Joe . . . the Head Dishwasher . . .

The Lord blessed Sandy and me with two great kids . . . Courtney and Chris. They are both grown now, but sometimes I still think about them when they were kids and their years growing-up years. They were so much fun to raise, cool to just hang out with, entertaining to observe, and heart-warming to watch together.

They are both very bright and are always up for a riddle, debate (especially Courtney), brain teaser, perplexing question, life discussion, or challenge—mental or physical. We spent many fun-filled hours in and around the pool . . . talking, laughing . . . I was pushed, pulled, popped, bombed, ganged up on, laughed at, set up, teased, and dunked more times than I care to remember. I cooked many meals for them and their buds on the poolside pit. We spent countless hours around the patio table discussing life, historical events, meaning, Purpose, love, Duty, honor, commitment, Jesus—who He is—and who we are in Him. Our backyard/poolside was the gathering place for them and their buds. We talked about anything and everything! I will always believe that I helped form them, and they helped form me. Some of their buds from that phase of life are still around and occasionally drop by!

Of course, in looking back, I always wish that I had been a better Dad for them, but whatever failings I had, and I certainly had some, I am confident there was never one second when they doubted that I loved both them and their Mom, or either questioned if I would hang around and look after them and provide for them. They knew for certain that the sun would rise and set each day, and they knew that as long as I had life and health, I would be there . . . and I would strive to be the man they needed. I am still committed to that objective.

I always loved their challenges, struggles, and debates with each other—so typical big-sister/little- brother stuff. Courtney: believing in and claiming status and privilege as the “first born” . . . Chris: being a bit smug with the natural strength and athletic advantage of being male. He was bigger, stronger, and more athletic. He had learned to swim at 42-months of age; Courtney at six-years. Sandy’s theory has always been that the earlier the start, the better the swimmer. There were always races going on, as well as tests to determine who could hold their breath underwater the longest, etc.

They were fun at every stage and cycle of life – from their first minutes together! She took charge of him as we drove home from the hospital following his birth. I recall that some enterprising soul had staked a Shetland pony in the road right-of-way; as we passed by, her little brown eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “Daddy, we can trade him for the pony!”

This morning I thought about and chuckled again over one such comical event that occurred in her early college years and his high school years. It was early summer, and they both had summer jobs working on the Island—she in a gift shop, he as a dishwasher in a restaurant. Of course, the Island is a bee-hive of activity and there are always politics and controversy boiling in the cooker. I don’t recall what the issue at that moment was over, but it broke out at our breakfast table early one morning. Courtney announced the current logic on the issue along with the age old cover, “I heard that . . .” Quickly Chris disputed and corrected her statement. Quickly, the discussion turned to the quality of their sources of information. Courtney claiming “Stormy, the dude who drove one of the ferries,” and Chris quickly countered with “Well, I heard it from Joe, the head dishwasher …… and I am sure Joe knows more than that ferry driver!”

Swim . . . or . . . Drown

A couple of night’s back, I was surfing on the new wall-mounted TV in the family room. Sandy and Chris had already retired for the evening, and I was bored. As usually happens, I stumbled upon a movie to watch . . . a John Wayne Western—which I do not often pass up.

There was a scene in that movie which took me back in time . . . to perhaps the age of nine or ten. That does not happen much anymore for me, but it did this time. John Wayne—the Duke—America’s hero of the era, was standing alongside a slow-moving river with a young boy of seven or eight. Through their conversation, the lad acknowledged that he did not know how to swim, to which the Duke quickly grabbed the kid and tossed him, fully-dressed, into the river, while yelling those famous words: “Swim . . . or . . . Drown!” Amazingly, the kid thrashed around for a few minutes, then miraculously became an Olympic-quality swimmer! It was amazing how effective that tried-and-tested method of teaching young boys to swim actually was . . . I personally saw it employed on several such occasions!

I remember a similar experience in my own life, with a quite different result! Having seen that highly-effectiveness teaching method employed on TV fairly often, I personally threw my younger brother, Pete, into a motel pool in El Paso while pronouncing those very words. I never figured out what went wrong, and just assumed that I must have said the words wrong, or that Pete was simply a slow-learner, or something else . . . because all that dude did was trash about in the pool and holler for help—all the while screaming, “I can’t swim!” I managed to fish him back out before he drowned . . . I remember getting into serious trouble for trying to teach Pete to swim . . . I do not recall that dude getting into any trouble for refusing to learn to swim with this age-old proven method.

Over the years, I have had a couple of reoccurring thoughts, well more like questions; those being, perhaps:

1. I acted too hastily in retrieving Pete out of the pool; and
2. I should have simply left the scene and let nature take its own natural course of action. I have been back and forth on this question over the years — typical big brother / little brother stuff.

It Seems to Me . . . I don’t actually know if Pete ever learned how to swim!

Hmmmmm. If Pete did learn to swim, who was it that taught him? Which method did that teacher employ? Did Pete prove to be as difficult of a learner for his second teacher as he had proven to be with me?

I am curious . . . is that actually an industry-accepted method of teaching one to swim? It sure seemed to work for the Duke!

To see the video clip of John Wayne: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9u4fiKjalMU

 

 

If it Doesn’t Kill You . . . It Will Make you Stronger . . .

