Thanks to the Coronavirus, I am sheltered in place, but I am also going cold turkey. Wikipedia defines “cold turkey” as “the abrupt cessation of a substance dependence and the resulting unpleasant experience,” No, I don’t have any drug addictions to cancel, nor am I am alcoholic, and I never smoked, except once in first grade, when my next-door-neighbor friend got a pack of his father’s cigarettes so he and I could smoke them behind the barn. Two weeks later, I stopped vomiting and color returned to my face. Funny how I’ve never desired another cigarette. So, what kind of cold turkey am I experiencing? Sports. Due to coronavirus all spring sports have been cancelled. No March madness. No spring training baseball on TV. Nothing on the Golf Channel. Ice Hockey is over, even in Canada. NASCAR engines are silent. A recent weekend TV listing in the newspaper Sports Section stated, “No live or same-day taped events.” I don’t have cold sweats, but I am having strange withdrawal symptoms, like watching multiple re-runs of “All in the Family” followed by “Sanford and Son.” Oh, and I’ve been spending more time reading my Bible, and that’s good. Just this week, I was reminded that God’s people were told to “shelter in place” so to speak: “You shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning” (Exodus 12:22). So, it’s not so bad. God is with us. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). If you are “sheltered in place,” you are not alone, nor are you alone if you are going cold turkey on sports.
I had occasionally sung in the shower, but I had never sung at the sink before. Now, thanks to the CaronaVirus, I am told to wash my hands many times each day and to continue for a minimum of twenty seconds. (I confess I have not washed enough to reach the level of one who admitted that he had washed his hands so many times, he found his 9th grade Algebra cheat notes.) To assist, it is suggested that sing while I wash. I tried singing Happy Birthday, but I aged too fast. Singing my school alma mater got tiring since our tradition is to always stand and face Old Main as we sing. I tried a few hymns, but could only remember the first, second, and last verse (only readers my age and older will understand this), finally I settled on some Willie Nelson favorites. Then I remembered that the Psalms speak often of singing “a new song” (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1). While I have written poetry, I had only seldom attempted to write songs. But, why not? After all, my age group has been told to stay at home all day, so I’m looking for things to fill my time. How’s this (with partial apologies to a really old Palacios Baptist Encampment song):
“Om-pa, om-pa, om-pa, om-pa,
killy, killy, killy, killy,
wash, wash, wash, wash,
key-eye, key-eye, ki-yah.
All hail to my good health; the sink is where I always start.
All hail to my clean hands, I pray they always match my heart.”
Thank you! Thank you very much!
“He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4). “I will wash my hands in innocence” (Psalm 26:6).
Two facts face us today. We are in a global crisis – a pandemic. No use to quote statistics related to the Caronavirus (COVID-19), since they are changing so rapidly that there will be a wide gap between what I write and what you read. The second fact is that leaders from presidents, to governors, to mayors to religious leaders are calling for days and times of prayer. If you are not one who prays on a regular basis, you may need some assistance. After all, crisis praying is by nature a spasmodic cry of emergency rather than the consistent communication of a godly life. Crisis is not the best time to get acquainted or re-acquainted with God. One thing for sure, he prays best in crisis, who prays consistently before crisis. If you are a regular pray-er, perhaps you can share this with someone who is not. So, how do we pray in times of crisis? Consider the model of Jesus, praying in Gethsemane, as recorded in Matthew 26. First, he called on His Father. Only children of God can be assured of being heard when they call on their heavenly father. While others may be heard, there is sufficient biblical evidence that God listens to the prayers of His children. To send the prayer anywhere else is useless, although I read often of someone who is “sending prayers your way.” Facing imminent death, Jesus taught us how to face the crisis head-on – “Stay here and watch with Me” . . . “He went a little farther and fell on His face and prayed” (Matthew 26:38). Then Jesus defined the crisis – ““My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). Next, Jesus evaluated the options – “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). Finally, Jesus came to a firm decision – “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). In Luke’s account of the Gethsemane experience, another dimension of crisis praying appears, namely that Jesus was empowered to face the crisis – “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43). These are crisis times, times that call not only for prayer, but for correct prayer. Let us pray!
Recently I passed through Buffalo, Texas and wondered. Have you ever reflected on an early life decision and wondered how things might have gone had you made a different decision? I was in my final semester of my first seminary degree and serving as pastor of my second church, when two choices presented themselves to me. I could move to a larger, full-time pastorate in Buffalo, Texas or I could begin collegiate ministry at Pan American College in Edinburg, Texas near the Mexican border. I had pastoral experience. I had no collegiate ministry experience, nor did I even know where Edinburg was, and I had never heard of Pan American College (now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley). So, I decided on what I felt God leading — collegiate ministry. I wonder how things would be different had I chosen Buffalo? For one thing, apart from family members and classmates, I might not have ever met the rest of my Monday Morning Manna readers. In retrospect, the Buffalo vs. college ministry decision seems to have been from the Lord. I wish I could say with the writer of Proverbs, “every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33), but others appear not to have been. How about you? Ever wondered about a decision?
