Friday, July 3, 2015

Grieving but not afraid

From Westminter Abbey, London:  I have been on vacation but am still grieving over the dizzying fall of American morality and religious mooring, which seemed to reach an emotional head with SCOTUS's ruling on Friday last. The rainbow colored display flashing across the Whitehouse in our nations Capitol has left me in grief and affected me so much that I have been talking with Trey about this as we've had our vacation time together. He and I have agreed - in the midst of this fall the church's future is not dimmer today - but, rather, holds great opportunity for those courageous enough to be led by the Spirit of God, and boldly creative in faithfully teaching biblical truth to a generation who sees the church as out of touch. If we are to be adamant only about our 'pet peeves' but not about all truth then they will see through us, and should. Indeed, we must teach and live Christ values, not in part but in their complete and powerful entirety. We cannot 'cherry pick' our pet dislike-able sins anymore. Not to this generation. Authentic faith must be revealed through the whole of life - today just as always. 

Here in London young adults are as lost and empty as they are in Dallas, New York and LA. But... they will listen. Especially if our walk matches our talk. 

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. His anger, at the Temple (a point for the church), drove the money-changers out. But... his love - for us all - is what led Him to the cross. In today's world He must remain both our message and our example. Otherwise we will be no more than a 'sounding gong' and 'clanging symbol'.  


Pastor Sam

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Pastor's Manse

Growing up the 'parsonage' or 'pastor's manse' was a place of fond memories and joy. It was on the porch of the church parsonage in Pt.Enterprise, Texas that I first witnessed a young pastor enjoying a relaxed conversation, not from the pulpit, but with deacons talking softly into the summer night. Years later, with a group of teens from church, it was in my own pastor's home that I gathered round a piano at a Sunday evening 'youth fellowship' to sing such choruses as "He's Everything to Me" and "Pass it On" from a 'Sing-spiration' song book. And it was at a visit with my pastor in the study of his home when, as an enthused college freshman, I discussed my feelings and echoed back - amidst his books, quiet ways and his relaxed and loving knowledge - my sense of 'calling' into the gospel ministry.

Tonight, as B and I enjoyed a quiet evening in our own 'manse on Steeplechase,' I noticed her gathering of party knick knacks and setting out of plates, and asked, 'what's the occasion?'  She replied, 'the youth and some leaders are coming over Sunday night, and I want everything ready for them when they arrive.'  I looked at her fondly and thought of what it is that really makes our house here the 'pastor's manse,' knowing it is so much more than my title and job. I know it is Belinda, too, and her ways of love and care for Christ, for me and others - and all the years of her serving our LORD and His purposes at ParkwayHills from this place we call home. Here, in our front room, we have comforted troubled marriages, consoled local youth, and even performed a few weddings. From our kitchen we have served cookies, coffee and prayer upon prayer. So that I am grateful for this place we call home and others call 'the pastor's house,' knowing it has been simply an everyday reflection of our privilege in Christ and love for being called by Him to serve. Yes, growing up the 'parsonage' or 'pastor's manse' was a place of fond memories and joy - and, thinking of it now, it still is.

So blessings to you and yours from both B and me, from this place called simply... the Pastor's Manse!


Pastor Sam

Sunday, May 3, 2015

'Why I Love Frank'

ParkwayHills has been fortunate to have among our membership these last 23 plus years, Rev. Frank Denton. Frank and his wife Dottie joined our fellowship when we were still meeting in Brinker Elementary School - in the early 90s, and their positive influence manifest itself in ways many may not realize but all are fortunate to see.  At a time of life when elder couples often look for that ‘comfortable’ church, Frank and Dottie pitched in our new work with gusto, marking our fellowship with their gentle warmth and wit.