. . . Is an old country expression—what we always called an “old sayin'” . . . and I am beginning to see the reality of it in my life; to understand what it is saying . . . and even understand why someone said it!

Thirty years ago, we bought a new house to be our home . . . it had never been lived in . . . heck it wasn’t even finished! The builder was building a large spec-house and died before he got it finished. Sandy found it, fell in love, and we bought it from the builder’s widow. Soon after closing, we got busy finishing it and moving in. The next Spring I built a swimming pool in the large back yard. During the pool-construction process, I found a great used mid-sized diving board. Sandy pleaded with me not to install that thing, but if you know anything about me at all, you know I am hard-headed. On the 4th of July, I dove off of the board and hit my head on the bottom of the pool. The impact did severe damage to my neck and skeletal system, and I struggled with great pain and restricted movement for the next 25 years.

In 2013, following an MRI, I had my neck repaired, and in February (3 months ago), I had a very serious spinal cord injury repaired. This injury actually made me paralyzed for a period, and the surgery, while successful, requires months of rehab to recover.

Call it ironic, but I am now using that very pool (less the diving board) to reclaim my strength and health! I spend anywhere from three to five hours each day working out in it. My routine involves brisk, steady, forced marching in chest-high water . . . all the while using oversized aquatic dumbbells . . . being submerged with a weight value of about 45-lbs each. I strive to do 35 reps per minute, and do that for every minute I am in the pool, with the exception of a 30-minute interval while I do “wall work,” which consists of a series of various exercises for legs and lower back.

What an invigorating workout . . . what a strength-building process. For illustration purposes—as a younger guy working with free-weights in the gym, my workouts would typically involve moving something in the range of 35,000-lbs per workout. Today, in theory, my workout includes moving something in the range 275,000-lbs (45-lbs x 35 reps per minute = 1,575 x 60 x 4).

This workout regimen is paying big dividends . . . and I can both see and feel them. In fact, I am currently months ahead of where the neurosurgeon had predicted I would be at this stage.

It has not been easy . . . but it has been good! I am driven by a strong determination, and I am both steadfast and diligent in rehab. I have had more group-rehab in the gym than I would ever want to have had, and in that I have observed others as they struggled with it all. I have spied many of them as they took short-cuts or slacked off when the therapist’s attention was drawn away for a minute. Not me!! I fully well understand there are no short cuts in any of this . . . and with such slothfulness, I am the only person being short-changed. If a therapist asks me for 10 reps, I am going to do 15, and I will do my dead-level best to do the set with the best form and technique I can muster (yes, indeed, form matters greatly). Further, I don’t need a physical therapist to be my pep squad or my cheerleader—this isn’t about him or her; it is about my health—and no one can do this for me. I understand that I must do it all by myself.

But there is some great news in this too . . . I do not have to do it completely in my own strength—the Lord himself has promised that when I am weak, He is strong, and He will permit me to tap into His strength! He has, as always, been good and faithful to His promise!

It didn’t kill me (but it does seem like it did get pretty close) . . . but today, it sure is making me stronger. Not sure what is ahead for me, but you can safely bet that I won’t be diving off any diving boards—I am officially done with them!

Thank you for your prayers. They are being answered!

 

Ark of the Covenant . . .

Do you ever pause and think about how differently you see things than do others? I am always amazed at how differently Sandy and I see things – and we are soul mates who have been together almost 1/2 a century. We have two kids (who we both see differently), and two granddaughters (who we both see differently). The truth be told, we pretty much see everything

Differently . . . that is in part due to the old “Opposites attract” thing, and in part due to the male/female thing. Truth: Sandy and I do well to pause and consider this truth about ourselves, so that we may adjust accordingly. If we do that, we begin to move closer to making the ultimate goal of two-becoming-one more possible.

This thing of seeing things differently and leaving the issue unresolved can result in walls of separation being put up, and them continually being reinforced and, thus, made stronger. Some examples are: Republicans and Democrats, Baptist and Church of Christ, classroom teachers and administrators, cops and robbers, landlords and tenants, and honestly the list is endless.

Do you ever pause and think about how differently you see things than God sees things? I do that quite often. I am, as a rule, both amazed and embarrassed. Yet, again this becomes an opportunity for me to make corrections and adjustments, and thus, moving closer to the ultimate goal of “oneness with the Master.”

Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave and he was carried away in a slave-train to Egypt. Over time, Joseph made the necessary adjustment and saw the thing as God saw it. Joseph could have allowed this sad event to define, dictate, and control his life, but he did not! Many people have allowed rejection to cripple them, but not Joseph. Years later he would lovingly say to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

A sad tragedy of man’s history, and the human story in general, has been man’s lack of interest and the effort made to view life itself, events, and experiences, the past, present, and future as God views them. The Prophet Isaiah warned of this vast difference in Isaiah 55:8, when he explained the difference that exists between God and man and how each views things when he said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the Lord.”

I can think of no greater illustration of this truth, or sadder example, than in the two Covenants which God created for and with humans. Let me explain.

