Monday, August 01, 2016

How to Write a Country Song

(Photo credit:

Earlier this year, it occurred to me as I was listening to our local classic rock radio station that I have been listening to the same songs since I was in elementary school in the 1960’s.

I still don’t know all of the words to some of them.

To be honest, I’m tired of hearing the same songs. 

“Wait. Gene, I thought you were a pastor? Don’t you listen to only Christian music?”

Well, sometimes.

As I was riding with my daughter in her car during a recent visit, she had a country radio station on. Three songs in a row were about drinking.

“Bailey, all these country songs talk about is drinking!” I rebuked her like she was still a teenager.

“Well, all of your rock songs are about sex and drugs,” she replied.


Now, I’ll give country music a little credit. You can understand the lyrics. If Queen hadn’t put the lyrics to Night at the Opera in the album sleeve in 1975, I still wouldn’t know the words to Bohemian Rhapsody. (I know all of the words, but I still don’t know what it's about.)

Last week I decided to listen to the local country station. So far, I’ve heard Carrie Underwood sing about church bells pretty much every time I’ve had the radio on.

And I’ve decided that if you’re going to write a country song you need a few key words. There are some words in country songs that you will never, if ever, hear in any other genre of music.

For example, here are a few words you’ll only hear in a country song:

Blue tick hound
Dime store
The good Lord

I’ve learned that in just a week’s worth of country music listening. I’ll bet you veteran country music fans out there can think of a whole lot more. If you do, put them on my Facebook post. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The 10 Best Days of Your Life

Yesterday, Facebook posted a memory photo on my page from six years ago. It was the picture above of my wife, Beth, with a child we sponsored in Southeast Asia. Beth made the trek halfway across the globe to visit her and her family. Beth and I both returned the next year for another visit. It was awesome!

I took a screenshot of it and texted it to Beth. I liked her reply:

“In the top ten days of my life!!!”

It made me wonder. What would be the top 10 days of your life? We talked about it last night. Most of them revolve around change. Drastic change. First dates, weddings, and births help the list to fill up fast.

For me, next to my birthday, my spiritual birthday is at the top. I became a follower of Jesus on October 26, 1978. That decision is the foundation for every other decision and great day I’ve ever had.

What are the top 10 days in your life?

It might be a fun discussion to have tonight.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

All or Nothing

(This appeared in The North Augusta Star, our local newspaper, so I thought I'd post here as well.)

I love quotes. When I read a good one, I record it in my journal. I could easily fill this column with words of wisdom that I’ve collected throughout the years.

One of my all-time favorite quotes was written by C.S. Lewis many years ago. Lewis was a prolific writer and scholar best known for his Chronicles of Narnia fantasy series and his pro-Christian texts. He taught at Oxford University and became a renowned Christian apologist using logic and philosophy to support the tenets of the Christian faith. 

Lewis wrote, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." Basically, Lewis is saying Christianity is all or nothing. 

On a Sunday afternoon many years ago, I saw a friend who I knew was not a “church-going” man. He asked me what I talked about in my morning sermon. The title of my message was “Obsessed with God.” When I told my friend the title for the day, he wrinkled his face and said, “Obsessed?”

And maybe he was right.

Perhaps obsessed wasn’t the best word. We typically don’t consider obsession as a positive character trait. But I think I was trying to make a similar point as C.S. Lewis. When it comes to the Christian faith, you can’t sit on the spiritual fence. You’re either all in or not in at all. 

If the story of the Creator of the universe providing unlimited love and grace to His people through the cross of Christ is true, it should be of utmost importance to us. If it is merely a fairy tale, a myth, or a legend, we should pay no attention to it. 

It seems to me, however, that many Christians make their faith only moderately important - the one thing C.S. Lewis said it cannot be. We’ve learned how to compartmentalize our faith. It’s a part of our lives just like work, sports, music, and hobbies. We give our faith an hour or two each week and leave it at that.

But I don’t think that is God’s desire for us. I believe that God wants us to coat every part of our lives with his presence and power. I believe that we can live each moment in the awareness that God is truly with us. He is Immanuel, i.e., God with us.

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord” (Psalm 89:15).

He is with you all of the time. Don’t you think that’s important? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

The leaders at TrueNorth Church were incredibly gracious to me this year. Since this is my 30th year in the ministry, they allowed me to have a 30 day sabbatical. Therefore, I’ve been on vacation since June 6 and I will be back in the TNC offices on Tuesday, July 5.

