The High Cost of Floating Along

One of the “high points” of a trip to Israel is actually a low point—the Dead Sea. At 1,385 feet below sea level, it is literally the lowest spot on the globe. We had a ball floating in the Dead Sea. Because the Dead Sea has no outlets, all the minerals flowing into it make it, by far, the saltiest body of water in the world. It is 36 times saltier than the ocean. As a result, you can’t sink in the Dead Sea. You just lay back and float.

And as you can see from the picture, it is SUPER relaxing. I think I could have happily floated along in the Dead Sea for an hour or more. That is, until a wave sent water up my nose, and I felt my nostrils burn 36 times worse than they would at Orange Beach. And that’s when I began to think about the fact that we pay a price for floating along so easily. Let me explain in a way that will hopefully give you some things to think about for the church.

First, there’s a reason why it’s called The Dead Sea. One of the reasons I could lay back and relax in this picture is that there is no life in the Dead Sea. Nothing can grow there. That means I never had to worry about sharks or jellyfish.  On the other hand, I would never see dolphins at play, or sandpipers scurrying up and down at the waterline. There are no fishermen. No hermit crabs digging in the sand. It may be peaceful, but I think I would prefer some signs of life.

Lesson: We can have a calm, quiet, peaceful church, or we can have a living church. But if we choose life, then we have to accept some disruption and some chaos.

Second, the Dead Sea is dead because nothing flows out of it. While the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, nothing flows from it. It has a multitude of resources coming in, but nothing going out. And without an outflow, the minerals pile up and choke out life.

Lesson: The church must be outward focused to stay alive. We can and do have lots of resources coming in to the church. But if there are no outlets for those resources to bless our community, advance the gospel, invite friends, preach the word, and change lives, all the inflowing resources won’t matter. We will die without outflow.

Third: the Dead Sea is Disappearing. As Israel grows, more and more of the Jordan River is being diverted for irrigation, drinking water, and cultivating crops. Add to that the evaporation that happens when a body of water has no outlets, and you have a shrinking body of water. The Dead Sea actually recedes about 4-6 feet every year. Our group could tell the difference from where we were just four years ago. We were nearly 30 feet further away from the water!

Lesson: An inward-focused church will not be around for the next generation. People tend to stop pouring into a church that isn’t pouring out into the community. God is under no obligation to continue to bless a church that does nothing with the gifts He has already given it. Think about the third servant in the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

In the coming months, our church will be looking at some major changes. Staff realignments. Increased scrutiny on policies and procedures related to the safety of our children. Bold requests for budget allocations to help us move into the future. And we have a choice to make. We can either embrace the disruption and chaos that comes with being alive, or we can relax and float along peacefully.

Just remember: “Rest in Peace” is not a mission statement. It’s an epitaph.

Living in the Wild

vbs logoI love Vacation Bible School! There’s an excitement and an energy around the church that simply cannot be duplicated any other time of the year. And I am so thankful for the countless hours of preparation that go into every facet of it. Leslie Whaley, you are a rock star leading rock stars, and I appreciate you and your team so much.

I’m loving this years VBS theme, In the Wild. That’s pretty descriptive of a typical VBS classroom, right?! But in his recent book Letters to the Church, Francis Chan talks about how it ought to be descriptive of the church as well. He talks about the animated movie Madagascar that came out a few years ago, about a group of animals at the Central Park Zoo. The animals have a cushy life, and most of the animals love it. As Francis describes it,

They’re extremely well cared for. Trainers wait on them hand and foot, bringing them everything they need and ensuring that their habitats, which are carefully designed to look like “the wild” are safe and comfortable for the animals.

But the zebra finds himself dreaming about the wild. He can’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t made to live in a zoo. He was made to roam free…


41tg9kr35pl._sx329_bo1204203200_Francis Chan wonders if that can describe people in the church as well. We can get very comfortable in our church habitat, especially when there are so many hardworking staff and volunteers who work to make sure our needs are met. But were we made for something more? Every once in a while we get a taste of it. Maybe on a mission trip, or when we reach out to a neighbor or coworker and share the gospel with them. There’s risk, unpredictability, danger, the thrill of the hunt—in short, everything we don’t get when we are safely behind the walls of your habitat.

