Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Celebration, World Mission Offering & Christmas Eve...

I hope you are ready for Christmas. It is only 3 days away so if you have not bought that final gift, it is time to get on the ball. We are so looking forward to Christmas morning at the McWilliams' house.

2010 Christmas Celebration
If you were unable to attend the 2010 Christmas Celebration you truly missed a blessing. Next to the first performance at the Ector County Coliseum, this was my most favorite. We had record attendance in our 5 performances. Each performance was full to overflowing with the final one Sunday night being a totally packed house. It is impossible to tell how many people came to Christ, but there is no doubt God used the work of so many to advance His Kingdom. A huge thank you goes out to every person involved in making this year's Christmas Celebration so fantastic!

World Missions Offering
Are you ready for this? The world missions offering goal for FBC Odessa was $440,00 for 2010. As of this date we have collected over $540,000 - that is more than $100,000 in excess of the goal. Wow! God is so good and worthy of all praise! There is truly no limit to what can be done when God is being honored and His people are faithful.

Christmas Eve at FBC-Odessa
Just a reminder that our Christmas Eve service will be Friday night from 6:00 to 7:00. We will observe the Lord's Supper and close the night lighting candles. Please make your plans to attend. You will be glad you did.

January is going to be an incredible month at First Baptist Church. We will reintroduce the plans for a new sanctuary to the faith family and will be voting on January 30th as a body to determine our next step. Please begin to pray for God's will to be done in this matter.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

World Missions Offering

Here's the latest on the FBC-Odessa World Mission Offering. The goal was $440,000 and as of this morning we have received (drum roll please!)...


What a fantastic missions-minded faith family is FBC-Odessa! You did a great job and together we are playing our part in advancing the Kingdom of God throughout the world. I love and appreciate you. I'm honored to be your pastor.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Updates...

Good morning. Just a few updates for some of the happenings at FBC-Odessa.

World Missions Offering
FBC Odessa, you are incredible! As of Tuesday afternoon we have collected contributions totalling $439,600 toward our World Missions Offering goal of $440,000. There is no doubt in my mind we will reach our goal and probably before Sunday. Incredible job FBC-Odessa! Your love for missions is wonderful. I am honored to be your pastor.

2011 Budget Discussion
Tonight in the fellowship hall we will discuss the 2011 budget from 5:30-6:00. If you have already received your copy of the budget overview you will have noted that we are not increasing the budget at all. In fact, we are reducing the budget by a slight amount. Thank you for your faithful giving to the Kingdom work being done at FBC.

Christmas Blitz Update
Yes, we did it! All 10,000 candy canes have been delivered to homes in Odessa. As of Tuesday morning the church family had delivered 9,400. To complete the goal some of the ministers on staff met at the westside Wal-Mart and handed out the remaining 600 invitations. FBC you did a phenomenal job in coming together to accomplish this goal! I love and appreciate you for rising to the occasion!

Permian Basin Christmas Celebration
Tickets are going fast. Some of the 5 services are already full. If you have not picked up your tickets yet, you need to get with it quickly. Please be in prayer for this great event. God is on the move and we are getting to be part of His work.

Have a great rest of the week. Only two more Wednesdays left in 2010. Have you been thinking about some new and fresh goals for 2011?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday Thoughts and World Missions Offering...

Yesterday at FBC was another wonderful day of worship. The sanctuary is in shambles due to the preparation for our annual Christmas Celebration coming this weekend but the good people of FBC have learned to take the disruptions in stride. We had a number of decisions yesterday. God is so good!

World Mission Sunday
Yesterday was our in-gathering for our World Mission Offering. We take one missions offering a year so as to not be hitting our folks up multiple times throughout. Our goal for 2010 was $440,000. Yesterday we received $426,000 making us just $14,000 short of the goal as of yet.  If past history is any indicator of the future, we will probably meet our goal before next Sunday and certainly before December 31. From your pastor, I want to say a HUGE thank you to all who gave to world missions at FBC-Odessa! I love you guys.

We have one of the biggest weeks of the year ahead as we prepare for the Christmas Celebration. I'm praying God's huge blessing on every person involved. I'm believing God for a greater Celebration than any other because of all the hard work of so many FBC folks who are getting the word out. You guys are great!

Oh yeah, I updated my profile picture with a family shot. My wife and kids sure help me look better!

Have a good week!

Candy Cane Blitz Update

Last night many of the faith family at FBC-Odessa assembled again to knock on doors inviting people to attend the Christmas Celebration this coming Friday - Sunday. As of today we have hit about 8,500 doors on our way to 10,000. Tonight is the final night and it is gonna be a blast!

Come on out FBC and let's get it done!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Candy Cane Blitz @ FBC-Odessa

For the past two evenings FBC-Odessa has gathered to go out into our community on what we are calling the "Candy Cane Blitz." We set a goal to knock on 10,000 doors in four nights in Odessa inviting the residents to our annual Christmas Celebration. Yes, that's right, 10,000 doors. After Sunday and Monday nights we have exceeded our expectations and have hit over 6,500 doors. Next Sunday and Monday will be our final two nights and I have no doubt we will meet our goal.

To all of the wonderful people at FBC-Odessa who have walked down streets knocking on doors - THANK YOU! To all of you who tied the plastic cards to the candy canes - THANK YOU! And to everyone else who played a role in the success of this event, regardless of how small it may have been - THANK YOU!

I love you guys and praise God for the opportunity to be your pastor. Now let's continue to pray for God's blessings on all of the hard work. It will happen because God always rewards our work for His Kingdom.

Have a great day!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Movie Recommendation...

If you have known me for long, you know that I publicly recommend very few movies. Why? Because most of what Hollywood churns out is nothing but worldly fodder that denies what I stand for. But also, I take very seriously my role as a spiritual leader and would not want to endorse that which does not honor God. Every now and then, however, a movie comes along that merits a public "check it out" from me, and today I want to share one such movie with you.

My youngest daughter viewed this movie at the theater several months back. When it appeared on DVD this week she picked it for our Saturday night entertainment. To Save A Life is the movie and you can watch the trailer at the link below.

I like this movie because it pulls no punches. It reveals the hardhitting lifestyle that many of our teenagers face on a daily basis as they seek to navigate the student world - alcohol, sex, drugs, peer pressure, teen pregnancy and dishonesty. Primarily though, it is a very powerful and effective message against a dangerous temptation among some students (and some adults) that Satan seeks to flourish - teen suicide. For these reasons, I encourage you to check it out. Have a movie night at your house and watch it with your teenage kids. Then talk about it. Quit being afraid to address the really difficult and touchy issues with your children that the world throws at them. Talk to them about alcohol, sex, peer pressure and the need to fit in. And most importantly, convey to them that suicide is never an option. But don't expect them to come to you and bring up these topics. That's your job.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

28 Truths Regarding Money from 28 Years of Marriage...

Last night my wife, Andi, and I taught a marriage class together on conflict resolution and finances. In the course of the evening we shared "28 Truths Regarding Money from 28 Years of Marriage." I am providing the items in this format as some have already requested I share them on my blog. Hope you enjoy, smile, and maybe receive some help in an area or two.

1. That money really does not grow on trees.

2. That “Easy Come/Easy Go” is a one-sided lie – earning money is hard work!

3. That impulse purchases are always a bad idea.

4. That professional salesmen have that name for a reason.

5. That my family really does deserve the best – but only the right way!

6. That full disclosure with each other regarding purchases is always best!

7. That money plays a role in some of the disagreements we’ve had over the years.

8. That most people can never wait long enough so they can “afford” a baby.

9. That saving a little is better than saving none.

10. That eating at home is far cheaper than eating out.

11. That, with rare exception, it takes years to learn maturity in handling credit cards.

12. That you don’t have to have credit cards to be happy – cash is king!

13. That debt collectors can’t come and take your children from you.

14. That you have the right to hang up the telephone on rude people.

15. That owning your own home does not have to come in the first 5 years.

16. That the baby brought home to an apartment isn’t concerned about a backyard.

17. That when baby makes three a will is an essential piece of family business.

18. That if you have the guts (operative word), you really can make it on one income.

19. That living with blinders on is a necessity if you try to make it on one income.

20. That starting new careers always costs - but sometimes you have no choice.

21. That fear and panic leave when you take control of your finances.

22. That being on a budget really does work.

23. That money management is tedious work!

24. That financial goals are good when aligned with God’s priorities.

25. That God owns everything.

26. That being a good steward brings an inner peace that is highly valued.

27. That God helps those who honor Him with their finances.

28. Prayer works!

It was fun when we sat down and put this list together. We laughed about the fun times we had (even when they didn't feel so fun at the time). Most of what I'm sharing is common sense, but again, I hope they bring a smile and maybe some assistance/encouragement in your journey.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Faith and Discouragement...

