Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Still on the Road

Crystal and I are in Newark, New Jersey. We came straight here from Memphis. I am preaching a 3-night meeting for the local Evangelistic Board (a group of pastors and churches that are working together to fulfill the Great Commission here in Newark). Last night was a great beginning. I am looking forward to the next two nights.

The meeting is being hosted by my boyhood friend, Joe Carter, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church. He just turned 35 this past Thursday. And, hands down, Carter is one of the best pastors and preachers I know. He epitomizes the connection between shepherds who lead and feed that I wrote about a few blogs ago. I have known him virtually all of my life. In fact, he is the first boy preacher I have ever heard of. I don't think I would have accepted my called to preach so early (if at all), if I had not seen how the Lord was using "Joe Joe" as a boy. I remember when Joe preached for my dad when he was just 17 years old. I still have the video of that service. Afterward, one of my father's associate preachers came up to me after service and said, "Junior, that was preaching And you will never be able to preach like that!" Lo and behold, he was right. almost two decades later, I am still in the shadows of Joe Carter. And that's cool.

Joe and I don't get to talk often. But when I arrived Monday, we picked up our fellowship just were we left it last time we were together. It was as if we had just been together the day before. That's how our friendship is. But I don' t think that's unique with me. Joe is just a very personable guy, in general. He doesn't meet strangers. He loves being around people. So when we got to town, he swooped up me and Crystal and took us to NYC to eat dinner. We had a great time. It was Crystal's first time in Times Square, or New York for that matter. And Carter and his staff had made it their business make sure that she has a good time while she's here. I really do appreciate it. And I am really happy that Crystal is having such a good time. She doesn't like going on the road with me when I preach. But this trip has proved to be the exceptioin, even though I think we both are starting to miss the kids really bad now.

It's been fun to watch how Crystal has responded to meeting people here that she has heard so much about. I really enjoyed watching her in worship last night at New Hope. Outside of MSMBC, New Hope may be one of my favorite places to preach. Their wordship is always filled with joy. And they love to hear good preaching. If you don't feel like preaching at New Hope, you ought to re-examine your calling. I hope and pray that the ministry of the word will bear much fruit this week.

Two Additional Matters for Prayer: Last night, we got the news that Dr. J. Allen Caldwell of the historic Burnette Baptist Church in Detroit passed away yesterday. I have been preaching for him since I was 16 0r 17. And his kindness to me has known no bounds. For several years, Joe and I were doing two of his three major church revivals. He will be greatly missed. Please pray for his family and the Burnette Church. Likewise, it goes without saying that we should be much in prayer for all the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Praise the Lord that Psalm 46:1 is still true: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (ESV)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

My Big Brother's Celebration!

My wife Crystal and I are in Memphis to be a part of my big brother Kevin's celebration of 25 years in public ministry and 12 years as pastor of Riverside Baptist Church. My brother, Kevin B. Willis Sr., is a godly man, devoted husband (Tuesday will be he and Linda's 19th wedding anniversary) and father (Kelly and K.J.), strong preacher (In fact, I pastor a church where he's the favorite preacher of the congregation), and caring shepherd (to watch him interact with his members reminds me of my dad so much). Because we live in different parts of the country and are both traveling preachers, as well as pastor-teachers, we don't get a chance to see each other often. In fact, the last time we saw each other was while we were preaching in the same city earlier this year. So it's great to be here and celebrate this milestone with him. Last night, Linda and the Riverside church honored him with a beautiful banquet. Dr. Major Jemison (pastor of St. John B.C. in Oklahoma City and president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention) was the keynote speaker. He message was about "Going the Distance" from Philippians 3:13-14. It was timely and encouraging. Likewise, a woman from Kevin's former church in Dallas sung two hymns. She could really sing and was very reverent in her presentation of the songs. I really appreciated her ministry in song. In fact, I was blessed by it all. It was a great night all the way around. I am glad and grateful to be here for this special celebration.

I am scheduled to preach in the morning at Riverside Church. And I am very nervous. First of all, I don’t know what I am going to preach yet. And, beyond that, I hate preaching in front of my brother probably more than any other human being. It’s because I love him so much and I really do care about what he thinks of me and my ministry. I talk a good game. So if you listen to me long enough, you may hear my routine about not caring what other people think of me. But all of that immediately goes out the window when it comes to my brother. I want him to be proud of me. It’s kind of strange. I live about 5 minutes from the home in which I spent my childhood years. I am named after our dad. And I pastor the church he served for more than 40 years. But even though I am surrounded by many reminders of him, my heart and mind most directly links Kevin to my father. So it kind of makes it hard for me to be a good brother to him because he reminds me of our dad so much. But I love him deeply. Ignore the fact that we have different last names. Kevin is my brother (no blood tests needed; just look at us, man!). We are also brothers in Christ and co-laborers in the ministry. And I am so proud him. It's cool to be known around the country as "Kevin's little brother." I like to say that he’s my big brother “in whom I am well pleased.” And I am praying that the Lord continue to use him at Riverside and beyond to proclaim the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Happy Anniversary Kevin! Congratulation! Go the distance!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Shepherds who Lead and Feed

I've had several conversations this week that implicitly affirmed the false dichotomy between pastors as preachers and pastors as administrators. The assumption is that some pastors are naturally strong teachers who just aren't gifted in the area of spiritual leadership. Others are skilled in giving oversight to the church, but they are just not skilled in teaching. As a preacher's kid, I have heard this kind of talk since I was a boy. Unfortunately, I have unconsciously picked up this way of speaking of pastoral ministry. But it's wrong. Pastors are called to both teach and lead. Shepherds must both lead and feed the sheep. Can you imagine a shepherd that only showed up at feeding time, but left the sheep to the wolves (or worse, left them to themselves!) the rest of the time? Or can you imagine a shepherd who was careful in leading and protecting the sheep, but carelessly fed them anything? Both scenarios are unthinkable! And that's they way it ought to be for those of us whom the Lord has made overseeing shepherds of the flock he has purchased with his own blood.