Glynwood, let’s get back in the wild! Jesus envisioned a church that would not be held back by any cages, walls, or fences. Not even the gates of hell could prevail against the church Jesus envisioned (Matthew 16:18)! I challenge you to take a step toward what we were created for. Step out of your comfort zone, and begin a conversation with a lost friend. Volunteer in our Matthew 25 ministry. Get trained as a Disaster Relief Worker. Go on a mission trip. Walk across the street and welcome someone to the neighborhood.


It’ll be wild!


Joy in the Journey!


Where Jesus Walks…

“I walked today where Jesus walked, and felt His presence there.”

where jesus walked That was one of the favorite songs of the minister of music at the church where I grew up. And there were so many times over the past two weeks when the words to that song came alive to me. Whether it was walking on paving stones that were over two thousand years old, kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, walking down the hill from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, or standing in the bottom of the cistern underneath Caiphas’s house, something profound happens to your spirit when you walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

But maybe the most profound sense of God’s presence happened in the most unexpected place: Concourse C of the Frankfurt airport.  As you may know, our trip did not start well. A snowstorm cancelled our flight from Atlanta to Toronto. After a night in Atlanta, we flew to Frankfurt, where some of us had a twelve hour layover. In the middle of that layover, someone from the other half of our group (the group whose flight was not cancelled) posted some beautiful pictures from the first day of their tour. And I, your pastor and spiritual leader (cough, cough), had a good old fashioned pity party. It went something like this: God, I’m supposed to be in the Holy Land right now! This isn’t fair! I’ve been waiting all my life to walk in your footsteps. To be among your people. To walk where you walked. Why am I stuck in an airport, with very spotty wifi, eating a Burger King hamburger that DOESN’T EVEN HAVE BACON?!?

frankfurt airport

And that’s when I felt God saying to me, “James, is there anywhere on earth that I don’t walk? Is there any place on the planet that shouldn’t be considered the Holy Land?”


That was maybe the biggest lesson from the trip. Friends, I loved Israel. I learned so much, and I look forward to going back in a couple of years, and hopefully taking some more of you with me. But we miss so much the Lord has to show us if we think we have to travel thousands of miles to walk where Jesus walks. As the Dutch theologian and politician (yes, there are such things) Abraham Kuyper said way back in 1905, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” So whether you are shopping at Wal-Mart, sitting in the carpool line, at the soccer fields on Saturday morning or the baseball fields Monday night, you are in the Holy Land. Just open your eyes.


Joy in the Journey,






When a Turkey Gets Pardoned

14781510951_28ac287358_abraham-lincoln-and-tadEvery year since 1989, the President of the United States grants an official pardon to one lucky turkey. It had been an on-again, off-again ceremony up to that point. Truman did it in 1947. JFK did in 1963, three days before he was assassinated. But with George H.W. Bush, it became the annual tradition that it is now.

Being the history geek that I am, I wanted to dig a little deeper to see how the whole tradition got started. And here’s what I found on

The tradition of “pardoning” White House turkeys has been traced to President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 clemency to a turkey recorded in an 1865 dispatch by White House reporter Noah Brooks, who noted, “a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but [Lincoln’s son Tad] interceded in behalf of its life. . . . [Tad’s] plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared.”

Don’t miss these details:

  • It was Lincoln, who had already brought freedom to millions who had been in bondage.
  • It was Christmas, not Thanksgiving.
  • It was Lincoln’s son, Tad, who interceded to his father on behalf of the turkey.

