, and readily admits it. Gray gives every indication of being a devoted husband and father. He also appears to genuinely care about people. I provide this background (brief as it is) to provide context and to show you that John Gray is an influential preacher and pastor who has drawn national attention for his work.


My intent with this post is not to exonerate or condemn Pastor John Gray for giving his wife a car that costs four times the median American household income. Instead, I would like to provide some thoughts on this action from three perspectives – as a husband, as a Christian, and as a pastor.

As a husband…
I watched Pastor Gray’s video explanation of his purchase. He made it clear (and there’s no reason to assume otherwise) that he did not spend any of the church’s funds to purchase the car. He also clarified that he did not buy the car outright but made a downpayment. His stated motivation was his love and devotion to his wife and his appreciation for her support and encouragement. He stated that he wanted to give her the very best he was able to give because she had given her best to him.

So, as a husband, I do understand him wanting to bless his wife. I think most husbands look for ways they can express their love and appreciation to the woman they married. Okay, not everyone can afford to give so lavishly, but not every husband has extra income from a TV show or book sales to bolster his bottom line.

Certainly, I cannot express my gratitude for my wife in the same way that John Gray did for his, but I do try to treat her as well as I can. Other Christian men are able to do more and better. Believe it or not, there’s not rulebook for this. So how much should I spend to show my devotion to my wife?

If I took my wife out to a nice steak dinner, most people would understand. If I took her on a vacation to the beach, the mountains, the Caribbean, or even to Italy, again, most people would be okay with that. If I presented her with a new Kia, Toyota, or Buick, there may be some who judged me silently, but most would appreciate the gesture. Where is the line between an acceptable gift for one’s spouse and one that is over-the-top extravagant?

Gray’s argument is that he gave the gift as a husband and not as a pastor. I have some empathy for that viewpoint, but the reality is more complex. I’ll address the pastor issue a bit more later in this post, but, for now, let me just say that in a perfect world spouses should be able to express their love for one another in tangible ways without criticism or condemnation. In the real world, however, giving expensive gifts to a wife or husband will inevitably generate envy in some, anger in others, and outrage in still others. In other words, giving expensive gifts to your spouse may come at a higher price that the one printed on the receipt.

As a Christian…
I asked previously where the line is between what is extravagant and what is acceptable when it comes to gifts from pastor to spouse. The truth is, the line is relative. Each Christian would likely draw it in a different place depending on their circumstances, their level of spiritual maturity, their personal experiences, and how they choose to live our their own lives as followers of Jesus.

Here’s an experiment. As a Christian, if your pastor were to give his wife (or her husband, as the case may be) one of the following as a gift for their anniversary or as a birthday or Christmas present, where would you draw the line between acceptable and extravagant?

Oven mitt – gold cross necklace – Apple iPad – oven – diamond earrings – Caribbean cruise – ski trip to Aspen –  two-week trip to Europe – Honda Accord – remodeled kitchen or bathroom – both a remodeled kitchen and bathroom – Cadillac Escalade with all the bells and whistles – vacation home in the North Carolina mountains – Lamborghini Urus – waterfront vacation home at Panama City Beach.* Depending on  who you are and what your circumstances and experiences are, you might draw the line after oven mitt, or you might argue that there should be no line at all.

Let’s face it, we can be pretty good at making judgment calls in the lives of other believers. The fact that my wife and I just returned from attending a wedding in Puerto Rico having stayed in a nice hotel and eaten at pretty good restaurants may have caused some people to declare (at least inwardly) that we were extravagant, wasteful, and perhaps even insensitive toward those who could not afford such a trip.

There are a lot of blessings in being a pastor, but sometimes it is a fishbowl existence. People may judge me as harshly for my decisions on spending as some judge John Gray or Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer (fill in the blank with your favorite target). We will also have to give an answer before the Lord as to how we used the resources that He entrusted to us.

From my perspective as a Christian, just one of the greater flock, Gray’s gift of a Lamborghini to his wife is a bit tough to swallow. Just because he can afford to give such a gift doesn’t mean it’s the wisest or best thing to do. As a Christian, I understand that pastors are viewed differently and, therefore, may face ridicule for the decisions they make about money and lots of other things. He cannot allow his life to be dictated by the critics, but he cannot brush aside all criticisms as if they have no merit.

