Rejoice Always?

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Paul knew how to end a letter!  I imagine when Paul said his final goodbyes to the Church of Ephesus, the Church of Corinth, or the Church of Thessalonica the Christians in those communities of faith were emboldened to share the love of Christ at any cost.  

RBC family, my time with you is short.  The words I can share with you are precious and laced with the sadness of leaving.  They are not different however from any of the words I have preached, taught, shared in hospital rooms or on living room couches.  I want you preach the gospel through your actions and through your words.  I want to love recklessly.  I want you to expand the word family as wide as you can.  I want you to forgive quickly.  I want you to welcome the stranger in your midst.  I want you to have fun.  I want people to know you are a member of Royston Baptist Church by the way you care for everyone you meet.  I don’t want Royston Baptist to be the best kept secret in town anymore.  

Paul gives some good advice, rejoice always.  Please rejoice alongside us.  Rejoice that God is in control of your future as a church,.  Even though you may be sad, rejoice.

Pray without ceasing.  The Barlows covet your prayers—for our boys as they begin life in a new place., for Susan as she considers taking a new job, for me as I transition to a new place of service.  Pray also for RBC—for the new pastor God is calling, for the transition, for the pastor search committee, and for all the staff that must pick up more responsibility.

Give thanks in all circumstances.  I know you can, and I am praying you will!

I love you!  I have been honored to call myself Pastor of Royston Baptist Church.  I can’t wait to see what God has next for you and I am praying for you as you discern,




Coming home from New York while on the plane, I listened in on a conversation of two people in the horse racing industry. One was a jockey who raced the Kentucky Derby five times and the other a seasoned veterinarian who has been on the track at all the major races for years.

They were passionate about horses. They were passionate about racing and the industry. They told story after story that kept me intrigued. Finally, I confessed my eaves dropping and thanked them for their passion and great story telling.

I was left with a question, if two pastors or two dedicated lay persons from different towns met on a plane, would they talk so passionately about their church, about God, about Christianity?  If you are passionate about something, you talk about it. If you love something, you can’t help but tell stories about it. We should not be ashamed to talk about the love of God and the ways we are showing it. I know those two horse lovers weren’t, and it made me more interested. Hopefully we will be the same about the God we love!

The Maker

Pastor Jonathan Barlow

Pastor Jonathan Barlow

This week the children are learning about the Maker.  It is incredible to observe our children experience the revelation—some for the first time—God made each one unique and special.  They are learning God is the Almighty Creator, the Maker of everything!  They are learning about God’s handiwork, God’s delicate and deliberate care.  The children are learning daily about how they are created to love and to worship God!

Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Be encouraged by this revelation.  Let it wash over you again as you read this.  You were not an accident, you were deliberately made, carefully made, wonderfully made!  

When you come to church on Sunday I implore you to ask the children about the Maker and ask them about how they are wonderfully made.  They will know all about it and I imagine it will encourage you to be reminded that just like the children, we are all God’s beloved and all God’s handiwork!  

Life Hacks from the Book of James

If you are a social media user, you have probably seen a video illustrating life hacks.  Life hacks are simple to-do videos explaining how you can make something that is difficult simpler by using the correct tools that are often readily available in your home.  For example,  if you have lots of keys and constantly find yourself trying different ones until you have the correct key to unlock the door, consider using bright colored nail polish and painting the end of the keys to differentiate them.

Pastor Jonathan BArlow

Pastor Jonathan BArlow

This summer we are going to be going through the book of James and looking at Life-Hacks that are found in this short but important book of the Bible.  In fact, James has been used throughout history for catechism because it offers so many practical understandings of how to live the Christian life.

If you are a social media user, you have probably seen a video illustrating life hacks.  Life hacks are simple to-do videos explaining how you can make something that is difficult simpler by using the correct tools that are often readily available in your home.  For example,  if you have lots of keys and constantly find yourself trying different ones until you have the correct key to unlock the door, consider using bright colored nail polish and painting the end of the keys to differentiate them.

This summer we are going to be going through the book of James and looking at Life-Hacks that are found in this short but important book of the Bible.  In fact, James has been used throughout history for catechism because it offers so many practical understandings of how to live the Christian life.

Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.

