Wednesday, April 4, 2018

ETBU CHAPEL: A Letter That Still Speaks From A Life That Still Matters

In chapel today, Dr. Lisa Seely, The Director of Global Education and Great Commission Center and Assistant Professor of Religion here at ETBU, gave a stirring message reminding us of the Christian responsibility to 'practice what we preach' by seeking justice and showing mercy. Her message was timely - marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated on this same day in Memphis 50 years ago. Her background text referenced the prophet, Micah - and her chosen text was from the Gospel of Luke, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. She moved through this story, one spoken purposefully by Jesus himself, reminding us of the cost of the Samaritan's actions. She challenged us to look, see and serve those 'on the road' of our journey. Then, for any still not convinced, she offered the staggering statistics of poverty in America - not to shame us but in order to open our eyes.

As she closed, Lisa quoted a short paragraph from Dr. Kings' now famous letter from the Birmingham jail, intentionally reminding us that it was a letter written to clergy - the church - imploring that he STOP. In this long letter, the text of which is a worthy read especially considering its context and our times, King included a paragraph near the end that speaks to us especially today. He writes...

"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century." (Letter from the Birmingham Jail, 16th April, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) 

As I looked about our chapel filled with young adults, 20 Somethings, living in a culture and time that is as fractured as any I can recall, I thought of two things - how difficult these times are and how filled they are with opportunity. Two words - strange bedfellows - so often placed together.  Not just by poets and preachers, but in real life. Difficulty! Opportunity! "What will these 'youngs' do with this culture and their faith" I wondered.  "If it is worship only - the signature response of their generation - it will not be enough." "And... if it is build a building, or start a new ministry, or pander to politics to push an agenda - the signature response of mine - it will not be enough, either." Social action is not the gospel, but it should be a response to it. The church bringing mercy to others will not save it, but it will give us a voice so that we can speak.

The Israelites had many laws they were to keep, but Jesus said there were really only two upon which the entire law hangs. Only Two! To "love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself."  (Matthew 22: 37-40)  Only these - but my, my - what a difference they can make.

After Jesus spoke this parable, He asked...

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 36-37)


Pastor Sam

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Happy Easter from the Dr's Johnson & Pastor Sam

There have been many wonderful steps in my journey but serving as an ETBU 'Visiting Professor' this year has certainly been one of the best. When on this gorgeous campus 4 days each week I am fortunate to office in Scarborough Hall, where I find myself sandwiched between the offices of two dear scholars - Professors Rick and Warren Johnson - or, as I prefer to call them, "The Dr's Johnson."

Now Rick (on my right, and best known as "Slick Rick") is my junior by 2 years - and I take especial delight in informing my students that he is so old that he was my Old Testament professor when I was at seminary. And this is true! And Warren (on my left) is my junior of about 9 years, and I take equal delight discussing with him such complex things as Pauline authorship of New Testament letters and texts, as well as thoughts on which Beatle's Album represents the Liverpool quartet at their best.

But, and this is my point, the most amazing thing about these two scholars is not their relationship to me, the Beatles, or their thoughts on the Old Testament or the Apostle Paul, but their acceptance and love of me and all others, as well as their faithful call to their profession. East Texas Baptist University is fortunate to have such as these two - examples of persons possessing of Christian character, which I have found marvelously evident campus-wide. They, like all who serve here, have made me feel at home. And...I do! This 'city boy' come to the country has found here a setting where Christian scholarship and untiring commitment at readying students toward true 'Kingdom Purpose' still exists. And... it has been an absolutely wonderful experience for me.
In Chapel Worship on Wednesday of this week, our Provost and University Vice President, Dr. Tommy Sanders, reminded us of what this week really means. "Christ is Risen," he said. "The God of the Universe has stepped from heaven to earth offering himself - His blood - as our sacrifice."  "And, more, to set in us an eternal hope by conquering providing us life."  For... "He is Alive and coming again!"

After reminding us of all this, Dr. Sanders next taught us 2 Greek words, then required we turn to our neighbors to speak them - Christos Anesti. He next taught us the appropriate reply. Our response in Greek was to be - Alithos Anesti!  Then explained that these words translate simply as, "He is Risen" and "He is Risen Indeed."  For surely, Tommy finally declared, "He has."

As I thought about this and listened to these 1100 or so young adults echoing that which for centuries has inspired millions of faithful gone before, I could nothing less than simply rejoice. For Tommy was right. Christ is risen. For you, for me, and for all who would receive Him. People just like the Dr's Johnson and me.

For, it is true -

Christos Anesti - indeed!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Christmas! A Pastor's Joy!

