The license plate border on my vehicle says, “Backing the Blue.” Yet another police officer has been arrested and accused of murder, this time in my own city, and on the heels of a widely publicized trial of a police officer in the adjacent city, now serving ten years for murder. In both cases the officer pulled the trigger, and a life was taken, however consider this fact. The larger the organization – whether it be law enforcement, business, church, military, politics, or sports team – the greater the possibility of someone doing wrong, breaking the law, violating the rules, messing up. While this is sad and needs corrective response, it is even sadder that the entire organization suffers. OK! I admit to being prejudice. I come from a family of first responders, from distant Uncles to immediate family. I have had numerous Seminary students in my classes who were either former or current law enforcement personnel. I am a graduate of the Fort Worth Citizens Police Academy and a twenty-five year participant in Code Blue – Citizens on Patrol, having served several years as a neighborhood Captain. I have numerous law enforcement friends – from causal to close. If all of that were not enough, I was named for the Chief of Police in the city of my birth. But seriously folks, why do we insist that an entire organization is corrupt when one or two members go wrong? Apply this question to the organization of your choice, but for now, let’s focus on law enforcement. I believe in discipline. I believe in justice. I believe in punishment. I also believe in encouragement. In the midst of all the negative voices, I want to state a strong word of support for law enforcement and assure you that the majority of the law enforcement personnel you meet will be outstanding people with a high sense of calling and commitment to their profession. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Just a reminder that the word is “peacemakers” not “piece-makers.” Back the majority with respect.
According to the Book of Genesis, it once rained for “forty days, and forty nights” (Genesis 7:4). According to the DFW Airport weather bureau, last Thursday was the forty-first day in north Texas without even a trace of rain. But nothing stays the same forever. Just like it eventually stopped raining in Genesis, it started raining in north Texas. Thursday, my temperature gage said it was 92 degrees. By late Friday night it read 38 degrees and my rain gage had recorded more than two inches of rain. You know what they say – “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, just wait . . . .” I’ve even heard that during the flood of Noah’s day, parts of west Texas got a quarter of an inch of rain. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that God “sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). True. Most of my neighbors fall into the “just” category, but my one unjust neighbor got the same two inches of rain overnight. About that unjust neighbor, I feel a bit like Mark Twain, who said, “The rain is famous for falling on the just and unjust alike, but if I had the management of such affairs I would rain softly and sweetly on the just, but if I caught a sample of the unjust outdoors I would drown him.” Lots of Texans have been going to church to pray for rain. Of course, most of them leave their umbrellas at home! Longfellow said, “Thy fate is the common fate of all; into each life some rain must fall,” but he also said “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” But, of course, Longfellow didn’t live in Texas. My truck-driver grandfather, who was born in Texas and lived in Texas all of his life, believed that you shouldn’t be angry at the rain, because it wasn’t its fault, since it didn’t know how to fall upwards. Lots of lessons to be learned from the rain.
Sometimes I am easily amused, like sitting in a coffee shop, reading T-shirts, while waiting on an appointment with a friend. On a recent day the back of a nearby t-shirt read, “Together is better,” which was a good thought. Then I noticed a scripture reference underneath, Ecclesiastes 4:9, which reads, “Two are better than one.” As I was able to pick up bits and pieces of the conversation, I realized that the one in the t-shirt was offering spiritual counsel with the other person at the table. It was so refreshing to see someone actually living what they were displaying on their t-shirt. Much better than the t-shirt I saw on another occasion, which read, “I’m only talking to my dog today” as the person chatted continually with a friend. Or the t-shirt that read, “I love New York” worn by a person with a distinctly southern accent. A better t-shirt message might be the words of Helen Keller, who said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” The best thing about togetherness for Christians, is expressed in the words of Jesus who said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Together is better. Together with Jesus is best – whether worn on a t-shirt on not.
A couple of Sundays ago, my pastor preached on Psalm 73, reminding me that I had also preached on that Psalm – several times in fact. It is the age-old conflict of the prosperity of the wicked vs. the suffering of the righteous, and the Psalmist began by asking tough questions. Make no mistake, the wicked do prosper, and our questions make little difference to them. But one must quickly get past the questions to Psalm 73:16-17, “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me – until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood.” In those days, to enter the sanctuary, the tabernacle, or the Temple, was to enter the presence of God. There sits on my shelf, an old book entitled “Settled in the Sanctuary,” published in 1925, written by a retired pastor to ministerial students in the college where he taught. In his book, W.W. Landrum wrote, “Whether I understand or not, God does understand, and by communion with Him I shall have whatever explanation he is pleased to afford a trusting child. And that is all that my mind demands, or my heart craves.” When the Psalmist left the sanctuary, he was just as poor, and the righteous were just as prosperous, and he still had no answer to his question, but now he had a new perspective, making his previous question irrelevant. He had settled it in the presence of God, in the sanctuary. I have a suggestion. Next time you have an unanswered question, head for the sanctuary – or wherever you go to be in the presence of God – and there settle it. You may not come away with an answer, but God’s presence makes many of earth’s questions irrelevant. Martin Luther said it this way: “As long as I have Thee, I wish for nothing else in heaven or on earth.”