In the Old Testament, with a mighty display of His authority and power, God set the Jewish people free from 400 years of bondage in Egypt. He had Moses lead them to Mt. Sinai. It was there that God revealed His nature, character, integrity, steadfastness, holiness, and dependability to those recently-freed slaves. He explained their history and His promises to their forefathers. He told them of the plans He had for them; He told them of a place He had for them; and He offered a Covenant relationship with them . . . what a wonderful and amazing thing for them. Under this Covenant, God would become their all in all . . . He would become everything to them and for them. He, in all of His majesty, power, strength, and glory brought everything to the table. Sadly, the people had absolutely nothing to bring to the table, other than themselves, but amazingly – for God, and for God only, that was enough, because that was all God wanted was them . . . but He wanted them totally and completely. He wanted their hearts, souls, minds, wills . . . their love . . . their adoration . . . their praise . . . their worship . . . their reverence . . . their respect . . . and their obedience. Amazingly, God wanted a relationship with them—both individually and collectively.

Tragically, they failed to view the Covenant – the relationship – as God viewed it. God viewed it as an expression of His grace, mercy, love, provision, and watch-care. The people viewed it as cumbersome, a heavy yoke, restricting, rigid, and controlling. They enjoyed the provision and protection of God’s offer, but they wanted it on their terms, not on God’s terms. With that heart and mindset, they verbally accepted God’s offer of the Covenant relationship, but in their hearts and minds, they rejected it out of hand. There is an important element of any agreement . . . that being the truth that the Agreement is only as good as the parties’ willingness and intent to live with the terms of the agreement; in this instance, the Covenant.

To illustrate, authenticate, educate, and celebrate the Covenant relationship, God held the people at the mountain for an extended period and did some wonderful things to warm their hearts, to provide them the opportunity to develop a new self-image and identity for themselves – transformed from slaves having no real future, hope, or opportunity – to now being the Children of God, full of potential, promise, hope, and a brilliant future with unlimited opportunity. God had them perform certain tasks and build certain things . . . tasks and things that would serve as pictures, symbols of great things for them under the Covenant relationship. One such thing was the Ark of the Covenant. As a constant sign of the covenant, God instructed the Israelites to make a box according to his own design, a chest in which to place the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments He would carve into the stone. This box, or chest, was called “The
Ark” and was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The ark was to be housed in the inner sanctum of the tabernacle in the desert and eventually in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple when it was built. This box, or chest, was known as the Ark of the Covenant.

The real significance of the Ark was what happened on the lid, which was known as the “Mercy Seat.” That term was derived from a Hebrew word meaning, “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel, or make atonement for.” It was here that the High Priest, and only once each year (Leviticus 16), would enter the Holy of Holies and atone for the sins of the people. The priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed animal upon the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This, and this alone, was the one and only God-approved place on the planet where such atonement could take place under that Old Covenant.

Sadly, the people failed to see and appreciate the purpose, the meaning, and the benefit of the Ark of the Covenant and instead came to view the Ark with something of the attitude of “We have God in the box and we can take Him wherever we go.” Sadly, they only wanted God along in case they encountered a problem . . . such as a powerful adversary coming upon them . . . a shortage of food or water . . . troubling weather . . . and sickness. This is much like a teenage who wants to have a party, wants his dad to pay for the party, and provide the place for the party, . . . but doesn’t want his dad to come to the party!

How was it that they failed to appreciate the constant presence of the cloud by day and the pilar of fire by night—both visual assurances of God’s abiding presence with them? What did they miss in their short sightedness? What of their permanent blessing did they sacrifice on the altar of the immediate under the guise of immediate gratification and comfort (having things their own way)?

Of course, the Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the shed blood of Christ on the Cross for the remission of sin. Paul wrote about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans 3: 24-25. It was in these verses that Paul introduced a tremendous legal term to declare what God did for humanity. He explained that it was here—on the Cross—that “God set Christ forward as a Propitiation by his blood” . . . to make redemption possible, by making atonement for all sin!

The Cross of Christ, thus, under the new and better Covenant, becomes the only place on the planet where God-approved atonement for sin can take place. Jesus’ body was removed from the
Cross, hastily prepared for burial, and placed in a borrowed tomb. Three days later, God raised Jesus from the dead, after which he was seen by many people. He spent 40 days with his disciples, and then visibly, and with an audience present, assented into Heaven where He took His seat at the right hand of God.

His followers were instructed to tell the world what had occurred. This message soon became known as the Gospel: “The Good News.” Since the first time the message was delivered, people have been making decisions about the message and about Jesus. Perhaps it is in the delivery of this wonderful message of love, grace, and mercy where the difference in how God and man each view a thing is greatest demonstrated. God looks on in love and inspires and enables a weak, sinful man who has experienced the atonement and life-transforming power of the
Gospel to publicly testify before sinners who have not yet received atonement and forgiveness and to invite them to receive Christ and experience the new birth. God views this presentation of the Gospel as a sweet and precious extension of His grace and mercy, as a testimony of His love and power to change a human from lost and without hope to becoming a completely new creation. Sadly, many humans fail to view the message in that manner. Oftentimes it is viewed as offensive or even foolish.

In spite of the greatness of the Gospel message and the New Covenant, some men have foolishly, managed to adopt the same attitude which some had under the Old Covenant . . . that being . . . “having God in a box.” Sadly, rather than serving and submitting to God, many have developed a theology that declares that God must do certain things, in certain ways, at certain intervals . . . men who declare what God is going to do . . . and when He will do it. If you don’t believe it, then turn on your TV and start surfing!