This past weekend I attended my High School class reunion – Reagan High School in Houston, Texas. The name was changed a few years ago by the Houston School Board, because they discovered that John H. Reagan was actually Postmaster of the Confederacy, and that was considered too racist. The school name was returned to its original name – Heights High School, so named at its beginning in 1904, because it was located in the Heights area of Houston. But that was not the only change. Classmates, who were with us at the last reunion, five years ago, were no longer with us. My best friend, Jimmy Don, died several years ago, and I officiated his funeral. My friend, Bill, told me at our last reunion, that he often quoted my “Monday Morning Manna” and I wasn’t even aware that he read it. A very cute girl (who shall remain nameless) confessed that she had been Baptist all her life. Interesting. Had I known that then, I would have dated her, but, by parental rule, I was only allowed to date Baptist girls, and I didn’t know she was a Baptist. Well, this reunion was marked by renewed friendships, and relived experiences. It seemed that many sentences began with, “Do you remember . . .” Surely memory is one of God’s best gifts to us. What Paul said of the church in Philippi, I would say of my classmates, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).
Do you ever think about who you would call if you had a crisis in the middle of the night or while traveling in the middle of nowhere? I was once in a vehicle in the wilderness of a west Africa nation, when someone asked where we were, to which the missionary replied, “We’re fifteen miles beyond the Great Commission.” We laughed, but it set us to thinking. Is the one on whom you call, the one to whom you pray, available at all hours, odd hours, from wherever you may be? The Psalmist says, “The goodness of God endures continually” (Psalm 52:1). The communication link between man and God is always open. We are never far from His presence, nor is He far from us. Through God’s Holy Spirit, He is available to us always and everywhere. Max Lucado said, “We (Christians) are always in the presence of God. There is never a non-sacred moment! His presence never diminishes. Our awareness of His presence may falter, but the reality of His presence never changes.” The Message paraphrases Psalm 52:1 as, “God’s mercy carries the day.” All day. Every day. I’m thankful today that we have a 24/7/52 God with whom I can communicate, and on whom I can depend.
A frequent question that follows an unwise action is, “What were you thinking?” It usually implies that had you been thinking properly, you would not have done what you did. An early example for me was watching my buddies smoke grapevine stems. Thinking I might enjoy that also, I lit up and inhaled, only to get a mouth full of ants. “What were you thinking?” Much later in life, I decided I was strong enough to carry heavy luggage all over Germany during a sabbatical leave. That thought resulted in hernia surgery. What were you thinking? Sometimes we allow our actions to overrule our thoughts. Mark Twain said it this way, “Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts or happenings. It consist mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.” The writer of Provers said it like this, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). When thoughts determine actions, we do better. When actions precede thoughts, we often get in trouble. What are you planning to do today? Think about it.
I lost another friend last week. Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr. was a distinguished scholar, remembered by former students as a kind and gracious gentleman. He taught at Southwestern Baptist Seminary from 1949 to 1959 and again from 1979 to 1997. In addition, he taught at Southern Baptist Seminary from 1959 to 1973 and at Baylor University from 1973 to 1979.While some will eulogize him for his classroom teaching, others will refer to his writings, best known for his two- volume work, “Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical.” I will remember him for his humor, shared in casual conversations in our shared faculty office suite. He once told me of an absent-minded professor who was stopped by a student as he walked across the campus. At the conclusion of a lengthy conversation, the professor asked, “Can you tell me which way I was walking when you stopped me?” The student pointed the direction, to which the Prof. replied, “Good! That means I’ve had lunch.” Again, discussing our aging memories, Dr. Garrett said memory was similar to the track at the cleaners that carries clothes around and around the building until it gets them to the front desk. Then he added, the older one gets, the slower that thing moves.” I will miss him, but heaven is looking better all the time. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).
It is not unusual to have two songs or hymns merged together, but this one was a bit strange. While attending a recent meeting in an Amish owned hotel I heard on the background soundtrack, the mixture of the 1970s classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the 1770s classic “Amazing Grace” by John Newton. The 1970s classic became Simon & Garfunkel’s biggest hit single, and it is often considered their signature song. It became one of the most performed songs of the twentieth century, with over 50 artists, among them Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin who, according to some, “took the song to church”. Listening to a gospel group’s version of the 19th-Century spiritual “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” over and over again in his Upper East Side apartment, Simon was thunderstruck by a line, “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name,” the voice promising to be a bridge obviously being that of God. The New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint liked to say: “That song had two writers: Paul Simon and God.” Of course, the significance of “Amazing Grace” speaks for itself. I’m not sure how I feel about the merging of these two, but I did find it interesting. “I’m on your side, when times get rough, and friends just can’t be found.” “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Mixed music with a message!
I’ve been brushing off old lecture notes, and adding new thoughts to them. Why, you ask? Because today, I’m going back – back to the classroom. No, not back on the faculty, but back to help prepare want-a-be preachers to preach revival meetings as a part of Southwestern Baptist Seminary’s spring revival practicum (now called, “Revive This Nation”). I directed this program for twenty-three years before my retirement, then continued to be asked to take few minutes at the beginning of each spring semester to review the history for current students, but now I have been invited to take the first lecture on spiritual preparation of the student to be an instrument God can use for revival in a local church. I do so with excitement, mixed with a bit of healthy fear. This is a different generation. My reputation is unknown to these students. Will they hear what I say? Will I be another old, retired professor, seeking past glory at their expense? But I accepted the invitation. I’m going to do it. I love a quote that is widely misattributed to Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I’m not sure I have twenty more years left, but I get the point. I like a quote from the Psalmist even more, “When I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation.” (Psalm 71:18). What are you declaring to this generation?