After Dottie passed away in 1994, Frank continued as a faithful member – but not alone – for he was always inviting someone to church. He remained an active member of the Looney LIFEgroup, and a frequent visitor to my study with words of encouragement and ideas about how we might reach more people for Christ.  In serving and sharing Frank never tired – nor backed down. He faithfully practiced evangelism with an encouraging spirit (a rare combination) which showed by the scores of people constantly joining him along our east sanctuary wall. When ParkwayHIlls celebrated its 15th anniversary we did so by burying a time-capsule outside our Southwest door near the tollway, and it was Frank (our faithful elder) who was the last to carry the capsule 'outside' and lay it in place.  As the congregation watched him via camera ‘inside’, we solemnly realized Frank likely would not be here when the 'unearthing' time would come - 25 years forward; so we were both saddened and honored to have this gracious saint place it neath our ground and into its place of 25 year rest.

Now Frank is moving to San Antonio,Texas to be near his children. And this is good! For though at 86 his days of living alone may have passed, his ways of living large will continue as he holds influence and grace over his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and others he'll meet. For Frank, I assure you, will never 'rust out.'

A graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary, Frank served as a successful preacher, pastor, and Baptist leader for years – in both Texas and Missouri, then later as a Baptist ‘cause’ and ‘church-funds’ advocate helping to raise millions in endowment through selfless work with our Texas Baptist Foundation. But, yes... for us here at ParkwayHills, this dear friend will forever remain simply - our precious ‘Brother Frank’ – a man to be missed but ne’er forgot, and a brother we look forward to seeing again when joining hands in glory ‘crossing through' the Eastern Gate.

Pastor Sam

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Together, Resurrection Sunday, ‘He Is Risen, Indeed’

This morning marked my 27thEasster message as pastor of ParkwayHills. In every one of these I have attempted to bring the story of Christ’s resurrection to bear upon each member of our church and its worshippers.  I cannot speak for their effect, nor the sense of felt success upon the people who have endured with me, and, in many ways, I feel sorry for those who’ve sat through them all – such as my wife. :-) Yet, suffice it to say, my goal has never been to do anything more or less than make as clear as I might how key the resurrection of Christ is to our faith.  Indeed, without Christ’s resurrection, there is no resurrection of the dead, our preaching is vain and we are only to be pitted. (Cf, 1st Corinthians 15: 12-22)
That sometime before dawn, or right at it. The stone covering the tomb was rolled away. The earth shook, and the men standing guard were frozen in fear.  Jesus didn’t need to have the stone moved for Him.  He could have moved it Himself.  It was if God said to His Son, ‘here, let me get the door,’ honoring all He’d done.  By dying for the sins of the world, enduring such suffering and pain, He was now raised by God’s power – on the 3rd day – just as He said He would be.  Jesus was alive!  

We also know that the tomb was visited by at least four women who had followed Jesus from Galilee.  By putting the accounts together, we see this to be – Mary Magdalene and the ‘Other Mary’ from Matthew and we know that this “other Mary’ is also ‘Mary, Mother of James’ as given us by Mark and Luke. To these two are added Salome by Mark and Joanna by Luke.  

We also know there were angels at the tomb. Some inside, some outside, some walking along the way, and others standing beside the women as they stood.  Whether these were many in all of these places or some of an amount fewer and moving about, the case for their action remains – angels were everywhere – each speaking the same message of... do not be afraid, look and see He is risen, and go and tell the disciples – and, this they did! 

We know that Jesus appeared to all the women as they went to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:9) but to Mary Magdalene alone (John 20: 14ff) either as the first to see him by separating from the others on the way to the disciples, or as a second to see Him by holding back at the tomb for a while and not leaving immediately with the others, but following after them a moment later.   

But finally, we know that the women did go to the disciples to tell them the news. We know that when the disciples heard them they thought they were babbling, mistaken and confused.  We know that at hearing all this that Peter and John ran to the tomb and went in, and that John (or, the ‘other’ disciple) outran Peter - and went in first. And we know that both of them saw that what the women had said was true. The grave was empty with only the burial cloths lying where the body had been and with the face cloth ‘not lying with the linen’ but ‘folded up in a place by itself.’  (Jn. 20:7)

Yes, and we know, finally, that before Jesus ascended to heaven He appeared to at least 500 people in all.  And that among these eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ there is no testimony by any regarding anything leading anyone to believe this untrue.  Indeed, truth be told, most of these went to their death – without fear – over what they had seen. They had seen the risen Savior.  Jesus was alive.  And because He was, so too were they - forever. 