    Dr. Suess’ book, Oh the Places You’ll Go!, is a classic.  It is also perfect for graduates of all levels, especially high school and college graduates.  The wisdom of this book is worthy of reading yearly, as the advice given changes with each season you are encountering.  What I like most about the book is the hopeful, yet realistic look Suess offers.  

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
— Oh! The Places You'll Go!

    Dr. Suess gifts you with the confidence that you have the brains to accomplish anything.  The possibilities are boundless and you will have the chance to accomplish whatever you decide.  However, Suess tempers that forward momentum with this refrain, 

“Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.”

I would like to offer the graduates the same blessing.  God has gifted you with brains in your head, compassion in your heart, and talent oozing out your ears.  Oh the places you will go and the things you will achieve for the Kingdom of God.  I can’t wait to see it.  Be on the lookout though for the exceptions.  Life has real valleys, really lonely patches, and trials.  The way out of them is to walk through them and trust God to guide you, knowing God will never leave you nor forsake you.  

    Congratulations!  Today is your day.  Royston Baptist Church celebrates with you, we cheer you on from the sideline and we are praying for you!  Oh the places you will go!

We are Better Together

We are better together.

    It is true. In 1st Corinthians 12 Paul reminds us the body of Christ is connected and we are better together. When one member hurts, we all hurt. When one member is glorified, we are all glorified. 

    This is the message I shared at the Community Worship Service this past Sunday. I left a challenge to those in attendance and I want to extend to the church; get to know someone you don’t know very well. This might mean you cross the street and meet your neighbor. It might mean you take a colleague out to lunch. It could mean you pick up the phone and call someone you know, but need to know better. If we can connect, if we can love one another, if we can learn from one another, then there is no telling what we can do for our community. 

    We are better together and I hope you will take the time to meet those in our community who you don’t know yet and start learning from them.

This Sunday We Begin New Series!

This Sunday begins a new sermon series, Kairos Moments with Paul.  The life and writing’s of Paul are critical to our understanding of the early church and the New Testament.   It can seem like a daunting task, where do you even begin.  Paul started so many churches.   There is so much information about his life, how do you even begin.

We are going to look at Paul’s biggest moments, the Kairos moments.  Paul has plenty of Kairos moments: the stoning of Stephen, the road to Damascus, the silent years, confrontation with the Jerusalem council, arrests, ship wrecks, and countless church plants.  What do we really know about Paul’s God moments?  What lessons should we learn from his life?

Make plans to be here this Sunday, April 23rd as we kick off the series with a sermon titled, The Stoning of Stephen.

The Via Dolorosa

Pastor Jonathan Barlow

Pastor Jonathan Barlow

The Super Bowl is by far and away the most important professional football game. The Tony Awards Ceremony is the highlight of live theater. Many people believe Christmas is the most important event in a Christian’s life. I, however, believe that most important event belongs to Easter. I especially believe this when you add in the Passion Narrative, Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem, and then his torturous trek on the Via Dolorosa, ending at Golgotha.  

If the story ended there, on Good Friday at Golgotha, it would be a tragedy.  Thanks be to God it doesn’t end on Friday, and we living today have the good fortune of knowing, as Tony Campolo infamously says, “Sunday’s coming!” The resurrection is the most important event we celebrate as Christians. It’s bigger than the Super Bowl, the Tonys, even Christmas.

Take time and read The Passion Narrative again. Place yourself in another person’s shoes; the disciples and the soldiers keeping watch over Jesus as he dies, Mary the mother of Jesus as she weeps at the cross, or one chanting, “crucify Him.”

The celebration is coming and our last preparation for Easter is before us. Are you preparing to hear the angel proclaim, “He is not here, He is risen”?

Encouragement at the First Mile Marker

When I was in high school I ran cross country. My junior year, the Tigers of Hattiesburg High School had only one male cross country runner, me.  It made my coach’s job pretty easy. I received a great deal of attention that year and could count on my coach being at each mile marker to encourage me along the way. Without fail when the mile marker was coming, I sped up. Without fail when the coach gave me instructions, I felt better about the next stretch of road I was running.

The Lenten season is now fully underway. It didn’t simply begin yesterday, but it is nowhere close to being over either. So I offer you words of encouragement at mile marker one.  First, you can do it. Maybe you didn’t get out the gate the way you had hoped you would, but that doesn’t mean you can’t finish well. Keep going, I know you can do it. Second, you are now fully in the middle of the wilderness journey. There are lessons to be learned here, be listening for the Spirit of God. Third, now is the time to celebrate the absence of what you have chosen to give up.  Remember it is for a reason, to be able to fully enjoy what we will celebrate on Easter Sunday morning.