Others simply go to Church on Sunday morning and, once there, release God from the box and then when they leave Church, they put God right back in the box until the next time they want or need Him . . . in this culture that process is known as “compartmentalizing.”

In conclusion, the great irony in it all is that:
• sin offends God . . . but man, without Christ, is sadly comfortable with sin;

• man is caught in a terrible snare – God wants to set him free; yet, once freed, man is inclined to try to put God in a box; and

• God desires to set man free . . . man wants to manipulate God.

 

Learning and Thinking . . . or Learning to Think . . . or Thinking to Learn?

I like to think that I know a little something about adult learners after almost a half of a century to teaching them. Early in my career, I read an interesting book, The Adult Learner – An Endangered Species, written by Malcolm Knowles. It was not a great book, but it was a book that made me think about how we learn as adults and it challenged me. I think of the book often. In fact, I think about my role as a teacher often and look for ways to challenge myself to be better . . . to do better . . . and to better articulate the message.

I am married to a lady who has earned a couple of Masters Degrees and will soon have a PhD, all in education or a related field. She has been going to college off and on for 35 years. I have read every book she has brought home—some twice (it usually took twice to get it as books written to that level are not easy reads). Through it all, I have developed a simple philosophy about learning, which is:

Life is Like a Tomato – You must get a little riper each day . . . all the while guarding against becoming completely ripe (the tomato begins to rot the first day after it becomes fully ripe).

In my early years, I believed my teachers enjoyed asking questions which I could not answer (which never proved to be much of a challenge). That was likely not the case, but as I look back I am fairly certain that the system of learning/teaching I grew up under was more about teaching me “what to think,” as opposed to “how to think.” As an adult, opportunities opened for me to teach my seminars and to also teach Bible classes. My great desire was to try to teach folks “how to think,” or more realistically to challenge folks to think. I feel success and appreciation when students ask me questions I can’t easily answer and questions that make me think.

I recall Chris called me one night to chat. He was doing grad work at Truitt Seminar (Baylor) at the time. He said a prof had asked the class, “Can God do anything?” I could just see those young Preacher boys wide-eyed in wonder. I recalled having a philosophy prof ask “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is present to hear, does it make noise?” Everyone was in awe – I was struck with how silly the question was and that the true answer was pointless. I asked Chris how the class responded. He said the general consensus was that God could, indeed, do anything. The prof then asked, Can God make a rock so big and so heavy He can’t pick it up?” Chris then asked if I thought God could do anything? I chuckled and said that I was quite confident that God cannot do anything and everything! He was like, “Wow, Dad you must be kidding!” I said, “No sir! I do not believe God can tell a lie. I do not believe God can break a promise.”

I thought that professor was silly, and I found his question immature. What a privilege to teach/influence those young men who will become preachers. How sad to squander one class on hypothetical questions.

I love what Paul wrote to the Believers at Rome, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Romans 1: 11 – 12

That is what we need to be about—encouraging one another by our faith, in our faith and by our faith!

Phase Two — The examination of our culture and how we got here (The Influence of the Church)

In a recent blog, I described an unusual day in the world of sports and called attention to the staggering amounts being spent to entertain our generation. I asked what that excess said about us as a people. I also tried to discuss the subject of us as a nation being overly privileged, pampered, and quite selfish, and I mentioned that this same stain on a people had shown up on occasion in the Old Testament. I also pointed out that when this was the situation back then, it was oftentimes the result of the government (then a king) and/or the spiritual leadership (the priests) failing to do their jobs as leaders—those to whom the people looked for direction and guidance, and to whom God looked to for educating his people. I questioned if, perhaps, that might also be true in our generation and decided and announced herein that I would attempt to examine and answer that question in a two-part series going forward. Part one was an examination of government’s role—now posted.

This is Part Two; thus the questions: Has the modern day Church failed God in its assigned mission? Has it failed to honor God, to serve in a Godly manner in the training, educating, and equipping of the Saints to serve God? Has it effectively taught: “Love ye one another?” and “Go ye, therefore into all of the world preaching, teaching, baptizing, and making Disciples?”

This is a heavy-duty topic, and I want to qualify my work up-front. I don’t believe it is polite to talk about others behind their backs, so I won’t do that. I am a Southern Baptist and have been since I was 18 years old. Prior to that I was an independent, fundamental Baptist. My comments and opinions expressed herein are directed only toward the SBC. If you, too, are SB and disagree and wish to weigh in, I will honor your efforts. Just write it up, send it to me, and I will have the administrator post your opinion here if you wish. If, however, you have a different affiliation and believe your leadership has fared better, I make the same offer to you.

I want to begin by clearly stating that I believe there exists a great short-coming within the modern-day Church – that being that there is far too much “man” in focus, and not nearly enough God. Secondly, I want to make the distinction that the Bible speaks of the Church in two different contexts: (a) The Church – Universal and (b) The Church – Local. I understand and view those as being:

The Church—universal – this is the group in whole, world-wide, made up of all who have been converted and are now part of the family of God. This is the ever-growing and ever-enlarging group who will one day dwell with God in that special place He has prepared for His family. This is the group who will partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is the bride who will be presented, without spot or blemish, by the Groom to His Father. This group is totally and completely without identity other than being those saved by Jesus Christ.

