Hickory Ridge

Hickory Ridge is a small rural community south of Jackson Mississippi and west of Hwy 49 at Florence Mississippi.  These are salt of the earth country folks.  Hickory Ridge Baptist Church popped up on my radar about five years ago, as my friend Gerald Simmons shared with me his visits there as guest worship leader and evangelist.

Gerald began to tell me of his newfound friendship with Pastor Terry Fant and how God had gloriously redeemed Terry from a life of alcoholism and anger.  HRBC allowed Terry and Tina and their sweet family to come onboard, continue to heal, and to share their Story with anyone who would listen.  That began in a small 200-seat country church building.  Today, the story is shared with more than 1,000 people who attend HRBC weekly, who in turn are taking the Story of Redemption to all of Rankin County Mississippi.  The ongoing story of Hickory Ridge is nothing short of a “movement”, as we have heard this week from Pastor Rick Ousley during anointed and Spirit-filled revival worship services.

I have led worship for more than 40 years now.  I began in my teenage years leading traditional Baptist congregations in the ‘new songs’ of the 1970s which sprang out of the 1960s Jesus Movement.  This week at Hickory Ridge, we are singing the ‘new songs’ of worship which have sprung from the 90s modern worship movement as well as the beloved hymns of the past 200 years in the Church.  These folks LOVE to sing and that simply draws on the creative in me as a worship leader!

This week I have watched a small town country church turned “move of God” congregation now reaching thousands in Rankin County, as they pour out their hearts in worship, love and restore broken people, and serve the needs of everyone God will place in their paths.

Pastor Terry Fant’s passion is to preach the Gospel to broken people — people ‘in the ditch’, as Rick Ousley calls ‘us’.  We who have failed, messed up, and missed the mark more times than even our friends and family can tolerate.  Still, God the Father “runs” to meet us as we return from our prodigal pig pens of failure.

If you are in your ditch, or pig pen, or have found yourself fallen and messed up from the crazy turns of life … KNOW that God cares. And He has already planned your comeback party!  Run HOME.  The Father is waiting … and Hickory Ridge will be the first in line to love you back to the Family!


I am reading Pastor Scott Saul’s recently published book, “From Weakness To Strength”.

Scott speaks to a place in my heart that is riddled with personal doubts, memories of failure, moments of grief and tragedy, and an overall sense of frustration with ‘life in ministry’.

As I power through 2018 with all the stuff of life, I am finding that my mid-50s are not exactly turning out as I planned.  Certainly, not as I hoped when I was 25 and filled with huge dreams, aspirations, and an unwavering over-confidence in myself.

Death has visited my family more than a half-dozen times now since Hurricane Katrina ravaged our little piece of existence.  Cancer and other terminal illnesses have seemingly stolen what might have been left in our souls as a ray of hope.  And these monsters we call disease have no regard for age, gender, or station in life.  These demons, and yes they are evil spiritual beings, have but one agenda — kill, steal, destroy.  The Bible discusses this and as a good Bible belt ‘Christian’, I should’ve known to be prepared.  But, I was not.  My wife and children were not.  My extended family were not.

All of a sudden, in moments of death and tragedy, our preschool Bible memory verses and sing-along tunes seem haunting and useless.  The whispers of the enemy in our ears speaks mockery, accusation, and revels in twisting the knife of pain during these solemn moments of hopelessness.

Weakness is a word that near-perfectly describes the emotion of these desperate moments.  Weak. Afraid. Bitter. Resentful. These words describe the range of emotions that come with death and tragedy.

Scott describes different levels of weakness in his book.  As he chronicles his perceived rise to fame and achievement in ministry, Scott reminds us all that “the intoxication of ambition” is relentless.  Ambition and drive are the fuel of go-getters and producers.  We pride ourselves in the ability to power through, to overcome, to get back up one more time.  We cue up our Rocky Balboa playlist, hit the gym or walking track, suck down our caffeine, and blast towards the goal.

Inevitably, we fall.  We get injured. We get fired. Or demoted. Or displaced. And in those moments, our weakness is revealed.

King David, when his weaknesses [plural] were revealed countless times in scripture, nearly always confessed, ” … I have sinned against You O LORD …”. Scripture also describes David as a man after God’s own heart.  David is frequently displayed as a warrior-poet-king who was quick to admit weakness.

Contemporary artist and songwriter Stephen Curtis Chapman penned a classic ballad in the 1990s that rings true for me to this day.  My prayer … once again … in this season of weakness is that God will be revealed as strong and mighty in my life, when my strength is gone.