Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Nearness of Christmas

(Hebrews 4:16)

He is transcendent deity
Unchangeable alone
Resplendent in His majesty
The Self-existent One

Eternal Father, Spirit, Son
A trinity of love
With nothing lacking in Himself
This God Who reigns above

But who can grasp omnipotence
Omniscience bends the mind
Or non-beginning, -ending One
Of everlasting kind

Completely separate from us
He chose to create man
And condescend creatively
The universe began

Removed from us, He moved to us
Creating us by Word
He brought us forth in innocence
And fellowship was heard

Rebellious creatures we became
Relentless pride within
A blot upon His holiness
Repulsive in our sin

But promise came and prophecy
Of covenantal grace
For One would come from Mary’s womb
To heal the ruined race

The Son became Immanuel
As God with us drew near
Transcendent God in imminence
Was now among us here

Humility was His disguise
An unexpected form
When God drew near at Bethlehem
And as a man was born

And nearer still He drew to us
Incarnate deity
He took our sins upon Himself
And bore them to the tree

With blessed blood a path was paved
By sacrificial Lamb
The sinless One, eternal Son
In flesh the great I Am

For us at last a way was made
Into that Holy Place
Where God in all His grandeur dwells
Upon His throne called grace

And so to Him we can draw near
This glorious God on high
With demonstrated love He lures
He sent His Son to die

Though as we come with confidence
For precious blood precedes
Our hearts are struck with gravity
That mercy is our need

Yes mercy first and mercy last
A sinners only plea
That God should show His pity fast
In mercy to receive

And thus we come with humbled hearts
No pious proud parade
We gain by grace an entrance where
Compassion is displayed

Then once received and mercy giv’n
Our Father bids us ask
For grace to meet our time of need
For grace to face our task

Oh Wondrous One! Oh Perfect Love!
Who casts aside our fear
By grace do save and grace sustain
Your children who draw near

A Christmas State of Mind

(Philippians 2:5-8)

I marvel at the message of magnificence
In wonder I consider Christ the Lord
Who dwelt omnisciently
Unchanging deity
Became a man—in flesh was made the Word

Unequaled God existing in eternity
From age to age His gracious glory shone
Enthroned in heaven above
In triune perfect love
Immutable, perpetual as One

Breathtaking vision to Isaiah manifest
The lofty and exalted One revealed
As John inspired makes known
He saw eternal Son
The God of glory visibly unveiled

But as He dwelt unbound by time or circumstance
Omnipotent and Sovereign was He
This Mind that made all be
Displayed humility
And laid aside His privilege for me

He disregarded His divine equality
Invading time a servant He became
Of fragile flesh was made
Such condescending trade
His glory veiled, His deity retained

But this was not the limit of His lowliness
Incarnate presence was for Him a start
Descending further still
To do the Father's will
To death obeyed with single purposed heart

And so this One whose life is all the light of men
Descended to the depths of human pain
A spotless Seed was sown
The sins He bore my own
New life is mine and glory His again

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the stable
Not a creature was stirring so Mary was able
To quietly wonder with infinite joy
Just what was the meaning of her baby boy

She remembered the angel who had visited one day
With amazement she listened to the words he did say
With God you’ve found favor, a son you’ll conceive
By the Spirit of God this gift you’ll receive

She thought of the shepherds who had been there last night
How they talked of the angels and the glorious light
This baby’s a Savior, God’s Messiah’s been born
And He lays in the manger in the cold quiet morn

She looked then at Joseph as he slept in the hay
Such love and such courage He’d shone every day
She silently prayed and thanked God for this man
Who’d faithfully trusted in God’s heavenly plan

She noticed the star that appeared in the night
A magnificent star she’d not seen one so bright
It seemed to be shining straight down on this place
Where the baby was sleeping, it shone on His face

Yes, the day after Christmas and Mary lay there
Alone with her treasure, alone with her prayer
She pondered intently what all this could mean
This baby from heaven so tiny, serene

But there in the stable in the soft morning light
While Mary was thinking just out of her sight
On the wall of the stable, oh, what could it mean
The shadow of a cross could barely be seen

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Tough and Tender Trip

Sunday morning, November 18, 2007, I received the call I had been expecting. Around 9:30 a.m. CST my 90-yr.-old mother slipped out of that frail body that was once so vibrant and woke up in the presence of the Lord. Through the grace of God, my beloved church and a wonderfully compassionate and helpful Sharon at American Airlines we were able to book our flights (6 of them; Ally stayed overseas) to Mississippi on such short notice during Thanksgiving week, one of the busiest in the air. We arrived at my sister Sandra’s place in Jackson on Monday and spent the week with her. Mother’s memorial service was Saturday in Tupelo, our hometown.

I’M THANKFUL FOR FUNERALS! I’m sure, in almost 30 years of pastoring I’ve led hundreds. But this one was different. This was Mother. For many years Mother has been in a nursing home and for the past several years she has been in poor health and basically non-communicative. Though she could still get around in her wheelchair, the verbal part of her existence basically ceased to exist. And, physically, she deteriorated a great deal. So the prevalent memories have been of her like she was at the end of her life.