The following is an article I wrote for the SBTC this fall. Hope it speaks to your heart.

While having lunch with a fellow pastor recently, I was asked an interesting question: “Do you see many pastors experiencing joy and victory in ministry?” Struck by the pertinence of his question, I began to reflect on my ministry as well as those I have encountered while traveling in Texas and beyond in 2010. With some hesitation I replied in the affirmative but I couldn’t help adding a footnote that “I don’t see many churches attempting that which requires great faith.” The ensuing discussion left me pondering faith and discouragement in ministry. I hope the following will be a help as we explore this topic together.

Faith is the central dynamic of the Christian life. It is not static but changes and fluctuates as we walk in fellowship with God. Sometimes our faith is strong; sometimes weak. It is an essential component of Christian living as any attempt to approach, serve, pray, or praise God apart from faith is futility of epic proportion. Without faith we cannot experience all God has in store for us or hear the still small voice of His Spirit whisper guidance in our heart. True faith is the primary means through which we deny Satan the glory he desperately craves and credit to Almighty God the glory He desperately deserves. It is true that nothing of eternal value can be accomplished apart from faith and equally true that nothing is impossible to him who has faith rightly directed in God. Faith matters immensely, even when weak and struggling.

Not long ago I was preaching a sermon on faith and I brought a cup of mustard seeds into the pulpit to make my illustration. There must have been 10,000 seeds in that one cup. Afterwards my wife asked to see the seeds up close and personal. I handed her the cup but she took only one tiny seed. She then taped the seed in her Bible next to Matthew 17:20 as a reminder of the quantity of real faith God is looking for in His followers. She is expecting mountains to move in her life as she understands faith to be the central dynamic of her walk with God.

Faith is particularly necessary when we come under trial and attempt to “count it all joy” as James implores. No person can look up from the bottom of a pit and praise God apart from a living faith that believes circumstances can change on-a-dime with the Lord. While corporate faith may be on the decline, discouragement is on the rise among God’s chosen leaders. Many of the pastors and church leaders I have crossed paths with this year as president of the SBTC face daily discouragement. These wonderful servants of Christ possess a deep passion for the things of God. They rejoice in their calling and daily seek to honor the Lord by faith. The pastors are men who desire their churches to grow for the glory of God and see the lost come to Jesus. Yet, like high blood pressure, discouragement is the “silent killer” of ministers, regardless of church size. At one time I thought only those serving God away from highways and high-speed internet, malls and movie theaters were the ones primarily subject to discouragement. Was I ever wrong! Satan has no respect for God’s minister regardless of whether he receives his mail on a rural route or while seated in a high-rise. So what is the answer? Let me encourage you with the following.

First, recalibrate your focus on “Who” matters most. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Whenever discouragement seeks to replace faith in my life, I always know my focus has shifted not from “what matters most” but from “who matters most” – the Lord Jesus. God knows that all who serve Him have the propensity to be just like Peter when the wind and waves begin to roll and we take our eyes off Jesus. So fix your eyes on the Master and the faith you exhibit will conquer the discouragement you face.

Second, maintain a hope that refuses to doubt God’s power. When Satan attacks your mind by telling you that what you are doing for God does not matter, refuse to believe his lie and doubt God’s power. If you are praying and working as you should, you are making a difference regardless of what circumstances may say. A recent note on Twitter I received shared a quote from A.T. Robertson on difficult pastorates: “Young man, if you go to a hard field, stay by it. For, while you may not help the field, it will help you." My only addition would be to stay by that hard field with an expectant hope that God can transform even the most difficult circumstance for His glory. Place a mustard seed in your Bible if necessary.

Finally, maintain a faith that refuses to shrink back. Years ago I was struggling with discouragement in ministry on a supreme level. It wasn’t the first time; it will not be the last. On that day, I well remember driving the 45 miles to the hospital for visitation and crying out in desperation for God to move the entire trip. I felt I was nearing the end of my rope. Discouragement had caused me to lose my focus and doubt whether I was making any difference for the Kingdom. That afternoon when I returned to my office I did the only thing I knew to do – I poured over Scripture in prayer, seeking a word of encouragement from the Lord. While doing so the Holy Spirit brought me to Hebrews 10:35-38 NIV, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” Message delivered; message received.

Perhaps you are nearing the end of your rope, your grip is lessening and discouragement seems about to win the day. Stop what you are doing right now and take back the joy in serving Jesus that Satan is attempting to steal. Refuse to shrink back in defeat. Pray. Focus on your Master. Do that which you know God would have you do. Remain faithful and sooner than later a new day will dawn and the discouragement you feel will be replaced with a fresh expectancy that God is on the move. Be encouraged fellow servant of the Most High God!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

July 4 Sermon...

On July 4 I preached "America: Where We've Been, Where We're Headed." Since last Sunday I have had many people e-mail, call or speak to me personally about the message. All thanked me for the courage to preach what must be said if we are to see revival of Christian principles and values in America. Due to the high demand, the audio version of the message has been loaded to the front page of the FBC-Odessa website. You can find the message at

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Words that Change Everything...

I mentioned earlier this week that I would share with you two words that have the power to change everything. Now I realize some of you are rather skeptical. You think this is too good to be true - it is not. You may even be thinking "there is nothing that can change my situation." That, too, is incorrect. So what are the two words? Here they are - "But God!"

Yes, "But God" are the two words I am placing so much stock in that I will brag to my heart's content regarding their substance. These two words are pivotal in that they recognize and give credence to the truth that when God shows up, everything and anything can change. I can prove this sublime truth through Scripture very easily. In Ephesians 2:1-4, the moment/process of salvation is described. Paul explains how before we come to saving faith in Jesus Christ we are totally, completely spiritually dead, having nothing of merit to offer God because dead folks do not offer anything. He explains that we walked according to the ways/patterns of this world, following after Satan, the prince of the power of the air. He finishes describing just how horrible we were before Christ by stating that we were nothing but children of wrath, meaning that in eternity that is all the spiritually dead person can expect to receive from God.

Then, when the truth cannot get any darker, when the story could not be any more horrible, when all seems lost and there is no hope - BUT GOD!

Ephesians 2:4-5 says, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved." But God showed up! But God sent His one and only Son to the rescue! But God brought about redemption to all who place their faith in Jesus alone. But God...  Two incredibly powerful words revealing that no matter how dreadful our situation looks, no matter how horribly hopeless we may feel, no matter the despair that seeks to overcome - But God can deliver!

Now let me see if I can explain this so we all make a connection -

You could ask for millions in hopes that money could make you happy – But God’s grace is far richer.
You could ask for pleasure in hopes that pleasure could make you happy – But God is far better.
You might think you have come to the end of yourself and you see no way out – But God
You may have tried all cures and you see nothing but a lingering death due to illness – But God
You may hear people saying your situation is hopeless and there’s no use – But God...
You may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death and expect no joy ever again – But God...
You may be climbing the mountain of happiness and the rope is fraying and ready to break - But God...
You may be leaping like a young calf over good times and the market crashes – But God...
You may have made it to easy street and the workers show up to repave your street – But God...
You may think that the world is unraveling and the future is bleak – But God...
You may fear natural disasters increasing and the entire planet feeling the effect – But God...
When the car breaks down and the washer goes out and there is no money to fix either – But God...
When sales are down, creditors are aggressive, and the bank account is vanishing - But God...
When life is just flat out sorry and you feel it will never change – But God is the ANSWER!

Do you get the picture? Do you understand that in a moment, God can turn your direction? Do you grasp that with a single nod from His sovereign head, God can undo all the pain, heartache, hopelessness, and fear that has come on you.

