Tag Archives: Chattanooga

Remembering Our Brush With Terror in Chattanooga

Two years ago, today, a man drove around in his convertible Mustang and shot up my town. His goal was to kill as many servicemen as possible, so first he drove by the recruiting office on Lee Highway and unleashed a hail of bullets into the glass-fronted building. The “No Weapons” sticker applied to both serviceman and citizen alike, so no one was able to stop him before he drove off.

Photo credit: The Telegraph, UK

I stood here and wept as I took this picture. Note the green marks where spent shell casings lay.

The next place he went to was the Marine Corp/Navy Reserve training facility on Amnicola Highway, right between the community college so many of us have attended and the riverfront bike trails and pavilions so many of us have enjoyed. There the Muslim terrorists – for that is what he was, and that is what he intended on being – once again began firing on unarmed Marines and sailors with his high-powered semi-automatic rifle. At least one Marine had unofficially brought his personal sidearm with him that day and tried to stop the terrorist, but to no avail. Before long four Marines lay dead.

(Left to Right) Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, and Lance Clp. Squire K. Wells

A Navy sailor would later succumb to his wounds.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith


The local police in Chattanooga sped to the location where the terrorist was committing murder and engaged him with their own weapons.

Bullets from the conflict left holes in buildings as far away as the Coca-Cola offices across the highway and not even in view of the firefight. But before long, the self-proclaimed jihadist lay dead, too.

But Chattanooga survived.

Within the hour my city was the focus of world-wide attention. Terrorism had come to the South, and it was worth noting. But what was also worth noting was the righteous indignation of our citizens, and the flickering flames that dared the enemy of freedom to fan us into a raging fire. We were shocked by what happened, but we were far from terrorized; we Tennesseans aren’t the type to retreat from a fight.

It wasn’t long before the first American flags started appearing at the two places where gunfire was exchanged.

In no time there were hundreds, and then there were thousands. Flags and mementos too numerable to count turned into defiant monuments to those who died protecting our freedom.

Tents were erected to shelter the thousands upon thousands of flags, letters, and memorabilia from the weather.

It wasn’t long before black, white, and every other color and faith united arm-in-arm as family, as Chattanoogans… as Americans.

In short, terror didn’t have it’s desired effect; it had the opposite.


Skip forward two years and a few months after a presidential election. What happened to the unity?

Unfortunately, we are now divided more than ever. What the terrorist couldn’t do with his guns, politicians and the media, with weapons of jealousy, anger, lies, and hate, are succeeding. Unconquerable from without, we are being destroyed from within.

Chattanooga, are we still strong? Then let us come together once again as Americans, or else the “fallen five” will have fallen in vain.

#Noogastrong, #Chattanoogastrong

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Morning In Chattanooga

Before church on Sunday morning, down beneath the Market Street Bridge, just before transporting swimmers and their support kayakers to their starting point. 9.3 mile swim! 

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Just Look Ahead

This is the third time I’ve edited this post in an hour. It’s just hard to write. 

Sometimes we…

No, we can never stop the bad news; all we can do is decide what we’re going to do with it.

This morning I received some tragic news of a police officer getting shot and killed…by other police. I wish now I could have met him, but he worked a shift I haven’t yet visited. I have reasons for why I haven’t, but that doesn’t change anything. 

I’m a police Chaplain, that’s what I’m supposed to do: visit with all the officers I can, to minister to them in some way, if possible. 

But I didn’t with this young man. 

Now he’s gone. It’s in the hands of a merciful God. That’s all I know. 

I can’t go back and change what happened, what I did or didn’t do, but what I can do is look to the future as I keep my eyes on Jesus, my eyes wet with tears for the lost.

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The Harmful Effects of Drought (on video)

Tonight I was very privileged to preach at Mile Straight Baptist Church, a wonderful and gracious congregation in Soddy-Daisy, TN. Dr. Tom Goss is the pastor, and a great friend.

Unfortunately, the numbers were down a good bit for the service, but that was too be expected. For a good while the Chattanooga area has been suffering from a severe drought, and recently forest fires have caused much of the surrounding area to look like it’s covered in fog, even in the daylight. Smoke is everywhere, even in the church building.

