Recent events have reminded me of an old saying. Some years ago, a former pastor of mine and I were having a conversation about a fellow minister who had been terminated from his position. Strangely enough, he had been found guilty of the very action for which he had terminated ministers who worked with him. My former pastor summed up his thoughts by saying, “You know, if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.” I’m not sure he knew the origin of that idea, and I certainly did not until recently. “Live by the sword, die by the sword” is a proverb in the form of a parallel phrase, which can be traced back to the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus in 458 BC. The saying appears in similar form in Matthew 26: 52, where a disciple of Jesus draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a servant of the high priest (though the follower’s identity is left unspecified in Matthew, the follower is identified in John, as Simon Peter). Jesus then says to him: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” The idea is that whatever you do to others, is likely going to come back to haunt you. The more modern way of saying this is, “Whatever goes around, comes around” meaning, according to Wiktionary, a person’s actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. Again, in other not so modern words, Paul proclaims, “whatever a man sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). It then behooves all of us to live by another statement from the Apostle Paul, “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
Transition is tough! I wonder how old does one need to be before life is not punctuated by transitions? I’m not sure. You’ll need to ask that question to someone older than me. I clearly remember transitioning from being at home all day, as a five-year old, to going off to school every morning. I did so with a prayer from and with my mother, the greatest prayer warrior I ever knew. She faithfully prayed every day, that I would do the best I could, with what I had, for Jesus’ sake, on that day. She taught me early that prayer was the way to deal with transition. From early school days, and off to college, through marriage, through parenting, through career adjustments, through mid-life crisis, through grandparenting, through health issues, and through retirement, my life has been marked by transition, and continues to this day. The idea of praying through transition has been enforced by two special passages of scripture: “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3, NASB) and “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Often the measure of maturity is how well we manage transitions. I recommend management with prayer.
Some bumper stickers make me want to pull off the road and reflect. Such was the one that read, “Keep Women in Their Place.” So where exactly is their place? Many and diverse are the way today’s culture answers that question. But where was the place of women according to Jesus? Any sincere student of the New Testament soon realizes Jesus never did or said anything to disgrace, belittle, reproach, or stereotype women. Understanding the culture of the time, it is interesting to note that Jesus did just the opposite in His relationship with women. Jesus showed respect to women, even those of apparent low estate such as the woman with the alabaster box or the woman at the well. The ones who felt they could approach Jesus and be heard, were women. Two women, with their brother Lazarus, were his best friends. In the parables of Jesus, often the lesson was delivered by a woman, and women were Jesus’ most faithful followers. Women were at the foot of the cross, and at the opening of the tomb. The first person to whom heaven revealed the resurrection was a female, and this same woman, was the first commissioned by heaven to proclaim the good news of the resurrection. Nor did it stop with Jesus. Traditionally, the missionaries we honor the most, are women missionaries. During my time serving in China, I realized that most of the churches were pastored by women, and most of the congregations consisted of women. It seemed to me that God called His special servants from among His most faithful followers. The person who guided me through my teen-age years was a woman, my church’s Youth Minister. From Kindergarten to Doctoral degree, the most influential encouragement was provided by a woman, my sixth-grade teacher. The person who taught me to drive, took me fishing, and encouraged me in my early dating experiences, was a woman, my aunt. The greatest prayer warrior I ever knew was a woman, my own mother. Some of those I love the most today, and who love me the most, are women, my wife, my daughter, my granddaughter. “All the things you may desire cannot compare with her” (Proverbs 3:15). Keep women in their place – Indeed!