The Church—local – this is the unnumbered bodies of local congregations that join together all across the globe to worship God. These groups are arranged village-by-village, town-by-town, and community-by-community. Something like 80% of all references to the Church in the New Testament are references to this form of the Church. These are the parts of the whole . . . it is these groups who are charged with growing the Church—universal. That growth is facilitated by the Church—local, educating, training, and enlightening its members of what the Church is called by God to be—both collectively and each of us individually. Trained and educated, about who we are called to be and inspired, motivated, and challenged to rise up and answer the call.

John, the writer of the final book in scripture, was inspired by the Spirit of the Living God to take pen in-hand and record, and declare the amazing things which God permitted him to look forward in time and see. He saw those things from the Isle of Patmos some 2,000 years before they would occur. As John opens Revelation, his attention is quickly directed to seven churches. Some scholars suggest the churches represent a specific church in a different era of time in history and the name suggests something about the inclination of that particular church. To the Church at Ephesus, John wrote, “this is the thing I have against you, you have left your first love, and you have quit doing that which you did at first.”

To the Church at Smyrna he wrote, “I know your afflictions, your persecutions; I know your poverty, but I also know that you are rich.”

As one considers the Church and its history from the Day of Pentecost coming forward to the present, it becomes clear that there has been certain and constant change that has occurred within the Church through history. The Church—local has changed in appearance, and perhaps even in how it functions . . . but there has never been one single change made in the assignment Jesus gave to His Church! There have been, at an earlier time-period, bodies that met alongside a river, in barns, and other places without the benefit of a sound-system, electricity, air-conditioning/heating, or any of the other modern conveniences. From outside looking in, that Church might have looked simpler . . . less complex. Today’s Church, however, is up to its halo in technology: PowerPoint items beamed onto over-head screens, sophisticated sound-systems, the latest and best in musical instruments . . . Praise Teams choreographed to a polished finished; some having their eyes rolled back in their heads, singing . . . almost chanting . . . “praise songs” and singing them over and over and over . . . and the congregation using mobile applications of the Scripture on their personal devises . . . in as many as two-dozen translations . . . and it is fast-paced and slick-looking . . . almost as good at the TV church . . . in all of its glory. As I watch it play out, it frightens me; and to me it all resembles E-N-T-E-R-T-A-I-N-M-E-N-T – all the way to the clapping and cheering. I find it concerning and my sad experience as a Bible teacher within the Church—local is that it all tends to leave folks excited and full of emotion – yet empty of ideas – and ignorant of Biblical truths. In it I see some living in confusion and turmoil.

I believe the folks back in that simpler, earlier Church . . . that Church without all of the modern technology . . . was made up of folks who lived by faith – as commanded by Scripture. What did that look like? Let me suggest that those folks took God’s Word . . . they studied it . . . they learned it . . . they accepted it . . . they followed it . . . they stepped out in it . . . and they operated in it, with a balanced understanding of God’s character and God’s nature.

I fear that this new generation Church . . . is inclined to only speak of those things . . . but in practice, actually move forward in error; that being, stepping out in presumption . . . oftentimes trying to manipulate God . . . and His Church . . . and proceeding in unwarranted boldness.

I don’t intend this to be an indictment of the modern, local Church, because the truth is that each local Church is autonomous – and all are different . . . because each is made up of different people. While that is true, it is also true that the Church—local has changed. To say the least, the Church has certainly become much more experience-oriented. Can that possibly be a by-product of our SBC leadership over the past 30 years placing such focus and attention on “the next big thing” to come down the pike? Did they forget that there is only one “next big thing” for which we are to look and anticipate? That is the return of Jesus . . . in all His power and glory! We are cautioned, prodded, encouraged, instructed, and commanded by a Scripture to “be ready” . . . and assured that it will come like a thief in the night.

I think our leadership has created some confusion for and struggles within the local congregations as they have fussed and fought over some issues that basically boil down to power and direction, regardless of the label they use. Tragically, that behavior and battle has filtered down to and been replayed in many local congregations. None of it inspires us to love one another . . . none of it brings others to Christ . . . nothing in it reflects the love of Christ.

I fear that while our leadership has behaved like the world, it distracted us and slowly allowed some of the world to find its way into the Church’s comings and goings. Many have argued that these have been good changes as it helps draw younger folks to the Church. Personally, I fear that much of the new music is offensive to God . . . I know that some of it is offensive to me. Moreover, I fear that we allow some to step into God’s place and steal the adoration that belongs only to Him . . . as a dazzled congregation stands and claps and cheers over a performance. You might argue that is not what happens, but I would argue that if it causes some of us present to suspect that, then there is something wrong.

I suspect that we have moved into and are now living in an era in which the pulpit tends to be afraid of the pew. Thus, we don’t hear much from the pulpit about hell, sin, and judgment. The man in the pew doesn’t want to be questioned and challenged over his behavior. In fact, the most popular and well-regarded TV preachers today are those whose message is more akin to a book report than it is to a Bible sermon.

Hebrews 4 is rich in message and speaks of a wonderful place God has for His people. It is called “Rest.” It is not so much a “place” to live, as it is a status in which one may dwell spiritually. It is a way of “being” . . . calm and at rest, even though the world is falling apart around you and trouble appears at every turn. It is the calm assurance that everything is ok, because God has His hand on the wheel and He is in control. The Churches to whom this letter was written were under attack and being persecuted. They were in danger of “turning away” from the faith and returning to Judaism. The author of this precious letter to those strugglers of long ago nailed it . . . that is the message for the local Church . . . both then . . . and today . . . in every circumstance . . . every year . . . in every culture.

