Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Anxious for Nothing

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to youMatthew 6:25-33

These words of Christ are arresting - and I suspect that if more time were spent heeding and less time were spent discussing them even we preachers might benefit.

As a young man I foolishly thought a time would come when the temptation to worry would wane. Naively I suspected that flourishing in a good job, possessing a stable family and enjoying relatively good health would usher me to a place where this temptation was no more. But, alas, as the years have passed I have learned otherwise. No one prepared me for coming to my 'sixties' and dealing with aging parents, concerns over health and challenges of a transitioning career - or, for that matter, even 'grown' children occupying my thoughts and raising my concern from time to time. So what happened? Well this - the 'natural' life - the one God spoke of in Genesis 3, after the fall - a life of work, produce, measure, comparison and... unfortunately worry.  

Now I do 'know' better. I know that Jesus spoke as He did to instruct those listening to step away from their natural bent and choose otherwise. And I know, too, that the Apostle Paul's similar instruction to the Philippians (Philippians 4:6-7) is a command to the same followed by and made possible based upon a theology that 'in Christ' we are given power to do so (Phil. 3:1). But still... I fail, and do so 'miserably' at times.

Ahhhh... but when I do get it right! Yes, when times occur that I am able by God's grace to walk away from what is 'natural' and step up to the possible 'in Christ' it feels oh so good. When I do as my LORD instructed and consider the lilies of the field and the reasonableness and sanity of the truth that worry will not add one day to my life, nor money to my pocket, nor any thing close to peace of mind. When I consider His love for me - a love so great as to die for me on the cross, causing me, as Paul puts it, to 'rejoice in the LORD,' I am in a place where His blessings, already given, can be realized - and that is where I want to be.

So be gone all you devils and all of you demons and be quiet you 'old man of the flesh'. For I choose today to think on these things - my LORD, the truth, the honorable and the just. To remember the pure, the lovely, the commendable and the excellent. And to see those things most worthy of praise and thereby live in Him worry free - today, tomorrow, and much more than I'm 'naturally' won't, always!

Pastor Sam

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I called my pastor today!

I called my pastor today. Pastor Gordon Dorian, affectionately known by me and many as, "Bro. D." Gordon is now 93 and he and his wife, Doris, still live in Wichita, KS., where he served as the Pastor of the Olivet Baptist Church from 1954-1989.

Gordon was called to Olivet Baptist after completing his seminary training in 1954. While attending seminary and college he did itinerant preaching and served smaller churches, the last of which was the Alta Mere Baptist Church of Ft. Worth. In the early 40s Gordon served in the United States Navy, and after WWII ended and he was discharged, he came back home to attend 'Carson Newman College' (now university), one of our great old Baptist Schools nestled in the mountains of Tennessee. At Carson Newman he met Doris, 5 years his junior, and the handsome couple stepped forward to answer his call to ministry together. While at Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary in Ft. Worth they started a family; then, after completing seminary, a four-year-old Southern Baptist mission, now a newly formed church of the Kansas Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention, called him as their pastor.

The next years were filled with dynamic growth, and by the time the Dennis' arrived from Texas in 1964 - then followed by joining Olivet in 1965, the church was booming with a strong youth ministry to the students of the North-West Wichita community. The Dorians' first two children were classmates of mine and my eldest sister, Pam, and their youngest daughter, born in Kansas, was a classmate of our little sister, Kim. The Dorian family were active in every area of our community, and Gordon was ever-ready to share the gospel with anyone who might sit still long enough to listen. I can't count the number of times he 'shocked' or 'embarrassed' me by engaging in conversation with a stranger at restaurant or store about either his church, the gospel, or both - so that when the same now happens to me with my own (family or staff) I simply smile sheepishly at them thinking how I was trained and held accountable by this wonderful man.

One Wednesday, when I was about 20 (ca.1970), Gordon asked me to ride with him in his Buick Electra to Oklahoma City. He wanted to take me to First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, where Johnny Bisagno was pastor. On the way down he told me that we were going to a youth service led by a young preacher on Johnny's staff.  The young preacher was Richard Hogue, and the program was called "Encounter."  What I saw was unbelievable.  There were over 200 hundred High School students - if not more - engaged in s service that was just theirs. The music was loud, enthusiastic, and almost rock and roll like - and Richard preached in a way I had never heard - speaking from God's Word but to the hearts of young people in a way and with illustrations they could understand.

After the service ended, Bro. D and I got back in his car to drive home. But, by the time we had hit Edmond, he asked me, "Well, Sam, what did you think of that?" Still excited over what I'd seen, I told him that I was impressed - that I'd never seen anything like that before, but loved it.  After a pause, Gordon replied, "Sam, I'd like to start something like that at Olivet."  Then asked, 'do you think that could work in our city?"  I said, "Bro. D, that would be great -and, yes, I think it could."  After another pause he continued, "Sam, I believe that you're the one to lead that service." When he said that my heart began to race. I was shocked - and felt so insecure - but in my heart of hearts I knew that this was what God wanted me to do. Bro. D then asked me to pray about it and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.  Within 6 months over 100 students were meeting on Wednesday nights at Olivet Baptist Church, and "Encounter Christ" became a place where scores of young men and women gave their hearts to Christ, and a young preacher/pastor was born.

When I was young man people would often ask me about Encounter Christ.  I would tell the story - but, somehow, in my youth I often left out the part of this pastor who'd put me in his car to drive me to Oklahoma City. Now that I am a pastor of many years, I realize that pastor's all over, just like Gordon, who dream dreams and see visions, and who call out the called, are the very reason many of us are now doing what we do.

This week one of my church members came by to see me. He had no agenda. His purpose was simply to love on me, and... it was good.  After lunch, and as I stepped out of his truck to return to my office, my heart was overwhelmed with joy for my call. And, right then I thought of Bro. D. I thought of how much I loved him and of the impact he'd had on my life and the lives of so many.  So... I texted the pastor who had succeeded him, one who'd been called into the ministry under my own preaching, and who followed me by serving on Gordon's staff as Youth Pastor before stepping up to take his place after Gordon retired. I asked Ron Pracht if he'd talked to Bro. D. lately, then, I paused - why should I ask Ron this question?  Why shouldn't I call to talk to Bro. D.?  So... I did!  After three rings Gordon answered the phone with a voice as strong as ever. "Is this Sam Dennis?" "Yessir, it is."  "Well how are you?"  With tears running down by cheeks I reported I was fine, and vainly kept trying to turn the conversation back to him. But, Bro. D would not let me. "What are you reading?"  "With whom have you shared the gospel?" "How's the church doing?"

Thankfully, I must add, when the question came to me about the gospel I had an answer for him.  Bro D never allowed anything otherwise. He always said, 'any preacher who doesn't share the gospel is really no preacher at all."  He was right!

Thank you, Bro. D.

Pastor Sam

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