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 firstname.lastname@example.org,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!
I had been writing this Monday Morning Manna for more than a decade but had never heard this particular mispronunciation. In commenting on my writing, people often pause, trying to remember what it is called. “I appreciate your Monday Morning . . . thing” they will say, or “I read your Monday . . . stuff.” But this sweet lady was so sincere, when she said, “I love your Monday Morning . . . Mania.” What a difference a few letters make. Wikipedia says, “Manna is an edible substance which, according to the Bible, God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert during the forty-year period following the Exodus and prior to the conquest of Canaan.” Every Monday morning, “Dr. Dan’s . . . Manna” is a one paragraph spiritual jump-start for the week – spiritual food to hopefully help get one through the week. But what about “mania”? Wikipedia describes mania as a “maniac-like syndrome.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a maniac is a “mad man, a lunatic,” but it is also “a person characterized by an inordinate or ungovernable enthusiasm for something.” That’s me! At least I possess the ability to laugh at myself, and I laughed at the idea of my “Manna” being called “Mania,” especially since I could be described as having an “inordinate or unforgivable enthusiasm for something!” The Psalmist said of God, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh” (Psalm 2:4). I can just picture God having a good belly laugh at the idea of me being likened to a maniac. O well, have a good week and enjoy a laugh at the expense of a mania-like maniac, manna writer.
I was recently faced with a major decision concerning my future. I realized that the older I got the fewer options I had, and this one was complicated because it involved financial issues. In the midst of the decision, as I was listening for God’s directions, I read Isaiah 30 as a part of my daily Bible reading. When I got to verse 21, I had to pause, as if it were written just for me. “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’.” “Behind,” I wondered. It sure would be easier to know God’s will if He would speak to me in front, rather than behind. However, this was not a first-time experience for me. Several times in my life I have been forced to make a decision without a clear understanding of God’s direction. Each time, I made the decision based on the best understanding of the situation and what I thought, but did not know for sure, God would have me do. Each time, almost immediately following the decision, God affirmed my actions. In other words, God spoke “behind” my decision rather than in front of it. Perhaps this is what the Danish philosopher, theologian, and religious author, Soren Kierkegaard, meant when he said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I am preparing to speak to another group of Senior Adults. There was a day when most of my preparation time was devoted to young adults – college students, seminary students, young congregations, etc. With the passing of time comes the changing of the audiences. I still speak to younger groups, but increasingly the invitations are to share with my own age group, and older. I’m not complaining. I still have audiences, the joy of preparation, and the satisfaction of presentation. From group to group, the truth principles are the same, but the illustrations must be adjusted. I remember the church that had three Sunday morning services – the first was a traditional service (I was one of the younger persons present), the second was a blended service, and the third was a contemporary service (which I think is a Greek word meaning loud and repetitive). I used an illustration of the S&H Green Stamp book to explain redemption. It worked well in the early service, but as the morning went on, I had to do more and more explaining, to more and more, blank faces. I used to quote a little poem when teaching my seminary class on church growth evangelism – “Methods are many, principles few. Methods often change, principles never do.” So we live in the present, learning from, but not living in the past, looking, but not longing for the future. The native Indian tribe known as the Inuit, had a saying, “Yesterday is ashes. Tomorrow is green wood. Only today does the fire burn brightly.” God said it this way in Isaiah 43:18-19, “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing.” So, like the Psalmist, live and rejoice in the moment. “This is the day the Lord has made . . . rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).