Personally, I am more inclined toward my preaching and teaching responsibilities than pastoral administration. I am kind of wired for prayer, reading, study, research, and writing. But I need a long nap to recover from most other areas of my pastoral responsibilities. I compensate for this in several ways. First, I remember that the only ministerial skill given in the biblical qualifications for spiritual leadership is the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). So, honestly, I think I am justified in intentionally neglecting some things if my message isn't ready. But it's hard for me to recover if I have done all kinds of pastoral work during the week but stand to preach feeling that I am not fully ready. My primary task is to teach, defend, and apply sound doctrine to the lives of the believers and to body life of the congregation. Likewise, I am surrounded by coworkers who are skilled in areas of administration and organization that I am not. And the diligence with which they do their work allows me to play to my strengths. But this is not an excuse for me to neglect pastoral care and congregational administration. To be faithful to the calling God has placed on my life as a pastor-teacher, I must give God my best in both spiritual leadership and Bible exposition. Pray that God will help me to excel in both of these areas. Pray that every God-called shepherd would both lead and feed his flock. And, while you’re at it, pray that the sheep will both follow and swallow!

Friday, August 19, 2005


I just finished a book called Hedges by Jerry Jenkins. (He's the guy who writes the Left Behind novels with Tim LaHaye). It's published by Crossway Books. And I enthusiastically recommend it to every man who is serious about sexual purity and marital fidelity. The point of the book is that the best way to overcome temptation is to avoid it. But this idea is not original with Jenkins. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, "So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (ESV) Some sins you fight; other sins you run away from. And you ought not to wait to run when the temptation arises. You ought to set up “hedges” around your thoughts, words, hands, integrity, and relationships that give you the opportunity to identify a threat before it gets too close. Sounds a little paranoid? Good. We ought to be. We ought to put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). We ought not to lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5). We ought to guard our hearts (Prov. 4:23) with high, deep, and wide hedges. Too many lives, marriages, and ministries have been ruined by indiscretion and infidelity. We don’t need any more men adding to the sad statistics. Our homes, churches, and society need men with hedges for holiness. I want to be one of those men. And I challenge you to be one of those men. So I challenge you to read this book and begin setting up hedges in your life? Hey, what hedges have you placed around your life to keep you away from temptation? None? Then what are you going to do about it?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

My Favorite Person and My Favorite Place

I was poking around Blogger this afternoon, trying to figure out how to add pictures to my blog. I think I figured it out, sort of. This is the picture I used as my test. It's my wife, Crystal. She is my dream girl, my best friend, and my prayer partner. We've been married for almost seven years. And she's as beautiful, easy-going, caring, optomistic, and fun to be with as ever. And she's even more spiritually mature. I am truly blessed to have married way out of my league. I took this picture of her with my cell phone. She is standing in my favorite place - my study. Outside of any place where Crystal and my kids are, my study at the church office is my favorite place in the world. It's where my books are! And it's where I think, study, and pray. My favorite person in my favorite place - cool!

On the Road Again

Last night I began the first of three nights of preaching in Whichita, KA. The revival services are being hosted by Pastor Terrace Floyd and the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church. The congregation is slightly over three years old. But there seems to be spiritual unity, willing service, and great expectations among the membership. And Pastor Floyd is a goldy man who loves his congregation and desires to grow as a preacher. This is a great atmosphere in which to nurture a young church. In other Whichita news... Not far from my hotel, the sentencing of the "BTK" strangler is in process. I don't think non-residents, like myself, can relate to the deep impact these serial murders has had on this community.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

We Get it Right More than We Get it Wrong

This past Sunday evening, I attended a benefit service for a young minister in our city who is sick. Pastors from different churches, conferences, and denominations came together to show their support. This is commendable. But it won't be. Preachers usually only get attention for doing something wrong; not for doing something right. So I'll commend them myself. Unfortunately, it is often hard to get preachers to work together. Everything from inflated egos to personal animosity to professionional jealously to differing convictions keep us apart. But in this instance, when it really counted, these men got together to show their support for a brother in need. Many were dead tired from a long day of preaching and teaching. But they did not just send a donation. They personally attended. I know the report of this service had to be encouraging to our young colleague. It was encouraging to me! We Chrisian leaders actually do get it right more than we get it wrong. And we're working on getting it wrong even less. May the Lord bring it to pass.

Monday, August 15, 2005

I'm a blogger now!

I have been reading blogs. I have been reading about blogs. I have been reading about bloggers. Now, after all of that reading, I am a part of the community, I guess. I look foward to sharing my thoughts, convictions, and ideas with the world. And I hope the experience will also help me to become a better writer and communicator. Blog on!