So, I preached to a smaller crowd in person, but others watched live over their computers at home (isn’t technology great?). Mile Straight has certainly taken advantage of technology.

Therefore, I give you a rare treat – video of me preaching. The sermon took advantage of the most obvious illustration one could ask for.

Funny things: I was told to dress casual – this was old, fat man casual. 😉


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Tornado Parking Lot

Today marks the 5th anniversary of when we in the South were struck by multiple deadly tornadoes. The following is a post I wrote on April 29, 2011, just two days after the first storms came.

Tornado Alley?

I don’t know who coined the term “tornado alley,” but they need to come up with a new one…

“Tornado Parking Lot”

…or something like that. Tornadoes used to be something that was common only in mid-western, grassland states, right? Didn’t Dorothy and Toto live in Kansas? Well, it seems that tornadoes aren’t just for Kansas, anymore. They have come to like the South.

April 27-28, 2011 will be remembered as the most destructive time in the South since the Civil War. Never in my lifetime have I seen such destruction over such a wide area. Whenever we use to hear of a tornado hitting a city, there would be pictures of one stretch wiped out or damaged. This time, it is whole states involved, not just one city or trailer park, and hundreds of tornadoes.


It can’t be overstated that we in the South need your prayers. There is so much to do and so many who need help. The destruction is so wide-spread that many are overwhelmed with the logistics of providing assistance. All many could do in the first day was put every chainsaw into use clearing trees from roads, drive ways, and off houses. Now, it is the job of the professionals to try to get power lines back up. But with so many displaced, and with electricity scarce, taking care of basic needs for so many will be a monumental task.

Pray for the families of those that are missing. In one town (Ringgold, GA) not far from where I live, at least 26 people were reported missing after a tornado struck a doomed food store. There is no telling where they went. So many others were killed, as well as injured in the destruction.


Pull Together

One thing that never fails to amaze is the tendency of people to come together in a time of need. Being a good neighbor means more than lending forever a cup of sugar or hand tool. Good neighbors help pull a tree off of your roof; help locate your pet; comfort your little kids while you search for survivors; bring a hot meal to workers; donate blood; or, share a home with the homeless. Pulling together is the “neighborly” thing to do.

Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. – 1Cr 10:24 NASB
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” – Gal 5:14 NASB


But before you come to the South, at least the rural parts, make sure you’re a good neighbor. Down here, in times like this, “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” even if he’s a total stranger. On the other hand, you’d better be careful if you’re not on the up-and-up.  A few blocks away from my house here in Chattanooga, a local policeman’s house was damaged, along with his car. That night, some looters came around trying to find stuff. The warning I photographed says it all. This ain’t no alley, this is a neighborhood, and we look out for each other.

I’d take this guy seriously!


It could have been far worse. As I drove around yesterday, I can’t tell you how many large trees fell just feet away from family homes. Even though many places suffered damage, many, many more were spared. One could be critical and skeptical about it all, but I choose to praise God. Many more lives could have been lost. Many more could have been injured. I shall stand among the living in the “parking lot” and give Him praise, for in Him do we have hope for tomorrow, and in the tomorrow to come.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us. – Rom 8:18 KJV

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At Least It’s Not 107 Degrees!


It’s cold in Chattanooga. How cold is it? I put ice cubes down my shirt just to warm up.

Seriously, this morning schools are delayed two hours because it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just stupid cold for this part of the country.

My daddy used to say, “It’s as cold as a witch’s upper torso.” If you can figure out what that means, more power to ya’.


The funny thing is that no matter what the temperature, whether cold or hot, people are always going to wish it was the opposite. When it’s hot outside people complain. When it’s cold outside people complain. The only people I never hear complain are the ones who have the same climate year round, like the North Pole or Hawaii.

So, as you down here in the South complain about how cold it is, just remember the heat wave of 2012. That was when we would have welcomed a cold snap. I mean, 107 degrees and humid is hot no matter where you live!