Why don't you pray and believe that with God all things are possible!  Two words that change everything - But God....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Great Day of Worship...

Yesterday was a wonderful day of worship at FBC-Odessa. We shared in the Lord's Supper in both AM services. We've not always had the Lord's Supper in the AM but the response has been phenomenal. It was a sweet time of fellowship around our Lord's table and a great time of remembering what is most important and where our focus should be. Thanks FBC-Odessa for a great day of worship yesterday!

Later this week I plan to post on two words that change everything. Be thinking about what those two words might be. I would be willing to bet what you come up with is not what I'm thinking (unless you were in the worship service last night).

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lord's Supper...

Hey FBC-Odessa folks, we will be having the Lord's Supper in both AM services this Sunday. What a wonderful privilege our Lord gives us as we pull up to His table and remember that which is most important in life. Talk about a sense of community that will be taking place around the Lord's table. Make your plans to be there - you won't regret it!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Good Man...

A good man is being laid to rest today. Glen Atkins was a member of FBC-Odessa for many years, having been ordained a deacon in 1967. I was just 5 years old when Glen began serving the Lord as a deacon at the church I pastor. He loved serving the Lord and the Odessa community. He was involved in everything and more connected than probably anybody I know in this city. But what makes Glen so special - and what made my job easy today as I preached his funeral - is that he loved Jesus and was a confident believer who lived his faith. He wasn't perfect, but he was forgiven. What a good man in so many ways.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Summertime and Camp Celebrate...

Summer is here at FBC-Odessa. Today we have a group of 50 preschoolers leaving for three day Camp Celebrate. For most of these it will be there first trip away from mom and dad. They will be taking a charter bus and no doubt the giggles will be abundant. Be praying for Deana and the rest of the adult sponsors on this trip. They are going to have a blast and there will be lives impacted for the Gospel.

Lots of other activities you can pray about are happening this week and in the summer months to come. Stay tuned and I will be dropping them on you right here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Audacity of American Christianity...

I have been floored (another word for convicted) by the state of Christianity in America. This is not something recent, I have felt this way for quite some time. No, I don't feel this way because of some report I read chronicling the decline of the church. I also do not feel this way because I have read a book that has told me what I "ought" to think. I feel as I do because of what I have observed with my eyes and because I seek to correctly discern the times in which I live. I feel this way also because I have studied the Gospel of Jesus Christ and do not see an overwhelming resemblance between American Christianity and the scriptural model provided. With that understanding, I am disturbed by the audacity of American Christianity for several reasons. First, I often wonder why the majority of Christians' walk does not seem to match their talk. They will utter words that sound like they are right on target with the Gospel, living for Jesus, but their walk will be just the opposite. This is concerning on many different levels. It causes alarms to go off in this pastor's heart regarding those who profess a salvation in Christ but produce no resulting change in lifestyle. It is totally incomprehensible to me that when the God of all creation brings salvation into a life that the person will not be radically changed. If a gospel has so little power that a sinner is not changed by it so that they continually grow in their reflection of Christ, it must not be the Gospel that is taught in Scripture. So, first, I am alarmed because I see so little life-change transpiring in American Christianity.

Second, I am concerned because my eyes have been opened to a growing level of self-indulgent Christianity in America. The main goal in coming to worship is not about glorifying God, but rather it seems to be about getting temporal needs met. We do not seek Him out of a poverty of self; we seek Him out of an overflowing wealth of self-sufficiency. There is so little dependency upon God that one must truly ask if we really even need “another god" in our lives at all. His is the "bit" part in the movie of our lives where we have cast ourselves as the star. So, for this reason and others, lost America is asking "who needs God, especially your God?" Why would they need conversion when their life and those who profess Christ look so similar? It is incongruent that God desires dependency and reliance upon Him from His children and yet continue to bless lives overflowing with self-indulgence.

Third, I fear the reproach that comes with ignoring the plight of the poor who live around us. I have been convicted lately that we in America have so very much and yet we give so very little. Yes, it is true that 20% or less of church members give 80% or more of the money needed to fund the work of the Lord in the local church. We have so much and yet we spend the money only on that which supports our ostentatious lifestyles. While preaching this past Sunday I stated that "most people in this world could live a better life if they just lived off of the garbage we throw away in the dumpster weekly." I am convicted by my own statement; I am also alarmed that most were not.

What is going to happen to the Church in America? Only God ultimately knows, but I have an idea what will happen if revival tarries. If there is not a turning back to the Lord in the form of a great spiritual awakening we can expect God's absolute removal of His hand of blessing on our nation (some would say this has already happened). We can expect our self-sufficiency tried, tested and ultimately proven a failure. We can expect our self-indulgence to cease because there will be a reversal of fortune like never before in the world. We can expect to join the ranks of those we barely tolerate who have so little and are among the poor in America. We are at a crossroads. We are at a turning point. We are at a fork in the road and God is watching to see the path we will take. The audacity of American Christianity... where will it end?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hiking Out of the Jungle...

Our last day in the jungles of Ecuador centered upon the hike out of the Huaorani village back to civilization… now that’s a relative term. Our civilization was a bunk at UMPES, the jungle camp where we had begun. It was also a hot shower – thank the Lord for modern conveniences. Every one of us at this point was ready for a hot shower, a bar of soap and a mattress. (Missions pastor Jason Johnson, with a tasty treat!)

We left Kakatarro in shifts Thursday morning. The first shift left at 6:45, second at 7:00 and third at 7:15. We gathered early for our final breakfast with the Huaorani’s and to drop off our packs for transport out. The mode of transportation was the Indians who had volunteered to guide us out of the jungle. I will never forget Gallo, the young Huaorani Indian who was so interested in the English language, packed and loaded for the journey. He had one pack on his back and was wearing another one in reverse on his chest. He looked like a sandwich board advertising that these Americans are too wimpy to carry their packs out of the jungle. I’m not sure if he thought that or not, but I confess that’s how I was feeling when I saw him lugging two packs.

I walked in the third group with Missionary Steve Thompson and two other men from our team. Behind me was Chief Gabriel’s wife. No, she was not carrying my pack. A young Quichua man carried my pack (no pregnant woman or child, thankfully). The day before, I had acquired a short walking stick to be used on my journey. I was ready, bring on the jungle.

At 7:15 we hit the trail by first crossing the river by the camp that had been so swollen upon our entrance that a canoe had been required. Today it was only to our knees; so much for having dry boots and socks for the trail. We hiked up the first hill – why is it that first hills always seem the hardest? Soon we were on the trail deep within the jungle, surrounded by singing jungle birds and overgrown trees so tall and wide. It had not rained the entire time we were at Kakatarro, but when we awoke at 5:00 on departure day, we could hear the rumbling of thunder and the rain hitting the roof of the school house where we slept. It had not rained much so we still were hoping for a minimum of slipping and sliding when we started. That hope soon vanished when the mud began to cling to our soggy boots once again, making the steep hills and sharp descents very difficult.

We had walked about 30 minutes when we caught up with the group that had left at 6:45. They were taking the steep hills slowly and we had been walking briskly. We passed them and moved on through the jungle. I was hot on the heels of Steve, determined he would not leave me behind like he did on the trial coming in. (No, I didn't take this picture of the Ocelot on the trail. I took it in the jungle zoo I talked about on day 1. Same for the Toucan below.)

Soon I adopted my familiar modus operandi of slipping and falling in the mud. The short walking stick I was utilizing kept getting shorter because I was breaking it off in 6” pieces along the trail. Every time I would fall I would hear the Chief’s wife snicker and giggle behind me. She never fell. Perhaps it was because she was strong enough to whip most men on the trip and could definitely outrun us all. Maybe it was because I hiked in hunting boots with big soles designed for traction, while she walked barefooted and could feel every root under her feet for a good grip. Whatever the reason, she never fell and she chuckled every time I did. I am glad I could brighten her day with some comic relief. She must have grew tired of laughing at this big American walking with this ever-shortening stick in his hands because after I fell at one point she tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a 6 foot walking stick that had substance. No way was I breaking that bad boy. It was a blessing and she laughed less. Just fun in the jungle!