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God…
1 Cor. 15: 12-15a

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1 Cor. 15: 20-22
He is Risen, indeed!

Pastor Sam

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Together, Day 2 – Saturday, ‘The Few, The Fearless, The Deceived'

BURIAL: Mark 15:42-46; Matthew27:57-60; Luke 23: 50-54; John 19: 31-42
The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown (or 6:00 pm) on Friday, and continues through sundown of the next day.  Sometime in the late afternoon, before 6:00 pm, Jesus is taken from the cross by Joseph of Arimethea and carried to a tomb nearby, where no one had 'yet been laid'.  Mark records Joseph went ‘boldly’ to Pilate (Mk. 15:43) and was given permission to see to the burial.  Matthew records the ‘new’ tomb is Joseph’s (Mt. 27:60), and adds that he (Joseph) had been a disciple of Jesus (v. 57). Luke tells us that Joseph was a counselor, or member of the Sanhedrin (Lk. 23:50), and ‘not consenting’ to Jesus’ death (v. 51) And John says that Joseph was a ‘disciple’ of Jesus (Jn. 19:38) but ‘secretly.’ John also adds that Joseph was assisted by Nicodemus, who brought burial spices of ‘myrrh and aloe,’ and that together they wrapped and prepared Jesus’ body after the Jewish custom before laying it in the tomb (Jn. 19:39-40).

OBSERVANCE: Mark 15:47; Matthew 27:61; Luke 23:55
In one verse from each of the Synoptic gospels we learn Jesus’ burial was watched or ‘beheld’ by ‘Mary Magdalene’ and ‘Mary, Mather of Joses' (Mk), or the ‘other Mary’ (Matthew) who is mentioned in Luke 8, and is the mother of Jesus’ disciple, James the Younger, the brother of Joses.  These followed him ‘out of Galilee’ (Luke). How long the women stayed near the tomb is uncertain - though likely it was not long, as we are told they went home to prepare spices and observe the Sabbath by resting ‘according to the commandment’ (Luke 23:56).

COVER: Matthew 27:62-66
Then Matthew adds one piece more regarding this Saturday. That ‘on the morrow’ (either the morning of Saturday or Friday night - if noting days as per Jewish custom) with Sabbath in full swing (which I find interesting for these so bent on the law) the Chief Priests and Pharisees gather before Pilate and request he command the sepulcher made secure, with guards posted to ensure Christ’s body is not stolen, which would allow false claims to be made. Pilate agrees.

As I reflect on these few verses surrounding Saturday, I think first of how few there are.  Not much is said and all seems solemn and silent. Secondly, I think of how few people are involved.  His closest disciples are absent – no doubt from fear and from heartbreak – but absent nonetheless, and the followers from the cross to burial are but four.  But weren’t they bold and fearless! Joseph before Pilate!  Nicodemus, too, with enough love and devotion to take the beaten and bruised body of our LORD from His cross, and to wrap and cover Him with precious oil, perhaps hearing - as he does - a whisper in the wind saying, ‘born again!  Born again! Born again!’ And the women, too, one being the ‘Magdalene’ - whom tradition and scripture affirm as a person possessing no fear. 

But, then, there were the deceived.  These Pharisees, who thought themselves so certain of success.  Who, in their minds, felt their action good for all Jews – but who were so, so wrong.  Complicit to their deed was the foolish assumption that they spoke for God.  Their deception was that man can interpret God while worshipping self!  But... they were wrong. For Jesus was not put to death by these - but by His own choice.  And in that choice, Satan lost! The death of Christ was but God’s sacrifice, and His resurrection to come will not be held back by stone or halted by guard.  No!  It is simply the Sabbath.  A day of rest by God’s decree!  And... as our LORD ‘s body lay in the tomb, all of heaven waited!    