“I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13 HCSB

Maybe we should just take a cue from the Apostle Paul and learn to be content – no matter what temperature life may bring. 


Filed under Christian Maturity, current events

Geode It All To Jesus


Christmas has come and gone and the new year is just around the corner. That is why I have not been writing or reading much by way of blogs. It’s just been too hectic. However, I do hope you had a wonderful Christmas (and if you had snow I’m totally jealous).

One of the things that come with holidays is time off from work; when school is out I don’t have to drive a school bus. The downside to Christmas break is that I must go 3 weeks without that income. The upside is that I have more free time to do things with my children, including our exchange student, Freaya.

Lookout Mountain

Back in the middle of December, right after schools dismissed for the break, I decided to take Freaya and Haley (my youngest daughter) up to the top of Lookout Mountain for some free sightseeing. Lookout Mountain – famous for the “Battle Above the Clouds” and Rock City – is not far from where I live. You can actually see the mountain from our front yard.

Lookout Mountain in the distance, as seen from our front yard.

Lookout Mountain in the distance, as seen from our front yard.

The Painting

On the top of Lookout Mountain are several things worth seeing, such as the Incline and Point Park. The view from the overlook at the Incline (the world’s steepest railway – it goes straight up the side of the mountain) is wonderful, especially on a clear day. Likewise, the view from Point Park, famous for it’s iconic view of the Tennessee River and Moccasin Bend is equally stunning.

But it’s in the museum and gift shop next to Point Park where a large painting of the Battle of Lookout Mountain is kept. This was what I really wanted to take Freaya, our exchange student from South Korea, to see. The massive 13’x30′ painting was painted by James Walker, an Englishman. He was paid an incredible $20,000 commission for the work which was completed in 1874.

Freaya and Haley in front of the painting.

Freaya and Haley in front of the painting.

Mountain Memories

On the way down Lookout Mountain I decided to make a quick stop at Mountain Memories, a quaint gift shop right beside the tracks of the Incline. Believe it or not, this was the very first time I had ever stopped at this shop, even though I have lived in Chattanooga most of my life. I guess that’s typical for locals.

Anyway, Mountain Memories is a family-owned business which has been in operation for nearly 90 years (run by the granddaughter of the one who discovered Ruby Falls)! Unlike many other shops, this place sell some really unique items, including handmade quilts and genuine Civil War artifacts, like a bone saw and “carved bullets” (lead shot with teeth marks, the kind left by soldiers having arms and legs amputated – where the term “bite the bullet” came from). I highly recommend you stopping by when you’re in town.

photo 2

Broken and Beautiful

Like I said, there were a lot of unique and unusual gifts for sale at Mountain Memories, but it was some rather common little geodes that caught Freaya’s attention. With all the artifacts from the days of mortal combat on display, Freaya asked an honest question when she first glimpsed the pile of round stones: “Why are they selling rocks?

Haley sorta laughed, then picked up one of the “rocks” and showed her – they were geodes, and one had been broken open.

photo 1 (8)

“These are not just rocks,” Haley said. She went on to tell our guest that what makes them special is that although they may look like rocks, it’s only when you break them that you can see how beautiful they are on the inside.

She said, “You know, it’s a lot like people. We may be ugly on the outside, but it’s when we are broken that you get to see the beautiful on the inside…and what makes us beautiful is Jesus.”

That’s so true, Haley. I’m sorry for what you’ve been put through, but I’m glad you understand what can come from it: the beauty of Christ for all to see. We owe it all to Jesus!

That was a free field trip worth taking!

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A Leader Leads

I don’t think much needs to be said that hasn’t already been said. Nothing I say will make much difference in the big scheme of things.

photo (62)However, in the light of today’s news that President Obama finally….finally….FINALLY requested that all American flags be flown at half-staff, I thought I would step out and take a picture of the flag flying half-staff in front of the church where I pastor.

It has been flying that way since Thursday, July 16…the very same day that a terrorist killed 4 Marines and mortally wounded a Sailor in my city of Chattanooga.

If a leader leads, who was the leader?

You tell me.

Looks like God’s house didn’t need the White House telling us what to do.

