Samson – A Mighty, Little Dog

IMG_3534The year was 2005.  Our oldest child, Trey, was going off to Liberty University.  We were living in Eustis, Florida, and I was pastor of First Baptist Eustis.  I was preaching a sermon series on the Judges of Israel.  Soon after dropping Trey off in Lynchburg, Virginia, I had landed on Samson – probably the most well-known Judge of the bible.  I discovered one of the meanings of the word is – sunshine.  At the same time, we had decided to buy a toy rat terrier to help ease our pain.  Now, I’m not saying Trey was replaced with a dog.  No one can replace that boy!  But I am saying Kellie, Halie and I decided an inside dog might be therapeutic.  It was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a family.  He lived up to his name in every sense of the word.  Samson provided “sunshine” for our family for over thirteen years.  As of today, he’s no longer with us.  He had to be “put down” due to a terminal disease that reached the point of greatly hindering his quality of life.  It was not an easy decision.

Please allow me to share my heart a little bit about old Samson, as this is fresh, maybe you can relate…..

How wIMG_1379as he a ray of sunshine?

When we moved to Las Vegas, shortly after getting him he was a major source of comfort for Halie.  She was a 9th grader.  As you can imagine, transitioning to a huge public school in Las Vegas was not easy.  (I will always be proud of how she handled that season of her life.)  It was in Vegas that Samson transitioned to sleeping in the same bed with Halie instead of being put in his crate.  Translated, living a dog’s life had come to an end!  As most dogs do, they love unconditionally and can sense when their people experience discouragement.  Need I say more?  Halie has her own dog now, but Samson will always be special.  We have pictures to prove it! 🙂


When we lived in a rented downstairs condo in midtown-Memphis for a purpose of planting a church he never stopped wagging his nub of a tail.  This was one of the most challenging, yet, exciting times in our lives.  It was during those years he became a husband and a daddy.  Good times…

When tragedy strikes, and it does everyone, he sought comfort.  Samson was the gentlest dog I’ve ever had in my life.  He seemed to know when things were not right.  And he would try to lick us to death or sit beside us until things were calm again.  And if there were times of raised voices in our home through the years, he’d quickly go get in his crate.  It was as if he was saying, “hey, calm down folks.”

IMG_5081I have counseled church members through the years when their pet died.  There’s nothing weird about it, unless it’s prolonged.  But any grief that is prolonged and hinders our ability to live our lives, is not healthy.  And there are times that seeking help from a professional is necessary.  But grief is a natural part of life.  Pets are God’s creations.  As a matter of fact, here’s a place where scripture speaks to our responsibility.   The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.

~Proverbs 12:10


I know what you may be thinking right now, “I wonder if Pastor Hal thinks he’ll see Samson in Heaven?”  I believe I will see the Samson of the bible in heaven.  But I know that’s not what you may be thinking – you’re thinking my dog, Samson.  Well, that’s a subject/post for another day.  In the meantime, I find comfort in what Billy Graham said when asked if he thought his dog would be in heaven…

“God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”

 Samson, a mighty dog I will never forget and always be grateful to God for during this season of my family’s life.

Until next time….




A good laugh has great benefits.  Experts indicate that laughter enhances your intake of oxygen rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.  Don’t you love it when “experts” provide information that coincides with God’s Word?  Me too!

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

~Proverbs 17:22

DID LAUGHTER EXTEND ALANA’S LIFE?  I believe so… Some of you know by now that one of my former youth passed away recently.  This “ray of sunshine” as a teenager became an even brighter light for Christ in her later days.  Her impact on her husband, two children, other family members, company she worked for, friends, and literally thousands of others will only be realized in eternity.  She loved Jesus and she knew the importance of taking God seriously, but not taking herself too seriously.  The bible says the joy of the Lord is our strength.  She had joy.  She had laugher.  She had Jesus.  She got it!

SHE WORE THE WIG LIKE NONE OTHER…  I’ve seen numerous cancer patients wear wigs through the years while going through chemotherapy.  And they have worn it well.  But no one has worn one like our Alana wore it! She was so funny…  Was it pink because of the color that so often represents cancer?  Probably so.  Was it worn due to losing her hair.  Yes, I’m sure that played a part in it, though she wasn’t wearing it at the end and didn’t seem to flinch.  I personally think she also wore it because it provided God’s medicine—laughter.  Yes, laughter is like good medicine and so she did everything possible to laugh and make others laugh.  It caused her days to extend and make those of us that loved her love her even more.  May we all follow her example for whatever trial may be coming our way.  Folks, take God seriously—always, but please do not take yourself too seriously.  As I shared during her home going celebration…

Do not take yourself too seriously or you may end up looking foolish.