After we had walked for about 2 hours, caught and passed the second group from our team, it started to rain. Not a West Texas drizzle, a true rainforest rain of huge drops. Back home we call this a flood. In the jungle it was probably a shower. The rain felt so wonderful and it actually made hiking easier. In just minutes the hard rain was running in torrents down our trail washing all of the loose sediment/mud away and providing a firmer footing. What we had dreaded had turned out to be a blessing. It cooled us off and made walking easier. I loved every minute of it!

What I soon realized was that the rivers we crossed coming in that were knee deep would quickly swell much deeper if we didn’t get out of the jungle soon. Again and again we crossed water above our knees until we came to our final crossing of the day. What was a small creek when there was no rain had become a raging river. The Indians had us wait so they could escort us across one at a time. The water at this crossing was easily at my waist. For the group that was 35 minutes behind us the water had risen to chest high. Thankfully, the last group made it out while they could still keep their head above water... barely.

My hike out of the jungle took 3:45; substantially faster than the 5:15 hike into Kakatarro. All the hikers were out of the woods by 12:30 PM and we headed back to the produce truck to say good-bye to our Huaorani friends.

We thought we’d be back to UMPES by 3:00 but our final challenge still lay ahead. When we reached the final river we needed to drive across, what had been a large stream was now no less than 50’ across and flowing at full force. There was no way we were crossing at that moment so we hunkered down to wait. And we waited… And we waited… And we waited some more. All total, we waited for 5-6 hours to cross the river and it was still 3 feet deep. But God provided and got us across. We were headed home. (James with an 8' python.)

Ecuador was truly fantastic and a life-changing mission trip for sure! I met some brothers and sisters in Christ that I will possibly not see again until we are around God’s throne in Heaven. I also learned the necessity of speaking the language in a foreign country. Before I return to Ecuador I will spend some time with the Spanish language in an effort to communicate more effectively. Finally, I will forever treasure the joy of teaching in a church without walls while sitting in the middle of the Amazon jungle. God is good! He protected and provided for every need we had. It was a great mission trip and I cannot wait to do it again.

If you have never been on a mission trip and want your life to change – pray about where God can use you and jump in with both feet. It will be one of the most spiritually rewarding experiences of your life and you will never be the same.

God bless and thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day Three - Evening Worship and a New Baptist Church...

Wednesday in the jungles of Ecuador was a full day in need of more attention. I mentioned yesterday that part of Wednesday was set aside for celebration. The purpose was to celebrate the chartering of the very first Baptist church on Huaorani land. The church we had painted the previous day and worked to build a storage room on the back was to become an official Baptist church that night.

The “Iglesia Cristiana Bautista” was a product of the combined efforts of a truly blessed evangelistic team in Ecuador. Southern Baptist missionary Steve Thompson partnered with an Ecuadorian missionary years ago to take the Gospel into the Indian nations. They were the first to reach out to the Kakatarro Indians and share Christ with them. As a result, many have come to Christ and have been baptized and discipled as believers. The church was only a building with no official start date or charter members. That would change that evening after an afternoon of celebration.

The celebration events were to be held on a large area adjacent to the camp where there was a soccer field and volleyball net. The Huaorani school teacher was not from this particular village and was placed there by the government to provide the most basic of skills to the children. As a young man in his mid-twenties, he had lived in the city where he received his education – he was also quite an athlete. When he found out that we would be competing he changed into his uniform, cleats and all and prepared to take on us Gringos. It was about then that I fully realized we were in trouble. Not withstanding the fact that every single Indian in the camp could eclipse all of the missionary team in a footrace, they could easily out maneuver us on the soccer field. Not only that, but most of us were still trying to recover from the hike into the jungle and we didn’t want to do anything that would cause more pain on the hike out on Thursday. So, most of the “celebrating” was left to only a couple in our group. As for me, and several others, we celebrated the river for an hour or so while they sweated on the soccer field. I personally liked that particular arrangement.

That evening we gathered at the church for the commissioning service. It was dark and the candles were lit. Pastor Timothy requested we gather in a large circle like their elders of years gone by for the teaching time that night. I was more than willing to teach while sitting in the circle and we all took our places and the worship service began.

First we sang songs in Quichua and Huaorani, Spanish and English. (Earlier we had sung Jesus Loves Me in all four languages at once – beautiful!) I then shared on the necessity of the Huaorani’s continuing to evangelize other Huaorani tribes deeper in the jungle. I gave them the scriptural mandates of why this was important and emphasized that these people would not hear the Gospel from an Anglo but would receive it from them. I pray that they are more responsive to evangelism than the average North American church member.

Upon my completion Pastor Timothy said that his people would dance like their ancient elders. He then called for several men and women to gather in the middle of the circle and they performed a shuffling movement as they raised their hands to God. Steve Thompson interpreted that they were giving praise to God the Father. This gave evidence of their animistic heritage where they recognized a divine creator but did not know God through Jesus, His Son. I think this was probably for our entertainment more than anything else, but it was a privilege to witness their culture and history up close. After a couple of these dances we moved into the official commissioning service.

Upon gathering all of the baptized believers in the middle of the circle – there were some 15 to 20 – both missionaries and my missions pastor, Jason Johnson, and myself were asked to pray a prayer of dedication for the new church. While we prayed the believers kneeled in the middle of the circle. Upon completion, the very first Baptist work in Huaorani territory had officially come into being as a recognized church. No, there was no by-laws and constitution. But from this day forward the baptized believers would be considered charter members and records would be kept of additions into the body of Christ by baptism. Hence forth the church would officially operate as the “Iglesia Cristiana Bautista” in the heart of the Amazon jungle as a clear picture of Jesus’ words, “Where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20).

Great joy prevailed as the shadows of the congregants moved about inside of the church in the candlelight. There was much chatter between each other as different gifts were exchanged and the celebration came to a close. I was visiting with Gabriel, the chief, when he took from his head a handmade Ocelot headdress which he placed on my head. Through an interpreter I asked if this was mine or what and he said he was giving it to me as a gift. Now that was a true treasure. I then pulled a large fixed blade hunting knife from my pocket that I had brought to give to him. I told him I hoped he would skin many monkeys and wild hogs with this knife. He was thrilled and the next day I saw that he was wearing it on the hike out of the jungle. There were some others who had brought things to trade and so I went to an older warrior who had made a 5 foot spear and had brought for trading. I swapped him a pair of binoculars. He was thrilled. He would have taken anything from an American just to say that he had it but I believe the binoculars will come in handy.

The night ended with us purchasing all of the artisan work the ladies of the village had made. There were bread plates, beads, carrying sacks, and other items, all made by the women for the purpose of sale.

We went to bed that night thankful for being allowed to be part of a rare and special event. We also went to bed thinking about the grueling hike we faced in the morning. I will save that for tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day Three - Friends, Weapons, and Warpaint...

Day three in the jungle dawned when the roosters began to crow at 5:00 AM. Although we didn’t get up until 6:00, it’s rather hard to sleep with Mr. Rooster evidencing such exuberance. Not a problem, however, because the jungle coming alive with the various sounds of nature was worth listening to as some early morning dozing took place.

One important tidbit I failed to share from Monday’s activities was our group’s afternoon interaction with Gabriel, Timothy, and Gallo. All three of these men are leaders among the Huaorani people. Gabriel is the tribal chief (a.k.a. president); Timothy is the pastor of the Baptist church in the village and Gabriel’s brother-in-law; Gallo is a right hand man who is intensely curious about the American way of life. The pictures you see are of these men with a blowgun and lance. We all had our try at each of these and I must confess when it came to the blowgun I was sorely lacking (no hot air comments please). This hunting tool is approximately 12 feet long and capable of shooting a dart 50 yards with incredible precision and velocity. I feel quite certain that Gabriel could shoot an eye out at 25 paces with little or no problem should that be his intention.

The lance was 10 feet long and made of a type of jungle ironwood. It was sharpened to a lethal point on both ends and is unquestionably a powerful weapon. Due to size, weight, and velocity when thrown it would easily pass through the human body and come out the other side. I was glad we only threw at a papaya that we all had trouble hitting.

Gabriel said that the reason we could not hit the target was because our faces had not been painted. Within minutes a runner brought back a plant that had red seeds inside a pod and the chief began painting our faces with red war paint. It was great fun, but it didn’t help us hit the mark.

