From “What If” to Real Faith Part I

As I sat across from Hugh, Joy, Tim, Marilyn, and Buddy I barely heard their questions.  I can only hope that I answered them intelligently and politely because, honestly, I can’t remember.  I had a tremendous headache due to the seven hour trip that we had taken to meet with them, and my mind was racing already with a million “what ifs”.  We had hauled ourselves, a newborn, and three other goobers across the Piedmont of North Carolina and the Smokey Mountains only to arrive hungry, frazzled, and punchy on the plateau of East TN.   The pastor search committee had traveled from West TN, and I’m sure they had their own list of “what ifs”.  Preeminent among my worries was this looming question:  “What if they like us?”  What then?  Because only slightly more scary than the committee not liking us, was the thought that they would like us. 

The committee and I had answered each others questions completely, so we prayed and adjourned until the next day when they would hear me preach.  I went back to the hotel room where my family had long since turned in.  Sleep, even though I was exhausted, was not an option.   T.V., since my family was sleeping was not an option.  So I put on my tennis shoes and went to the hotel gym which consisted of one treadmill, which thankfully was vacant.  I felt (and probably looked) like Forest Gump as I ran and tried to make sense of what God was seemingly doing in our lives. 

As I ran, I tried to process all of the nagging fears and questions that we had about moving our family to an extremely rural location.  The questions hung over my head like that anvil that repeatedly falls on the coyote in Bugs Bunny cartoons.  “What if we can’t hack country life?”  “What if we get there and the people hate us?”  “Can we tolerate the isolation?”  “What if there is nothing for our children?”  I have long since come to the conclusion that a person could “what if “themselves to death.  “What if” questions are so stupid.  They come from our fear of the unknown.  They bubble up from our desire to place ourselves in a good place, but make us incapable of making rational, prayerful, and right decisions. 

After getting a full two hours sleep, I got up and began to read over the sermon I would deliver in just a few hours.  I must have changed my outline ten times before folding it and placing it in my Bible.  We drove and drove and drove and drove and eventually pulled up in the parking lot of the little mountain church that had agreed to let me preach that Sunday morning.  I delivered the sermon (which I can only pray was coherent) to the committee and the members of that wonderful congregation that smiled at me even though I felt like I could throw up. 

That was it.  My family and I loaded up into our minivan and drove off with the assurance of the committee that we would hear from them soon.  As we drove back over the mountains of Eastern TN and Western North Carolina, we couldn’t imagine what lay ahead for us.  Robin and I both were apprehensive about a move to Cottage Grove but were open to God’s call wherever that might be.  So we drove back to seminary in Wake Forest, NC, both waiting for and dreading that phone call.  Somewhere around Greensboro the phone rang.  


Published in: on January 31, 2008 at 2:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Against the Wind


“Heavy Pedal!”

This is Josh.  This picture aptly describes his personality.  He is the cool one in our family.  He does his own thing and dances to his own tune.  When he walks through the house he sings his own theme music, Bob Seiger’s Against the Wind.  He looks like he is ready to take on the world (or at least conquer training wheels).   He looks like he could whistle his way through a tornado doesn’t he?  He is full tilt and full speed all the time!

The rural church needs to take on Josh’s attitude.  The rural church, at times, needs an infusion of the “heavy pedal” mentality.  Nothing that is currently being sold at your local Christian book store relates to the rural church.  None of the evangelism, discipleship, or worship programs were written with the rural church in mind.  Many rural churches don’t have the money to pay for a lot of the programs that are written for suburban churches anyway.  Even if they had the money, they wouldn’t have the manpower to make them work.  Rural and small churches can either whine about it or get on with doing what God called them to do. 

I think that it is time that we use the creativity and intelligence that has sustained rural communities for centuries and sing like we sing,  preach like we preach, and use the resources that we have to the glory of God.  I say let’s all put on our heavy pedal t-shirts, get out in the middle of our rural route roads, and get on with personal evangelism, discipleship, worship, and real biblical fellowship.   


Published in: on January 29, 2008 at 5:00 pm  Comments (4)  

Give Me More Rural Route Wisdom!

RR wisdom Part I  and RR wisdom Part II

1.   Don’t google it.  Don’t go to wikipedia.  Just go ask Buddy, my 87-year-old neighbor. 

2.  If “your barn door is open” by all means, discretely and quickly “close” it. 

3.  A tailgate makes a superb table for potted meat and Dr. Pepper. 

4.  There is nothing that my fishing pole and my favorite pond won’t fix. (Thanks C.A. and J.A.)

5.  One box of shotgun shells: $10.00.  One bucket to sit on: $2.00  Hunting liscense: $30.00  Dove hunt: Free!  No Psychotherapy:  Priceless!