Bill Hybels and the illusion of “private” sin

By Jim Denison

Bill Hybels is making headlines again. The New York Times tells the story of a woman who worked as his personal assistant at Willow Creek Community Church. She is now describing multiple occasions in which he behaved toward her in extremely inappropriate ways I will not describe here.

Hybels denies her allegations. “I never had an inappropriate physical or emotional relationship with her before that time, during that time or after that time,” he stated in an email to the Times. He has already taken early retirement following other allegations of misconduct. Ten women in total have now made such accusations.

Willow Creek’s elders have stated: “We now believe Bill entered into areas of sin related to the allegations that have been brought forth.” Yesterday, the church announced that it plans to launch a new independent investigation into the charges against Hybels.

After Hybels took early retirement, Steve Carter became Lead Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek last October. He resigned his position on Sunday, stating that he and church elders disagree about ways the church can move forward. “I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor when my soul is so at odds with the institution,” he wrote in a letter to the congregation.

The personal assistant making the latest allegations against Hybels worked with him some thirty years ago. Whether we believe he is guilty or not, we should take note of this fact: the public consequences of personal sin can come to light years after the sin is committed.

A satanic strategy

Satan loves to tempt us to sin, then use the consequences of our sins against us. But he wants these consequences to devastate us and the people of God as much as possible.

I think he sometimes waits until Christian leaders are even more visible so that their public disgrace can be even more traumatic. The higher we climb a ladder, the farther we have to fall.

We can see this in the timing of the latest allegations against Bill Hybels. The Global Leadership Summit he began more than twenty years ago will take place again this Thursday and Friday. Some 445,000 people are expected to participate in more than six hundred satellite locations around the world.

However, the controversy regarding Hybels has led to more than one hundred churches and other organizations canceling their plans to host a viewing site. Actor Denzel Washington and author and speaker Lisa Bodell have withdrawn from the summit. And several publishers have stopped printing books by Hybels.

If we think we’re getting away with private sin, we’re not. Scripture is clear: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). And it will only get worse: “Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15).

Three deceptions

The New York Times article points to an insidious problem for Christians: the illusion and allure of “private” sin.

Satan wants us to believe that no one will know or be hurt. We know we can confess our sins and be forgiven for them (1 John 1:9), so we think we can harbor an area of private sinfulness that will never be made public.

There are at least three deceptions here.

One: Private sin seldom stays private. David’s sin with Bathsheba soon became part of his public legacy. Computers can be hacked; internet cookies can track web traffic; others can discover what we thought was secret.

Two: God can forgive our sin, but he cannot reward us for it. Every moment we spend in disobedience is a moment we cannot get back. And a lost opportunity for obedience that our Father would have rewarded eternally (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:14).

Three: Private sin hinders the work of God through us. Sin grieves the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and “quenches” his work in our lives and ministries (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit cannot fully use an unholy vessel. If we are harboring private sin but think God is using us anyway, imagine what he could do in and through us if we were completely his.

A powerful key to defeating temptation

Let’s close with a crucial element in defeating private temptation. Several years ago, I attended a clergy workshop on the dangers of pornography. One of my colleagues made an observation I have not forgotten: we must love Jesus more than we love sin.

It is one thing to love Jesus but another to be in love with him. So, ask the Spirit to help you be more in love with your Savior today.

And remember all that Jesus has done for you. Charles Spurgeon: “If we know but little of the excellencies of Jesus, what He has done for us, and what He is doing now, we cannot love Him much; but the more we know Him, the more we shall love Him.”

Would Jesus say you’re in love with him today?


I don’t believe have ever written an entire article on the subject of cancer?  A year or so ago I wrote about not having cancer.  I had made public that I was seeing a cancer specialist who was suspicious that I may have the same type of cancer that my dad died of when was sixty.  I reported that he had determined after a number of tests that I did not have cancer.  So, that’s the only time I addressed the subject, albeit, ever so briefly.

Cancer not only was the cause of my father’s death but his father’s death.  I’ve also had friends, children of friends, church members, classmates, former youth, teachers, neighbors, and other family members die from this disease.  AND I have people I know and love that are cancer survivors.  Like you, it touches all of us in one or another.  Now, let me be quick to say, unless you’ve had it, which I have not, you really can’t fully understand it.  And all the people who have it or had it said, AMEN!

It’s been on my heart and mind lately because of several people.  A few I know and at least one I admire.  I admire former football star, Jim Kelly.  He was given an award recently and spoke on his personal battle with cancer.  It was powerful!  He gave praise to God, family, and friends.  He spoke with a slur due to his condition and ongoing battle with the disease.  What a warrior!  AND what warriors have I seen on Facebook recently!  I’ve been inspired by their positive attitude and winning spirit.  They are definitely overcomers!

