I’ve heard my former student, Dr. Adam Greenway speak several times since he recently became the ninth President of Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Each time, he acknowledged professors who impacted his life when he was a student, causing me to reflect on my own seminary student days. I arrived at seminary with a combination of educational burn-out and non-specific ministerial career goals. Truthfully, I didn’t want to be there, but I knew God had called me there to prepare for a lifetime of service. So, I’ve been reflecting on Evangelism Professor Dr. Roy Fish, who taught me evangelism with compassion; Missions Professor Dr. Cal Guy, who taught me that even rock-like soil would produce if you watered it with enough tears; Old Testament Professor Dr. David Garland, whose pre-lecture prayers were often as good as the lectures; Biblical Background Professors who taught me you don’t know it, until you know it on the map; Preaching Professors who taught me that every sermon needed explanation, application, and illustration, and furthermore, to stand up, speak up, and shut up; Christian Ethics Professors who taught me to write fifty-word themes on controversial subjects; Pastoral Ministry Professors who taught me to be pastoral, whatever my specific calling was; New Testament Professors who, when they got to the book of Revelation, taught me that we would someday gather at the middle gate on the east side of heaven and discuss who was correct, if in fact, it still mattered then; Church History Professors who confirmed why I was a Baptist; Systematic Theology Professors assured me that we need to spend less time worrying about people getting their robes on over their wings, and more time concerned about people getting their pants on over their tails; Philosophy of Religion Professors who taught me that I wasn’t smart enough to ask certain questions yet; and the list goes on. Together, they taught me things I didn’t know that I needed to learn, and more than that, they instilled in me a passion to continue learning, as I departed to serve. 2 Timothy 2:15 became a graduation motto, as I continued to study to present myself “approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Third generation minister (as well as medical missionary) Albert Schweitzer, could have been writing about me when he wrote: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Were there persons who “rekindled … a spark” and “lighted a flame” in your life along the way? This might me a good time to reflect with “deep gratitude.”
In 1964 I graduated from college, got married, and enrolled in seminary. It was a year of many changes. That same year, Bob Dylan wrote what he called, “a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change,” the last verse of which said, “As the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fading, and the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin’.” As one who preferred country music, I was not a fan of Bob Dylan, but his lyrics stuck with me through the years – years of continual change. Now, fifty-five years later, more change occurs. It seems like only a few years ago that I stood in a hospital room and looked for the first time at my beautiful, new-born, granddaughter, Whitney. A few days ago, I stood again at her hospital bed, along with her husband, Josh, and other family members, and looked at my handsome, new-born, great-grandson, Crawford Graham Kennedy. Among my many thoughts were two: I don’t have many years left to experience the changes of life, and he has a lifetime of changes ahead of him. I pray that his changes will be at least as exciting and meaningful as were mine, and that he will near the end with as much sense of fulfillment as I now enjoy. For the upcoming changes of life, I offer the little Crawford namesake, Isaiah 41:10, “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.” And for me, I reflect on the words of Dr. Seuss, “How did it get so late, so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
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.