Sunday, April 20, 2014

Earning Heaven @ Easter

  Former Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, recently sat down with The Weekly Standard for an interview.  The mayor was about to attend his 50th college reunion.  In doing the interview, he opined on his own mortality, seeing so many of his classmates had already died.  At age 72, he, like many others, begin to understand that time on earth is limited.   He admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.  But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day.  Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
  Well, mayor, I hate to break the news to you, but the very fact that you said “if” there is a God, suggesting that “if” there is a heaven, pretty well means you will not make it, if I understand the word of God.  Heaven  is an eternal home for people of faith.  People of faith do not speak in “ifs”.  People of faith speak in the certainties given them by the Word of the Most High God.  And the interview?  No one bypasses it.  It consists of only one question.  “Do you know my Son?”
   The mayor’s views on heaven pretty well mirror those of our culture, who think heaven is something we must “do good” or “be good” to obtain.  The Word of God teaches us that heaven is gained by the grace of God through faith in His Son, Jesus.  Grace is defined as “the unmerited favor of God.”  If it is unmerited, that means we have done nothing to merit  (earn) it.  It is freely given, and has nothing to do with all our good work or our sterling character.
   Heaven is going to  be full of sinners whose myriad of sins has been paid for by the death of Jesus on the cross.  His resurrection is proof that our faith was not in vain.  There is no “If there is a God…” or “If there is a heaven…”  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ give us the assurance of that for which we hope.  That’s what Easter is all about.  I pity those for whom there is no certainty about eternity.  For the people of faith, Jesus paid it all, and that means if I follow Him I will not have to pay the price for my sin.
   Hopefully, this Easter season will be the one that removes all the “ifs” from Mayor Bloomberg’s theology.  I pray for him that he will soon know the certainty of God and heaven, through Jesus Christ.  I praise God that I came to that many years ago and as I face the end of my days, I do it with joy in my heart because I know for certain where I will spend eternity.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Word About Pastor’s Wives

   I can tell you from personal experience that there is no harder job in the world than being the wife of a pastor.  I know this because I am married to one.  I wish every member of every church could understand for just an instant how much these women mean to the churches where their husbands serve.  Let me tell you some things about pastor’s wives.

   First of all, pastor’s wives are expected to have opinions and convictions about everything but are criticized if they ever express them.  Most churches want their pastor’s wife to be soft-spoken, stay in her place in the background, and attend every session of every ministry in the church, or else she is considered stand-offish and cold.   She is to dress well so as to reflect well on the church and her husband, while at the same time stand criticized for her extravagance in clothes.
   She is expected to attend all WMU meetings, so as to be up to snuff on all church gossip, but must never share that gossip with anyone.  (My wife chose to go to work outside te home in order to avoid having to attend.)  Also, she is expected to replenish the nursery by bearing children.  After all, any self-respecting wife wants to bear children (tongue in cheek).  In fact, Southwestern Seminary is so concerned that women learn how to be good wives to the pastors that they have developed a course of study on the task.  That course involves cooking classes, sewing classes, parenting classes, etc.  After all, they reason, any good wife must know these skills.
   It has been my joy to have known many pastor’s wives.  For the most part, these women are real heroines.  They will surely have many stars in their crowns on that glorious day.
   That brings me to my own pastor’s wife.  Holly is a rare gem.  Thank God, Holly is a hugger.  So am I.  We live in San Antonio where an “abrazo” (embrace) is like a handshake. It just wouldn’t be Sunday if I didn’t get a hug from Holly when walking through the entrance doors.  She gets to church early and hugs literally hundreds of people, men and women alike, as they come through the door.   I have never seen anyone who shows as much interest in the families that come through the door each and every week.  She converses knowledgably with one after another, expressing genuine interest in the goings on of each and every person.  I am amazed, but she does it week after week after week.
   Generally speaking, when someone joins our church, Holly is the first person, other than the minister,  to greet them at the front, often with a hug, and helps them fill out their membership cards, and generally makes them feel welcome.
   At the end of the service she is always standing at the door with her husband, hugging some of the same people she had greeted earlier.  I do believe many people stand in that slow moving line, at the head of which the pastor stands,  just to get to hug Holly once more. 
   No pastor’s wife I have ever known has the unique people skills of our pastor’s wife and she uses those skills to foster relationships with as many people as possible.   I have joked with our pastor that if he ever got it in his head to leave us, he could leave but Holly would have to stay.  Thank you, Holly, for the way you support my pastor’s ministry and for the way you express love to the fellowship.  That’s what a pastor’s wife should do.
   God bless all you wives of pastors out there.  Here is at least one person, other than your husband, who understands your circumstances and loves you for answering God’s call to you to be the wife of a pastor.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Determining Destiny