I have even googled articles I had read in the past about What Cancer Cannot Do.  They are truly touching!  But here are a few thoughts on the subject from my perspective at this point in my life…

MOST cancer patients I have known are very special… I know cancer is no respecter of persons.  I get that.  But when I consider those in my lifetime that had been directly touched by cancer, they were or are so very much choice people.   Job 1:21 comes to mind, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  Job was human.  He had his bad days through his difficulties.  But his attitude was absolutely amazing and inspirational because of his walk with God.  That’s what I’m talking about… I can only hope I would be or react the same as these special people.

MOST cancer patients’ health challenges bring family and friends closer… Isn’t it amazing how this is usually the case.  Haven’t you seen it?  There are more communication and concern, which usually deepens relationships.  And life is really about relationships.  A relationship with Jesus is the most important.  Out of that relationship, many others are formed that have significant value.  When a tragedy occurs, the body of Christ comes together.  Couple this reality with believers that have cancer, look out!  God works in mighty ways.  So often we read about Jesus working through sickness to develop and deepen relationships.


Boy or girl? Parents raising “theybies”

By Jim Denison

Zyler and Kadyn Sharpe are three-year-old fraternal twins living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Which is a boy, and which is a girl? According to their parents, that’s a question only the children can decide.

Nate and Julia Sharpe have kept their children’s biological sex a secret from their birth. They have not taught them to associate their body parts with being a boy or a girl. They are going to allow their children to determine their gender. Such children are known as “theybies.”

Other parents are making the opposite decision.

Model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, made headlines when they announced that they had selected the sex of their unborn child. They used in vitro fertilization to become pregnant. This process creates embryos in the laboratory which are then implanted in the mother’s womb. Teigen and Legend asked doctors to select a female embryo for her to carry to term.

In related news, “sex-selective abortion” is now common around the world. When a couple learns that their unborn child is not the gender they wanted, they have the baby aborted. According to Newsweek, such abortions “are rife in the U.S.”

“You will be like God”

Letting a child choose his or her gender, choosing a child based on gender, and aborting a child based on gender are all symptoms of an underlying condition. At their heart, they succumb to the temptation, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Scripture clearly teaches that God created us in his image as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27) and values males and females equally (Galatians 3:28). He has a purpose for our lives before he makes us (Jeremiah 1:5).

For several decades, however, our culture has embraced the lie that truth is what we believe it to be. Such relativism explains the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the legalization of abortion in 1973. It gave birth to same-sex marriage in 2015. It makes our bodies and lives our own to do with as we wish.

To paraphrase Dr. Phil, how’s that working for us?

A highway with no lanes

In her daily devotional, Anne Graham Lotz asks, “Can you imagine the chaos that would result if a multilane highway had no painted markings to give direction to the traffic? Accidents and confusion would be the order of the day. No one complains about or resents the markings because drivers know the painted boundaries exist for their own benefit and safety.

“Today we are surrounded by a generation of people who have grown up living according to their own moral codes, defying the boundaries set by God. As a result, it is a generation with no peace or sense of security. Rather than inhibiting us, moral guidelines free us to live in peace and security. The statistics on crime, divorce, abortion, and suicide give eloquent witness to the danger of living outside God’s boundaries.”

Now let’s make today’s discussion personal.

“Someone else emerges: the real you”

Joshua Rogers is an attorney and writer. His latest article in Fox Newsis titled, “The most awful, humiliating, embarrassing thing that’s happened in my marriage (so far!).”

What happened?

In their first year of marriage, he and his wife got into a disagreement while visiting a family member’s home. They went into the guest room to “hash it out privately.” Joshua thought he’d turned off the baby monitor, but he’d actually turned it to voice activation. Those in the living room heard every word of their argument.

Rogers applies his embarrassment to us: “On the outside, you’re this decent person who’s easy to get along with. You’d never tell off a coworker or post an insult on someone’s Facebook page. You’re likeable, respectful and kind. You’re even admirable. But when the doors close at home, someone else emerges: the real you.”

He encourages us to apologize to those we hurt, forgive them when they hurt us, pray for God’s help, and listen to what others believe and need.

“Character determines revelation”

It’s easy for me to reject the cultural claim that gender is “fluid” and that it’s acceptable to choose or abort babies based on their biological sex. I firmly believe that God’s “lines on the freeway” are there for our benefit and ignored at our peril.

But if my private life doesn’t match my public life, I’m actually agreeing with my relativistic culture that I am my own God. I’m choosing to be whatever I want to be, so long as others aren’t looking. My apparent godliness may reflect my desire to impress others more than the actual state of my heart.

However, God knows the truth about us: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). His Holy Spirit wants to speak to our culture through us, but, as Oswald Chambers notes, “Character determines revelation.” Our private sins limit our public ministry.

When private and public align

Here’s the good news: If we choose to make our personal character our highest priority and ask the Father to make us more like his Son, he will (Romans 8:29). If we measure ourselves by the “fruit of the Spirit” and ask the Spirit to manifest them more fully in our lives, he will (Galatians 5:22–23).