It was my sister who first remarked about the unique blessing this time was for us. As we began to hear from and see old friends and family members we were constantly nourished and comforted by their memories of Mother—memories, not of nursing homes and wheelchairs and one-way conversations and the inability to talk on the phone—rather memories of the Mother we once knew, full of life and loving her family and friends, especially those grandkids. There were her loving little brother who remembered a special oldest sister; my best friend whom she helped raise; those who knew her as a fraternity and sorority house mother at Mississippi State; those who worked with her in Tupelo; those who were with her in all her activities at church; those whom she taught in Sunday School; those who knew she harbored a secret “Baptist sin,” she loved to dance; and many more.

So, I’m thankful for this tough and tender trip. It replaced the memory of suffering with one of joy and gratitude for God’s gift to me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gratitude and New Respect for Firefighters

As you know, we have been in the midst of perhaps the most devastating series of fires in Southern California history. As a resident of the Pass area for almost 24 years I have become accustomed to the annual battle of the blazes that take such a toll on our beautiful landscape, numerous homes and other structures, the lives of victims and, sadly all too often, those whose job it is to protect us from the danger. So, I am a huge fan of firefighters. Their devotion to duty and willingness to put themselves between us and the fire is infinitely admirable and deeply appreciated.

During the fierce Santa Ana winds that were blowing last week though, we were not beset by fires in Beaumont, our problem was of a different kind—blowing dirt and dust. Since our church is in the process of building a new building we had the task of wetting down the dirt on the construction project to keep it from blowing on our neighbors. Thus, my new respect for firefighters.

I have never been known for my musculature. My abs have absconded; my pecs are pathetic; and my guns have no ammunition. So, when I found myself holding the nozzle of a 1.5 inch fire hose last week, thinking, “This will be easy and fun,” I was rather rudely awakened. I since have learned that the fire service designates the 1.5 inch as a one person line, i.e., there is no one else to help pull the line and manage it. Fortunately, I had help in the form of a strong young associate pastor. After only a few minutes my arms were beginning to feel like jelly. What saved me was the nozzle was adjustable and I could control the strength of the flow.

I mention that to say, when I see these firefighters, men and women alike, pointing their hoses at the fires now, I know from experience that what they make look so effortless is anything but that. God bless you firefighters! Thanks for your faithfulness! And thank you, God, for giving them the strength, physically and emotionally, to do their job.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Free Will—A Common Misconception

While reading Anthony Hoekema’s immensely helpful work on soteriology, Saved By Grace, his articulation of the paradoxical tension between “God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility; both God’s sovereign grace and our active participation in the process of salvation” reminded me of the importance of terminology. The tension is between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, not between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

Why is it important to couch the discussion in terms of man’s responsibility instead of free will? First, because these are two coexistent truths that must be allowed to stand in a biblical understanding of truth, with the concurrent reality that we accept them by faith not by logic. Second (the reason for this reflection), juxtaposing God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is fraught with danger simply because of what most mean by the term free will. For most who use this term the clear intent is that free will means I can do whatever I wish. The confusion/error is in the equating of the freedom to choose to do what I want with the ability to do whatever I wish. Freedom does not constitute ability.

Example 1: I may choose to be President of the United States but reality is that I seriously lack the ability to do that. Example 2: I may choose to be a better golfer than Tiger Woods but those who have seen me play know the dearth of my abilities and the dearth of my potential abilities in that arena. The problem is not simply a lack of practice. The short-coming has to do with innate ability.

Prior to knowing Christ my condition of being dead in my trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) rendered me helpless in the matter of salvation. I may choose or wish to be saved but the desire and the ability are not qualities I inherently possess. Both must come from God (Philippians 2:12-13). My responsibility is to respond rightly to God through the power He gives—not to somehow manufacture salvation on my own. When it comes to salvation, I am told to “work it out” not to “work it up.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Devil Worship

Are we no better than demons?