Pastor Sam  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Easter Together, Day 3- 'Friday, and why we call it Good'

Good Friday are the two words forming our name for the Friday of Holy Week, but as I asked people in the community to tell me why this was so, I received varied response. 
Here are a few:
Honest - TEENAGER AT EINSTEIN’S - HALF KIDDING, BUT NOT:  ‘It’s a ‘good’ Friday because we get the day off from school.’
Clueless - YOUNG PROFESSIONAL AT CAR SPA CAR WASH: ‘Aren’t all Friday’s good?’
Closer - NEIGHBOR: ‘I suppose because it is the Friday before Easter – and Easter is good.’
Right OnJUAN OF OUR CHURCH MAINTENANCE STAFF: ‘Pastor! Jesus was crucified on Friday, and that was sad – but for me it was very good.’ – a source for quick answers to everyday Bible questions writes:
What the Jewish authorities and Romans did to Jesus was definitely not good (see Matthew chapters 26-27). However, the results of Christ’s death are very good! Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” First Peter 3:18 tells us, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” Read more:
After Jesus institutes the LORD’S Supper on Thursday evening (Mark 14: Matthew 26: Luke 22), A.T. Robertson in his Harmony of the Gospels, turns to the chronology set forth in the Gospel of John - by placing that Christ shared two great discourses with His disciples (John 14-16). The first he places as occurring while still in the Upper Room (Jn.14), and the second while 'on the way' - perhaps while crossing the Kidron valley/stream and coming to the foot of the Mount of Olives – or, as Robertson has it, ‘perhaps on the street’ as they walk. (Jn.15-16). 
Robertson next records Christ’s Great Intercessory Prayer for us (John 17), and surmises that this occurs near Gethsemane. Then, John's gospel follows in chapter 18 v.1, with Jesus entering ‘a garden’ for prayer.  In all of this, John becomes our singular source in his chapters 14-17 for Jesus’ shared words from the Upper Room to the ‘Garden of Gethsemane’.  Matthew and Mark simply recite that ‘after they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives and came into a place which was named Gethsemane (Mark 14:26; Matthew 26:30).  And Luke tells us only that they ‘came out’ and went as was His custom to the Mount of Olives, and when He was ‘at the place’ He asked His disciples to pray before he moved from them ‘about a stone’s throw’ and knelt and prayed himself.  (Luke 22: 39ff)
Turning now to the activities of Gethsemane and beyond, it is assumed that throughout the late night and into early morning Jesus prays. Then, sometime before dawn on Friday, He is arrested and brought before the ex High Priest, Annas, first - then the High Priest, Caiphas himself.  As dawn arises or likely before, Peter denies Jesus 3 times outside the High Priest’s home and Sanhedrin 'trial'. Following this, after being condemned by the Sanhedrin, Christ moves through a series of Roman authority trials (Herod Antipas, and Pilate twice).  On this same Friday, Judas repents of his deed and returns the 30 pieces of silver to say, ‘I have sinned in that I betrayed 1innocent blood’ then ‘goes out and hangs himself.’ (Matthew 27: 3-5) And on this Friday - early in the morning - Jesus is mocked by the soldiers, and before 9:00 am arrives He is walking to Golgotha, carrying His cross. 
For the first three hours Jesus hangs on the cross (9:00 am – Noon) our gospels record Him saying, ‘Father forgive them’ – “And I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’ – and to His mother, “woman, behold your son’ (indicating John and Jesus’ appointment for her care)
In the next three hours (Noon till 3:00 pm), as darkness covers the sky, the gospels record four more sayings of Christ – ‘Eloi, Eloi, la ma sabachthani which interpreted, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ –‘I thirst’ – ‘ It is finished’ – and “Father, into your hand I commit my spirit.’ 
On this Friday, as Jesus breathes His last, the Temple veil is torn from top to bottom – signifying the wall of partition separating God from man is now gone.  And on this Friday, before 6:00 pm, Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in Joseph of Arimethea's tomb. Death had come, our sin sacrifice is complete and our penalty is paid in full. 
Yes, on this Friday, as Juan said, it was a 'sad day' for us who love Jesus because we know it was a day of great suffering and agony.  But, praise be to God, by His death we are forgiven, by His stripes we are healed and by His sacrifice we may cry – ‘Oh my God, thank you’, for this is our Good Friday, indeed!
Pastor Sam   