Like Paul reminded the church in Philippi I remind you today, “I (you) press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me (you) heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Keep going, you’re doing great and I’m proud of you!



By the time you read this newsletter article, Lent will already be upon us.  Each year I make us us aware of these Christian traditions that connect us to the larger body of Christ, and keep us in a rhythm that is different from the world around us.  As everything begins to bloom, followers of Christ choose a time of prayer and penance.  Symbolically we head off to the wilderness along with Jesus to prepare for Easter.

Part of the tradition of Lent is to remove something from your life.  I encourage you to think of this not as a sacrifice but as an offering to focus your heart for Easter.  A new tradition is also bubbling up, adding things.  The Lenten Positive Acts Challenge in one of a myriad of movements that consider adding a positive act during the forty days of Lent. (47 if you include the Sundays)  

Ash Wednesday was March 1st.  Easter is April 16th.  I hope you will take measures to prepare your heart for Easter by considering giving up or adding something into your routine.  I am praying that the time you spend in the wilderness will bear the beautiful results of joy come Sunday morning.  

Church Wish List

I don’t know about you, but I was crushed by the colossal collapse of the Atlanta Falcons a couple of weeks ago.  I wrote on my Facebook wall, “Devastating.”  (If you don’t know what I am referring to, the Atlanta Falcons gave up a 25-point lead in the Super bowl and lost in overtime.)  From my perspective it was just that, devastating.   It wasn’t the same way for everyone else though.  My family, for instance, all pull for the Saints and they were, for the most part, disappointed in the result but thrilled to have seen such a good game.  I have an aunt who pulls for the Patriots and she was ecstatic.  She thought it was the best game she had ever seen!

In this edition of the newsletter there are many “wish list items” for the church.  A few of these I added because I have heard church members mention they wished we could have this item, for instance the chairs in the Family Life Center and the Hearing Assistance Devices for the 11 AM worship service.  The rest of these items the staff has offered up because we are dreaming about the future of the church.  Each of these items plays a part in bringing together some piece of that dream.  If you have a question about any of the items, any of the staff members would love to share their vision for the list items use.

It is my hope and the hope of the staff that God will work in the hearts of some of you reading this newsletter article today to make a way for many of these wish list items to become a reality.  In fact, while I’m dreaming and wishing, I hope all of these and more make there way into the church so we can do our best work to grow for the Kingdom of God.  

From my perspective, this is an exciting time to be at Royston Baptist and I can’t wait to see what the following days bring.  Are you wishing?  Do you have a dream for the church?  Be praying about it!  Be bold enough to ask.  We know from Ephesians 3:20-21 “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Who was Martha Sterns Marshall?

Martha Kate Hall will be this year’s Martha Sterns Marshall Preacher.  Martha Kate works as the Associate Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.  In this role she coordinates the programming of CBF of GA, walks alongside the networking of young Baptists, children, and youth in their curriculum and Christian education.  I have personally seen what an incredible job she does in coordinating, planning, and dreaming about how children and adults can come to know Jesus through bible study and live for Jesus through their actions.  

Martha Kate will be our third Martha Sterns Marshall Preacher.   There are many in our congregagtion who are still unaware of who Martha Sterns Marshall was in Baptist history.  I don’t want to steal Martha Kate’s thunder, as she will be preaching about this, but here is a brief glimpse:

Martha Stearns Marshall, an eighteenth-century Separate Baptist, was a preacher. Her husband, Daniel, converted during the First Great Awakening, and the couple then spent eighteen months living among a tribe of Mohawk Indians, hoping to win them to Christianity.

Stearns, a powerful and eloquent speaker, found in North Carolina “a people almost destitute of religious privileges, but ready to listen to the earnest proclamation of the truth.” In 1755, Stearns founded a Baptist church at Sandy Creek, and within seventeen years, the church grew from 16 to 606 members.

Please make plans to come and hear Martha Kate, our Martha Sterns Marshall Preacher on February 5th.

Principles of Hospitality

1st Peter 4:9: Be hospitable to one another without complaining.