6.  Don’t ever make a joke about Robert E. Lee. (Really, don’t!)  

7.  Don’t assume that the deer over the mantle is the husband’s.

8.  If the world could receive a hug from Ms. Odie they wouldn’t want to let go.

9.  Fences don’t make good neighbors, acres do. 

10.  We have a breakfast club that meets at our local restaurant every morning.  They should be consulted to fix the economy and to set foreign policy.  They are quite the brain trust!    

Published in: on January 27, 2008 at 10:26 pm  Comments Off on Give Me More Rural Route Wisdom!  

Visiting With Ms. McCain

Part I and Part II are the prequels to this post. 
Ms. McCain
We went by to see Ms. McCain yesterday.   As usual, it was good to see her.  I should probably mention that she gave up packing wood at 93 and moved to a nursing home.  I was greeted with, “Hey, preacher”.  She invited me to grab a chair, but because she couldn’t sit up, I just sat on the edge of her bed.  My daughter and youngest son were with me, which of course, delighted Marie. 

We talked about a good many things including her home place, church, her nephew, but mostly she wanted to talk about going home to heaven to see her brother Robert.  At 95 years old Marie realizes that she has fewer days ahead of her.  ”Preacher, I’m lonely here and I’m ready”.   I wanted to assure her that she wasn’t as lonely as she thought she was, and that she had plenty more days ahead.  I wanted to dig down into all of that seminary learning and pull out something profound and comforting to say, but all I could come up with was, “I know”.   With all of the pretense eliminated we did the only thing there was left to do. . . pray.  Marie, two of my kids, and I were there on that nursing home bed talking to God.  Who knows, Marie might outlive all of us.  She is a pretty tough customer.  We might have many more visits just like the one I had yesterday, and I hope that is the case.  The lessons we can learn from Marie are varied and many.  The most profound lesson I learned from Marie, though, is that simple faith always works itself out in profound obedience. 

I hope you all enjoyed her story.  When it seems that God is asking you to do something difficult, think of Marie.

Ms. McCain’s twin brother, Robert



Published in: on January 26, 2008 at 3:51 pm  Comments (3)  

Don’t Look Directly Into Her Eyes!



This is my oldest daughter.  She was born to test my discipline as a parent.  Parents are supposed to be firm and absolute in authority . . . which is what I am . . . a total authoritarian . . .which is why my precious brown-eyed daughter is holding a snake.  A Ring snake to be exact.  I have learned that if you avoid direct eye contact, saying “no” is much easier.  I want you all to know that I was firm on the fact that she absolutely could not pick up a venomous snake.  

 This snake wrangling gal goes with me on most all of my visits.  When it is appropriate I let her go to the hospital and the nursing homes with me.  She is good medicine for people including me.  I am becoming very aware that ministry is a family thing.  We are all in this together.   The funny thing is that my little girl is really good at cheering people up.  I went to see a lady in the hospital the other day without my partner.  I said, “Hey, Ms. Ruth, how are you feeling?”  Ms. Ruth replied, “Where is that beautiful helper?”  Yep, it is really good to be the father of the real minister.   

Published in: on January 25, 2008 at 6:01 am  Comments (9)  

Things Change


Things that have changed since this picture was taken in 2006

1.  I now have contacts

2.  We have one more child

3.  My wife and I both have a little grey hair trying to creep in (nothing a little color won’t help though)

4.  Our church has a wonderfully remodeled  sanctuary

5.  My little girl has started kindergarten and is reading

6.  My two oldest boys have captured and released at least 500 reptiles

7.  My youngest son has watched the Cars movie approximately 1,323 times

8.  I can now quote every line of the Cars movie

9. We have eaten 1.2222 million calories at church functions

10.  Did I mention that we have another daughter? 

Things change.  Circumstances change.  Hair color changes.  God’s faithfulness to this Rural Route Family has not! 