So, in conclusion, and in reply to the original question, I believe the answer is that the Church . . . by and large . . . has been faithful . . . and performed well in answering its call. (I am speaking of the Church—local of which I am a part). It is, of course, made up of imperfect people and will always struggle with issues of: faithfulness, dedication, duty, submission, dependability, and diligence. It will always experience slothfulness . . . but I am encouraged this morning as I remember the great declaration of Jesus regarding the Church, “This is my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” We are that pearl of great cost . . . our future is glorious . . . certain . . . insured . . . assured, and guaranteed! We have the victory, because we have the Victor. Yet, in spite of all of that, we must remain alert as the enemy is powerful and always active. We ought never to forget that we simply meet at a physical address – a building – but that is not the Church. We are the Church . . . and so, I ask you, how well are we doing? Tragically, many are struggling, and I understand that the average tenure for SBC Pastors in Texas is something less than two years! There are many who will be damaged spiritually going forward as the Church—local struggles forward.

It Seems to me . . . the generation before us avoided many of the silly issues with which we wrestle today and instead put their faith into action and working together built hospitals. Church facilities, children’s homes, summer youth camps, associational facilities, and Baptist Student Union Buildings on college campuses across America. I fear that about all we have managed to build in the past 30 years are walls amongst ourselves . . . walls that Jesus tore down! We need to lay aside the foolishness, and be busy about His business. He is coming again . . . and we must be ready. He is counting on us to get the Bride ready!

Phase One: Examination of our Culture and How we got Here . . . Government Influence

Government’s failure to honor God and to serve citizens in a Godly manner . . .

Throughout history, there have been many governments and forms of governments. Some have been better, some have been worse, and some have been (and continue to be) disastrous. In case you don’t know, God ordained human government and, of course, holds leaders accountable for how each one governs/serves. As Noah and his family exited the ark, God called for and provided general direction for civil government and placed responsibility for care and nurture of the earth and self-government upon humanity.

As with everything else in history, man has had a checkered performance in this role. Oftentimes, man has strayed off after the teachings and philosophy of some they viewed as “thinkers.” Some examples have been:

Ashoka the Great—an Indian emperor who kick-started the global spread of Buddhism and its non-violent propaganda into Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe. His philosophy is believed to have impacted something in the range of 22 billion people in history.

Constantine the Great—established Christianity in the Roman Empire as the primary religion. Of course, it was a significantly varied and distorted form of Christianity from that taught by the Apostles in the first generation. This strain of Christianity varied in areas of doctrines and ordinances and was heavy on sacraments. The difference centered on the question of what God did to accomplish and facilitate man’s redemption verses what man did/does to accomplish/facilitate redemption.

Olympus de Gouges—a political activist in the French Revolution who wrote the Declaration of rights of Women, and thus began the uphill battle of equality for women. Her influence continues today and serves to place women into “a protected class” under American law, and serves as a plank of our nation’s human-rights assistance and demands with developing nations across the globe and who benefit from our support.

Charles Darwin—pioneered the theory of Evolution. Darwin was an English naturalist and promoted the belief that each species has descended over time from common ancestry. The scientific community and a large portion of the population came to accept his theory during Darwin’s lifetime. As this theory strays far from and stands in great conflict and contrast with the Biblical account of Creation, it has had a troubling impact on many people over the past 50 to 60 years and has largely left an entire generation debating the issue that centers on the all-important question of can one know where he came from and have any assurance on where he is going? Of course, that is a great theme of the Bible . . . that God created people to live in a relationship with him, and explains the great extent to which God went to make that relationship possible and declares that his design includes for that relationship to continue into eternity (after man exits physical life on this planet). Today, tragically there are many who have no idea where they came from, where there are going, and convinced that it simply doesn’t matter what they do while they are here on earth. That view of and approach to life has resulted in a culture of gross immorality, illegal drugs, and a population wrestling with an almost epidemic of addicts in this current generation. Darwin’s unproven theory is part of the modern curriculum in the current public education system in America. This theory, combined with the effects of the 1963, 8-to-1 Supreme Court decision in the landmark case of Madalyn Murray O’ Hare and her Religious Freedom Coalition which prevented prayer and Bible-reading in the public school system have worked together to create an environment for our children in the school system that now requires armed guards at the doors of our school house . . . and as disturbing as it is, those guards are not only stationed there to prevent predators from entering the door, but sadly also to serve as protection for faculty, staff, and other students from students who would wreak havoc and endanger life and property. All products of a confused educational system sending mixed signals.

Madalyn Murray O’Hare—founder of the Religious Freedom Coalition, was the primary person and seemingly first to open the door to public awareness of atheist and that warped sense of life, values, meaning, and purpose (at least she was first for my generation). As stated above, her influence and legal challenges of existing laws and existing norms took a heavy toll on American policy and law. Soon religion became a protected class in and of itself – but primarily as a stopgap measure to prevent religious views and beliefs out of government’s way. Today, governments exercise significant authority over churches . . . yet demands separation of church and state when Christians seek to enter the political arena with Christian values. To support and verify the accuracy of my claim of government exercising authority over religious organizations and Churches, I remind you the IRS uses the 501 (C)(3) designation as a club. The 501 (C)(3) designation permits the Church and para-church organizations to collect charitable contributions from members and other donors and then offer tax deductions for the contributions. IRS and the government, over recent years, are increasingly imposing more requirement upon Churches to maintain the status . . . some of those requirements are now beginning to include what may and may not be said in an official capacity. Some of it has to do with how funds may be used and appropriated.