   Sometime in the forties or early fifties a movie was made called, “The Code Of The Secret Service”, starring Ronal Reagan.  The movie so impressed a young man by the name of Jerry Parr, that he was inspired want to be in the Secret Service.  Jerry achieved his dream and eventually found himself  assigned to the very prestigious presidential protection unit.  Jerry was on duty March 30, 1981, when the unthinkable happened.  A man by the name of John Hinkley opened fire on the presidential party as it left the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. following a speaking engagement by the president.
   It was Jerry Parr who shoved the president into the limousine when the shots were fired.  “Get to the White House”, Parr told the driver.  Then he began running his hands over the president to see if he was wounded.  He concluded he was not wounded. He could not have known that one of the shots ricocheted off the car door and into the body of the president, under his left arm.   It was Jerry Parr who saw the slight trickle of blood from the presidents mouth and made the decision to go to the George Washington University Hospital, where a bullet was found lodged in the lung of the president.
   Parr’s quick action and split second decision might well have saved the life of President Ronald Reagan.  Later Parr would tell the president, “Your movie, ‘The Code Of The Secret Service’ made me want to be a Secret Service agent.  Mr. President, you influenced your own destiny with that movie.” 
   In one way or another we all influence our destiny.  God has a plan for each of us.  To find that plan and to walk with God is the greatest influence we could have on our destiny. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Chaplain Of Bourbon Street

    Only the elderly will remember Bob Harrington, known to all as The Chaplain of Bourbon Street.  Bob was a dynamic evangelist.  His ministry was almost exclusively to the drunks and prostitutes of New Orleans, where he had a chapel that welcomed all.  I was reminded of him by an article in our morning paper, remembering the night Harrington preached to San Antonio Spurs fans at halftime of one of their games.  That may have been the only time that happened in the annals of professional basketball.  Although it was in the old ABA days, before the leagues merged into what is now the NBA, it was still a strange occurrence.
   Harrington was not only a great preacher, but he was extremely entertaining, his messages often sounding like a stand-up comedy routine.  The paper remembered him saying, “While many of you are going out to get your Pearl (beer), I am here to talk to you about the Pearly Gates.”  While preaching at a pro basketball halftime may have been unusual, it was normal for Harrington.  He would preach wherever he could get a few folks to listen.  While working mostly with the dredges of New Orleans, he would often make preaching trips north of the Crescent City to raise money for his ministries.  He would enthrall listeners with stories of drunks and prostitutes who had come to Jesus.  Really exciting stuff. 
   He preached a couple of crusades at a large church in San Antonio back in the day, and gathered around him a host of supporters.  While many criticized him and his methods, most thought he was doing God’s work.  Some would often remind him of the old adage, “You can’t lie down with dogs without getting up with fleas”, and that is just about what happened to him in New Orleans.  In spite of his good work, and that should never be discounted, he succumbed to the temptations of his locale, and his ministry came to a crashing end.
   According  to the paper, Harington now lives in Oklahoma. 
   There will be some who look at this man and blame him for yielding to temptation.  There will be others, like myself, who look past his failings to see the outstanding work he did along Bourbon Street that earned him the name, “Chaplain of Bourbon Street.”  When Bob Harrington gets to heaven he will be greeted by hundreds, perhaps thousands, who found Christ because of his work.  I wonder how many of his critics will be able to say the same.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

.Have Southern Baptists Surrendered?

   The question in the title of this post was raised by Brian Fisher, Issues Analyst for the American Family Association, in a recent article.  He said, “The man who is the face and voice of the Southern Baptist Convention on public policy believes fighting to protect natural marriage is a ‘politically ridiculous thing to do right now.’

   Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the face and the voice of the SBC on matters of public policy. His role is thus of enormous importance since the SBC is the largest  non-Catholic denomination in America.

   According to a piece by Byron York in the Washington Examiner - Evangelical leader shows how GOP can finesse gay marriage - Moore has made public statements that cry out for clarification, correction and possible repudiation.

   Fisher asks, “Why is it critical that evangelicals continue to defend biblical marriage - even if the chances of success are bleak?”

   He further states that evangelicals need to keep on keeping on in our efforts to win the day, saying, “If we keep plugging away we can win this battle.  We are called to be faithful, not successful.  We are His salt and light in our dark world.””

   “Just the title of York's piece is troubling enough.   Do we really need evangelical leaders who want to "finesse" the issue of same sex marriage? Do we not instead need evangelical leaders who will paint with bold colors on the issue of marriage rather than the pale pastels that apparently fill Moore's palette?”

   “According to York, when Moore spoke to journalists at a conference sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, he could not even bring himself to insist that his own ideal candidate for the presidency in 2016 must be a vocal proponent of natural marriage.”

   “Why? Because in Moore's tragically short-sighted and weak-kneed view, the battle for marriage is lost and there is no point in fighting any more.”

   “Moore contends that we must simply run up the white flag of surrender and embrace our dismal fate, apparently kind of like Poland in 1938. Says Moore, we must resign ourselves to accepting that "same-sex marriage is inevitable in American culture."

