I feel sorry for my Grandfather. He lived before the discovery that a man’s wallet could cause back trouble. That’s right! Recent research has discovered that a man sitting on his wallet, causes the spinal column to get all out of whack, and thus causes pain. Spine-health reports “sitting on your wallet all day is not only uncomfortable—it may be provoking your sciatica symptoms.” My wallet is much thinner than my grandfather’s wallet, and I received this bad news from a chiropractor several years ago before it made national news. All the things I now have on my cell phone, my grandfather had written on small pieces of paper, stuffed in his wallet. Plus, being a “yellow dog Democrat” he not only did not trust credit cards or banks, he carried a lot of cash in his wallet. Suffice it to say, it was large enough to choke a horse, should a horse have decided to swallow it. Even though this “wallet-causing-pain” seems to be a recent discovery, we may have had this problem for a long time. Could it have been that the Psalmist carried a large wallet in his robe, and thus wrote, “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . Nor any health in my bones” (Psalm 38:3). Funny, but I don’t remember my grandfather ever having back trouble. I guess if you didn’t know it was a problem, it wasn’t.
When I was born, the hospital in Temple, Texas had a show window where they placed their idea of the best-looking baby to be born that day/week. Partly because someone thought I was that baby, and partly because my mother was a registered nurse in the same hospital, I spent a full week in the show window. Of course, I don’t remember it, but I was reminded of it many times through the years. Last week I walked through the new-born section of a local hospital. One cannot do that without also talking a trip down memory lane. First it was the memory of a hospital in McAllen, Texas where our daughter was born. Then memory shifted to a slow trip on an ice-covered road, to a hospital in Greenville, Texas, where our son was born. Another memory shift took me to a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas where my granddaughter was born. Finally, my memory shifted to another Fort Worth, Texas hospital where my grandson was born. What a trip! How can one walk through the new-born section of a hospital without thinking about the days ahead for the new parents (and yes, the new grandparents also), knowing that there will never be another day quite like the day (or night) when their baby was born. You already know what they will soon learn, that one of the amazing things about becoming a parent is that you are no longer your own first priority. You pray that the new parents will raise their babies, “In the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). You pray that the babies will make good use of their years, years that pass more quickly than they, or their parents, can imagine, as you remember the words of legendary sports announcer, Vin Scully, “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star Game and an Old-timers Game.” From a hospital show window in Temple, Texas to the hallways of a local hospital – a long trip; a rush of memories, a heart-felt prayer.
The older I get the less I understand about some things. I don’t understand why good people elect bad politicians. I don’t understand why faithful church members have violent disagreements. I don’t understand why people who love each other make decisions that cause their children to suffer. I don’t understand why rich people spend their money foolishly, even illegally. I don’t understand why God shows public favor on some of His called-out ones and allow others to serve in relative obscurity. I don’t understand why God chose me to travel, serve, speak, write, encourage, befriend, while there were others with seemingly far more talent, skill, intelligence, personality, etc. Following a very profound spiritual experience, song-writer Kris Kristofferson wrote the following words. “Why me Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the blessings I’ve known? Why me Lord? What did I ever do that was worth love from You and the kindness You’ve shown?” The song doesn’t really answer the “Why” question, but the Bible does. When God’s people in Old Testament days wondered why God blessed them more than others, the answer was: “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people, that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). I still don’t understand why God chose to love me so much, but this much I do know, God made me unique, and in the words of Augustine, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
I have a confession. Growing up, it seemed the preachers always used at least one Hebrew or Greek word in every sermon to help clarify or explain the biblical text. This was good. It was helpful. I appreciated it. But I also assumed if I didn’t understand a word or phrase in the worship service, it must be Hebrew or Greek. So, my youthful observation led me to assume the word “Amen” was either Hebrew or Greek for “Sit down.” Every time someone ended a prayer with the word “Amen” we all sat down. It made sense. As I grew older and wiser, I understood the “Amen” was not a command to be seated, but rather a concluding thought to the prayer, meaning, “So be it.” However, the word came to mean “Over and out” or “Signing off here” or just “Good bye for now” and I understood why it was used in public prayer – to indicate the prayer was concluded, and it was indeed time to be seated. But why use the word in private prayer? No one else needed to know the one praying in private was finished with the prayer. Why not leave the prayer open-ended? Maybe God wasn’t finished. After all, prayer is two-way communication isn’t it? How about employing a time of silence before ending your private prayer? Listen for God. The Psalmist ended a prayer with the words, “Truly my soul silently waits for God . . . wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him” (Psalm 62:1, 5). As the Psalmist waited in silence, two thoughts came to him. “God has spoken . . . power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11) and that God would “render to each one according to his work” (Psalm 62:12). Although the Psalmist was disturbed by his circumstances to the point of prayer, he found comfort as he stopped talking to God and started listening to God. So next time you pray in private, don’t say “Amen.” Listen and let God conclude your prayer.