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter Together, Day 4 – Thursday, ‘A Day of Preparation and Command’

Some may know this Thursday of Holy Week as the Day of Preparation (A.T. Robertson, Harmony) as on this day Jesus instructed two (likely Peter and John, cf. Mark 14:12-16, Matt 26: 17-19, Luke 22:7-13) to make preparation for He and His disciples to share the Passover meal after sunset (the beginning of Jewish Friday).  It is also known as Communion Thursday – for on this evening, while partaking the meal, Jesus gave instruction/command for the observance we know as Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. So that for many, it is referred to as Maundy Thursday, taken from the French, mande, meaning something commanded, and the Latin word/phrase Mandātum novum dō vōbīs – a new commandment I give to you. 
Now the texts from this day remind us of the intentionality of Jesus as He made preparation for the greatest act of love the world would know. They also remind us of how Christ readied the disciples for their future by teaching elements of the gospel itself, as well as the posture and heart they would be called on to employ as they shared the good news.  
Here we see…
Jesus’ PREPARATION: Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14: 12-16; Luke 22: 7-13
Jesus’ INSTRUCTION: Matthew 26: 20-29; Mark 14: 17-23; Luke 22: 14-30
Jesus’ unselfish service and LOVE: John 13:17-26
As Jesus brings an end to His pre-resurrection ministry there’s not one detail left undone.  His instruction to prepare for the Passover was but instruction to make ready a meal meant to point to Him.  He is the Passover Lamb about to be slain - and His spotless blood will be the atonement made once for all. 
During the Jewish Festival of Passover a Seder (meaning meal) is observed. There are 6 unique foods used representing Israel’s move from bondage to freedom.  And, there is the Wine, of which the four cups symbolize Israel’s trust in God’s fourfold promise of redemption:
“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians, I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:6-7)

Much is written about Jesus’ interaction with the cup or cups. Many feel it was with the last cup - the 4th, or perhaps even the 5th - Elijah’s cup (one traditionally left poured but not drunk from) that He took then said – “this cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  And, “I’ll not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  But, either way, the cup symbolized for them their redemption - and Jesus’ said plainly that He was the New Covenant sent from God to be their redemption by His blood. 

Other things happened on this evening, as well.  The disciples discussed their loyalty, and who among them would betray Christ. Judas leaves to perform his treacherous deed - not returning till in the Garden on the marrow with soldiers and a kiss.  And... there is one thing more - after supper Jesus takes a towel and washes His disciples feet.  The Son of God who laid out the foundations of the world, and is now readying to die as a God’s perfect sacrifice for sin, bows His glorious knee before these and serves. 

Today Jim Denison, of Denison Forum on Faith and Culture spoke to our church concerning the threat of the IS (Islamic State) and how, as Christians, we can respond. He was clear that the intent of these who make up this movement, some 7% perhaps at most of all Muslims, are persons holding tenets that embody a radical interpretation of their faith, its texts, and the ‘end-times.’ Their intent and goal is to ‘serve’ their God by destroying anything and anyone not submitting to their form of Islam – which especially would include persons and the ideology of the “West” (the new Rome).

At the close of his presentation Dr. Denison asked us to pray for Muslim’s around the world - that they might come to Christ, and especially Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – the leader of IS.  Confessedly, many found this difficult. Images of brutality, beheadings and murder, of persecution and hate-filled rage – all in the name of God - filled our heads.  As we did so, however, I could not help but think of this evening in the life of Christ – who after he had told His disciples of His purpose and plan, He who was the gospel right in front of their eyes, took a towel to wipe their feet.  So that the One who was their sacrifice was also the One showing them their way. 

It was a Maundy Thursday, indeed -

Pastor Sam