It had been awhile since I had counted, but the recent purchase of more books from a used book dealer, sent me back to the shelves to count how many books I possess on the subject of prayer. The new count is 481. A bit excessive for the normal minister/seminary professor, but not for one who for many years occupied one of only two fully endowed chairs of prayer in theological education in the world. Do I agree with everything in these books? Absolutely, not. Am I a better professor/person because of their contents? Absolutely, yes. They remind me of my opening words in the introduction of the book that I compiled for America’s National Prayer Committee, entitled “Giving Ourselves to Prayer: An Acts 6:4 Primer for Ministry” (“we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”) which included the works of eighty authors from across the theological spectrum. I began with the words, “If I agreed with every paragraph in this book, I could have written it myself.” Not meaning to sound arrogant, I was simply paying tribute to the diversity found in the subject of prayer – that same diversity found on my bookshelves in the section devoted to prayer. The fact that I own so many books on prayer reminds of a long-ago published book, entitled “Bull at a New Gate (1965). The chapter on prayer consists of 14 words. It reads, “Go pray! It will do you more good than reading another chapter on prayer.” So, pray or collect books on prayer – either way, you will be blessed.
In the early morning press conference of September 16, 1999, Wedgwood Baptist Church pastor Dr. Al Meredith would speak on behalf of the broken, yet hopeful members of Wedgwood Baptist Church, where on the preceding evening, a lone gunman, using 200 rounds of ammunition and a home-made pipe bomb, had killed seven and wounded seven, before taking his own life: “We will not allow the prince of darkness to overcome the God of light.” Down deep, in the center of our pain, we knew what the Old Testament prophet Micah knew: “When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah7:8), and we testified with John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John1:5). The original book, Night of Tragedy Dawning of Light, was a record of the tragedies and victories of Wednesday, September 15, 1999, and the days following. It was a story of ordinary people with an extraordinary God, and of a church that was found faithful. It was, above all, a story of the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting and its aftermath—a night of tragedy, a dawning of light. When the church began to discuss plans for a twenty-year anniversary, I knew immediately, that the book must be updated. For twenty years, I had observed and participated in the painful, post-shooting days/years of Wedgwood Baptist Church, even co-authoring a book with Pastor Al Meredith for the fifth anniversary of the shooting (“One Anothering: Praying Through Challenges Together”). I had seen the good, the bad, and the ugly faces of trauma, and post trauma. I had sensed it was time for an update – told by the very people who were most closely impacted by the events of September 15, 1999. The twentieth anniversary seemed like the perfect time for such an update. So, asking God to once again, use me as an instrument, we set out to find people who needed to contribute to the book, many of whom, we had not communicated with in years. This past week-end the book, “The Light Shines On” was released, as the church remembered the events of twenty years ago. Twenty years have come and gone since that “Night of Tragedy.” While many details have faded to the back of memories, certain facts are as fresh today as they were in the days following the shooting. Some who were affected are still bitter and angry. Others are still living with questions that have not been answered to their satisfaction. The updated book focuses on the “Dawning of Light” – testimonies of those who were impacted by the shooting and the events surrounding it, and now, two decades later, wish to testify to the faithfulness of God to be ever-present, to walk with us in the light, as well as in the darkness, to be the Light in the midst of darkness. We make no attempt to ignore the negative – teen-agers who grew hardened to the Gospel, and the church; broken relationships, family issues, some even leading to divorce; job difficulties, some leading to termination; even suicide. Satan takes great pride in these negatives, but he stands a loser, and a failure in the face of the positives shared in the updated book, and the light indeed “shines on.”
While two of the three books mentioned above are now out of print, all three can be found on amazon.com. Search for the complete book titles.
Last week’s hurricanes (there were several on the map at the same time) took me back to my first one. We had only been living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas for a few weeks when Hurricane Beulah hit. Having been a category 5 hurricane, it hit land as a category 3 with peak winds of 136 MPH. The hurricane made landfall at the base of the Rio Grande River and came up the river, spanning a then-record 115 tornadoes. At the time, it was the third largest hurricane on record, killing 59 people. We did not understand any of those numbers, nor why people were packing up and driving north out of the Valley. We stayed. We watched the air conditioning unit from the roof of our apartment house blow by our sliding glass door, even as we watched the door itself bend in and out with the wind. Later, we walked out into the eye of the storm, where we saw bright sunlight, and felt no wind. Then it came again from the other direction. When it was over, I waded in waist deep water for several blocks to the Baptist Student Center, where my office was located, only to find a missing roof and lots of water damage inside. But my strongest memory was standing outside in the eye of the storm, with destruction all around me, and more storm on the way. In the years that followed, I would always be fascinated by the reconnaissance airplanes that would fly into the eye of the storm, to get readings on the numbers, and then report how beautiful and calm it was in the eye. Life is like that – there are often storms all around us, but we find safety in the eye, in the presence of the Lord. The writer of Proverbs quotes the Lord saying, “When your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. . . whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure.” I guess that’s why I’ve always loved the chorus to “’Til the Storm Passes By” by Mosie Lister, based on Isaiah 25:4 “For You have been a . . . refuge from the storm.