I was born into a family of Southern Baptists, with a pastor father and a missionary oriented mother. My middle name was taken from the name of my parent’s pastor. At the age of ten, I decided on my own to profess my faith in Jesus Christ and join a Southern Baptist church. I spent summers at Southern Baptist youth camps, responding to the call to ministry during one of those camps. I attended and graduated from a Southern Baptist University and then received a master’s and a doctor’s degree from a Southern Baptist Seminary. I pastored two Southern Baptist churches and worked for two Southern Baptist agencies before spending twenty-two years on the faculty of a Southern Baptist Seminary. I have served as Interim Pastor of twenty-four Southern Baptist churches. Needless to say, I was interested in reading the “Houston Chronicle” study of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers. While I respond as only one Southern Baptist, and not on behalf of anyone but myself, I do have a rather solid background for my response. I have known thousands of Southern Baptist ministers (In just my Seminary faculty days alone, I taught over 4000 of them). Yes, I have known a few, but a very few, who have been guilty of sexual abuse. The percentage would be miniscule. The overwhelming majority have been divinely called, morally upright, servants of God, embarrassed and disgusted by the results of the Houston survey. My first response to the study was if even one SBC minister abused someone, it was too many, and was not only unacceptable, but was deserving of discipline and punishment. My second response was the study was a bit heavy in its criticism of Southern Baptists in general. For instance, the study included “deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers” as a part of the “minister” group. While this may be true in some denominations, it is not generally true among Southern Baptist. If you are going to study vocational ministers, do not include non-vocational ministers in the study. The study mentioned 47,000 Southern Baptist churches, yet only identified 250 cases of sexual abuse charges in the past decade and 380 facing allegations in the last twenty years, with 220 convictions. That seems to be a very small percentage for such a wide-spread study. Again, one abuse is too many and comparison is not an excuse, but I wonder about similar percentages if such studies were done among other vocational groups, However, having been found guilty, we must admit our guilt and repent. Then, with the denomination’s help, each autonomous church must do a better job of screening its ministerial candidates (although I am not sure a church could always be successful in predicting such unacceptable behavior). As Interim Pastor, I have both followed pastors who were not held accountable and thus had sexual shortcomings resulting in their termination, and witnessed several churches, becoming so enamored with a prospective pastor, that they overlooked his lack of moral integrity, thus later suffering from his sexual issues. My word to churches seeking new ministers, take your time, do your complete background checks, don’t let your emotions override your judgement, do not decide until all the facts are in. Then find ways to hold your ministers accountable – support groups, accountability partners, etc. My word to ministers (as I said in my January 13, 2019 Manna, “Marked by the High Calling”), “Keep your focus on the prize of the “high calling of God in Christ” (Philippians 3:14), not the low calling of ‘the sins of the flesh’ (Colossians 2:11).” I have more grief than I have solution, but this much I know, ministers must take personal responsibility and “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1).
In my many years of relationship with a Seminary, I’ve seen him come and go. His name is Legion (meaning, “many”). God called him, so he came to Seminary to prepare for that calling. To make ends meet, his wife worked on campus as a Secretary, he likewise worked part-time on campus, and eventually, he served a small church. When he graduated, the Lord who called him to Seminary, did not call him from Seminary. So, he stayed. Employed by the Seminary, he lived out his calling through service. When his time was up, he left. As the years rolled by, Seminary leadership changed, and like in the Old Testament, when a new leader arrived, “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), the new leadership did not know Legion. No inner-office communication announced his death. No one lowered the Seminary flags to half-staff. When the same Lord who called him to Seminary preparation and service, called him Home, he was met with “Well done” (Matthew 25:21). God does not lie. The only ones who are greeted with “Well done” upon their heavenly arrival, are those who have done well. Legion served faithfully. His earthly reward was lacking. His heavenly reward? Well done, Legion. Well done! To the faithful servant, the reward of being faithful over a few things is the same as the reward of being faithful over many things.