October is Pastor Appreciation Month. The first pastor I remember was L.B. Reavis, from whom I received my middle name. He was followed by E. Hermond Westmoreland, under whose ministry I became a Christian. During my teen-age, pre-college years, my pastor was my own father, W. Edwin Crawford, under whose ministry and influence I surrendered to the ministry, and who gave me my first opportunity to preach (the carefully planned and practiced thirty-minute sermon lasted all of eight minutes). During my college years I was blessed by four pastors – H.H. Hargrove, Interim Pastor A. Donald Bell, George Slayton and J.T. Ayers. Then I myself became a pastor. During my years as a collegiate minister, I was pastored by Jack Chastain, George Slayton (again), Interim Pastor James Eaves, Lewis Lee, and Ralph Smith. While serving with the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) I was pastored by Truett Gannon. During my years on the Seminary faculty, I had two Pastors – James Carter and Al Meredith. In retirement years my pastor is Dale Braswell. The Apostle Paul wrote that God “gave some to be . . . pastors (Ephesians 4:11). I’m glad each of my pastors understood that call in their life and followed it faithfully. Each was recipient of spiritual gifts that God used to bless and mature me in the faith. Each had strengths that strengthened me. Each deserved more than one special month of appreciation. I will buy my pastor lunch this month and tell him how much I appreciate him, and how often I pray for him. How will you show your appreciation to your pastor this month?
Since grief is such a big subject, there isn’t a single definition that covers it. A commonly used definition is “Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.” Let me illustrate. Last week I attended a conference that involved several hundred cross-cultural missionaries, some of whom were former Seminary students of mine. I received two invitations to teach a short-term class on prayer (my favorite subject to teach) in two different countries, far removed from my Texas home. I want to accept the invitations so bad I can hardly stand the possibility of having to decline. But my doctors don’t think too highly of the possibility. Following the X-ray, MRI, Myelogram and CT Scan of my neck, I was told by my surgeon, that I have a serious bulging disk in my neck and the day I feel numbness in my arms or tingling in my fingers, or feel dizzy, or fall, he will meet me at the hospital for emergency surgery. Neither of these places where I have been invited, offer a very good alternative to the emergency surgical facilities in my home town. Across the years, I have made many trips to far-away places, when my physical condition was somewhat questionable. But I’ve never been this old before. One of my doctors challenged me to “Think about age, before making plans!” So, I’m having an “emotional reaction to loss or change.” You don’t have to be my age to suffer grief – from a variety of causes, most of which are far worse than mine. So, if you are grieving today due to “emotional reaction to loss or change” do what I did. Remembering Psalm 119:28 (NASB) where the Psalmist cried out, “My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Your word.” I went to the Word where I found two verses in Ecclesiastes: “In much wisdom there is much grief and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 NASB) and “Remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting” (Ecclesiastes 11:10, NASB). Employ much positive wisdom today and move on with life.
Referring to an annoyance, or a nuisance, as “a pain in the neck” is a colloquial expression that dates from about 1900. My first “pain in the neck” came when I was fifteen years old and was involved in an automobile accident, sustaining a broken second vertebrae of my neck. The healing took nine months. It literally was an annoyance, and a nuisance. Due to recent pain in my neck, I underwent an x-ray, an MRI, a Myelogram, a CT Scan, consulted with my primary care physician, a sports chiropractor, and a surgeon. The result showed a couple of bulging discs, and the need for eventual surgery – another annoyance/nuisance. Ever have a “pain in the neck” – an annoyance/nuisance? While the words annoyance and nuisance do not appear in the Bible, nor does the term, “pain in the neck,” there is a similar term. The Apostle Paul shared about his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). For him, it was an annoyance/nuisance, a “pain in the neck.” “Pain in the neck” or “thorn in the flesh,” While Paul and I describe different conditions, we have God’s response in common – “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I don’t know what my future holds, but I know, as did Paul, that God’s grace is sufficient. Whether you have a “pain in the neck” or a “thorn in the flesh” or some other description of an annoyance/nuisance, God’s grace is likewise sufficient for you.