It’s that last detail that stops me in my tracks. As I think about what I am grateful for this Thanksgiving season, I am most grateful for a Heavenly Father who proclaimed freedom for the captives (Isaiah 61:1). That at Christmas, His son came into the world in order to set us free (John 8:36). And that God’s son, Jesus, does not condemn us. Instead, He is at the right hand of God and is at this moment interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

Because here’s the deal. There are a lot of days where I’m pretty much a turkey. Maybe I’m impatient with my family. Maybe I’m selfish toward my wife. Maybe I’m insensitive to the needs of a church member. Maybe I give in again to a secret or shameful sin. On those days, I am reminded of a Son interceding to His Father to seal my pardon. And I am so grateful.

2030 Vision

What do we want Glynwood Baptist Church to look like by the year 2030?

Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint (Proverbs 29:18, ESV)

Where there is no prophetic vision the people are discouraged (Proverbs 29:18, ESV, alternate translation in footnote)

eye patchBlame it on the eyepatch. Vision (or the lack of it) has been on my mind a lot lately. Ever since last Wednesday, when I left the office for lunch and immediately saw all these black specks, floaters, cobwebs, and hairballs in my field of vision, I’ve been thinking a lot about vision. What if I lose it? Even after the laser surgery to repair the torn retina, I’ve been worried that the cloudiness in my left eye might not clear up? What if I have to wear this silly eye patch long term? How long will Glynwood tolerate a pastor who looks like an extra for Pirates of the Caribbean?

In fairness to you guys, you’ve been incredibly kind and patient, and after the first week, the pirate jokes have been kept to a minimum (for the last time, Jeff Williams, I’m not getting a parrot!!!).

Without the eye patch, things still look cloudy and muddy when I am looking though both eyes. With the eye patch, I can see clearly, but I lose depth perception. I can’t accurately judge how far something is ahead of me. I lose track of what may be coming up behind me. And I have a hard time taking hold of and grasping what is directly in front of me (just ask Stacey what it was like watching me try to use a staple remover on a document the other day. Picture the Claw game at Chuck E Cheese).

All of this was on my mind the other day when I wrote a simple, two-word phrase in my journal:


I stared at it with my one good eye, and then, during our staff meeting, I wrote it again on the whiteboard in our conference room:


To clarify: this is not the result of my latest eye test. It’s a question. It’s a challenge. It’s the start of a discussion:

What do we want Glynwood Baptist Church to look like by the year 2030? What is our vision for the church 12 years from now? 

Early in 2019, I plan to assemble a group of people who can help answer this question. The team will have members of the generation that built Glynwood, so we can have an accurate view of what’s behind us. It will include members of the next generation who can help us accurately see what’s ahead of us. And it will include strategic thinkers who can help us figure out the steps to get there.

We need a long range plan.As Proverbs 29:18 says in all its various translations, without vision people are unrestrained. We find ourselves running in lots of different directions without a compelling focus toward one direction. Without vision, we will be discouraged. And ultimately, without vision, we will lose our ability to influence and impact Prattville.

But, with vision, we can not only see what’s ahead of us, but we can also take hold of the opportunities that are directly in front of us. A “2030 Vision” will not only help us see clearly, but it will help us see with depth perception.

I want you to know that I love being your pastor. I am so excited for what the Lord is doing right now, and I anticipate with awestruck wonder what He will in the future.

Joy in the Journey,


From the Pastor, February 4

pied_piperYou’ve heard the phrase, “It’s time to pay the piper.” There’s some dispute on the origin of the phrase. One theory is that it comes from the story of the Pied Piper, who was promised payment by the village of Hamelin to get rid of all the rats in the village by playing them a tune. When the village refused to pay, the piper lured all their children away with the same tune. (I guess the moral of the story is that children and rodents are both attracted by the same things). Another source says the saying comes from the practice of paying the musicians at the end of a gig. If you enjoyed dancing to the music, there comes a time to pay the piper.

Regardless of the origin of the story, there is truth to the meaning. If you make a promise, you need to pay. And if you have enjoyed the music, you have to pay.