As a recent flight was caught in a “holding pattern” the analogy was too obvious for me. Perhaps I’ve been too far to many “celebrations of life” lately. French Philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Allow me to paraphrase: we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings temporarily caught in a human holding pattern, awaiting arrival in heaven. In Philippians 3:20, Paul affirms that “our citizenship is in heaven.” We have sung, “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue” and “I am a stranger here, within a foreign land; my home is far away, upon a golden strand” and again “Beulah Land, I’m longing for you, and some day on thee I’ll stand; there my home shall be eternal, Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land.” In the last few months, I have memorialized family, friends, mentors, colleagues, fellow church members, and others. I’m thankful to still be in my “holding pattern,” and while heaven grows more special with every funeral, I am in no particular hurry to arrive there. So, take your time on my mansion, Lord. With Robert Frost, I have “promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” But, then again, I’m ready when You are, Lord.
I attended a baby shower recently. I don’t usually go to these types of events. For me, going to a ball game seems much more enjoyable. But this one was special. My granddaughter Whitney, and her husband Josh, are expecting their first child in March. Among other things, this means I will be a great-grandfather. It also means I will now be living with a great grandmother, but that’s another article, surely to be written at a later date. The new-born, which is projected to be a boy, already has a lot of blue items, from gifts opened at the shower. I thought I saw one pink item among the gifts. Obviously, it was a gift from someone who wasn’t present at the “reveal party” which is also something I attended. I am well aware that on several occasions, the Bible says we are not to add anything to the Scripture, but I need to add one little attachment to Deuteronomy 4:9, “Take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren.” Could we make that “great grandchildren”? Before you get critical, I asked God if I could add that word, and I got no response, which I have interpreted as an OK. The quote is from C.S. Lewis, (although its source is questioned by some). Whoever said it, it now describes me. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” So, dream along with me as to what this great-grandboy can become. And pray that I live long enough to “teach” him a few things.
When your Pastor stands to proclaim God’s Word is there the appearance of being “prayed up?” You may or may not be able to discern this, but don’t assume that this is the case. Vance Havner borrowed an anonymous quote to describe the possibility that a pastor may not be up to date in his prayer life. “The devil is in constant conspiracy against a preacher who really prays, for it has been said that what a minister is in his prayer closet is what he is, no more, no less.” Granted, it is difficult for a pastor to cover all the ministerial bases each week and may not even know how to pray effectively. After all, the subject of prayer is taught in very few Bible Colleges and Seminaries. Leonard Ravenhill said, “To stand before men on behalf of God is one thing. To stand before God on behalf of men is something entirely different.” An experience early in my ministry shaped my practice of always knelling before God, before standing before people on behalf of God. A pastor should never speak to people about God until speaking with God about the people. But, again, rather than assume your pastor is “prayed-up,” take it upon yourself to be the intercessor. After all, Paul requested of his readers to be “Praying always . . . for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19). If the pastor is “prayed-up” and the church members have done their intercessory work, it might be amazing to see what God would do.
My local newspaper recently gained national attention with an investigative report on sexual abuse by ministers in “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist” churches. The study revealed 412 documented allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 churches, based in 40 states and Canada. Let me quickly add that while I am “independent,” and some would say, a bit “fundamental,” and a life-long Baptist, I am not an “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.” Second, on behalf of ministers everywhere, I’d like to apologize to victims of ministerial abuse. It is never acceptable, nor should it be ignored, or covered up. It is true that many ministers sit dangerously on pedestals, without seat-belts, and when they fall, they deserve correction. While this study focused on one group of churches, it followed a national scandal involving sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests. So, let me broaden the focus of my comments to include all of those called by God to church-related ministry. As a twenty-two-year Seminary professor, I observed first-hand, the moral and ethical failures of both want-to-be ministers, alumni, and colleagues. This is not a new problem, nor a narrow one. It began shortly after the creation and fall of mankind. Early in my ministry, I memorized a verse of scripture (from the King James Bible, which is all we had back then) as something for which I wanted to strive. It was Paul’s standard, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). I focused on three words: “mark” which was later translated “goal;” “prize” which was an award, often given in the public games of the day; and “calling” which was an invitation, and in the New Testament, always used for a divine call from God. I am not a judge (even though that is the meaning of the Hebrew name, Daniel), and now that I am much closer to pressing toward the finish line than kneeling in the starting blocks, I realize the danger in judging others. However, I pass this verse along to my younger ministerial family, and beyond. Keep your focus on the prize of the “high calling of God in Christ” not the low calling of “the sins of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11). No doubt some have been, and will be again, falsely accused. To those, I repeat what I often told my students, “So live, that when the rumors and the negative reports begin no one will believe them.” In other words, be “marked” by the “high calling.”