These men are products of a culture that thrives on men being strong hunters and mighty warriors. Although they no longer war between their clans or with outsiders, you can tell they maintain a fierceness and strength by the way they carry themselves. Please do not get the wrong idea, however. The Kakatarro Huaorani were incredible hosts and never once did we feel threatened or in danger.

When visiting with the missionary I asked him about their friendly disposition and he shared that we had been invited to their village. If a stranger were to appear from the jungle at Kakatarro, they would question him as to intentions and politely request he leave. If he did not heed the request, he could possibly be in danger of harm. Further in the jungle are other Huaorani tribes that are even more primitive than our Kakatarro friends. Should you wander into their village, your life could be in grave danger.

The Ecuadorian government has little power over enforcement of laws among the Huaorani people. These are self-governing tribes that maintain a strict code of conduct. For crimes such as murder, rape, child molestation, capital punishment would be the sentence. For lesser crimes such as stealing, public beating would serve as a deterrent. I find their swift judicial process quite interesting in light of the loose system of justice so common in America.

With the church painted on Tuesday, we sought to build a storage building on the back of the church on Wednesday. As you can see form these pictures we set the foundation posts in place and built a frame for flooring and walls. Digging postholes was done with a machete and concrete was river sand and gravel that would harden up when dried. The structure was complete all but the flooring and walls by the end of the day.

At lunch on Wednesday I had my first taste of monkey. Gabriel had gone hunting that morning with his antiquated 16 gauge single barrel shotgun and had killed two monkeys. The picture you see is the traditional way they tie the tails together to carry them through the woods. The other pictures you see are the monkey arm I was given and the head of a monkey that was boiled in the same pot with our food. I will confess that I was not upset when the monkey head was kept to be eaten by the Indians. The arm I was eating was enough for me. People have asked what it tasted like and my best answer is squirrel. It is a dark, tough meat with not a lot of flavor. All in all, it wasn’t that bad.
They also steamed fish for us on Wednesday. This was fish caught in their river, cleaned, and wrapped in banana leaves for steaming. It was delicious!

That afternoon we celebrated a special event that would take place later that evening – the chartering of the very first Baptist church in Huaorani territory. I will tell you more about that tomorrow.

Spiritual Applications –
First, my experience among the Huaorani proved a precursor to Revelation 7 and what we might expect around the throne of God in eternity. I have long held that Anglos may be the minority in heaven because there are so many people of color around the world. Verses 9-10, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” In eternity I will worship my Savior with Gabriel, Timothy, Gallo and other Huaorani brothers and sisters I met at Kakatarro.

Second, Jesus Christ is oftentimes the only thing we have to offer people of other nations. When I viewed my friends at Kakatarro, it was not difficult to surmise what all they lacked from an American point of view. Nonetheless, these are some of the richest people I have ever met. They have very few needs and even less worries. They do not have electric bills, water bills, credit card debt or house payments. Worry about retirement accounts and interest rates play no role in their daily thoughts. They do not fret about where their next meal is coming from and there seems to be very little jealousy over what others might have that they do not. In essence, I have determined that should I have been born a Huaorani Indian boy I would have loved every minute of it because it is a life centered upon nature, hunting, fishing, and freedom. Maybe we could learn some things about materialism from these people who have so little and yet are so richly blessed. So what do we have to offer them? What must we offer them? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our most important contribution to these people who have little need of what else we might offer.

Stay tuned tomorrow for some additional thoughts.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day Two - Total Dependence...

Yesterday I described the hike into the Amazon jungle and my arrival at the Huaorani Indian village of Kakatarro. I felt as though I had stepped back in time because there was no running water, no electricity, no technology or modern conveniences. The Indians exist by daily hunting and fishing for food. Other than Yucca (pronounced you-ka) and a small amount of corn, they grow very few crops. The jungle provides certain green vegetables and fruit, but for the most part they eat what they catch or kill.

On Tuesday we arose at 6:00 to start the day. After breakfast – which consisted of some fried plantain and a very soft fried egg – our first order of business was to paint the church in Kakatarro. The pictures you see here are the men at work and the finished product of the painted church. Yes, you are right, most would not choose to paint their church blue and white but for some reason it seemed to fit this community very well.

After lunch of chicken – killed, plucked, and cleaned that day – deer, rice and of course yucca, we finished the paint job on the church and went for a swim in the river. If you have ever been to New Braunfels and seen the Comal River that is what the Kakatarro village river reminded me of. It is a beautiful, clear flowing body of water; cold and refreshing.

That afternoon I taught the first time on the characteristics of a believer in Christ. Their worship was genuine and their love for Christ so evident. That evening after supper I taught on the perseverance of the believer in Christ and God truly blessed. My illustrations had to be changed because these sweet Christians have never seen a television or microwave. They have never had a refrigerator or stove. They didn’t understand much of what we take for granted. After explaining the biblical text, it proved quite a challenge to illustrate it in a manner they can understand. However, one area to which every culture can relate are the difficulties and trials of life. When I shared some of the events that have tried my faith most, the connection was made and they related wonderfully. I will forever treasure teaching the Word of God to a distant and exotic people as we gathered in an open-air church by candlelight.

Spiritual applications thus far on the mission trip –
First, when I was trudging forward on the trail to get to the village, I could not help but make the connection between the similarities of my walk up the trail and my Christian walk through life. As the Amazon trail grew increasingly more difficult and exhausting, I ceased worrying about the next hill or obstacle and just began taking them one-by-one. I had overcome everything the trail had thrown at me thus far and as I walked further my confidence grew and I reasoned that I could overcome whatever unknown obstacle lay ahead. God had strengthened me and was continuing to do so. What a picture of the Christian life. As a believer in Jesus Christ I am on a trail headed towards a sure destination - Heaven. I am not sure when I will arrive, only God knows. As I walk with God I need not worry about the next trial I may face as a Christian, I simply need to rely on His strength to see me through. There is no going back or quitting. Every trial I face and overcome leaves me stronger in my faith than before. All I am required to do is move forward in daily dependence on Jesus Christ. What sweet beauty in living there is when we do not have to fret over what we cannot see, we simply place our trust in the God who sees all and we know that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Life is better that way!

Second, as I walked through the jungle and for the entire time I was with the Huaorani’s, I was keenly aware of my total dependence upon God. There are no emergency rooms or hospitals close by. If a major medical issue arose or a bone was broken or a snake bite occurred, you are on your own. No EMT trained response team is coming. When you are in this situation you are totally dependent upon God for your protection and safety. I found this very liberating. Far too often we worry about that which we should not when all God wants us to do is place our total dependence on Him. Life is better that way!

Finally, and I will give more tomorrow, I was reminded of the healing power of forgiveness. In 1956 Jim Elliot and four other men were murdered by the Huaorani Indians. They were mislabeled as Auca’s at that time but it was the Huaorani’s who speared these five missionaries to death on the banks of the Curaray River just a short distance from where we were staying. I met a nephew of one of the men involved in the murders. He is a devout believer and has been used by God to open the door for the Gospel among his people. The picture you see here is with Pei, a man who has received God’s forgiveness as have I and who longs greatly to see the Gospel advanced among the Huaorani. Life is better when we embrace the healing that comes through forgiveness!

God bless and stay tuned for more tomorrow. I will tell you about the pastor, chief and eating monkey then.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Back In Time...

Last Monday at 10:15 AM I stepped back in time. I had travelled to Ecuador with six other men from the US on a mission trip to the Ecuadorian jungle. We had left Houston the previous Friday, arriving in metropolitan Quito at 9:30 PM for an overnight stay at Howard Johnsons. We arose early the next morning and headed out of the Andes Mountains to our jungle destination of Tena, located on the banks of the Napo River.

I preached at Terere Baptist church in Tena on Sunday morning. What an incredible experience as roughly 200 gathered for worship – a mega church by Ecuadorian standards. That afternoon I led two different Bible conference sessions for local pastors and church leaders at UNPES, the camp we were staying at outside of Tena. What a blessing I received as I met so many godly brothers and sisters in Christ. I went to bed at 10:00 Sunday night anticipating the travel back into time to the Huaorani (pronounced Waodoni) Indian village of Kakatarro.