   This all sounds a bit like the politicians who are now proclaiming a “first we must win, and then we can fight” mentality in this year’s political races.  In other words, “Keep your convictions about controversial issues to yourself so that you can get elected.
   Folks, if we have come to the place in America where it is more important to get elected than it is to keep the faith of our Father in heaven, then we indeed have nothing left to cherish in this country.

   If Russell Moore said what he was accused of saying, he should resign or be fired.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Render Unto Caesar

   Like many Americans, this past weekend I rendered unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, as I completed my 2013 income tax return.  This annual ritual marks the 60th time I have done my own taxes.  On three occasions during that 60 years I have had to answer to the government in audits of my return.  That means there have been 57 submissions of my tax returns that required no audit.   If I did the math correctly, that is .05% of my tax returns that required an audit.
   That is considerably better than I will do with the judgment of God.  100% of the people living today will die and will face an eternal judge.  They will be judged by the Most High God, and there is no escaping it with tricky math.  Primarily, our Righteous Judge will ask one question.  He will ask, “Do you know my Son?”  And by “know” He will mean, “are you one of His disciples?”  The answer to that question determines where we will spend eternity.
   There will be no escaping that judgment.  Every person who dies will face that question.  There is only one acceptable answer.  There will not be any, “Well I have been a good person.”, or “I did the best I could.”  The only acceptable answer is, “Yes.  I have followed your Son, Jesus.  He is my Lord and my Savior.”
   In its simplest form, that is the story of the Lord’s gospel.  That is the message of our churches.  That is the preaching we are to do. 
   The Lord did not call us to be psychiatrists in the pulpit.  He didn’t call us to preach psycho-babble.  He called us to preach in such a way as to make following Jesus the desirable response.
   When the church gets back to doing the main thing she was designed to do, and the preachers get back to doing the main thing they were called to do, we will see a great revival sweep across our land. Fate of our nation is in the hands of the people of God. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

“Noah” Mindful Of Science Fiction

   Let me get this out of the way first of all—I recommend that you see the new movie, “Noah”.  However, if you go thinking this is the Bible story, you will be disappointed.  The producers have never claimed their movie was true to the Bible, only that it is based on the Bible story.    Frankly, I think the Bible story is pretty dramatic and would make a good movie, but, as Hollywood generally does, great liberties were taken.  As you watch it you will be constantly reminded, “This is fiction.”  It is Hollywood’s way to answer some questions left unanswered in the Bible.
   I need to be careful here because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone.  All I can tell you is that it has some of the most spectacular special effects, and some really interesting science fiction-like characters, who are supposed to be fallen angels called “The Watchers.”  These Watchers not only helped Noah build the ark, but protected him and his family as the evil humans tried to take the ark for themselves when it started to rain.   BTW, none of this was included in any trailers I saw.  I suspect if it had been people would not have gone to see it. 
   The entire premise of the movie was that Noah believed God wanted all human beings dead, including him and his family. He believed God wanted the new world to be exclusively for His other created beings, the animals.  However, those of us who know the Bible story know that what movie Noah believed was not true at all.  Speaking of animals, the movie had a great answer to the age old question about how they took care of all those creatures during the boat trip.  That was interesting and I am not going to spoil it for you. 
   Several things kept jumping out at me.  As you know, tradition has Noah’s son, Ham, migrating to Africa and where he was thought to be the progenitor of the non-white races originating in Africa.  In the movie, Ham was clearly the rogue among Noah’s three sons.  I really expect the NAACP to make something of that.  They, too, need to remember this was only a Hollywood movie, mostly fictional, while based on a Bible story.
   An interesting note I read the other day was that no live animals were used in this movie.  All depicted animals were computer-generated.  It was absolutely breath-taking.  Something else of note is that in the movies men seem to age, while women do not.  At the end of the movie, Noah had a lot of gray in his hair and beard, while his lovely wife had not one single gray hair on her head, and scarcely a wrinkle.
   One other thing…I never heard the word “God” used in the movie.  God was always referred to as the “Creator”.  Also interesting is the fact that movie Noah was vegan, and would not eat meat because he would have had to kill an animal, which he never would have done.  There were many references to “taking care of what the Creator provided.” 
   Frankly, I was a bit surprised that Noah did not try to convince us that the flood was caused by global warming.  That would have been consistent with some of the other themes of the movie.  The battle was clearly between those who thought all creation should be protected and honored and those who felt man was put here to have dominion over creation.  The latter were portrayed as patently evil.  Sorry about that all you hunters. 
   The movie was epic in scope, but will never replace “The Ten Commandments” in our hearts and minds.  And Russell Crowe will never take the place of Cecil B. Demille, maker of Moses’ story, with Charlton Heston.  But, you should go see it anyway.