When I was young I lived with my grandparents. My Dad was a Chaplain in WW2, stationed in Germany. My mother was in a Sanitarium in west Texas with Tuberculosis. Due to my grandmother’s physical problems, she had a lady come into the house several times each week to assist with cleaning. Ella dipped snuff and when I kept begging for some, she cleaned one of her snuff tins and filled it with coco and sugar and taught me how to keep some in my bottom lip. We were best friends. She would teach me songs from her Toliver’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Ella’s husband was named Dan, and he shopped at my grandfather’s grocery store. I often saw him there and since we shared names, he would slip me a piece of penny candy – “Dan to Dan,” he would say. We were best buds. I grew up loving Ella and Dan Every graduation of mine was accompanied with a nice card and a few dollars. A simple gift arrived as a wedding present. We never had a problem relating to each other. In fact, ours was a relationship of mutual respect. Why do I share this story? Because Ella and Dan were black. I wish they were still alive. I have a few questions to ask them. Things have changed. Society is different. This much is the same – “In Christ’s family there can be no division . . . Among us you are all equal” (Galatians 3:28, MSG).
It was several decades ago this month, having sensed the call of God on my life, I was licensed to the Gospel ministry by the West End Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, where my father was Pastor. Shortly thereafter, I enrolled in Howard Payne College, to major in Bible, and prepare for the ministry. In my Senior year, I was called to be Pastor of the Robinson Springs Baptist Church, near DeLeon, Texas and ordained to the ministry by the First Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, where my father was then pastor. Many years have come and gone, as have the places and specifics of my ministry. However, I can affirm today, serving God has been an ever-increasing blessing. Were there times that were more difficult than others? Yes. Were there times less rewarding than others? No. Numerous songs have been written with the lyrics, “It just keeps getting better” but in the first decade of my ministry, Bill Gaither wrote and recorded: “The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows, the more that I love Him, more love He bestows.” Had I been a musician, I might have written those same words, or something similar. However, that which God said to Ezekiel, could have been said to me: “I will … do better for you than at your beginnings. Then you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:11). I can testify, while the beginnings were exciting and challenging, serving God is better today, than it was then.
Do you remember the cell phone commercial where the guy kept asking, “Can you hear me now?” as he moved from unique location to unique location, attempting to prove that his cell phone company could provide transmission from anywhere? Reminds me of what God may be asking today, although it is not God who is moving, it is we who are on the move. Thanks to COVID-19 regulations, we’ve moved home. We are not in our usual places of work, school, leisure, etc. We’ve even moved from church on Sunday to somewhere in front of a computer, worshipping online. We are a people in transition and God is asking if we can still hear? God’s Old Testament people were in transition – displaced from home – in Babylonian captivity. God was continually trying to communicate with them. It was as if He was asking, “Can you hear me now?” “I have plans for you” God said (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). In the midst of all of today’s transitions, God is asking, can you hear me now? Because I’ve been listening more intently, God’s “plan” for me, in the midst of this transition has become clearer. How about you?
The truth can now be told. While Barber Shops were still under orders to remain closed, during the COVID-19 lock down, my barber called me and asked if I needed my hair trimmed (not cut as that would be illegal). “That or a dog tag” I replied. My Dad once said the worst thing about moving to a new town was having to find a new doctor and a new barber. I’m fortunate to have found both. I’ve had the same barber for about twenty-five years. Obviously, we’ve become good friends, so he offered to meet me at his “non-essential” barber shop. “Park next door” he said. I did so, and wearing my coronavirus mask, I walked to the Barber Shop. He unlocked the door, and then locked it behind us. I noticed the blinds were still closed over the front windows. I got my hair trimmed, and he unlocked the door and let me out. We think this was OK, since I have an essential job of preaching every Sunday, but it was the strangest non-essential haircut that I ever received. One day, Sampson got a non-essential haircut and the enemy waited for him outside the door (Judges 16:19). Just in case what we did was illegal, I’m glad all the police officers in the area of my barber shop were not waiting outside the door, but rather were sheltered in place at “essential” donut and coffee shops.