As our private and public lives align, we leave behind the internal dissonance that comes from being two people. We experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). And others are drawn to the Christ they see in us.

Remember: the baby monitor is always on.


CaveAll of us have been moved the heroism of those involved in rescuing the Thai boys from a cave in the northern Chiang Rai province.  Twelve boys of the now famous Wild Boars youth soccer team and their coach were trapped from June 23rd until recently.  What was meant to be a few hours of exploration, turned into weeks of anticipation.  Would they survive?  What was the coach thinking?  What route might the rescuers take to pull the boys out of danger?  The questions and concerns mounted each passing day.

As you know the boys and the coach were rescued!  Not without sacrifice.  One Navy Seal lost his life helping in the rescue attempt.  (Now, that’s a hero!)  And many others from around the globe gave money, time, energy, etc., to help these helpless young men who found themselves in a predicament they never dreamed of as they entered their expedition.  The boys will return to their homes and schools after their brief recovery time.  Life will never be the same.  Some are expecting a movie out of this sooner than later.  I’m sure it will be inspiring.

I’m reminded of another cave experience in the bible.  One of my favorite stories from the life of David is when he was in the Cave of Adullam with his mighty men.  (You may read its entirety in—2 Samuel 23:8-17) They were in the stronghold—danger—and we find this… “So, the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David…” (Vs. 16) Did they have to risk their lives?  No.  Did they do it to be rewarded?  No.  They did it naturally due to their love for the King—King David.  And they worked together, in unity, for a great cause.  They loved David and he was so moved that it lead him to Worship the King!

There are people in “caves” all around us.  Someone needs to rescue them from their gradual “death.”  Is it you?  Is it me?  Is it us?  May we have the same courage as these cave dwellers we’re considered today.  And may it be done in the name of love!

This is my command: Love each other.   ~John 15:17

 Until Next Time…

The trapped soccer team: What freedom really means

By Jim Denison

Twelve boys and their soccer coach went missing in a northern Thailand cave on June 23. The Tham Luang Nang Non cave system is a local tourist attraction but can flood severely during the rainy season. The boys and their coach became stranded in the dark tunnels by a sudden and continuous downpour.

Divers found them alive Monday evening. The video of their discovery made headlines around the world. But their saga is far from over.

The Wild Boar soccer team and its coach are trapped 1.2 miles into the cave, somewhere between eight hundred meters and one kilometer (0.6 miles) below the surface. They were found huddled together on a small incline, surrounded by water in a pitch-black chamber.

Huge pumps are now running to drain the cave complex so the boys can be rescued. However, Thailand is in the midst of its monsoon season. Heavy rains could make it impossible for the team to hike to safety.

Bringing the team out the way their rescuers went in is especially perilous. Cave diving is dangerous even for experienced divers. The safest option could be to leave the boys in place until water levels drop or a new entrance is discovered. However, if water levels rise too high, they could threaten the boys where they are.

Officials stated this morning that they will not attempt to move the boys before Thursday. They are working to set up phone lines inside the cave so the boys can talk to their parents.

Two weeks ago, the boys and their coach may have taken their freedom for granted. I doubt they will ever do so again.

Thomas Jefferson’s last public letter

The year was 1826, and America’s fiftieth Independence Day was approaching.

Roger Chew Weightman, the mayor of Washington, planned a great celebration. He invited the three surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence—Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Charles Carroll of Maryland—as well as former presidents James Madison and James Monroe.

None could attend, due to health issues and advancing age. However, on June 24, 1826, Jefferson wrote the mayor what became his last public letter. (He wrote two personal notes a day later.) In it, he defined what Independence Day is all about (punctuation and capitalization are his):

“may [the Declaration] be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government.”

According to Jefferson, “that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred.”

He then offered his Independence Day hope: “let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

Freedom is not free

“FREEDOM IS NOT FREE” is engraved on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Those who do not have freedom and those who defend it know that it’s so. The rest of us must “forever refresh our recollection of these rights” that we might embrace “an undiminished devotion to them.”

What will you do today to remember the Founders whose courage and sacrifice birthed our freedom? How will you remember those who fought and died that our nation might live and honor those who risk their lives for us today?

As you celebrate this day with family and friends, take a moment to thank God for our nation and our freedom. And pray for all Americans to experience the true freedom we have found in Christ.

The Bible states: “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Jesus promised: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

True independence requires dependence on God

How can Americans find the freedom only Christ can give?

Noah Webster, a revolutionary soldier later known as the “Schoolmaster to America,” wrote a History of the United States in 1832. In it, he boldly stated: “The religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”

In other words, true independence requires dependence on God.

Libraries and schools across our country display Jesus’ familiar promise: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). But such displays omit his previous words: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (v. 31). Only then can we know the truth and be set free by it.

Will you abide in Jesus’ word today?