2nd place

This past weekend, Tori’s little softball team played in the Summer Slam tournament at Tyndall Park hosted by Vertigo Softball of Benton.  For the sake of full disclosure, the temperature was bearable when we agreed to play in the tournament.  Friday night and Saturday, the temperature was completely unbearable.

Saturday set a record high temperature as the hottest June 4th day in Arkansas weather history.  And, we played out of the loser’s bracket, winning our way to the championship game.  The girls battled, sweated, guzzled Gatorade, and captured the 2nd place trophy, losing the championship game, 8-4.

Tonight, our little team plays their season finale at Tyndall at 7:00.

I’m a bit sad to see this season conclude.  The parents have been awesome, tremendously supportive and helpful.  The girls all have wonderful attitudes, talent, and have a lot of fun playing together.


Covenant Grace

The headline for the May 26, 2011, USA Today read “Fewer Couples Embrace Marriage.”  The article noted that since the 2000 census, there has been a 25% spike in unmarried couples “living together.”

Co-habitation is not God’s design; commitment is!  And a commitment in marriage is based on a promise, a till-death-do-us-part pledge that no matter how good or how bad, forever and always no matter what, I will make good on my promise as a husband.  It takes a promise to form a covenant relationship; it takes grace to keep it going.

This morning at Northside, we’ll be focusing on “Covenant Grace.”  You can watch live beginning at 10:15 a.m. (CDT) by clicking on this link.

Have a blessed day of worship, praise and reflection.

Yesterday, I shared the first half of Jim Martin’s “Top 10 Things I’ve Learned after 19 years of preaching in the congregation.  Here’s the second half of his list.

Not every Sunday is going to be a home run day.

Yes, there are those “home run Sundays.” There are those days when everything seems to click and it is so obvious that God has been at work in a powerful way. Most Sundays (at least in my experience) are not like this. You hit a single or a double. You get to first or second base. However, you will be up to bat next Sunday and perhaps will advance another base or two.

I’m saying that it is important to be thankful to God for whatever good is done on a given Sunday. Look for the small moments of encouragement. Be grateful for some progress, however, you often will have to accept this by faith. There are many Sundays when you wonder if you have done any good at all. I’ve learned that I need to trust God and to believe that he will see that the faithful preaching of his Word bears fruit in some way.

It’s all about your expectations.

When I first began preaching, my expectations of people were way too high! I was constantly disappointed in others. My assumptions on the front end were skewed. For example, I thought that everyone who was connected in some way with our church was trying to live right. It wasn’t everyone’s personal weakness that was the surprise but that we were not even united in our intentions.

Meanwhile, my expectations of God were far too small. I didn’t really believe in him to do amazing things through prayer. I didn’t really expect God to do anything in my life. Consequently, I lived with a strange set of expectations for both the church and for God.

I began to grapple with this and lowered my expectations of people so that anything that a person did that was good was an act of grace. Meanwhile, I began to raise my expectations of God, thanking him for the grace that I experienced in him whether I witnessed his power or not.

Your own growth won’t happen by accident.

Growth, development, and maturity often happen during the course of life. However, I have learned that it is very important to be serious and intentional about my own growth. I read, went to conferences/seminars, took classes, and asked many questions of those older and wiser. I learned to do this “on purpose” and developed a rhythm for my own growth.

Today, I continue to do the same. I am still very intentional about my growth. Far too many ministers have become overconfident in their knowledge and skills and have virtually shut down what they used to do for their growth.

Temptation is often sudden and unexpected.

Some temptations I expected and some I didn’t. I don’t think I expected the frequency and the suddenness of all kinds of temptations. Pride, ego, impurity, and hatred can all come racing out of your heart and into your brain within a split second. You read your Bible that morning as you prepare for the day and by noon you find yourself wanting to say something to a friend about a guy you don’t like in order to make him look stupid! I have learned to prepare to be tempted and be humble about the power of temptation.

Discipline can be your friend.