This coming Thursday will be the 69th annual observance of America’s National Day of Prayer. What many do not realize is that the observance of this day is a national law, not just a day proclaimed by some special interest group. In 1952, President Truman made the National Day of Prayer an annual observance. His action was amended by congress. On May 5, 1988, President Reagan made the National Day of Prayer the first Thursday in May. The theme verse for this year is Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth will be filled, with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” As a member of America’s National Prayer Committee, I invite you to join me in praying for our country on Thursday, May 7. Let us especially pray for an end to and a cure for COVID-19. On July 3, 1849, during a cholera epidemic, President Zachary Taylor proclaimed: “The providence of God has manifested itself in the visitation of a fearful pestilence which is spreading itself throughout the land, it is fitting that a people whose reliance has ever been in His protection should humble themselves before His throne…acknowledging past transgressions, ask a continuance of the Divine mercy.” For more information and assistance, you can go to nationaldayofprayer.org.
My government stimulus check arrived last week. I have two things to say about it. Number one, I am very glad that those in need are able to receive such assistance. Number two, a benefit of being retired is my income has remained the same. I have not been fired, laid-off, or placed on a leave of absence. Therefore, I do not have a pressing need for the extra money. At least I have less need for it than some others that I know. In retirement, I serve in a volunteer position as the Spiritual Life and Leadership Mentor for church planters, pastors, and campus ministers in the WestCoast Baptist Association, which is metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, Canada. Many of these folks are dependent on financial support from friends and churches in the U.S. Obviously, with COVID-19 has come a decrease in income for some financial partners, and they are no longer able to send support to Canada. I, however, am able, and I plan on sharing much of my stimulus check with these Canadian ministers. If you are in a financial situation that is similar to mine, might I suggest you do as I plan on doing. Give some, or all, of your stimulus check to others who are in greater need than you. If you need names of some individuals in need, I will be glad to share their contact information with you. May I just remind you of the words of Jesus, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
Some days, it is not so much who you are as it is where you are. Years ago, when I was the Baptist Campus Minister at the University of Texas, I proved this to be true. One of my staff members and I arrived late for the weekly Austin Baptist Association Pastor’s Luncheon. When we entered the room, someone said, “The Liberals are here, we can start now.” Compared to some of the extreme conservatives in the room and given the fact that we served in a rather liberal university environment, we were considered to be liberal. That same afternoon, I attended the meeting of the university ministers, entering the room with the Director of Campus Crusade. As we entered, someone said, “The Fundies are here, we can start now.” Compared to some of the rather extreme liberals in the room, we were considered to be fundamentalist. So, am I a liberal or a fundamentalist? It guess it all depends on where I am. Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.” Better yet, Paul wrote, “By the grace of God I am what I am (1 Corinthians 15:10). What are you? Where are you?
Yesterday was Easter Sunday and I kept thinking of the word, “empty.” For many churches yesterday’s message of an empty tomb was delivered in an empty worship center. These are the days of coronavirus, when churches are under government orders to remain closed and worship can only happen online. Who would have dreamed that the very technology that was so often cursed, is now the medium through which the gospel is shared? Two thousand years ago all the forces of Hell attempted to stop Jesus, but an empty tomb, occupied only by empty grave clothes, proved that they failed. Yesterday, a vicious virus fell victim to empty churches, as empty Worship Centers were filled with the hope of the resurrection. “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If something is rocking your world, focus on the stone that was removed to reveal an empty tomb.
It had been one of those long, sleepless nights – the kind where you keep waking up and talking to God. The issue causing my insomnia, was troubling, and I kept thinking, that I just needed to keep talking with God about it. After all, I had spent a career teaching and preaching that God wanted to hear from us. It was still dark when I finally gave up, and got up. I got dressed and got in the car to look for a place to eat breakfast, still talking with God. As the car engine came on, the Sirius radio began to play – SXM Channel 65, enLigthen. It was Sheri Easter, singing, “I’ll be quiet so You can hear my heart.” Half way to breakfast, it hit me. God had heard all of my words that He needed to hear. I just needed to be quiet and let God hear my heart. Reflecting on the words of the song, my mind transferred to Psalm 46:10, “Be still, (cease striving, NASB; calm down, Contemporary English Version) and know that I am God.” Then my mind switched to Habakkuk 2:20, “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” or better yet, the paraphrase of The Message, “Quiet everyone—a holy silence. Listen!” Sometimes we need to talk with God. Sometimes we need to just be quiet.
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 an 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.