Local governments retain authority over local churches via building permits and such requirements. These requirements are imposed on the local Church to a much greater degree than applied to themselves or other political subdivisions in the jurisdiction.

Karl Marx—a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. He is often referred to as one of the primary architects of modern social science. His work and beliefs have greatly influenced thinking and understanding of labor and its relationship with capital. He authored books that promoted his philosophy which include The
Communist Manifesto and Das Kapatial. His work, philosophy, and teachings—known as Marxism—have influenced labor leaders, unions, and movements, as well as liberal-minded legislators and educators. His theories on societies, economics, and politics promote the belief that society progresses through class struggle and typically promotes and produces strife between the classes.

Through the years, these influences, together with others, have played a role in bringing the culture to its current place.

I must confess that I tend to look back over U. S. History and what I see behind us makes me inclined to view American life as perhaps better than what it actually was. I tend to believe that ours was a simpler, gentler, kinder history as compared to our present. I see back there a time when the Holy Bible was actually used as a textbook in public education for both reading and history. I also see a public-education system designed and operated by Believers that not only permitted and allowed Bible reading and public prayer in school, but actually called for and encouraged the same. I see an era when pretty much all public meetings of local government bodies opened with public prayer. I see a time when there were no struggles over public educators playing a role in sex education in the classroom (that was unheard of), or in the distribution of “safe sex” materials to students, and demonstrations of their proper use, or secretly providing assistance to a pregnant girl in obtaining an abortion. I see a time when it was clearly understood and accepted that the U. S. was a Christian nation and founded upon Biblical principles—not only accepted and understood, but also publicly celebrated and appreciated. There was a time when there were no public debates over a nativity scene exhibited on the courthouse lawn; in fact, such exhibit were completely expected and accepted. I see a history free from the confusing debates of today which wrestles with issues such as same-sex marriage, legalization of recreational drugs, drug screening for welfare recipients, etc. Then, I recall that those public meetings of yesteryear which were opened with public prayer were also held in public buildings that soon became smoke-filled chambers as folks lit up. I also recall that many of the leaders of local governments in that era were fine folks who openly supported all things
Christian, but behind the scenes also did things that created and caused great hardship on fellow citizens simply because of the color of their skin.

It is clear to me that God always had—and continues to have—requirements for public officials and He holds them accountable for their leadership. God clearly expects those in leadership positions to influence the citizens toward Him and His call.

It seems to me . . . that governments—local, national, and international—for the most part all across history . . . have failed to live up to and meet God’s standards for governing. The Old Testament kings are an excellent study if you struggle with the notion that God judges leadership. Rather than create and protect an environment that influences man toward God, tragically, most governments across the modern world have literally created and protected barriers between man and God.

It seems to me . . . from pretty much any reasonable mindset that governments—both of today and of years past—much like the Old Testament kings who ruled over Israel . . . have tragically
Failed in the God-ordained task to which they were called.

One Amazing Day in Sports . . .

One amazing day on the Sports scene . . . here is a list of what went on in the USA on May 3rd:

Yankees vs Sox
Rangers vs Capitals
NFL Draft — 3rd day (Rounds 4 – 7)
Kentucky Derby (said to be the most exciting two minutes in sports)
NBA playoffs — San Antonioni Spurs vs L. A. Clippers (game 7)
Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather (Welter-weight Title Bout)

These were all well-attended, terribly expensive events. As an illustration, early reports had the gate for the boxing match pegged at a mind-blowing payday for promoters, cable service, the MGM Grand in Vegas, and still enabled each boxer to be paid something over $300 million purse, and net an estimated $138 million each. Folks, that is a whopping $138,000 per second. You can bet what happened in Vegas will not stay in Vegas on this monster event.

What does this day and these events say about us . . . and say about our culture? I believe we ought to have an open discussion on this question and examine who we have become, and what, if anything, we might want to do about it.

Of course, there is no way to know the total amount spent on these events today . . . clothing, travel expense, food, airlines, lodging, gambling, parties, and open houses and such—which surely were part of each event; limo and cab fares, parking fees, alcohol, salaries for workers, and the lists and tally goes on and on.

Meanwhile, prisons are full and more are being built at a frightening pace . . . hospitals are struggling to keep up with the demand, and it has been estimated that something like 70% of the patients are there because of physical, emotional, and mental damage done by alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs.

. . . Reports reveal that over 50% of Americans are living on public assistance: food stamps;
. . . Inter-cities across the country are falling apart . . . and are under attack from within;
. . . There seems to be constant fear over possible terrorist attacks, school shootings, and other forms of mass murder;
. . . The Constitution is under attack by the President and his henchmen;
. . . The Supreme Court of the land is rendering decisions on social and moral issues and mandating Federal Law on subjects about which the citizens believe their government ought never be involved. Furthermore, the majority of citizens believe the Court is getting such decisions wrong and in conflict with our history (e. g. wholesale murder of babies/burning our beloved flag in the street, same-sex marriages, privately-owned businesses being forced to provide offensive services upon demand which go against personal convictions of the owner. A couple of recent examples in the news: wedding cakes for same-sex marriages, gun shops/shooting ranges being required to sell ammunition and firearms to Muslims. It seems the next item on the agenda is a law requiring ministers, Churches to perform weddings for same-sex couples.