Recently, I was reading in the Gospel of Mark and something caught my attention. As I began to look at other Scriptures I was deeply challenged by what I saw concerning the actions of various demons in relation to Jesus.
First of all, let’s remember who the demons are. They are fallen angels. Originally created by God to worship and serve Him in glorious proximity to the very throne of heaven, they sinned and joined Satan in his rebellion and pride and fell from that wonderful position for which they were intended. The Scripture in James 2:19 tells us that, even in their fallen state, the demons still believe in God and tremble before Him. Though their belief does not lead to salvation, they still know, beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly Who God is and recognize His power, majesty and authority over them.
This led to what caught my attention in Mark. In chapter 1, verse 34, Mark says of Jesus: “And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.” Notice, they knew Who He was and He prevented them from speaking.
Now consider two other instances in Mark of the Lord’s encounter with demons. The first occurs earlier in that first chapter. Jesus is in Capernaum teaching in the synagogue, when a man with an unclean spirit enters. This man immediately cried out, before Jesus said a word to him: “What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-- the Holy One of God!” It is very obvious from the wording that this is the unclean spirit speaking through the man.
Jesus responds, “Be quiet, and come out of him.” Again, Jesus requires silence from the demon.
The second incident, in Mark 5:1 – 20, is the story of the man called “Legion” because he had so many demons living in him. When Jesus commands the demons to come out of the man he cries out: “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” [7] On this occasion Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs, about 2,000 of them and they “rushed down the steep bank into the sea…and they were drowned….” [13]
Now what was it about these verses that captured my thinking? It was the simple fact that on each occasion the demons couldn’t help themselves. They simply had to proclaim Who Jesus was. I must admit that I used a bit of trickery to get your attention with the title of this article. Calling it Devil Worship is actually a misnomer for I do not believe these demons were actually worshipping the Lord Jesus.
Here’s the challenge to my heart. If demons, the recognized enemies of our Lord, can’t help but proclaim Who He is, why do I, a beneficiary of his grace keep quiet so often? When I have been loved by Him with an everlasting love [Jer 31:3], when I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb [1 Pet 1:18-19], when He has borne my sins in His own body on the cross [1 Pet 2:24], when He has given me His free gift of eternal life [Rom 6:23], why, oh why, is my tongue so silent?
Worship. The demons believe and tremble. Do we believe and worship? They fell from heaven because of a failure to worship. Do we, the citizens of heaven [Ph 3:20] do what all good citizens of heaven do? Do we worship God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Oh, Father, help us to be bolder than demons for “greater is He that is in us, than he who is in the world [1 John 4:4].”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Beauty Detector

Experiment — I sat and stared at a bowl of water. Nothing. Totally unmoved. In fact, it was an effort to keep staring, So, I put a rock in it, just so a bit of the rock broke the surface of the water in the bowl. Still, I was uninspired by the sight. Even the edges of the bowl did nothing for me.
A few days ago, for over an hour, I stared at different water, hypnotized, almost unable to shift my gaze away. There was a rock protruding just above the surface where the water crashed and catapulted in the air. And the edges. Oh, the edges! Crooked, craggy hills falling effortlessly down to the water’s steady rhythm of splash upon the sand — the majestic Pacific Ocean.
And so I sat — mesmerized by the awesome beauty of the view before me. But why was this water so beautiful to me?
The answer, of course, lies with the Maker. The One who formed this water and that rock and those edges is the One Who formed me. What a gift He has given to the human mind and eye by instilling in us an appreciation of His creation.
This scene, or a flower, autumn leaves, mountains, deserts, snow, a baby — all are beautiful because He is the arbiter of beauty and somewhere in us He made a “beauty detector.”
And it’s not that He thought of everything. Rather, what He thought of is everything.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen!”

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Psa. 139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Dr. Donohue: “Alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency causes emphysema, but it is a rare cause of it. Emphysema is a disruption of the air sacs through which oxygen passes into the blood, and carbon dioxide — a waste product of body metabolism — passes out of it to be exhaled. Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 cause of emphysema. The antitrypsin enzyme deficiency is responsible for, at most, 2 percent of all emphysema patients.
Trypsin is an enzyme that keeps air sacs clean. It's the lungs' janitorial service. Trypsin keeps scrubbing the air sacs even when there's no need to do so. The exuberant scrubbing damages the sacs. Antitrypsin rushes in to turn off trypsin's scouring to prevent air sac destruction.
Although the lung is the primary target of antitrypsin deficiency, the liver can also be affected. It's the organ that makes antitrypsin. In this illness, the antitrypsin doesn't leave the liver. Retention of the enzyme damages the liver and can eventually produce cirrhosis. However, severe liver damage occurs in only one-quarter of those with the defect.” (Riverside Press-Enterprise)

As I read these words in our local newspaper, I was humbled with awe at the glory of God. Air sacs, trypsin, antitrypsin—is it truly possible to imagine a Being Who thought up minute enzymes and organs like this? I don’t know. Not that I am in any way a skeptic. It’s just that I wonder if the human mind is truly capable of conceiving of an infinite, all-wise, all knowing, all-powerful, creator God. Yes, we can believe in Him but can we really comprehend Him? No, I don’t think so. The song declares He is “too wonderful for comprehension.” Elihu tells Job, “God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things which we cannot comprehend.” (37:5)

But let’s go back to God thinking up all this wonder-inducing creation. My finite mind tends to marvel, when I read of things like trypsin and antitrypsin, at a God who could know all that. As if He surpasses us in greatness because He is able to know, or comprehend, all the facts, realities, truths, data, etc. of all creation. My human brain tends toward reducing the knowledge of God to the perfect expression of the knowledge of man.

However, God’s knowledge is not like our knowledge. His knowledge is creative knowledge. Our knowledge is discovered knowledge. Oh, it may come to us in many ways, including our own search for it. But we also know things by revelation, intuition, inherently, as well as seeking for it through study and learning. Yet it is still discovered knowledge because the thing that we are knowing was already there for us to know it.