Royston Baptist has seen a lot of guests in the last couple of weeks.  It is exciting to see new faces that have heard from you about what is going on in the church and take the plunge to come and try us out.  To that end, I want to remind you of some general principles of hospitality.  (These come from one of my favorite books, Setting the Table by Danny Meyer)

1) Offer optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a glass half full mentality

2) Be Curious- Ask more questions about the other than you share about yourself

3) Have a strong work ethic- do everything within your power to ensure beforehand everything is ready for a guest, even before they arrive

4) Offer empathy- be mindful of how a guest will feel and have an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and take the actions to make others feel comfortable

5) Be Self -Aware and have integrity- Royston Baptist is a great church, but we are different in some ways than others, don’t be ashamed to know who we are and articulate it clearly

I have boasted so many times before of the kindness of RBC, but I thought these were goo general reminders as we welcome both the faithful and the first timers to RBC.  Thank you for all you do to be such an open and welcoming church, let’s keep it up!

A Mark of Faithfulness

Matthew 9:35

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.

Two weeks is long enough; yet the sickness marches on.  It lingers in our home like an unpleasant odor that won’t go no matter how many candles you light.  I know so many people that are praying for healing.  I know we are doing our part: cleaning, applying Lysol on everything, and more hand washing than ever.  I know other people who have gotten the illness and are now well again.  Then I read this passage from Matthew 9:35 and I am certain it must be a curse, Jesus is going through all the towns and villages and we are the only ones who are not being healed of the sickness!

Have you felt this way before?  Do you feel like this right now?  Unfortunately, God does not always answer our prayers on our timeline or in the way we like.  It does not mean that the character of God has changed and it does not mean you, or my family in this particular instance, are cursed.  

A mark of faithfulness is to trust the love of God in the midst of the difficulty.  A way we deepen our faith is through belief that God is with us when we are sick, lonely, hurting, and sad.  As we start this New Year, maybe things aren’t starting out so well, it certainly hasn’t in our home, but that doesn’t give you reason to lose heart.  God is faithful in our moments of trial and our moments of jubilation.  Give thanks to God in the good times and in the bad times.  God is the same through both.  

Please do pray we get better, this sickness has gone on long enough!  Happy New Year!

Theological Reflections from an Atypical Thanksgiving

    As most of the congregation knows, I spent Thanksgiving with the Barlow family in Disney World.  It was amazing.  Peyton, Nolan, and Boston were over the moon with excitement! They were troopers (actually they were Jedi in training) and went as hard as their little bodies could go.  

    But with all the excitement, something struck me on Thanksgiving Day as I was riding Space Ship Earth in Epcot with my boys.  Sitting there, I should have been listening to the voiceover share about all the achievements humanity has accomplished and will accomplish.  I wasn’t.  I was tuning out the Japanese voiceover because one of my overexcited boys was pressing buttons on the screen and we were now listening to the ride in Japanese instead of English prattle on about things I couldn’t possibly even begin to understand.  

    It was during that lull my mind remembered it was Thanksgiving Day.  I would normally be eating turkey and dressing.  I would traditionally be watching football and catching up with family in an easy chair.  But this year was atypical; I was getting to do something as foreign as the voice I was listening to at that time.  

    I could have sulked over the things that I didn’t get to do because of my atypical Thanksgiving experience.  I could have fretted over what this meant for the future of the traditions our family has carved out through the years.  I could have bemoaned the fact this was so far from my normal routine.  But as I was thinking all of this I remembered that we have a family in Joseph and Mary that kicked off their first ever Christmas together in an atypical way.  They weren’t in the comfort of their home as typical.  They didn’t get pregnant in the typical way.  They didn’t even birth the Savior of the world into the world in a typical way, yet they embraced all of it.

    Are you going to have an atypical Christmas for one reason or another?  Are you sulking, fretting, or bemoaning it?   God has and continues to show up in the midst of some of the most atypical events.  Be on the lookout this Advent and Christmas season, God may just show up if things don’t go quite to plan.  I know God did as I listened to a Japanese voiceover at Space Ship Earth in Epcot instead of Chris Collingsworth in front of a television screen.  Until Christmas Day, we wait and we pray for God to come.

A Spiritual Autobiography

    Have you ever composed a spiritual autobiography?  I’m sure most of you at one point in time read someone’s autobiography, but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about a spiritual autobiography.  