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My [Mirrors] Are Above Your [Mirrors]

A Little Context

I would like to set the scene, to provide you with a little context, before I continue with this totally off-the-wall (or maybe on-the-wall) post.

First, I am sitting in the dining area of a large hospital in Chattanooga (the one in the news, actually), sipping on a hot cup of coffee (it’s 100 degrees outside, but it is stinking cold inside). The coffee was for drinking while waiting on my daughter – she is here doing some stuff, the details of which would probably bore you.

Second, I am writing this on my cell phone – my dependable little iPhone 4S with a cracked screen – causing my eyes to lose their ability to focus at a distance.

Third, as a matter most important to the context, I had to go to the men’s room. That’s where I took the accompanying photo, the impetus for this post.

Lots of Questions

Because I am a man of proper upbringing, after making use of the facilities, I stepped up to the sink to wash my hands. However, before I could begin, before I could even turn on the water, I was taken aback by something my mind had a hard time comprehending – a space between the back of the sink and the mirror on the wall.

photo (61)

Hawaiian shirt and New Balance shoes: I’m stylin’.

I must have looked like a dog hearing a strange, new sound. Fortunately, no one else was in the room, so I stood there, perplexed, wondering to myself, “What the heck?” Why was there a space? What would happen if I placed my marbles on the counter? Was there really that big of a gap, or was it just  an illusion? Was I being pranked? Was I on television?!

For a couple of minutes all I could do as I stood at the sink was wonder why anyone would build it this way.  When I finally leaned forward to wash my hands, I saw my feet and thought, “Maybe doctors designed this to see if their shoes needed polishing?” Then I realized I don’t even know what kind of shoes doctors wear. Don’t they usually cover their shoes with footies? Maybe the architects had full-length mirrors to sell? Maybe somebody wanted to show off his plumbing?

Anyway, a simple trip to the bathroom turned into a list of questions. Instead of just accepting things as they were, my questioning nearly led me to spread unhealthy germs by nearly forgetting to wash my hands! So many questions, and I’ll probably never get a satisfactory answer.

God’s Ways

I took a photo of the sink and mirror in question with the intent of quickly posting it to Facebook, including with it some quirky remark. That’s when the Holy Spirit interrupted my thinking and spoke to my heart. He said, “Men question the placement of a mirror, yet they dare to understand all my ways?”

I paused and looked at the picture I was editing on my photo app. Then, in my spirit, I heard, “My ways are higher than your ways. My mirrors are far higher than man’s mirrors.”

So often we question the ways of God, don’t we? Why not just admire the beauty of His Wisdom and rest in His provision? Why not accept the fact that we’re never going to understand why He does all He does, or allows all He allows, and just trust Him?

After all, the last thing we need to be doing in this sin-sick world is spreading germs. 

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It is becoming commonplace to insert the name of a city between a hashtag and “strong,” thereby symbolizing a community’s solidarity following tragedy. There was #Bostonstrong, #Charlestonstrong, and now there’s another one – #Noogastrong (and #ChattanoogaStrong).

It’s becoming all to common, isn’t it? And for me, it’s WAY beyond “close to home”; it IS home! Chattanooga, nearly eight hours away from Charleston, SC, the place I just visited. Chattanooga, the place where I came home to after praying on the steps of Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The world is just too small these days.

But Chattanooga, my city, is not just another hashtag in a list of tragedies. Chattanooga is a strong community with a strong sense of pride. And even though our town is full of nominal, backslidden Christians who can barely tell the difference between theology and skiology, Chattanooga is still a place with strong faith in its veins.


photo (1)Today I got an email from our Mayor’s office. We can pretend that makes me special. It was an invitation to an “interfaith” prayer vigil at Olivet Baptist Church on MLK Boulevard.

(Here is a link to a news story about the prayer vigil.)

At first I felt a little apprehensive, for I am not one who subscribes to the ecumenical belief that all faiths are equally valid and true; I believe Jesus Christ is the only way to God. However, as a Chattanoogan, I felt the need to come together with others, despite our differences, to encourage not only peace, but the realization that good can come from evil, love can conquer hate, and that Jesus is the Way.

