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?
I was asked to take the lead at a Prayer Breakfast for Dr. Adam Greenway, the 9th President of Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Having served on the faculty of this institution for more than two decades, Dr. Greenway is one of my former students. So I gladly accepted the invitation to lead. However the date of the Prayer Breakfast was changed to a day when I was to be out of the state. Thus, I never led the Prayer Breakfast. But why let preparation go to waste? I will share my thoughts with my Manna readers, and ask you to pray for leaders that you know. So, have another cup of coffee and consider this a virtual prayer breakfast. In preparation, I faced the question – what do you say when asked to lead such an important meeting – for the President of a large, influential, global-impacting, institution? One of my favorite Old Testament passages is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” There are so many applications that can be made with this passage, but time was short, so I had planned to focus on “in all your ways.” Many are the “ways” of a leader. Varied are the needs for prayer support. Each person present was to select a “way” and pray accordingly. Think about it this week. If you could pray for a “way” of an influential leader, what would you choose? How about selecting a leader that you know, and pray that for them. Then my Prayer Breakfast preparation will not go for naught. Pass the coffee please.
A new term has been added to modern discussions. I’m hearing the term “exit ramp” used to describe everything from how to end a negotiation, to how to end an assignment. Recently a political candidate spoke of running full speed for office, and not planning an “exit ramp” if it didn’t work out. Best-selling author, Karen Salmansohn wrote, “The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.” Have you ever begun a project, believing it was of God, then struggled along the way? Ever wondered if there really was an end to a godly beginning? It’s like finding the correct entrance ramp but failing to find the right exit ramp. In the Old Testament, Solomon was building the Temple, and apparently struggling with the plans he had been given to finish it. That’s when his father, David, said to him, “Be strong and of good courage . . . do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God—my God—will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you, until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 28:20). Stop looking for an exit ramp. Stay faithful to the task, and in His time, God will provide the exit ramp.
There comes a day when one attends more funerals than birthday parties. I’ve been to an unusual number of funerals lately and noticed similarities. People walked by the casket and said things to each other like how natural the deceased looked, as if that were something to look forward to. A minister and possibly a family member or two would say nice things about the one in the casket, as if they could hear. There were flowers, obviously for the benefit of the observers, since dead noses can’t smell roses. And when the service was over, family and friends would likely go to the home of the deceased and eat potato salad and ham, given in love and appreciation by friends. More stories would be shared. I know that one day I will be the object of all of this, and I only regret that I won’t be alert to experience it. But to the point of my paragraph – I’ve had a similar thought at every recent funeral – I wish I had been a better friend to the deceased. The Apostle Paul encourages us to “comfort each other and edify one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I enjoy my busy lifestyle and my often, crowded agenda, except at funerals, when I experience regret. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, since some seem destined to be broken, but I’ll try hard to keep this one – doing a better job of being a friend with my friends. How about you?
This Monday, December 30, is a special day. It is my birthday. I’m not sure how I got this old. Dr. Seuss said, “How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before it is June. My goodness how time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” I do remember when I was young, my birthday parties were always occasion for someone else’s fun. My parents planned things that were more enjoyable for my friends than for me. I’ve never been much into horseback riding, yet I had a birthday party at the Post Oak Stables in Houston. I didn’t much care for Playland Park, a forerunner of Six Flags and Astroworld, but I had a couple of birthday parties there. Eating Hot Dogs before riding the Roller Coaster, never worked well for me. One good thing on the calendar was that my birthday was soon followed with New Year’s Day, which featured resolutions and future dreams. Not sure what I will do on my birthday this year, but a couple of days later, I will be focusing on the future. C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” I’ve got a few goals yet to set, and a dream or two left to dream. How about you? How about this one from the Psalmist, “I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet” (Psalm 27:4, The Message). Happy New Year!
Do you give any Christmas gifts to people you don’t know personally – like the postman, the firefighter, the police officer, others who give to you, but never meet you? For the past twenty-plus years I have enjoyed a Christmas Eve practice of giving to police officers I do not know. It started after 9/11, when everyone was expressing thanks for first responders. I share my practice with you this Christmas with a suggestion that you find a person or group and do likewise. My giving was started as an anonymous act. I would purchase a stack of coffee shop gift cards, then drive around on Christmas Eve until I saw a police officer. Without introducing myself, I would simply hand them a gift card, thank them for working on Christmas Eve, and wish them a merry Christmas. Then several years ago I got caught. An officer recorded my license plate number, looked me up, had other officers sign a thank-you card, and delivered it to my house late on Christmas Eve. I still try to be anonymous, but if I get caught it is OK. It is one of my favorite Christmas things to do. If I don’t give out all my cards on Christmas Eve, I go back out on Christmas morning and give out the remainder. Until last year, I had never had an officer refuse my gift. Last year, one officer replied, “No thank you. I don’t celebrate this holiday.” My response was, “How about taking this gift card and giving it to another officer.” He agreed. So what will you give this Christmas to someone who gives to you? Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).