    November is known for a month to be thankful.  Many of you will take time to write down something you are thankful about each day as a way of reminding yourself of all the great things you have in your life, some of you in spite of many difficulties.  I encourage you to do this and more.  

I encourage you to consider taking some time

and writing down a spiritual autobiography.

    I encourage you to consider taking some time and writing down a spiritual autobiography.  Take the time to trace your faith journey, giving thanks at the ways God has carried you through and remembering the lessons you learned through some of the difficult times.  Far too often we have amnesia in matters of faith and we forget all we have learned along the way.  

    God is patient to remind us, but as you spend intentional time this November being thankful, spend a little more time being thoughtful about the journey.  I imagine the two exercises will fit quite nicely together and you will find as you remember your spiritual journey, you have even more for which you are thankful.

Hurricane Matthew Missions

Pastor Jonathan Barlow

Pastor Jonathan Barlow

Matthew 25:35-36 says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.  I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and your clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I have been in conversation with church leaders in Georgia and South Carolina with regards to Hurricane Matthew victims.  I am working to find a short-term mission project for those who are able to go and help with clean up.  I think now is the time for us to act.  If you are able to use a chainsaw and able to move fallen trees, please contact me and I will let you know when details are set for a trip to help.  

Many of you will not be able to get away and help, but you can still be a part.  Lives have been lost, homes ruined, and some people have lost everything.  If you want to give there are several organizations that are helping.  Our two Baptist entities are:

Or send a check to:
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
P.O. Box 102972
tlanta, GA 30368-2972

CBF” with Acct. 17004 in the memo line to:


Or send a check to:
North American Mission Board
P.O. Box 116543,
Atlanta, GA 30368-6543

Please consider going and giving.  Please be in prayer for the people of Haiti, Florida,
Georgia, and the Carolinas who have been affected by Hurricane Matthew.  Now is the
time to be mission-minded.  Now is the time to serve.

Pastor Barlow

What does it mean to be mission minded?

    What does it mean to be mission minded?  Instead of a definition, how about a story from the Bible.  It is one that we all know well, the story of Zacchaeus.  We remember the story because of the song, but many of us forget how reviled Zacchaeus was before Jesus begged him out of the tree.  Many of us forget what a scandal it must have been for Jesus to dine with such a person.  When I reread this story, I see through the eyes of Jesus someone who is mission minded.  

    When you look out at the world around you, at the people in their cars humming by, at the strangers waiting in line before you, and at the person walking up and down the street obviously with nowhere to go, do you see Zacchaeus or someone else?  Do you see someone hurting and looking for someone to call them by name, give them a second chance, pray for them, or something else?

    When we are mission minded we don’t always stop and help, Jesus didn’t even do that, he couldn’t!  When we are mission minded, however, we look for the Karios moment when God is asking us to see the stranger as something different, something more, and when the leading of God tells us to stop, we stop; to give, we give; to share, we share; and to pray, we pray.  It is about a mindset.  It’s about being mission minded.

    Make plans to be with us as we start a new sermon series on Oct. 2nd and learn how to become Mission Minded as individuals and as a church. 

What a Summer!

What a summer it has been!  I am grateful to Caleb and Teresa for making most of these events happen. I am thankful to the volunteers who keep this church humming along without missing a beat.  I am thankful for heart of our church members that keep giving to our many community mission projects.  

I also want to thank Deborah for her tireless work with our worship teams this summer.  If you get a chance, please give her a neck hug and let her know how grateful you are for her work.  It isn’t easy to put forward a bold change of pace team oriented summer schedule that introduces brand new songs still on the radio and gospel music in the same month.  Deborah’s range to lead our church to a place of worship is something we each need to step back and marvel over!  I thank God she was directed here to serve.

Lastly, but certainly not least, thank you to the many front desk volunteers, grounds volunteers, Sunday School teachers, church cleaning crews, and all the committees and councils that keep this church working.  You are the life-blood of Royston Baptist Church.  The church is as clean as it is has ever been.  The outside of the church looks as good as it has ever looked.  The amount of ministry we are able to accomplish week in and week out is pretty outstanding!  

It has been a great summer!  I look forward to all that is coming in the fall.  Be on the lookout for our next newsletter when we preview all that is coming this fall!  It’s going to be great and I hope you will get excited and tell your friends about it, so they can be a part of what is happening at RBC as well!