Early Monday we climbed in the back of a produce truck for a 2 ½ hour ride deep into the jungle. Along the way we were joined by a number of Quichiwa Indians who would hike into the village with us. By the time we loaded all who would participate, we had 37 people stuffed in the back of the truck with the tarp pulled over because we wanted to remain dry and it was trying to sprinkle. Man, were we in for an awakening.

At the end of the road – literally – we hoisted our backpacks, met some of the Huaorani Indians who had walked from their camp to greet us and headed into the jungle for the hike of a lifetime.

The trail had been chopped by machete through the dense forest and was fairly easy to follow. For the first 15 minutes we laughed, talking and were thinking this to be no big deal. Steve Thompson, the local missionary, had advised that if we grew tired along the trail to hand our backpacks off to one of the Indians and they would be glad to assist us. He had described a previous trip into the jungle where a man was soon physically wiped out so he handed his pack off only to find that a pregnant Indian woman carried it the rest of the way. Now, if you know me, you know that just would not cut it. How could I stand before my church after having let a pregnant woman lug my backpack into the jungle because I bummed out from exhaustion? Time would tell.

We came to our first log bridge and scurried across like jungle pros. We walked five more minutes and came to the bottom of the first of MANY steep hills and the fun (yes, I jest) began. I affectionately named the hill “Stairway to Heaven” without realizing just how true the moniker proved to be. The climb seemed to have no end. Higher and higher, steeper and steeper, with slippery mud from the rain that was now falling profusely, our journey went. I began praying. First for my men whom I traveled with and then for myself. Up and down, hill after hill we trudged. The mud was so slippery that it was just as perilous going downhill as it was strenuous going up. We walked and walked, each person going at his own pace. Because of this, I found myself walking through the Amazon jungle alone much of the hike. I loved it! The rain, mud and hills made the going so incredibly tough but I was totally in tune with the fact that I was where billions would only read about and never experience. I crossed so many swollen streams and rivers that I lost count. The water was often up to my waste and yet I would see the trail leading up the slippery opposite bank and ahead I walked. At one point I walked by a huge animal den and paused at the entrance wondering what was inside. At that moment I saw two eyes looking back at me. I couldn’t tell what it was so I thought I would take my flashlight out. At that moment I pinched myself and moved out. I thought, “You dummy. You don’t have any weapon other than a pocket knife and there are things that will eat you in the jungle.” I continued my walk, backpack and all.

I walked and walked for what seemed like forever. Finally at 4:01 PM I topped the final hill and there before me was Kakatarro. I had made it, backpack and all, and was physically exhausted. I thought for sure I must have walked for 10 or more miles but found later that the distance was only 4.7. Putting this in perspective, I have run two full marathons in my life, both faster than the 5:15 minutes it took for me to cover 4.7 miles in the Amazon. What a trip!

I arrived at the camp and headed to the river to clean off the mud accumulated since the last crossing. Upon entering the cold water I began having intense muscle spasms and cramps in both legs that would continue for much of the evening. But I had made the journey and was the first one of our group to arrive. The cramping and pain was real but the elation from having achieved a grueling physical accomplishment overshadowed the negative effects. I was at my home where I would live with the Huaoroni’s and share Jesus with them for the next three days. Life was good; God had blessed; I was back in time.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more of the adventure.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ecuador Jungle Missions...

Later this week I leave for a 9 day mission trip to the Ecuadorian jungle. Last year I made a similar trip where we spent time doing construction on a church at a retreat for pastors and their families. We were on the fringe of the jungle last year, complete with running water and electricity. This trip we will travel into the jungle in the back of a produce truck and then hike for 1/2 day further to our destination. Yeah, it kind of reminds me of "Romancing the Stone" and them riding in the bus up the mountain with the chickens and pigs roaming free around their feet. We will spend 4 nights sleeping on mats under mosquito nets as we stay in a Huarani indian village. The days will be spent building a church - something this village has never had - and attending a Bible conference which I will be leading. It will be an exciting, exhausting, rewarding and tough trip - but loads of fun doing ministry in a totally different context.

Please pray for me and the rest of the team daily. Pray that the Gospel will be presented well everytime I stand to speak and that Christ will be honored. Pray for those who are lost to come to know Jesus as Savior. Pray for harmony among all those traveling and for our security. This is a pretty remote area and we need God's hand of protection all the way. Also, please pray for my ankle. If you have seen me lately, you know that I severely sprained my ankle the Saturday before Easter. It has made good progress, but is not healed to where I'm not still hobbling to some extent. Please pray that the ankle will hold up during the hike so that the men I am going with don't have to drag the pastor in and out of the woods. Too funny!

Thanks in advance for praying and I will report in detail when I get back about all God does while visiting this beautiful country on mission for Him.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Choose the Roller Coaster...

Yesterday Andi and I were talking about life, kids, dreams, and the future. We do that quite regularly. While we talked she used the analogy of the life of faith we have been called to live as either a roller coaster or a merry-go-round. She contrasted the adventures of the roller coaster with its ups, downs and quick turns to the monotony of the merry-go-round. And then she said what I already knew to be true about her - "I choose the roller coaster!" What an incredible woman of faith God has blessed me with.

Faith is not easy. Why do we think that faith should come easy when it costs God so much? Why do we think that when we pray we should just automatically get an answer from Him without some hard-working, sweaty faith along the way? Why do we feel the need to help God out after we've prayed for a while, giving Him a back door exit just in case our prayers aren't answered like we've asked? Why do we feel the need to manipulate circumstances to aid God in His marvelous work? Why do we ever get the idea that living a life of faith in an unseen God, trusting Him completely and relying on Him fully is easy? We should be ashamed.

And yet, most never experience a roller coaster life of faith because they are either unwilling to persevere and believe or just simply give up and become hopeless. They saddle up on the painted pony of their choice and sit while the horse bobs up and down and the music blares in their ears. At first they grab the reins and lean forward into the ride but soon realize that little is needed to stay in the saddle because there is no adventure to be expected. They go round and round and experience a life of Christian monotony that never takes off to explore a new horizon. Many become so boring in their walk with God and then wonder why there is nothing contagious about their faith when they encounter those who need saving faith.

Well, Andi, I choose the roller coaster with you! I wouldn't want to ride it with anyone else. I want us to sit in the front seat, not the back, and I want to top the next hill with you, look down the rails and know that we may scream a little along the ride but the cars are intact, the rails are secure, the speed is not unmanageable, but the joy is unmistakable. I want to throw our arms up in the air and look up to God and laugh as we twist and turn along the route. I want us to lean into the curves together and experience the forces that propel us forward. I want us to arrive at our destination with a screeching halt and look at each other and say, "Wow! That was fun! Wanna go again?"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We are not of those who shrink back...

I love the concept and practice of endurance. I run long distances, fending off the elements and the desire to stop for the simple satisfaction of enduring. I admire corporations that endure the tests of time and stay focused on a corporate mission that works. Churches that endure without compromise receive my applause. People who endure unusual difficulty and hardship cause me to stop and take notice of their fortitude and determination. Endurance has always been important, but it is a necessary characteristic now more than ever.

This past Sunday legislation intended to revolutionize healthcare in America was approved. On multiple occasions I was questioned about what was transpiring and asked to pray. As I concluded a meeting with a group of wise men in the church this past Sunday evening, we broke up into groups to pray. More than a few times did I hear prayers for our government rising forth unto heaven.

Some are struck with fear during these uncertain times, others with anger. Whenever a person feels a loss of control, these two emotions naturally emerge. This is due to our inherent nature pushing us to be in control of our destiny. When we are confronted with the reality that we have so little control – as was evidenced this past Sunday when the healthcare vote was taken – our emotions are inflamed because we reckon ourselves powerless to control that which plays such a major role in our lives. When this occurs we will view the events either positively or negatively. I am determined to remain positive believing that opportunity prevails.

During times of difficulty and uncertainty there are always opportunities to be seized. May this be a time when the Christian church seizes opportunities to advance the Gospel among a struggling people seeking real meaning and purpose for living. May we seize the opportunity to pray more as God’s people – lifting up our cry to our Father’s ears. May we seize the opportunity to represent Christ with a spirit of optimism rather than pessimism. May we be a people who turn to God’s Word for truth rather than the American media. May we see the recent events in our country as opportunity for God to bring good from what appears to be the opposite? And may we be people who evidence a steadfast endurance now more than ever.