Published in: on January 24, 2008 at 1:03 pm  Comments Off on Things Change  

Ms. McCain is the Story of the Rural Church Part II

Somewhere about 1 hour, 10 minutes, and 2 seconds (but who’s counting) into that first meeting,  I realized that Ms. Mccain had mentioned her twin brother, Robert, about 15 times.  Robert, she claimed, had grown up and “made a preacher”.  It was obvious that she loved Robert and was very, very, very proud of him.  Now, when you think of someone who is preacher material, you don’t generally think of someone who is Ms. McCain’s twin.  I couldn’t help myself from thinking that because of Ms. McCain’s circumstances, that Robert must have been the pastor of some little bitty backward bunch of Baptists in a ‘holler’ somewhere that most of us wouldn’t dare step foot (don’t judge me –  you weren’t there!).  Ms. McCain, although direct, was not very articulate.  She had, at most, three changes of clothes, and two of them were for working in.  Her one indulgence in life was chewing tobacco, and a little of it was escaping down the side of her chin.  She was overly direct.  She was not into socializing and I couldn’t help but think that her TWIN BROTHER must be somewhat similar given the fact that he was her TWIN!   

Almost in passing and as I was trying to think of an excuse to leave, I asked Ms. McCain if I would know her brother.  “Probably,” she said.  I knew most of the preachers from around the area so I asked,  “What is your maiden name”?  As she swept one of about a dozen kittens off the porch she answered, “Orr”.   This is where you, the reader, need to imagine my face with no blood, my lip quivering, and my mind trying to grasp what just came out of her mouth.  Now, if you are not a West TN Baptist, the name Robert Orr means nothing to you. But it rang a bell with me.  I quit trying to make excuses to leave and I sat back down in my rocking chair knowing that the past one hour, ten minutes, and two seconds had not even scratched the surface of who this woman was. 

“Robert Orr is your brother?” I asked as if I were trying to get her to admit she was stretching the truth a little.  Correcting me, she said, ” Yes. Dr. Robert Orr is my brother.”  Let me put this in perspective for you.  Robert Orr has preached in more churches in West TN than anyone else.  He was the pastor of First Baptist, Dyersburg, for years.  He has taught and mentored many pastors who are active on church fields here in TN and around the country.  Robert Orr mentored men who are now pastoring mega churches.  His life personally touched thousands of people, and the people he influenced have reached millions.  And here was Ms. McCain, his twin sister happily living with nothing more than what she needed to survive daily.  The irony had to lead somewhere.  There had to be more.  There must be a reason that Robert was the revered pastor and Marie was the unknown twin.  There had to be a reason that none of the deacons at Cottage Grove had shared this little tidbit before I drove out there! 

The ironic thing is this:  Without Ms. McCain there would be no Dr. Robert Orr.  Without this little, wrinkled, hunched over, 91-year-old woman Robert wouldn’t have pastored F.B.C., Dyersburg.  He wouldn’t have mentored all those young pastors who have reached so many people.  Without Ms. McCain I would have never heard the name Dr. Robert Orr. 

Their mother had grown very ill, and Robert was ready to quit school to take care of her.  Ms. McCain knew Robert had been set apart by God to preach.  She knew that if Robert quit school that he would never be properly educated to do what God had called him to do, so she quit.  She took care of her mom and the rest of the family.  She cooked, cleaned, and took care of everyone else in the family as she rested in the knowledge that she was doing her part in Robert’s pastoral calling.  Was it a sacrifice?  You bet!  Was it necessary?  Yes.  Was it driven by love of God and love for her brother?  Absolutely. 

After two hours on the 95 degree front porch made more stifling by the West TN humidity, I went home tired, but wiser.  It was the most aerobic listening that I have ever done.  I lost two pounds sweating in that rocking chair.  It was like making a journey to 1930 to receive the ultimate history lesson from a character made up in the mind of some great Southern novelist.   As I drove back to 2004, I thought about how blessed Ms. McCain was to have lived a life of such intentional simplicity.  I mulled over the fact that we are all gifted by God in various ways.  Sacrifice and hard work were the gifts God had given her.  Her gifts were used to launch the preaching and teaching ministry of her brother.  His gifts were used to encourage hundreds of young men as they preached to millions in places that Ms. McCain had never even heard or dreamt of.  And I knew I was blessed with the knowledge that all of that began at a little rural church called Cottage Grove Baptist Church.   Ms. McCain’s story of sacrifice and love, although not identical, has been replicated in rural churches around the country.  Her’s is the story of the rural church.      


Published in: on January 23, 2008 at 2:22 pm  Comments (5)  

Ms. McCain is the Story of the Rural Church Part 1

I met Ms. McCain in July 2004.  I had been the pastor of Cottage Grove Baptist Church for one whole month, and was making an attempt to visit in every church member’s home.   Ms. McCain was 91 years old and had been a member of our church for 80 years or so.  Since I didn’t want to impose unexpectedly, I gave her a call to see if I could come by.   I didn’t know what to expect since all she said on the phone was, “Yeah, preacher, come on by right now,” followed by an abrubt “click”.   