With God it is exactly the opposite. Again, Elihu indicates this to Job, “Do you know about the layers of the thick clouds, The wonders of one perfect in knowledge?” (37:16) God’s knowledge is not that He learned about the layers of the clouds. Rather, His knowledge created the layers of the clouds. As a former seminary professor and dear friend of mine often says, “if God knows it then nothing else can be!” The knowledge of God establishes something as reality. If He does not know it, then it does not exist.

Thus, we are left to wonder, in awe, amazement and adoration, of One who could “think up” trypsin and antitrypsin and air sacs and enzymes and livers, ad infinitum. Such knowledge truly is too wonderful for me.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Thank God for Deacons…….REAL Deacons!

I am so blessed. As a pastor, it is very obvious that the job of doing everything that needs doing at a church is simply overwhelming. If one man, or even a few pastors on a staff, tried to do it all the work would never be accomplished.

That’s why I’m so thankful for deacons……real deacons! Not the type who only want to come to meetings and exercise authority and try to run things; or the type who only want the title but never have a notion to do anything. No, I’ve known a few of those types in my life. They’re not deacons at all. No, the Biblical word means servant. And when one encounters folks with the true heart of a deacon, whose desire is to serve God in anyway they can and who will always respond with a smile and sincerity, “Sure, pastor, we’ll take care of that. Don’t worry”……..well……to say it’s a blessing is a gross understatement.

I often am reminded of how blessed I am to have folks like that in our church. This week was just another reminder to me. I hesitate to name names for fear of omitting someone. They know who they are. Each deserves a special place in God’s kingdom for the selflessness and cheerful hearts of service they display. Our church would not be half as effective as we are without the countless hours these folks put in.

So, thank You, God, for giving us these wonderful servants. Thank you, deacons, for being the people of God you are. Your reward in heaven is great. (Just so you’ll know, the group includes some who don't have the official title, and, yes, there are some women. A deacon is made by God, not human voting.)

Be steadfast, ya’ll.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Recently, while seeking to learn more about a particular movement that calls itself a part of the New Testament church, I went online to do research. In my search, I arrived at a podcast of a speaker speaking to a leadership group of one megachurch in a training session. I am omitting the name, though he is well known within his circles. What I want to address is not a personality issue. It is at the core of much of what plagues the church today. One statement (actually a part of a sentence) nails it and, I believe, condemns it very succinctly. Here is a direct quote from the podcast:
“This is a generation that won’t put up with a gospel that is simply individualism. It wants to have a gospel that is gonna change you and me in our relationships and in the world.” I found myself having a Charlie Brown moment with Lucy pulling the football away and Charlie, from his back, screaming: “Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrgggghhhhhhhhh!!!!” Let me pull out the portion of this quote that caused my consternation. Listen very closely and think, with your mind informed by the Word of God.
Before I do though, I want to affirm that the true Gospel of Jesus Christ does change us in our relationships and the world. There is no question of that. But that is not the issue I’m raising, nor is it the issue that has caused a large portion of so-called believers, in various ways, to follow after wrong doctrine. Here is the part of the quote that cannot go unchallenged: “This is a generation that won’t put up with a gospel that is….” That’s it! That’s the problem! Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrgggghhhhhhhhh!!!!
In case you have not figured it out let me state it clearly. Neither this generation nor any other generation has the right or power before God to pick and choose which gospel it will “put up with.” We don’t get to decide which is the true Gospel. Only God does. He has revealed it in His Word. The call to this and every generation is to go to the Word of God and learn the Gospel which God has established and believe that one. That one is the only true Gospel.
The church falls into massive error when it goes to the culture to learn what the gospel “ought” to be. No, we have it in the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Our task, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, to live the true Gospel and proclaim the true Gospel before a lost and dying world that desperately needs to hear and believe.
The speaker seemed to make light of a gospel that “only” gives us forgiveness of sins. That was the context of the quote. He was saying the generation won’t put up with a gospel that only gives forgiveness of sins and doesn’t truly change us. As I said, the true Gospel of God does change us. However, let’s not make light of the greatest need we and every other planet dweller have, i.e., the forgiveness of sins. If we learn anything from the true Gospel it is that we are to be eternally, not temporally, minded. Take the long look else we will be a people who have wonderful short-term relationships with no eternal blessing.