To a minister in a church, discipline can be a welcome friend. There are so many surprises, so many unexpected conversations, that certain disciplines can be a welcome friend. For example, I have found that starting my day early, with an open Bible, book, and journal is a daily rhythm that helps me get oriented to the new day. The first thing I do each morning is make a fresh cup of coffee and begin this routine.

At the end of the day, I go to the gym and work out. This is a discipline that I do 4 to 5 times per week (if possible). This discipline helps me come alive again at a time of the day when my energy level drops. It also impacts how I feel when I go home later. This is incredibly important to me and has given me more stamina for my work.

During the annual Sermon Seminar last week in Austin, Texas, I had the privilege of visiting with Jim Martin, the Preaching Minister for the Crestview Church of Christ in Waco.  Jim is an outstanding speaker and was a presenter at last year’s Sermon Seminar.  His presentations on 2 Corinthians were the best I’ve heard in the two years I’ve been to the Sermon Seminar.  In addition to preaching at Crestview, Jim mentors preachers, like my friends Allan Stanglin and Jason Reeves. 

Jim is currently blogging on the lessons he’s learned over the past 19 years of preaching at Crestview.  I’ve found his insights to be especially helpful and am sharing them here with you.

In August, I will have been with the Crestview Church in Waco, Texas for 19 years. This is 19 years of preaching, teaching, leading, serving, funerals, weddings, and going to many, many elders’ meetings. Through these experiences, I have learned a number of lessons.

When discouraged, remember this too shall pass.
When I was much younger and just starting out, I would sometimes be devastated by things that happened. At times, I came I away from a discouraging meeting and wondered if the church wasn’t about to come apart. I wondered if we didn’t need to move somewhere else. Yet, I learned time after that, that one bad season of ministry does not mean everything was coming apart. God was faithful and saw us through.

Preach what matters.
A congregation needs to hear the gospel. Don’t assume they’ve heard it all before. Preach the gospel and show them how the story connects with their demands, fears, and concerns. Help them see these connections and the place of Christ in their lives.  Do not be intimidated when you overhear someone say in a conversation, “When was the last time you heard a sermon on _________?” (Just fill in the blank with someone’s pet peeve.) Be slow about reacting to such a statement. Sometimes, the reason a subject has not been addressed in a sermon is because it is not worthy of the time or venue. Some matters are more appropriate for Bible classes or small groups. Others matters are so trivial, they are not worthy of a church’s focus or attention.

Look for the reason behind the behavior.
In any congregation, there is a variety of personalities. Each one of these people has his or her own story. When someone behaves in a way that is highly reactive or emotional, consider what might be in this person’s background that in some way might contribute to such a response. Forgo the temptation to respond to them with your own reactivity. Instead, be self-differentiated, choosing how you will respond instead of reacting. For example, suppose a group of people from your church comes together for a meeting. Consider some of their stories.

One woman has a son in prison. This heartbreaking situation is always on her mind.  One man grew up with a distant and aloof father. Now the son, married and the father of two, also tends to be distant and aloof with others. Yet, he cannot understand why he has not close friends. One woman is not on speaking terms with her daughter. It has been almost a year now since either have spoken to one another. This mother has a history of emotional cut-offs with people.  One man lost his job three months ago and has been unable to find another. The family has been making significant financial cut backs. Meanwhile, his marriage had become quite strained.  One man hates conflict. As a child, police were sometimes called to break up an argument. Now, years later, he tends to withdraw whenever there is conflict.

These situations and backgrounds can help to explain why certain people behave the way they do. Good leaders learn to look for the reason behind the behaviors.

Read well and read widely. Far better to read two books that are significant, than eight books which are average or mediocre. Read widely. Be aware of what others are reading. I regularly glance at the New York Times Best Seller Lists. Read the Bible. Read through the Bible. Maybe this is obvious but it is easy to get caught up in the demands of life and ministry and neglect reading the Bible.