Obeying her orders, I drove to the next county and pulled up to what can be best described as a hole in space and time.  The first thing I noticed was that she was out on the porch waiting on me.  The house was a three room slat board home that was built before electricity and was leaning slightly to the right.  It seemed to be defying gravity, and made me a little nervous to step onto the porch.  Marie looked every bit of 91 and the house made a fitting backdrop for her as she stood up and greeted me with, ” ’bout time preacher”.  Every inch of her face was wrinkled, and as she shook my hand I could feel all 91 hard-earned years in her calloused hands.  She invited me to sit down on the porch and talk with her because the July sun had made her un-airconditioned house an oven. 

Since we were just getting to know one another, and because I really didn’t know what to say to someone who lived in a house without running water, I asked her to tell me about herself.  I have learned, since our first meeting, that small talk is not Marie’s gift.  Her life had demanded that she be direct and firm, but on this occasion, perhaps because I was the newbie pastor, she was thougtful and insightful.  She told me all about her childhood, which was frought with difficulty and work.  Her adult life, if anything, became more difficult as she married, worked, and eventually buried her husband.  

The one constant throughout her life was Cottage Grove Baptist Church and her faith in Christ.  Grace, through circumstances and conditions that would make most of us crack, was her theme.  Here was a woman who never had anything except Christ, family, and the church, and who wasn’t bitter or remorseful about anything.  If her life was a simple story of grace worked out in the life of an obedient woman, the story would be fantastic enough.   But there is so much more.  Ms. McCain’s life is also tied to her twin brother’s life.  Her sacrifice for this brother would touch his life and the lives of thousands of people she would never meet.  It is a monumental story of love.  Her story is the story of the rural church.  This is the story I will tell you in part two.             

Published in: on January 22, 2008 at 3:13 am  Comments (6)  

More Rural Route Wisdom

1.  You should never take the highway when there is a perfectly crooked road that takes twice as long.

2.  Sweet tea could bring world peace if everybody would just take a sip.    

3.  Kudzu (a very aggressive vine growing just outside of my back yard) could be considered a weapon of mass destruction.

4.  A man’s loyalty to the brand name truck he drives exceeds his commitment to turn the other cheek.

5.  A cow will always win the staring contest. (don’t ask) 

6.  If a man offers you a “belly wash” don’t be scared.  A “belly wash” is a 16 oz Royal Crown cola.

7.  Secret family recipes are treasured more than all of the gold in Fort Knox. 

8.  Farmers are the smartest people on earth.  They are accountants, mechanics, biologist, businessmen, and chemist all rolled up into one fantastic machine.  I can’t figure out how they still have time to mess with our minds by leaving all those crop circles. 

9.  It is better that you don’t know why most of the road signs have holes in them that somehow resemble bullet holes. 

10.  If I could give every terror suspect at Guantanamo Bay one of Mrs. Wheatley’s coconut chocolate balls they would be confessing sins, turning in their friends, holding hands, and singing Amazing Grace for just one more coconut chocolate ball.  

Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 4:26 am  Comments (9)  

The Ministry of Bidding On Dog Toys


Yesterday was Cottage Grove’s day to provide items for an auction held in our county called the “Helping Hand Radio Auction”.  All of the proceedes are governed by a board of directors who disperse the money over a wide variety of charities in Henry County.  It is a really cool event that will raise about $250,000 this year.  People donate a variety of things.  My wife, who is a great photographer, ( donated a gift certificate for a free session and an 8×10.  Many people donate FOOD!  Wonderful food!  The kind of food that your grandmother cooked.  The kind of food you would slap your mama to get your hands on!  If you put the cakes I saw yesterday on your head, your tongue would beat your brains out trying to reach them!  I saw four quail sell for $50.00.  A 3lb bucket of PURE PIG LARD sold for $15.00.  Cakes and pies regularly sell for over $30.00.  Frozen farm-raised rabbits sold for $25.00 a piece.  My family attended yesterday’s auction.  We were so enthralled with the bidding we stayed for three hours watching as family members and friends all tried to outbid one another for a good cause.  I was reminded again yesterday that ministry takes place outside of my office.  Ministry happens face to face and one conversation at a time.  It even takes place as you become the high bidder on a basketful of doggy toys, which my two dogs, Ty and Lucy, enjoyed very much. 

Published in: on January 16, 2008 at 9:22 pm  Comments (2)