It Was a "Sentimental Journey"

In response to popular demand…actually, as the old radio shows used to say, “Keep those cards and letters pouring in”— well, I had “one card” pour in this week. An old friend from high school days queried why I had not written a follow-up to the “Sentimental Journey.” For whatever reason I have been hesitant to blog because it did turn out to be truly a bittersweet experience.
The time with my mother was as good as could be hoped. Though she cannot respond in any way, she did open her eyes and look at me with what I hope was recognition. For a couple of hours I read the Bible and sang some songs. Her condition seems to have worsened and so, at 90 years of age, it’s difficult to see how she could have much longer in this life. My prayer is that she will not linger like this.
Then came the reunion of the Class of ’65, in reality a 60th birthday party for the whole bunch. What an absolute JOY! I must say that at least 75% of the crowd looked vaguely familiar (just kidding). There were a few who have not changed one iota in 42 years. I would have known them anywhere. There were a few who have changed a lot whom I would not have known anywhere. Then there were the rest of us who have changed in the normal process of aging and were recognizable after a quick look (squint actually—they were way too small) at the name tag.
Humility was the order of the day. Of course, I thought that I hadn’t changed much and everyone would know me. How wrong I was! My friend—since 3rd grade, same church, football, basketball, etc.—told me he looked at me for 5 minutes before he knew who I was (and he wasn’t the only one). More humbling than that was my first high school girl friend (nameless to protect the guilty). I walked up to her and said, “I’m Walter.” She still had no idea who I was. We did talk later and laughed about it. At the beginning of the evening we were both suffering “reunion shock.”
For all of you who are planning on attending a reunion after many years of being away—one word of caution. “Reunion shock” is truly overwhelming, at least at first. When we drove up and I saw a crowd of people, I didn’t see one person I recognized. That’s scary. The girl who didn’t recognize me said she was having the same reaction. So be forewarned. But go anyway. You’ll love it.
Now to the real reflection on that experience. As I sat talking with some of my former classmates this truth came to mind: This is not my life now. It was my life then and I have such great memories. But my life now is with my wife and kids and my church family where God has providentially led me through the years. Remembering youth is nice; attempting to recapture it is dangerous. I came away from that reunion doubly blessed. Grateful for old friends and good memories but also profoundly thankful for where the Lord has me now. Who would have ever thought.........waaaayyyyy back then?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Precious Death

Psalm 116:15 "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." A Scripture I have used countless times, mostly at funerals. I usually list all the reasons why the deaths of believers are precious. Today, in my QT, I "got it" for the first time. Now all of you who are reading this with a big "duh" please have patience. I'm not the sharpest crayola in the box.
As I read Psalm 116 this morning I was struck by the seeming incongruence of verse 15. It seemed totally out of place. In the midst of David saying, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation....I shall pay my vows...," up pops this verse. Then David returns to talking of how he will worship the Lord. What on earth does "precious death" have to do with "paying vows," etc.?
Thanks to John Calvin (actually a footnote in Calvin by Hammond) I learned. Then I went back and read the whole Psalm. The context is vv. 1-11. To say that it was a moment of worship for me is an understatement.
Here is what Hammond said: "For their death to be precious is, in effect, no more than that it is, so considered, rated at so high a price by God, as that he will not easily grant it to any one that most desires it of him. Absalom here hostilely pursued David and desired his death, he would have been highly gratified with it, taking it for the greatest boon that could have befallen him: but God would not thus gratify him; nor will he grant this desire easily to the enemies of godly men, especially of those that commit themselves to his keeping, as David here did.”
Absalom wanted David's death but it was too precious to God for Him to allow it. Satan wants the death of every believer and God may one day allow him to kill us. But until that time our deaths are so precious to God that Satan cannot have that prize. In fact, until God is ready to usher us into His presence through "precious death," no one nor anything can take our lives from us.
Oh, my goodness, how the folks in my church who are facing terminal illness need to know the truth and comfort of that. How those I know (and those I don't know) who are facing the threat of death for their faith around the world need to be reassured by that. Our deaths are not only precious to God at the time they occur. They are precious to Him UNTIL that time and He guards them with His sovereign love. Be encouraged, believers.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Reflections on Calamity in Psalm 44

How quickly we often say (I often say) when calamity comes, "Let's not blame God for this." Yet that is exactly what the Psalmist does. He blames God, or better perhaps, he recognizes that God is absolutely sovereign in all things and our times are in His hands and nothing can beset us that is not from His hand under His "omni-control."

And yes, that includes Satan. Did Satan cause extreme calamity for Job? Absolutely. He used a human army, a miraculous fire, another human army and the weather to wipe out Job's children, servants and all that he owned. Amazing—the power of the enemy. Was Satan under God's "omni-control?" No question!

The question is, do I see God's hand in all the circumstances of my life and do I submit my will to His all-knowing, all-loving, all-graceful, sometimes bitter Providence? Do I have the insight of David and Job to see beyond the obvious to the eternal and find God at work even in distress? Do I have Job's humble submission to faithfully praise the Almighty as He gives and takes away? Do I have the boldness of David to call on the Lord to "Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness?"

Oh, God grant me that grace!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Sentimental Journey

Back in the day..........waaaaaaaay back in the day there was a popular song called "Sentimental Journey." Those words and that tune popped into my head as I look forward to taking one of those sentimental journeys this week (D.V.). First, I'm headed to Jackson, MS, where my 90-year-old mother is in a nursing home and, most likely, is nearing the end of her life. My sister, who lives there, says she is going down a lot lately. Having been so far away for all the years of living in California this will definitely be a sentimental journey for it may be the last time I see my mother in this life. The time will be bittersweet, as always, because it has been several years since she has been able to communicate in any meaningful way with us. The last time I was there for a couple of days, earlier this year, she didn't even know I was there, at least, as far as I could tell. The stages and passages of life are bittersweet. I pray and hope she will recognize me this time and know that I was with her.