I haven’t read any of John Grays books, watched any of his TV shows, or listened to him preach, so I only have a small grasp of his view of prosperity and spending, but church members should expect their leaders to model good stewardship. Christians should also be careful not to become resentful or envious of others or that they do not become harshly judgmental toward another. Let’s not allow another’s visible extravagance to lead us into invisible (yet not less real) sin.

As a pastor…
As a pastor, would I make the same decision that Pastor Gray made? My initial answer is “no,” and here’s why –

Number 1 – I understand that I live in a fishbowl. My decisions and actions do have an impact on believers and non-believers. Although I cannot let my life be dictated by the opinions of others, I cannot be deaf toward those opinions or the potential fall out from my choices.

Number 2 – As a pastor, the church does (and in many ways should) look to me to set the pace. If I am asking them to tithe, then I should be a tither. If I am asking them to witness, then I should be witnessing. If I am asking them to serve in the community, they should see me serving the community. I won’t always be the perfect example, but I should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.”

Number 3 – As part of modeling the Christian life, people should be able to see that I  love and appreciate my wife in my words and actions. The resources which God provides me are not only to be used to expand the Kingdom and help those in need; I am also expected to care for my family. I want to do the best for my children and my wife. What that best looks like will be different for each person.

Number 4 – I have learned that not everything I do for my family is for public consumption. I do need to praise my wife and children publicly, but I may not want to post every gift I give them on Facebook or Instagram. A little wisdom in this area goes a long way.

Number 5 – I will have to give an account to God. I am an owner of nothing but a steward of everything in my life. People have opinions, but ultimately the opinion that matters is God’s. That is true for me. It’s true for John Gray. It’s true for you.

I’m not sure if this lengthy post helps anyone process the story of John Gray’s gift to his wife, but I somehow felt compelled to write it. Maybe it is just my own way of processing this unusual gift. I don’t want to sit in judgment on anyone, but I realize that his actions (and mine) will most certainly invite judgment. It’s inevitable in this world.

So… let us be wise with our money.
Let us be generous in our giving (money, gifts, and otherwise).
Let us be faithful in our stewardship.
Let us be grateful for and good to our families
Let us be gracious toward others, even if we do not agree with their decisions.
And let us live in such a way that delights the heart of God and grows His Kingdom.


Here is a link to the video of John Gray’s response to the criticism over his gift to his wife – https://youtu.be/sodyRRM4s3g


* Please note that I did not price out all these options, so if something is out of order, I trust you’ll rearrange it to your liking. 🙂

Snow… I guess not.

snowWe didn’t get any snow. It was plenty wet but not quite cold enough. Of course, as far as Sunday morning worship attendance is concerned, cold and wet is better than cold and snow. If we could just figure out how to make it snow on Sunday afternoon or evening and then through the day Monday.

The weatherman didn’t promise snow for our area. He didn’t even hint that it might snow in Greene County, Georgia. The projection map showed snow in north Georgia, parts of South Carolina, and some pretty heavy snow in North Carolina. But when you live just below the blue coloring on the state map, you hold onto just a little hope that you might wake up in the morning to a gentle snow fall on an already white lawn.

I’ve lived here long enough to learn to live with the disappointment… but I still peek through the blinds on those occasional mornings when snow is expected anywhere nearby.

Hope… Sometimes our hope is based merely on wishing. The wishes, on rare occasion, may come true, but mostly that kind of hope is met with disappointment. There is a hope, however, that is based on something more true and trustworthy than merely wishing. We can put our hope in a God who is faithful to fulfill His promises.

As we draw near to Christmas, we are reminded of the hope that lived in the hearts of many Jewish people as they looked forward to the coming of Messiah – a hope that was fulfilled in Jesus. We see this hope in Simeon and Anna (Luke 2)-

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

For those who reside in middle and southern Georgia, the hope for snow often ends up as nothing more than gray skies and cold rain. But there is a hope that will not disappoint us. There are promises that are sure and certain.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

What an incredible promise! And the fulfillment was even more amazing!

Christian hope is a confident assurance that what God has promised will surely come to pass. May your home and family be filled with the hope of Christmas this season.


Pastor Jimmy’s Christmas Playlist

As we draw nearer to Christmas, it’s now time to enjoy the sounds of the season. Through the years, I have found some full albums that keep me coming back over and over again. I’m sure you have your favorites, too.

Here is a Spotify playlist with some of the songs I have on repeat this season. Spotify is an online or app-based music service. There is a free version (with some commercial interruptions) and a paid version. If you’re curious as to what I’m listening to in my office or as I drive around, here’s my 2018 Christmas playlist.