To my surprise, the church announced their high-attendance Sunday goal and then prayed that God would help them to reach it. I was only their Interim Pastor, so was not in on the setting of the goal. When I asked how they arrived at the number, the answer was that it was ten more people than they had last year on high-attendance Sunday. Why do we ask God for things we know we can achieve in case He doesn’t? Were they afraid to ask God for fifty or a hundred more people? Afraid that the God who responds to our requests, “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask” (Ephesians 3:20), would not respond and thus they would look bad, like people of little faith? Had they never heard of the law of large numbers – invite 1000 people, 100 would show interest, and 10 would show up. I encouraged them to refrain from asking God for what they could do for themselves – then give God the glory. After all, which is worse, to set a goal for ten and reach it, or set a goal for fifty and only reach twenty-five? Pray big this week. Why not pray so big that if God is not in favor of your request, it will fail.
How quickly some of the things we build get destroyed. From the time I started public school until I graduated from High School, my family lived in six houses. Five of them no longer exist. The first church I remember attending now has all new buildings. The two buildings where I took all of my major and minor courses in college – both gone. The football stadium where our college played their home games – bulldozed over. The first church I served as Pastor – disbanded and the building destroyed. The first apartment in which we lived following marriage – dilapidated and unused. I spent fifteen years doing collegiate ministry on three campuses. The Baptist Student Centers on two of those three campuses have been destroyed in favor of new Centers. The denominational building where I shared an office for several years – destroyed in favor of a new building. My favorite baseball stadiums – all torn down! In the midst of so much destruction, I am glad that not everything is destroyed, but that some things remain. Jesus shared a parable to teach disciples that whatever is built on a solid rock, will stand firm (Matthew 7:24-27). Life does not consist of the buildings we build, but of the things we build on the rock-like promises of God. What are you building this week that will last?
I made yet another emotional trip to Tennessee, this time to pick up several boxes of my late brother’s possessions – another trip I thought I’d never need to make. The trip home with the boxes was strangely like bringing him back home to Texas. Born in Houston (ten years after my own Texas birth), he was raised in Nacogdoches, graduated from High School in Nederland, employed by the Canaan Records division of Word, Inc. in Waco. With Canaan, he helped produce and promote recordings by The Happy Goodman Family, the Florida Boys, the Cathedral Quartet, the Lefevres, and many more. Transferring to Tennessee, he met and married Linda, and spent the majority of his life there, involved in the Southern Gospel music industry. Among other things, he wrote a monthly column for “Singing News” magazine. He was described by those in the industry as a walking encyclopedia of Southern Gospel Music. His memorial service was more like a Gospel Music concert with several groups singing and others of the industry speaking – for more than an hour and a half. His death was unexpected, as was the return home to Texas, of some of his possessions. His earthly remains abide in Nashville, and some of his earthly possessions now abide back home in Texas, but his eternal home was established when he was young. While his death was an untimely shock to those of us who remain, his heavenly house was prepared and awaiting his arrival (John 14:1-4). There he abides today. See you at the house, Bob.
What does a real friend do? I now have a new answer to that question. It was a sickening feeling to arrive at my hotel and begin unpacking my luggage only to miss seeing the small zip-lock bag containing my prescription medication. A call home revealed that the bag was indeed ready for the trip but was sitting on the counter in my home bathroom. It never made it to the luggage, thus was not available when I unpacked in another city, in another country. Several text messages between my doctor and I revealed the sad fact that he could not call a Pharmacy near my hotel and give the prescription since he was not a registered physician in the country where I was needing the medication. However, he did go the “second mile” and call a pharmacy across the border and they were able to fill 2 of my 3 prescriptions. Friend #1 – my doctor. However, my schedule was full and it seemed impossible for me to cross the border to pick up my medication. Enter “second-mile” friend #2 who drove across the border, picked up my medication, and at the risk of being arrested for crossing the border with someone else’s prescription medication, delivered the pills to me. These two men have been my friends for many years, but last week, by going the “second mile” they demonstrated again what genuine friendship means. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said if someone needed you to go with them for one mile, you should, “Go with him two” (Matthew 5:41). How could you be a “second mile” friend this week?