After seeing her comes another sentimental journey when I travel to Tupelo (that's right, me and Elvis) where my high school class of '65 is having a 60th birthday party. This is the year we all turn the big 6-0. I'm really looking forward to seeing those folks, most of whom I haven't seen in decades. One of the neat things about that group is how much love for them I have after all these years of separation. Actually, we were a rather great graduating class, pardon the pride.

What amazes me, as I contemplate this journey, is how utterly stereotypical I am of the person preparing to go to a class reunion. I'm thinking I need to lose a few pounds and hopefully get to within 50 pounds of my graduation weight. 50 lbs.!!!!!!!!!!! And I've already started to worry about not recognizing folks. In my mind's eye, they all look as they did in high school. Of course, they won't recognize me either. This is really too much confession but I had a nightmare last night about not recognizing people. OK, build a bridge. For now, I'm clinging to the hope that I am nothing more or less than normal.

Sentimental journeys are good for the soul. God has taken me down paths I never would have imagined while a student at THS. It's good to look back on those "olden days" (as my kids call them) with fondness and appreciation for the ones with whom I shared them. My greatest regret is that I was not more of an example of a true follower of Christ then. Perhaps God will grant me the grace of being one now and perhaps God will grant them the grace of forgetting some of my faults from days gone by.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

New California "conservative" Baptist Convention

According to a recent press release from the Associated Baptist Press (strange that a group calling itself the California Conservative Coalition would choose the ABP as their news funnel) California pastors Ron Wilson and Wiley Drake are starting a new California Baptist convention “that will compete with the 67-year-old California Southern Baptist Convention for denominational loyalty.” Let me state at the outset that I consider Wiley and Ron not only Christian brothers but also friends. We all could learn from Wiley’s church in reaching out to those less fortunate than ourselves. And let me state that they certainly have a clear right, considering Baptist polity, to form a new convention if they so wish. Historically, we Baptists hold dearly the right to association with others of like-minded belief.

However, this new convention startup bothers me. In trying to analyze what exactly bothers me about it I think I’ve been able to pinpoint the prick in my gut that concerns me most. What bothers me most is that this seems to be an effort to posture themselves as the “true conservative Southern Baptists of California” and to brand the CSBC as something other than that. Well, I’m not ready to cede the title of “true conservatives” to Ron and Wiley.

Their press release states: “California is the fourth state to witness such a move, joining Texas, Missouri and Virginia. In those states, alternative Baptist conventions have resulted in competition with the more traditional organizations for contributions and membership.” California is NOT Texas, Missouri and Virginia. The CSBC is not the BGCT (Texas), nor the BGAV (Virginia) nor the MBC (Missouri). Each of those states saw the establishment of a new state convention of conservatives in response to the moderate/liberal leanings of the established state convention. There is NO SUCH need in California. The CSBC is not moderate, nor liberal. As a long time pastor in this state who has been involved in the various entities of our state I know the leaders and the overwhelming majority of pastors of the CSBC to be folks strongly committed to and cooperating with the SBC and all its entities. These are folks who applaud the conservative resurgence in the SBC. To suggest otherwise is to build a “straw man” of a convention in order to further one’s own agenda.

So, to my brothers, Ron and Wiley, I love you and I wish you nothing but the best. But please, PLEASE, don’t try to usurp the label “conservative Southern Baptist” from me because I am committed to the CSBC. If you must separate yourselves, that’s your choice. Personally, I’d rather see all of us, as conservative California Southern Baptists, stay together and work for the glory of God in the spread of His Kingdom.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit


Last night my son Arthur, who is a theology student at California Baptist University, and I had the wonderful privilege of attending the Religious Leaders Reception and Exhibition Viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition that is opening today, June 29, at the San Diego Museum of Natural History. This exhibition is actually two exhibits, one now through September and the other from October through December. Each of these two exhibits will feature different scrolls found in the caves near Qumran.

The museum is to be greatly commended for this ambitious project of bringing these historical treasures to our area. What an impressive exhibition it is. The building is lovely, the presentation exquisite and even the museum store has been beautifully enhanced to offer mementos of the occasion. All of us in the West owe a hearty thanks to Dr. Michael Hager and his staff for their tireless efforts in making the exhibit a reality.

Included in the exhibit is a Virtual Tour of the Qumran community by Robert Cargill of UCLA. His use of the water system of the site is a fascinating vehicle by which the observer is literally floated on a journey through the day-to-day life of this interesting community. Along with the Virtual Tour and some of the actual scrolls found in the caves near Qumran is a stunning photographic exhibit of that part of the globe. Whether one is a student of the Old Testament or not this exhibit, from an historical standpoint, is certainly on a par with the treasures of Tutankhamun.