America is a nation that endures! We have the oldest living constitution in existence. We have faced countless challenges to our freedom and prosperity and yet we remain firmly established. We have learned that endurance is necessary if we are going to continue to march forward as a people. Even more so, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has endured for roughly 2,000 years. We have endured persecution and calamity, deception and heresy, times of prosperity and times of decline – and yet we march forward by faith. May we be people who refuse to shrink back now more than ever!

Today, if you feel like you may not be able to hang on any longer, have faith. Strengthen your grip on God’s promises. Allow Hebrews 10:38 and 39 to encourage you to endure - “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Birthyday to the Greatest Woman in My Life...

Today is my Andi's birthday - it has been all day. We have had a blast hanging out together. We all went to a movie and to Chili's for lunch. I cooked steaks this evening and we had a wonderful meal around the McWilliams' family table, laughing and enjoying the company. We opened gifts and sang Happy Birthday. The cake was GiGi's cupcakes. Andi had the Tiramasu. I had the Wedding Cake cupcake (with coffee of course). We are now ending this wonderful day watching Casablanca. It's been a great day!

Andi, I love you darling! You are the best thing that's ever happened to me. I hope you've had a wonderful birthday!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

If Hope Floats, then Faith Sweats...

Several years ago the movie “Hope Floats” hit the cinemas. I’m not even sure what the movie was about, but the name of the movie causes me to think. How can hope float? What is there about hope that is buoyant? Oh, I could give some analogies as to the title if I were inclined to stretch my overactive imagination. Nevertheless, you’re probably thinking: just watch the movie and it will make sense. Maybe, but that’s more than I want to know right now because I’m pondering a different topic… faith.

That’s right – F-A-I-T-H – Faith! Not just ordinary run of the mill type faith that impresses nobody, let alone God, but hardworking faith that sweats. Real faith always sweats! Not sweating because it struggles to believe in God (although this happens to some), but sweating as it perseveres in the pursuit of God. Abraham had a sweaty faith. As you read Scripture you can see his faith develop from one who timidly trusted God to one who believed God so much that even the hardest task of obedience would not shatter his walk (Gen. 22). Abraham walked by faith even though he too sometimes stumbled by sight. He understood “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” and that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:1, 6). Abraham’s faith was not simply words tossed about with no evidence of belief. His faith was represented by actions that proved his deep and abiding conviction for God, His Word, and a desire to live and walk in a manner pleasing to his Lord. His was a faith that conquers; his was a faith that sweats.

What are you facing right now that is requiring some perspiration from you in the area of faith? Is it a relationship problem that you are trusting God to resolve? Could it be an employment issue or a financial matter that you are praying for God’s movement? Could it be a prodigal child or a wayward sister or brother? Whatever it might be, roll up your sleeves and pray. Believe the all-sufficient God for a positive outcome to your difficult situation. And work up a good sweat as you continue to do that which God says is pleasing to Him, evidencing to all that your faith is a sweaty faith that works and drips for God’s glory.

Yes, perhaps hope does float, but I know this to be true – real faith sweats!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again...

I have been chastised! My wife just told me that she doesn't look at my blog because I write so infrequently. I asked her what she wanted to read and she said, "Anything. Just write anything. Tell me about your running or about anything going on in your life. Just write something." So, I am making a commitment to myself right now - I plan on blogging for the next 21 days straight in an effort to build a habit of blogging and move this from the last item on my "To Do" list to a more prominent position. So I am back in the old blogger saddle again - in a big way... (Well, we'll see! LOL)

Regarding running, I am back in the saddle there too. In early January I stressed my left calf and pulled a muscle deep within. It was not the big muscle you can feel and see, it was one of the smaller ones imbedded deeper inside the calf. I am usually able to run through pain to a fairly strong degree, but not this. When it occurred I limped the 1 1/2 miles home and didn't run for 4 days. When I started back I was able to go less than 1/2 mile when again I found myself walking home. So, I put my running shoes on the shelf in my closet for 41 days with no running whatsoever. I maintained fitness through cycling, but runners are biased and have an attitude towards riding a bike. It did serve a purpose and help me keep my aerobic training up so that at the end of the respite, I was able to run fairly well. I have been running again for less than 2 weeks but all seems well at this moment.

February and the first week of March were my travel months for IMB and SBTC. I found myself flying somewhere 5 out of 6 weeks in a row. I was usually only away 2 or 3 days, but that much time away from family and the office takes a toll. Glad to be anchored down in Odessa and not heading anywhere until the May IMB meetings.

Okay, so I have blogged today. I feel like it was rather trivial and of no significant value but day 1 is in the bank and I am back in the saddle again. So stay tuned and what follows will have more substance in the days ahead – I promise. In fact, I have been preaching a sermon from Hebrews 11 on the radical nature of faith. So in the days ahead, look for some thoughts related to faith and the absolute necessity of faith to please God. It will be fun!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A New Theological Liberalism...

A dear friend of mine in ministry is Nathan Lino. Nathan pastors Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Humble, Texas. He is a great biblical expositor and an amazing church planter. He has recently posted some thoughts on a new theological liberalism encroaching upon the church, words very similar to that which I have said many times from the pulpits God has called me to preach. Because I believe it an encouragment to read things from others who are biblically sound, I strongly recommend you read and follow Nathan's blog. You will be blessed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Long Range Plan for FBC...

This Sunday in both AM services the body of Christ at FBC will vote to affirm the Long Range Plan that has been presented and discussed over the past several weeks. The Long Range Planning Committee spent many long hours in 2009 dreaming about an incredible future at FBC-Odessa. On January 31 the plan was unveiled at the Commemorative Air Force Base on what was truly one of the greatest days in the history of our church. The plan has been bathed in prayer and promises to meet the physical plant needs of FBC for the next 50-75 years. I am convinced it is God’s plan for our future as we determine to do everything we can to maximize our effectiveness for His Kingdom.

Some have said that we are voting to build a new sanctuary this coming Sunday. That is not correct. We will only be voting to affirm the Long Range Plan. Moving into a building program at FBC will come at a future date as God leads.

Make every effort to be present Sunday. It will be a great day in the life of First Baptist Church of Odessa.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Valentine...

“Andi this is Byron; Byron this is Andi. Y’all talk” were the words spoken when my high school friend Steve introduced Andi and me. We started talking on that day 29 years ago and have been talking ever since. For 27 years Andi has been my bride; for 27 years I have been married to God's perfect Valentine's gift for me. I am supremely blessed to have this beautiful, loving, caring, gifted and devoted woman in my life. On this day and every day, I renew my commitment to never take her for granted and to love her with a supremely devoted love that honors her and honors my Lord.

Andi, I love you darling! You are the very BEST Valentine I could ever have and the only one I ever want! I choose us - always!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

American Idol and Life on the Edge...

Last night my family was watching “American Idol” (tell me that name doesn’t typify American society) when I noticed a recurring pattern. Several contestants interviewed were in dead-end, no-win situations in life and they were seeking to become the next “American Idol” so that their circumstances could change. Clearly they should be applauded for their willingness to sing as the world watches. They also should receive some congrats for having stood before Simon Cowell and received their fair share of criticism as to why they will not be the next “American Idol.” However, I could not help but wonder why they would rely on such a long-shot for life improvement and would give so little thought to more tried and true methods – namely EDUCATION and HARD WORK! As I pondered this, the following thoughts came to mind…

Most people do not like to be challenged in life. The path of least resistance is the most trodden trail. They do not want to push themselves beyond what is comfortable and common. They are unwilling to embrace the struggle and sacrifice necessary for change to result and goals to be achieved. As I have observed, many routinely reject new challenges and remain in dead-end jobs with little reward and even less future. They refuse to struggle so that they might do something they love and instead opt for a bland life of stagnation. Oh, they may gripe and complain about their miserable circumstances and some will even pray for God to bring about changes for the better… but they put forth zero effort to embrace the challenge of change themselves. Singing on a stage and expecting instant gratification is one thing; sitting in a classroom for four years where tests are utilized to objectively measure achievement quite another. Finding a few minutes of stardom is a quickly fading sense of accomplishment; starting a new career when you hit 35 because life is to short for moss to grow over your dreams is a lasting achievement.