So, what do you do with 30 days off? And what is a sabbatical anyway? I’ll answer the second question first.

According to, a sabbatical is simply a period of rest. A longer definition is “an extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training.” 

I’m going to go ahead and straight up confess that I haven’t acquired any new skills this month.

But I am trying to resurrect some old skills - like writing again. As you can see, this is my old blog. I’m thinking about knocking the dust off of this thing and putting a few words of wit and wisdom here every so often. I left this blog several years ago for a new look and a new website. (Does anyone remember Quest for a New Perspective?) I was trying to look more professional in order to sell more books.

It didn’t work.

The problem was I spent more time working on the logistics of the website and trying to promote and market it than I did writing. Ultimately, I got tired and quit.

Yes, I’m a quitter. 

But sometimes quitting isn’t all bad. When your hobby becomes a burden, why spend your time on it?

So, what’s the answer to the first question? What do you do with 30 days off?

Travel. Read. Experience new places. Try different food. Laugh until snot comes out of your nose. Enjoy the sun. Marvel at God’s creation. Have fun with family.

We spent the first week at our usual place at Hilton Head Island with family. Our group has gotten so big now we have to rent two condos. We rode out Tropical Storm Colin on Monday of that week but otherwise we enjoyed great weather.

On our second week of vacation, Beth and I rented a wonderful, secluded lake house. It was just me, Beth, and Shucks (our miniature dachshund). We had some nice down time there. And, again, the weather was perfect.

Last week, we flew to sunny Southern California and we checked our bucket list with a trip to the San Diego Zoo. We also went whale and dolphin watching about 4 miles off the coast. (I took the picture of a humpback whale above.) The Pacific Coast has some incredible beaches. So different than what we’re familiar with in the Southeast. It’s easy to see why so many millions of people want to live there. The weather is near perfect every day of the year. The only big negative: traffic.   

Since we’ve been back in town this week, I’ve been holed up on the 2nd floor of the Reese Library at Augusta University. I love quiet times in a library to read, reflect, and research. I especially love college campuses so this has been a treat for a few days.

I know. What a nerd!

I’ve been praying, pondering, and planning. If you know me well, you’ve heard me say that I’m living the dream. TrueNorth Church is literally an answer to prayer for me and a dream come true. I’ve dreamed of this church since 1987 - 29 years ago - my second year in ministry!

Now, I find myself asking what to do now that my dream has come true. 

I will continue to help do my part in growing this generation of believers as well as the next generation. I will continue serving as a pastor, prayer partner, and friend to as many as possible. I will continue to help the leadership of TNC “follow the breadcrumbs” as our Lead Pastor Steve Davis says. I will continue my quest toward being a humble, obedient, submissive servant.

In the meantime, I’m also going to seek out new quests. I’ll keep you posted (maybe) as I experience them. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How to Change a Post-Christian Nation

The following quotes are from the book The Great Evangelical Disaster:

(The United States) is a post-Christian world in which Christianity, not only in the number of Christians but in cultural emphasis and cultural result, is no longer the consensus or ethos of our society. (p. 29)

Christianity is no longer providing the consensus for our society. And Christianity is no longer providing the consensus upon which our law is based. That is not to say that the United States ever was a "Christian nation" in the sense that all or most of our citizens were Christians, nor in the sense that the nation, its laws, and social life were ever a full and complete expression of Christian truth. There is no golden age in the past which we can idealize - whether it is early America, the Reformation, or the early church. But until recent decades something did exist which can rightly be called a Christian consensus or ethos which gave a distinctive shape to Western society and to the United States in a definite way. Now that consensus is all but gone, and the freedoms that it brought are being destroyed before our eyes. We are at a time when humanism is coming to its natural conclusion in morals, in values, and in law. All that society has today are relativistic values based upon statistical averages, or the arbitrary decisions of those who hold legal and political power. (p. 47)

Not only do I find these quotes interesting but I also find the timing of these quotes interesting. They were written by Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a widely recognized Christian author, speaker, and thinker. Dr. Schaeffer wrote this in the same year in which he died - 1984.

I find this interesting because almost 30 years ago Schaeffer declared America a "post-Christian" nation, yet so many have yet to hear it. I believe that when American Christians realize that we are missionaries in a dark land our expansion efforts will improve greatly. Too many believers are interested in changing laws instead of hearts. Too many believers are focused on the White House instead of God's House. Too many believers want to protest instead of pray. Too many believers want to complain about taxes instead of tithe. Too many believers want to legislate morality instead of demonstrate morality.