Gov. Bill Haslam (TN) was only one of several distinguished speakers at tonight’s meeting (our congressman and both senators were there, too). But it was Governor Haslam who made the case for a community prayer service, even if we considered this city a “Babylon.” He spoke of the captivity of Israel and the command by God to build houses and plant gardens, and “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace”(Jeremiah 29:7).

Uncomfort Zone

One of the most amazing things to see tonight, however, was the number of Muslims who came to the service – a predominately Christian service, in a Baptist church, on what was supposed to have been a day of Muslim religious celebration. They came to show their solidarity with their fellow Chattanoogans. As a matter of fact, the Imam that spoke nearly broke into tears as he condemned the actions of the Muslim shooter.

But what was truly incredible was what happened toward the end of the Imam’s speech. He asked that all those Muslims present who agreed with him, who condemned the actions of July 17, who wanted peace, to stand in unified allegiance, not as Muslims, but as Chattanoogans! They did! At least a hundred or more! All I could think at that moment was, “Man, that guy just became a target.” OH! If only more Muslims would do this publicly!

One man that stood up was an older man who was sitting next to me on my right. I stood up, took his hand to shake it, then embraced him. As we embraced I said, “Thank you!” He said, with tears in his eyes, “No, thank you! I served in the Army, too.” Later he told me that his heart was so heavy, and that he loved Chattanooga so much, that even after he moved to Florida, he kept his Chattanooga license plate – and comes back each year to renew it!

Later, when the meeting was over, I seriously stepped out of my comfort zone – seriously. I walked up to four guys who looked as stereotypically Muslim as could be, reached out my hand, and said, “Thank you for coming.” Of course, in conversation I told them who I was, so…it’s all in God’s hands. My uncomfortable zones are never outside God’s zone.

“Witnesses of Me”

It is easy to believe that everything is out of control, that God and Elvis have left the building. I mean, the more #strongs we see, the more likely we are to conclude that the Enemy is winning, correct? Well, don’t get too discouraged! Remember, the battle isn’t even a contest; it’s fixed – God wins!

Just look at all that has happened. Seriously! Here we have a radical, hate-filled Muslim “extremist” thinking he’s going to bring honor and glory to his cause by killing unarmed Marines, policemen, and everyone else. Sure, his name and cause gets mentioned, but what else happens?

The name of Jesus Christ is broadcast day and night! On radio and television! Around the world! This happened in Charleston, too! What the Enemy meant for harm, God has used to proclaim the forgiving, restoring, gracious love of Risen Saviour! For crying out loud, folks! There were over a hundred Muslims who sat through a Christian prayer service tonight! People were praying – in the name of Jesus! Even politicians!!

Never forget the full ramifications of Acts 1:8 and what it means to be a “witness.” Sometimes our Father calls us to be witnesses of His Son by becoming martyrs (the word translated “witness” [μάρτυς] is the word from which we get “martyr”).

We Need Him

A lot of people came to the prayer vigil that were not followers of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, both Jews and Muslims had words to say, along with “Christians” of every creed and color. Nevertheless, the name of Jesus Christ was proclaimed within those walls and to people watching around the world.

And even though it could be rightly argued that many in attendance worshiped a false god, there was something very positive and encouraging permeating the prayer vigil my little girl and I attended: it was humility. You see, whatever else you want to say, Chattanooga was humble enough to admit that there is a Higher Power to Whom we must go for help in times of need – not Washington or our local mayor – we need God!

I firmly believe Chattanooga is the best mid-size city in America. But it was like what our former Governor, and former presidential candidate, Senator Lamar Alexander said in his final words about the whole “Chattanooga Strong” thing: he prayed, “God, make Chattanooga strong.”

With God’s help, Chattanooga will heal. And as we are blessed with healing, we will be a blessing to the world.

Please continue to pray for Chattanooga, my hometown.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

A powerful prayer was offered by a comrade in arms.

A powerful prayer was offered by a comrade in arms.

National News Media were everywhere.

National News Media were everywhere.


Filed under America, Christian Unity, current events