“’Til the storm passes over, ’til the thunder sounds no more
‘Til the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe ’til the storm passes by.”
One of my all-time favorite things to do was sit on my grandfather’s front porch and listen to him recall his “days of old.” He talked of friendships, missed opportunities, family members, and as always, advice (based on his many years of experience). Isaiah must have been getting old. “Then he remembered the days of old” (Isaiah 63:11). That’s what happens when you get old – you remember “the days of old.” My days of old have outnumbered my days of now, and I find myself wishing I had someone who loved listening to my “days of old” as much as I loved listening to my grandfather’s. The current generation needs to learn that in order to connect, you have to disconnect; in order to listen, you need to look. In the days of old, you had eye contact during a conversation; the person listening, wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands. We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we’ve forgotten the big picture, the people to whom we are listening. In addition, I’ve discovered many people listen only as a time to think of what they can say next, when next should be a time to listen further. Will Rogers once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Enough! I feel much better having gotten this out of my system. Thanks for listening – I mean reading.
I sat around a rectangular table with seven other men, all focused on an eighth man at the head of the table. That eighth man had been named to a prominent and powerful position. The seven were there to pray for the eighth. How many intercessors does it take to reach maximum effectiveness in prayer? Could one intercessor have been just as effective as seven? Would ten or twenty or a hundred intercessors been more effective than the seven present at the table? Jesus took three disciples with him up Gethsemane to intercede for him (Matthew 26:36-38). The Apostle Paul clearly requested prayer from entire groups in each of his New Testament letters to the churches. In Ecclesiastes 4:12, Solomon implies that three is better than two. So how many intercessors does it take to assure God’s response? Surely God can respond to one as easily as God can respond to a hundred. But if only one prays, many are left out of the privilege of intercession and the blessing of observing God’s response. Plus, if I have only one, two or three praying, they may all forget. Sometimes I ask people to pray for me with some concern that they will never remember, much less actually pray effectively. On the other hand, the more intercessors I have, the more likely some will remember and pray effectively. My mother was the greatest, and most effective prayer partner that I ever knew. When she died, I felt I needed to recruit multiple intercessors to replace her. With her, a phone call resulted in one praying saint. Today, a post on social media generates hundreds of potential prayer partners. So, what to do? There is no easy answer, but I would suggest that you err on the side of numbers. While only one may be needed, many could be blessed.
(BTW, I do have an internet-driven prayer support team. If you are not on it and would like to join, e-mail me at email@example.com,or text me at 817-637-4967, your name and e-mail address, and I will add you. You will receive a prayer request/report on the first of each month, and additional requests as circumstances require.
What a visit it was, just last week! He was one of my Dad’s best friends. He was one of my brother’s heroes. During my teen-age years, he was one of my greatest encouragers. Now he is ninety-nine years old and on hospice care. Gone are the days of his distinguished military career as a bomber pilot with the 93rd Bombardment Group in World War II. Gone are the days of his athletic skills. Gone are the days of his deep solo voice. Preceding him in death were his wife and two daughters. A remaining daughter is now his caretaker. “I’m ready” he said, “ready to go tonight or stay around for my 100th birthday, whatever God wants.” His voice was soft, interrupted occasionally by a breathing treatment. He spoke of memories of my Dad, and my brother, and I reminded him of my first sermon – a well-rehearsed and practiced thirty-minute sermon that lasted all of eight minutes. He replied with the same encouraging comment he had used at the conclusion of that sermon, so many years ago – “I like short sermons.” Words from Janet Paschal, quoted by my brother, at my father’s funeral, seem appropriate once again:
”Strike up the band assemble the choir
another soldier’s coming home
another warrior hears the call
he’s waited for so long
he’ll battle no more
cause he won his wars
make sure heaven’s table
has room for at least one more
sing a welcome song
another soldier’s coming home.”
He’s almost finished his course. He has most certainly kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7). We often speak of great saints arriving in heaven to hear God’s welcome of “‘well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21). God does not lie. Not everyone who enters heaven will hear these words. Only those will hear “well done” who have done well. Only those who have served faithfully, will be called “faithful servant.” While not everyone will hear these words, I am convinced that Glenn Martin will hear them, perhaps soon. Well done, my friend. Well done!