We are missionaries here. Think about it. Missionaries don't go into foreign lands to change the government. They change nations by demonstrating the love of Christ one person at a time. This is not to say that citizens shouldn't exercise their right to vote and partake in the political process. It IS to say that there is much more to be done besides engaging in the political process.

I'm proud of my church - TrueNorth Church - who stepped up to the plate this morning during our monthly Second Saturday and covered our city with simple acts of kindness and love. From feeding the homeless to painting an inner city school and dozens of other projects in between, TNC is learning how to change lives - from the inside out. Nearly 400 people came out today to show Christ's love in simple ways!

We will see cultural change when Christians get out of the pews and into the streets. We will see laws change when Christian love prevails. We will see Christ change lives when the world around us sees Christ in us.

Monday, March 07, 2011

"That's tragic. What's for lunch?"

The other day I was standing in line at a restaurant when I heard two men ahead of me talking about a brutal murder that was in the news. The first guy was telling the second one all about it since he had not seen the news. It was a gruesome and sad tale. Unfortunately, Guy 1 told the gory details of the crime while Guy 2 and those of us around him were staring at the menu above the fast-food counter quickly losing our appetites.

As Guy 1 continued with the story, Guy 2 was disturbed at what he heard and responded as his friend shared the news with listening cues like, "That's awful," "Oh, my goodness," or "What a shame."

Finally, as Guy 1 completed his story, Guy 2 said, in the same breath, "That's tragic. What's for lunch?"

It took a few seconds for it to register in my brain. What an odd reply. Are we so used to bad news that it rolls off of us like water on a duck's back? Are we so accustomed to hearing about tragedies, calamities, murders, wars, and crises that our response is, "That's tragic. What's for lunch?"

I'm afraid we are - and I am as guilty as anyone. How many times do I scroll through all of the bad news that I see online? How many times do I read the headlines in the newspaper and flip over to the next page with little or no concern? (Yes, I still get a newspaper.)

Our generation receives so much news so fast that genocide in Libya is just another headline and brutal murders are a dime a dozen. We've become numb to tragedy.

Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once wrote, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." We may be numb to the bad news around us but I know that these terrible things break God's heart. I know that I can't prevent some of these things from happening. I cannot give enough money to solve all of the world's crises. I am not in a position of power to stop the fighting around the world. I don't have enough time to give to all of the needs around me.

But I can do something. I can pray and I can give what I can. I can't change the world for everyone but I can change the world for someone.

I cannot control the wave after wave after wave of bad news that comes before me each week but I can control my response to it. So I must pray on a regular basis what Bob Pierce prayed, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." May I be sensitive to the needs around me. May I be prayerful as I hear of tragedy around the world. May I be generous when I can be generous. May I empathize with those who need empathy. May I be a bit of positive news in a world full of bad news.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The American Nightmare

Here's a small snippet from an e-book that I hope to make available soon.

In America, we are encouraged to acquire more things in order to achieve happiness. Don't believe it? Watch a few hours of TV commercials and get back to me. We are encouraged to live for the day and spend money today – whether we have it or not. We are led to believe that "charging" our blues away will bring joy and fulfillment.

The culture tells us to buy more stuff, spend time watching mindless entertainment, and worship celebrities. Don't believe that? Eavesdrop on a few conversations the next time you're in a restaurant or standing in line at the DMV.

"Did you watch (enter name of meaningless TV show here) last night?"

"Did you hear about (enter the name of the latest flash-in-the-pan celebrity here)?"

"I got this blouse on sale at (enter the name of the latest clothing store here) last Saturday. It was only $80."

The culture says that we should have a miserable job where we work 50+ hours per week, buy a house, drive late model cars, live for the weekends, take two weeks of vacation per year, and contribute fully to our 401(k) so that we can retire before we turn 70 and buy an RV to travel the country for a few years before our poor health brings us home.

Then you die.

It's called the American Dream.

Or is it a nightmare?

What will you think when you are on your deathbed and you realize that everything the culture said you should do to make yourself happy was wrong? What if you follow the media's prescription for the American Dream only to discover the concoction you've swallowed led to nowhere?

I don't want to die with regrets. I don't think you do either.