Risk avoidance is a common characteristic of those who are stagnating in life. The common stumbling block for many is the question “what if I fail?” This fear lurks in the shadows of everyone looking to embrace a new challenge. It is natural and warranted, but it must never be what stops personal growth from taking place. Whenever a challenge is met and a risk is taken that stretches a person beyond the normalcy of living, they win regardless. Win or lose the one who steps forward and gets in the game is always a better person. Their self-esteem has grown. Their life has taken on a freshness that rejects the repugnant stagnation so prevalent in so many. Risks are not for the faint of heart, but they are for those who seek to live life on the edge, draining every drop of goodness from the precious few days they have.

Psychologists have identified “controlled trauma” as a means of one embracing a challenge so that their life can shift upward for the better. Controlled trauma is the willingness to incur pain, sacrifice, and hardship so that a greater goal can be achieved. When someone purposefully steps out of their comfort zone and into a challenging and demanding situation, they are employing controlled trauma as a tool for personal growth. An example of this would be my son’s recent activities. Because he has some very specific and challenging goals, he willingly submits to an incredibly demanding fitness routine that brings daily trauma into his life. Regularly do those training with him hang their head over the trash can and lose their breakfast. There is intense pain involved, but the controlled trauma promises a greater possibility that he will achieve his dreams and therefore it is totally worth it. In a similar way, those who diet incur controlled trauma when they willingly put aside food so the scale gives the desired result. Controlled trauma is necessary at times in our lives – regardless of the pain and sacrifice involved.

My encouragement is that you submit to a total examination of your life. Are you achieving all that you have dreamed of or are you walking the path of least resistance? Are you embracing new challenges in your life and taking risks? Are you willing to submit to some controlled trauma to see your goals become reality? Nothing will change until you submit to this reality check and demand change from yourself. So what will it be – bland monotony or the thrill of living life on the edge? Me personally, I choose the edge!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tim Tebow Story...

Tim Tebow has been making headline news for several years. As a former Heisman Trophy winner and an amazing college quarterback, he is a very public figure. With his size and strength, Tebow will have a promising future in the NFL should that be the direction God chooses for his life. Recently, Tim and his mother came under sharp criticism for a commercial to be aired during the Superbowl describing the choice Mrs. Tebow made to not abort her son. This is a powerful story of love and trust in God. Why don't you check it out at

Friday, February 5, 2010

Off We Go...

If you were part of our services last Sunday morning at the Commemorative Air Force Base you experienced a rarity in the life of FBC-Odessa. The entire church came together at one time for this important worship event. Based on the 1,100 chairs - excluding choir and orchestra - and counting the children that were present in our preschool, we had well over 1,300 total in worship. It was a great experience, one that will not soon be forgotten.

This Sunday afternoon at 2:00 I will show the PowerPoint presentation again for those who could not attend last week. A question and answer period will follow that will provide additional details regarding the Long Range Plan. The following Sunday, February 14, at 5:00 PM we will have the final Q&A and will vote at the conclusion of both of our AM services on February 21 to affirm the Long Range Plan.

As I have said before - and you will hear again - this vote is not to enter into a building program, it is simply to affirm the Long Range Plan that the committee brings forth as a recommendation to the faith family at First Baptist Church. The implementation of Phase 1 of the plan will come at a future date as the Lord leads.

I hope you are excited about all God is doing at FBC-Odessa. It is incredibly exciting to follow Him by faith as a family of believers. Remember, let's trust God and do something larger than our individual lives that will touch the next generation for Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I recently wrote the following article for SBTC Crossroads magazine; it will be printed in the upcoming issue. However, as most of you do not receive this particular magazine, I am posting it on my blog for you to ponder. Be blessed.


Obscurity is a double-edged sword for God’s servant. On one side it is a joy rarely embraced … even though what it offers is of tremendous value. On the other it is a peril that often results in feelings of depression, drudgery, even hopelessness. Few actively seek obscurity; many fervently crave notoriety. The search for significance permeates our 21st century church culture with the idea that languishing in some obscure piece of geography that even God struggles to find is to be avoided at all cost. I have witnessed this in others and I have slid down both sides of the sword myself. Perhaps now that I am further down the road, I can shed some light on the precious value of time spent serving in obscurity.

Serving God in obscurity is one of the greatest training tools for ministry in existence. Please don’t misunderstand, I value formal education tremendously and can be quite opinionated in this area. I have long held that if someone has opportunity to advance their knowledge in a conservative seminary classroom and chooses not to do so, little wisdom is found in that logic. Formal education is of immense value as we study to “show ourselves approved.” No price, however, can be put on the value of hands-on learning in a real pastoral setting.

At one time, the young seminary graduate typically left the classroom to accept a call for service in a rural country church with eager anticipation. They would arrive on the field, experience the culture change, learn from the congregation and begin their pastoral residency training. There they learned how to make hospital visits, do weekly outreach visitation, perform funerals, hold the hand of those experiencing death, and write sermons. They learned the value of a cup of coffee for decision making and conflict resolution. But also, they learned when to speak up and, by all means, when to shut up, none of which can be taught in a classroom. This obscure setting is where the minister and real ministry would first meet to form an inseparable bond.

Serving in this type setting is where humility in ministry is learned. With little encouragement, we ministers can so easily begin to think too highly of ourselves and our polished skill set. We might even begin to see God as fortunate to have us on His team. Today, the idea of leaving big city lights and traveling to places where the only lights at night are stars is unthinkable for many. The thought of serving in a place where the telephone book is so small its not even a good fly swatter, where you see more livestock than humans, or where traffic moves so slowly that the dogs can nap in the road is the undoing of many young men entering ministry service. They cannot handle the obscurity because they have been trained to think far bigger and they have missed the importance of touching lives one at a time. If not careful, pride in their ability causes them to disdain the smaller place of service. Yet, God has a way of teaching us minister’s humility as we serve those who value truth, integrity, and stability even more than flashy sermons and high-minded ideals.

An obscure place of service is where God also teaches His servant who’s really the boss. Every church has people of great influence in the congregation; they are not the boss. The pastor has to learn that no man is boss, only God. In my years of ministry I have been confronted with local power brokers who seek to negatively leverage their influence against the body of Christ. Early on I had to determine who was going to be the boss, an individual or the Lord Jesus. Without fail and without regret I have always sided with God as the one who calls the shots in the local church. This comes through a natural dependence on God above all else. Dependence of this sort does not emerge during times of ease, but when the cannons are thundering and the rifle fire is intense. Here is where the minster truly touches the heartbeat of God for His church. Recently I read where Henry Blackaby said, “The heart of God and the heart of the one God chooses must beat as one.” This only comes through absolute surrender and devotion to duty. God does not strengthen the rebel, but He solidifies the courage and resolve of the dependent servant who recognizes Him as Lord and boss!

One final point, confident service in a place of obscurity is a testimony to the sovereignty of God. It is a bold statement to those watching your life, and there are more than you know, that God Almighty is in control and able to deliver his servant from obscurity in a moment’s notice. Take Joseph as the Scriptural example. At 17 he was sold into slavery and separated from his father’s house. He then languished obscurely for 13 years, being falsely accused, unjustly imprisoned and forgotten. But one day – a day like any other – Joseph’s life changed with sovereign precision. On that day he was extracted from prison, given clean clothes and a shave, and marched into the presence of the greatest king on earth – Pharaoh. On that day he was utilized to give Pharaoh not only the interpretation of the forthcoming famine but also a direct plan for how it should be handled. On that day he was promoted to the second highest position in the land – from the prison to the palace – all in one day! What a tremendous testimony that God knows our exact position always.

Do you trust in the sovereignty of God in your place of service? Do you believe your sovereign Lord sees you in the obscurity of your prayer closet? If God can see you when you pray, don’t you think you should trust that He sees you where you serve? I do not know your circumstances, but I do know the God who reigns above all trials and troubles we will ever face. So stay focused and alert. Work with diligence and faithfulness. Keep your eyes on your master because joy comes in the service not in the location. And should God choose to change your circumstances, never doubt what He can do in just one day.