While wandering through the exhibit and also perusing the list of distinguished lecturers who will make presentations during its stay through December of this year, I must confess one regret. Obviously, the exhibit is the result of cooperation from many different entities both religious and secular. This is the only way it could be. However, as an evangelical pastor I couldn’t help wishing there were something to help the committed Christian to understand the enormous significance of these scrolls in relation to our Bibles today. With that in mind I want to try and answer that need in my own simple way for those of you who are planning to visit the exhibition.


Before we answer the question of the importance of the scrolls to Biblical Christians today, we must first know what they are. These scrolls were found in clay pots hidden in 11 caves near the Qumran community at the northwestern edge of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. There were a total of over 900 separate documents pieced together from thousands of fragments found in these caves. The scrolls themselves are dated over a period from about 250 B.C. to around 68 A.D. The origin of these documents is the subject of much debate but most recent scholarship leads to three possible conclusions: they were copied at Qumran by the residents there or they were brought there from Jerusalem or, perhaps most likely, some combination of both.


Let’s pretend. Pretend you write a book. In writing this book your original is a handwritten document, not printed from a professional printing company or even your computer. And let’s pretend the only way for others to get a copy of your book is for you or someone else to hand copy your book line for line, word for word, letter for letter. Back and forth from page to page, turning the head, attempting to keep a mark in the proper place, not inadvertently skipping a line—what an enormous task.

Now suppose that job of copying is done by many copyists over many years so that a thousand years from now the only copy available is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy (you get the point) done by many different copyists over hundreds of years. What is the likelihood that the copy you have will be even remotely close to the original. What could one logically expect the accuracy to be?


We could turn to one particular writing from ancient history, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, for an example of what this laborious copying process might produce. We have two different papyri available in regard to this writing dated about 1,000 years apart.

“Quite startling differences appear, for example, between chapter 15 contained in the Papyrus of Ani (written in the Eighteenth Dynasty [roughly around the time of Moses]) and the Turin Papyrus (from the Twenty-sixth Dynasty or later [toward the end of the Old Testament]). Whole clauses are inserted or left out, and the sense in corresponding columns of text is in some cases altogether different.” (Gleason Archer quoted in New Evidence…, McDowell, 70).

Not too surprisingly one would suspect the very kinds of errors found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead in any document hand-copied over that amount of time. Imagine how different your book would be under the same conditions. Imagine again that the same types of errors might be expected to be found in the texts of the Old Testament over the same period of copying time. Unless something or someone else acted to prevent the errors. As Professor Archer went on to say, “Apart from divine superintendence of the transmission of the Hebrew text, there is no particular reason why the same phenomenon of divergence and change would not appear between Hebrew manuscripts produced centuries apart.” (ibid.) Certainly, this would be the case were there no divine intervention.


Why are these scrolls so important to us as Biblical Christians? The simple answer is the manuscripts found in the caves near Qumran speak to the very heart of the issue of the reliability of the Biblical text. How certain can we be that the Old Testament we have today is the same Old Testament written by the original writers centuries ago?

Let’s take the best known example from the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is the scroll known to us as the Great Isaiah scroll found in Cave 1 in 1947. Sadly, this particular scroll is not included in the San Diego exhibition but another scroll of Isaiah is along with many other Biblical scrolls, especially some from the Psalms, Exodus and Deuteronomy. How similar is the Great Isaiah to the previous earliest manuscript of Isaiah? Were there significant changes, errors or omissions?

Again, we hear from Dr. Archer: “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest.” (ibid.) As I said, “WOW!!!” One thousand years of hand-copying and the only variations amount to what we would think of as on the level of the dotting of i’s or crossing of t’s.

Do you see the enormity of that discovery in relation to the reliability of the text of the Bible which you hold in your hands today? This constitutes an enormous leap in authenticity. Surely there has been divine oversight of both the process of the copying and the preservation of the texts for us today. We can rest assured that we have an accurate Bible that is the same as the one God inspired the original writers to write.

Now imagine yourself standing and looking at an actual document that is over 2,000 years old with the words of one of the Psalms written on it:

“1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.” (Psalm 133)

Well, there’s no need to imagine. You can see that very scroll with that very Psalm at the San Diego Museum of Natural History. I encourage you not to miss it!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