In our church, both of these are true. We approved an aggressive, forward-looking budget for 2018. A budget is basically a promise that an organization makes. And with this promise comes the possibility for a lot of great ministry for our church and our neighbors. Mission trips. Community outreach. Evangelism initiatives. Exciting stuff. But in order to fulfill that promise, we need a certain amount of revenue each week. So far in 2018, we have fallen short of that revenue target each week. Not by much, but a weekly shortfall will add up over the long haul.  So, in order to fulfill our promise, we need to pay the piper.

It is a genuinely exciting time to be at Glynwood. I am still basking in the afterglow of our Founder’s Day service, where Glenn Brock reminded us of our roots as a church. But there is a sense that we are getting focused on the future. Response to the “This is Us” sermon series on Sunday mornings has been really, really encouraging. After every service, I’ve heard enthusiastic responses from people who want to do something with what they are hearing. Community outreach. Block parties. More worship services. Increased focus on meeting the needs of both church members and folks in our community. It seems as though people are dancing to the music! So again, we need to pay the piper.

Our Fourth G, which you heard about this weekend, is We Share our Gifts. You will hear a lot about stewardship of our time, talents, and treasure. Let’s be a people who are rich in generosity because we serve a Savior who has richly blessed us!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

–2 Corinthians 8:9


Joy in the Journey!


Prayer for 2018

giphy-3Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.[e]

Psalm 90:12



One of my favorite things to do in a new year is to begin a new journal. I love the point when the blank pages before me outnumber the filled pages behind me.

And yet, on balance, I am also facing the reality that there are more filled journals in my past than there are blank journals in my future. 2018 marks my 52nd year on this planet. My 32nd year in ministry. My 26th year as a married man. 21st as a father. 3rd as an Alabamian. And first as a lead pastor.

I believe there are still new adventures to be had. New lessons to be learned. New insights to be gained. And I pray, Lord, that I will come to the end of 2018…

  • More at peace with You yet more broken by You;
  • More in love with my wife yet more aware of how fragile and delicate a God-honoring marriage truly is;
  • More dedicated to my role as a father, yet more aware of my diminishing impact and years to influence their lives;
  • More confident in my leadership at my church, yet more mindful of my utter dependence on You.

Let me journey without arriving, mature without mellowing, stabilize without stagnating, and study without graduating. And let me live 2018 only for the glory of God.

From Your Pastor: Week of September 17

James smilingAs I write this, I am reflecting on our first day together. What an amazing time of worship we had on Sunday! Guys, there were a lot of people here. I mean, a lot. I know that there were a lot of people who were just kind of test driving the new guy, but here’s the thing: we need to expect new people. We need to expect lost people. Not because we have a new pastor, but because we have a Savior who has come to “seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). The Father is drawing people to His son (John 6:44). We shouldn’t be surprised when they come to our doors.

With that in mind, there’s some things I would love to see us do as a church that will help us be more outward focused:

  1. If you are a Sunday school teacher, keep the seats closest to the door available for first time guests. People who don’t know our building very well will take a little bit more time to find their way to class, especially if they have children to check in. So make sure they can slip in without having to walk through the middle of your circle.
  2. Speaking of Sunday School teachers, plan on getting to your class first. And do your best not to still be getting your material set up as people are arriving. You want to be able to give your full attention to guests as they are coming in.
  3. In the worship service, consider sliding to the middle of the pew to make room for guests on the ends.
  4. Say hello! Introduce yourself! Sometimes we are afraid to do that because we are worried that the person we are introducing ourselves to is a member of the church we’re supposed to know. If you’re worried about that, then just stand next to Trish and me. We don’t know anybody yet, so you can learn their names when we introduce ourselves!
  5. If you have not been coming to prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, please make it a priority. Thom Rainer, in his book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, points out that one thing churches that have closed their doors all had in common is that they rarely prayed together. Glynwood is a praying church! Let’s never lose sight of that!

We are heading into some amazing days as a church. And I am so blessed to be your pastor! Please let me know how I can be praying for you. My church email address is

Joy in the Journey,


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