Tragically, our culture is very confused and has adopted some mindsets and beliefs that are in direct opposition to the Holy Bible, our founding documents, and God’s law. The mood of the day is largely . . . personal comfort . . . unlimited privileges . . . do for yourself . . . pursue wealth above honor . . . promote the growing debate over the very existence of God . . . and thus any need to consider him in our decisions about life.

Babies living in horrible public-housing projects where their families are, for all practical purposes, simply prisoners . . . of street gangs, inside a seriously broken system, and by those who prey on the under-privileged. It is heart-wrenching that many of those babies and their siblings went to bed in those terrible places last night hungry . . . while a grossly spoiled, selfish, and unconcerned upper class ignored it all and spent enough money to operate a small country for a few months.

The Holy Bible speaks in detail about such selfish behavior and neglect of hurting people in times past . . . and it is always shown in a bad light and something which causes great anger in God . . . and judgement by and from God. I fear that our culture better make some great changes . . . and make them soon.

I suspect we are quickly running out of time. Be certain that God hears the cries of those precious little kids as they are murdered and denied the life He gave them . . . and He also hears the pitiful cries of those who survived, only to go to bed with their little bellies empty . . . night after night. Be equally certain that the one and only God of this universe always delivers mercy to the weak and depressed . . . and dispenses Justice to the calloused.

I am concerned about what is happening to our culture . . . the enemy has been ever so faithful. That wicked dude sure does his job . . .

In the Old Testament, the blame mostly indicted for this situation is mostly directed toward either the King (government) or the Priests and sometimes Prophet (those with a direct commission from God to teach and educate the public of God’s standards of behavior—in our case—the Church). Going forward, I will be looking at what each of those in this generation has done to fuel this modern day wickedness and selfishness.

Please feel free to set me straight as you deem appropriate . . .

 

 

Folks are Watching . . .

Yesterday my text-devotion was about Chris and me going to a local restaurant for a bowl of gumbo. I wrote that the service was bad, the waitress rude, and the gumbo was mostly juice — very little stock. The stock is what makes gumbo . . . well, gumbo! Without the stock, it is simply fishy bullion. Yet, they charged us full price, just as if everything had been perfect. In the text-devotion, I asked the question, “How should a Believer handle such a situation?”

Instantly, my phone began to sound off as responses flooded in. Bingo . . . I had opened a subject about which folks were interested and had opinions . . . and wanted to sound off about. The truth is, everyone has had this same experience, at one time or another. Regardless of how sweet we want to be about things, it is a very frustrating experience. But because it is frustrating, it does not give us license to behave poorly (that is what the natural man does).

The text-devotion group is large and growing. It seems that in our busy culture, this is a preferred means of communication for many and something that can be done anywhere (except driving!!) and done almost anonymously, I am the only person who sees folks’ comments.

I was both surprised and pleased with most replies . . . while I was also surprised and (shame on me) tickled by other replies. It was something like a Jerry Springer episode . . . and might have benefitted by having a couple of bouncers.

Truth be told, God’s family is oftentimes much like our own biological families. It seems there will always be the James O’Day personality types (the pilgrim who insisted upon guarding “his right-of-way”) . . . as well as the Jack Spat and wife personality types (the clean platter couple), and a wide assortment of others in between.

Some urged patience, others counseled kindness, a few proposed helping the waitress by employing shock therapy and withholding the tip to accelerate her learning . . . a few suggested prayer, others said it simply was not an environment that encouraged prayer.

As we sat at the table and I observed it all, I engaged Chris in a conversation about it. Here is what I texted folks as being Chris’ method of dealing with it:

Chris is so kind and forgiving of waiters . . . and places the blame on the establishment. I asked: even the rudeness? He insists that the proper way to handle it is:
1. Thank God for the juice — there are folks with zero.
2. Pray for the server.
3. Thank God that we can leave when we want to—the staff is stuck.
4. Thank God we are able to go out for lunch — a while back were eating hospital food.

My conclusion: the Lord sure is letting me hang out with a fine man. Perhaps I can learn from him!

My friend, Steve Roland, who has only been walking with the Lord about five years, had a reply much like Chris’. Here is what I wrote back to him:

I will tell you something you don’t know about — related to this topic! Last year, you and Cindy took my daughter, Courtney, and me to the Red Barn in San Antonio for dinner. The waitress came to our table just as you were about to say the blessing. You paused, told the waitress that we were about to thank God for his provision and asked how we might pray for her. You held out your hand and invited her to join us in prayer, and she responded!

To this very day Courtney says that was the classiest thing she has ever seen! I concur and believe your kindness caused Jesus to smile . . . It sure made me smile!

People are watching . . . they are forming opinions . . . for good or bad!

Thanks for being a great witness for my daughter of what a man is to be, and a solid example for the waitress of how a Believer treats folks. I am thrilled with your growth and development . . . and I rejoice!

Today, I say to you, “Folks are watching . . . we are called to reflect the love of Christ.”