SBC Membership Integrity

For the 2nd time the messengers to the SBC voted down a resolution concerning integrity in church membership (see: One is hard-pressed to imagine why any church oriented person would be opposed to this idea. The most often stated opposition to the idea in the floor debate was that the resolution would be interfering with the autonomy of the local church. Sadly, this response was a subterfuge, at best innocently done, to avoid dealing with this most embarrassing of realities.
The resolution in no way "interferes" with the autonomy of the local church for the simple reasons that: a. it is only an encouragement to local churches, and b. resolutions of the SBC are not binding on local churches.
I am not alone, I am sure, in the belief that the real reasons for opposition to this resolution have much more to do with our pride of statistics and fear of discipline. We do love our numbers. To be able to say that we have over 16,000,000 members on our rolls makes us feel awfully successful and necessary in the Kingdom. To be faced with the real prospect that we don't know where half of those members actually are is not a happy thought.
In addition, as the resolution itself addresses, we are beset by an unwillingness to carry out what is often referred to as "church discipline" but should, more biblically, be referred to as attempting biblical restoration of an erring brother/sister. All loving discipline is intended to bring forth the "peaceful fruit of righteousness." If the erring one refuses the extended and increasing levels of appeal to repent, the Scripture deems that one as not truly being regenerate. And since we do believe so strongly in regenerate church membership we, therefore, remove the unrepentant, unregenerate one from the church.
I fear the overwhelming majority of pastors fear what would happen if they sought to exercise that kind of discipline in their churches. I fear that most pew-packing SBC'ers would howl with "judge not that you be not judged." Whatever happened to "if you love Me, you will keep My commandments?"
I do not write this lightly. As one who pastors a church that does practice discipline I know how immeasurably draining it is to those involved. I also know how far we possibly/probably fall short from always "getting it right." However, we take each case on an individual basis and do not consider any one case a precedent for any others.
When we have been faced with the necessity of removing one from our fellowship it has been a time of deep sorrow for us.
But some of our times of greatest rejoicing have been when one who was removed through this process returns broken and repentant before the Lord and seeks true restoration. That is party time for us!
God forgive us in our individual churches because we fall short in integrity on the issue of numbers. God help us become churches that truly glorify God in all our ways. God help us as a convention of cooperating churches to encourage one another to be true to the biblical way of doing church.

Monday, June 18, 2007


I've been hearing a lot lately about the necessity of going through the exact same situation that another has gone through before one is capable of ministering in those circumstances. Here's a dissenting view in poetic form:

let's stop telling each other
that we can't relate
let's stop deciding
that MY problem is so unique
that no one else understands
I don't have to experience your pain
to know that it hurts
you don't have to have my failures
to know that I'm lonely

let's talk about
let's talk about
everyone has his/her own
particular pain
some more than others
but the amount doesn't matter
it's the presence of pain
that should move me
to compassion
the magnitude

stop telling me
that I can't relate
let me in
expose your wound
to the Sonlight
in me

Grace and peace ya'll

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Of course, the Mexican food in San Antonio is great but County Line BarBQ is good also (try the cobbler ala mode).

I was very blessed by the general tone of the Convention and it's focus on repentance and holiness. The reports of the various agencies were very enlightening and uplifting. I especially enjoyed the IMB report and their "Tell Me" emphasis.

In response to the blogging and spinning that has taken place since the Convention concerning the motion that was passed affirming the BF&M as a "guide" to our entities, I would like to speak as one who didn't know what I was voting on when I voted. I honestly thought we were voting to affirm the BF&M. I only learned after the fact that this was the "most important vote in ten years." I had no idea that this motion was an attempt to limit the entities of the SBC to the BF&M ONLY as a basis for hiring and policies. I suppose I was in the minority as I sat and listened to the debate and wondered what on earth all the rhetoric was about. I thought to myself, "haven't we always used the BF&M as a guide for our 'statement of faith'? Why wouldn't anyone be willing to agree to that unless, like the dastardly liberals of old they don't like the positions of the BF&M?"

Well, much to my amazement I have since learned that this was an attempt to stifle the entities of the SBC from having any other possible guidelines. Now that strikes me as odd. As one editorial I read later said, this would mean that were the IMB interviewing a potential "overseas personnel" (can't say missionary anymore) who practiced snake handling the IMB could not refuse him/her on those grounds because the BF&M doesn't address snake handling. Or, I thought, what if there were an interview with a potential church history prof who held to the position that the Reformation was a mistake and we should all go back to the Roman Catholic church? I can't imagine any SBC'er being in favor of hiring that person or of any SBC'er seriously wanting to take time on the floor of the Convention to debate and vote on that.

And on that note, did I hear Morris Chapman's suggestion correctly? Is he seriously suggesting that SBTS and SEBTS bring the Abstract of Principles back to the SBC for the messengers to vote on? Wasn't that settled about 150 years ago or is this supposed to be an "annual call?"

Poor little naive me. I thought using the BF&M as a guide meant just that. I never have thought of a "guide" as a limit. The BF&M is used in our church but it is not a limiting document, only a guide.

And on another note, WHY can't all these bloggers and microphone speakers get it through their head that there is no such thing as the "BF&M 2000?" There is only the BF&M. We don't refer to the Constitution of the U.S. as the "Constitution 1992" which was the year of the last revision. No, it's simply the Constitution. The same is true of the BF&M.

So now we have a new fight going. Too bad that seems to be what we do best at times. God forgive us. Which brings us back to the repentance and holiness themes. I wish we could have stayed with that in San Antonio.

It's me!!!

OK, so I am finally breaking down and getting my very own blog. I have resisted up till now for fear of being deceived by my own hubris that anyone would really care what I have to say.
But, alas, as I have been reading others' blogs I thought I might join in the fun.
Now, all I have to do is think of something to say.............