Pay attention to people in pain.
Be fully present when you are with people who are in pain. Use few words. Turn off the phone. Think about how you feel when you are trying to have a significant conversation and that person continues to send text messages while you are talking. People in pain need for you to be a listening presence.

Jimmy and I have been blessed the last two days by the annual Sermon Seminar hosted by the Austin Graduate School of Theology.  We’ve heard Rodney Ashlock on Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ruth and Lamentations; Mark Hamilton on Jonah; Eddie Sharp on Spiritual Formation in the Lord’s Prayer; and Bob Chisholm on Small Group ministry.  Bruce McLarty from Harding was scheduled to speak on the Gospel of John, but was unable to come due to a bout with the flu.  We’ll finish up the seminar tomorrow at noon and enjoy lunch with Debby (Shelly) Pennock and her new husband, Whit, family minister in Leander, Texas.  It’s been awesome being together again with Allan Stanglin and Jason Reeves.

While we’ve been in Texas, I’ve missed two very special days in the lives of my girls.  Yesterday, Trae was named first soprano in the Ensemble group for next year’s Benton Middle School choir.  And tonight, Tori hit two home runs as the 2nd place Drillers knocked off the 1st place Chiefs!

Sunday at Northside, it was announced that later this year, our church family will embark on a capital campaign to build a new, 800-seat worship center.  Our current worship space holds 500 and we’ve averaged over 500 for the first five months this year.

Our current worship space holds some very dear memories for me.  It was in that building that I attended my very first worship service following my birth.  It was in that building where I preached my first sermon, led my first song, and took my first communion.  It was in that building where I received my kindergarten diploma from my Granddaddy Cobb.  It was in that building that my family bade farewell to my Papaw Gardner and Mamaw Gardner in 1974 and 1982, respectively.  And, last Father’s Day, it was in that building that I baptized Trae into Jesus. 

Those walls hold some of my most special, memorable spiritual experiences.  Those walls have been home to some major, life-changing moments in my life.

And yet, it is time.  It is time to make space for additional growth.  It is time to make space to comfortably seat many more people who’ll give their life to Jesus in the years ahead.  It is time for a growing family to provide space for the sake of the Kingdom of God in Benton and Saline County.

Make no mistake about it, the current auditorium, constructed by some visionary leaders in 1955 has served Northside well.  But I’m grateful for the visionary leaders at Northside today who are looking over the horizon to the possibilities and potential of a God able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine.

This morning is our second bilingual worship assembly this year at Northside.  All songs will be sung in English and Spanish.  Jimmy Mitchell will be leading in English and Omar Corpus will lead the worship in Spanish.  Greg Minton will be praying in Spanish.  Alejo Solis will share thoughts as we gather at the table.  Fernando Toledo will speak a message from God, and Gerardo Vazquez will translate. 

You’ll also want to Terry Hastings, one of Northside’s elders, share some exciting news about the impact of Northside’s growth on facilities.

Click this link at 10:15 am to join the live feed of worship from Northside.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to learn about an international endeavor begun my college friend, Bethany Haley.  Beth, a licensed social worker and Ph.D. in Counseling was taken aback on a mission to the Congo with the number of children who’ve been forced to serve as children soldiers in war-torn sections of Africa.  Through art and trauma therapy, Beth and her team help rehabilitate and provide hope for these children.

eXile International is a very worthy effort led by a very wonderful person.  Take a few minutes this morning to click on the link and check out the work Beth and her team are doing to make a difference in the lives of children.


The Drillers won again last night, 9-3, pushing our season record to 8-2, good for 3rd place in the league.  The only two losses were to a couple of teams tied for first.  We get to play them both before the season finishes.


Congratulations this morning to Jamie Saveall, Ryan O’Neal, and all the Jessieville Lion baseball team.  Last night in Harrison, the Lions masked Arkansas Baptist, 7-0, to advance to the Class AAA State Championship Game on Friday afternoon in Conway.  I had the privilege to coach alongside Jamie for four years of stay in Hot Springs Village.  Those days still evoke some wonderful memories.