This past Sunday Belinda and I went to our church's early service then afterward motored east, to the town of Mt. Pleasant, TX., where our nephew serves as a Minister of Music and was leading his church in their annual Christmas pageant. Due to my schedule as a pastor I have rarely been able to join the family for trips like this, so my mind was filled with thoughts of 'changed opportunities' as we drove through the sunny afternoon countryside. Once there we took our seats and I began a conversation with the little girl next to me. After a few pleasantries she informed me we were sitting in a 'snow zone.' I looked at her curiously as she added, "you will need your poncho under your seat." Still not understanding, she continued, "it's real snow, and its wet."  I smiled, more at her enthusiasm over the thought of 'snow' falling inside a Texas church, then reached for my poncho promising her I'd be ready.

Now strangely, as the music began tp play, without prompting I felt a lump swelling in my throat and began fighting back tears. Surprised, I wondered where this was coming from. Seemingly nowhere! But still, the emotions continued through the entire production. Not sobbing, just a sentimental swell over each sight and sound of familiar songs shared by ordinary men, women and children worshipping Christ as they sang, danced and spoke of the good news of His birth.

Since stepping aside as a Senior Pastor I have been asked hundreds of times, "Pastor, how are you doing?" Each time my reply is the same, 'surprisingly well," I have said, which is true. I have no regrets and am only excited about our church's future, our wonderful new pastor and our steady, capable and faithful church leadership. Yet, in the sanctuary of this small church in Mt. Pleasant, it all hit me. For years I have loved being a pastor at Christmas. I have loved everything about children's services, pageants, special productions, and, of course, Christmas Eve services as I know this is one time people are glad to come worship and remember by listening to a story that never grows old, 'behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy for all people.' For what Pastor doesn't love the opportunity to share this message with people ready to hear it!

And so, as I sat there - not able to contain my memories of all those Christmases I have known, or of the services I have led and children's messages I have shared - I could not help but cry. Not from regret, but from both joy and a bit of sadness that this, at least this part of my life, was now passed.

But then... (and don't we love it when God brings those words into our life) ...but then God brought me home to Monday in Plano, where in the afternoon I broke from my studying to make my way to the Shops at Willow Bend and the familiar store of Dillards, where I have frequented the men's department for years, knowing most, if not all, who work there.  After making my purchase, and still a bit melancholy, at his query I mentioned to the clerk waiting on me that I had retired as pastor, and would not be preaching a Christmas series. Of course he teased me by adding, "and, shucks, I was going to come hear you this year." After we both laughed at this I walked out by way of the suit department to see my good friend, Loyd, who works there as a salesman. Loyd is from Jamaica and has a wonderful personality, and I always look forward to seeing him. As I passed he was standing near a few other's of his department - and I commented, "Looks like we have the first team here today." Loyd, always beaming, said, 'Pastor!  It is good to see you today.'  'And how are you?  Are you ready for your Christmas?  Do you have your messages ready?' I paused to tell Loyd that i was not preaching this Christmas, but with not a moment's hesitation this is what he said...

'But that is not true, pastor. You are always preaching. In fact, I have never known you not doing so. You are preaching today by speaking to me and these other employees, and by greeting us with your smile.  So this is what I say to you this Christmas. May the peace and joy of Christ be yours this day and always as you never tire of being who you are, Pastor Sam, a preacher of the good news of Jesus Christ.'

At this I stopped in my tracks and looked into Loyd's eyes as he beamed back at me with his. I turned to see the young man standing next to him. I knew him. He was in a suit, a new employee, and I knew that I knew him from somewhere. So I thanked Loyd, of course, then turned to walk away.  But then, within a few steps, it hit me. In an instant I turned back to the young man to say, "I know where I know you from! You took my food order at Baker Brothers for years."  "Am I right?" He seemed surprised at first, but then smiled sheepishly and said, 'that's what I love about you, pastor, YOU know people and you know ME.' I smiled back at him and added, "God knows you, too. Much, much more than I do! And... he loves you."

At this there was an awkward pause - for us all - one finally broken by Loyd, who said, 'So Merry Christmas, Pastor. I think you've found your joy once more. And... your way back!'

Driving home after this I passed by my beloved ParkwayHills, and there I thanked God for my friend, Loyd. For, yes, indeed! A pastor's joy is not in a place, but in a message. A message which never grows old. Good news! Great joy! For all people.

Including me and you, too!

Pastor Sam

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Walking by Faith, Heaven Bound

B and I returned to Texas after Thanksgiving but did not come straight to Plano. Leaving our children and grands in OKC we headed east then south to the town of Marshall, Texas. Our purpose? To accept an adventure that began months ago at the invitation of Dr. Blair Blackburn, President of East Texas Baptist University. Blair and I became friends when he and his wife, Michelle, joined ParkwayHills Baptist Church a few years back. Soon after God began stirring in Blair's heart to accept a call to leave his beloved Dallas Baptist University and become the President of ETBU. Through this he and I became close as we met together to pray regarding his decision. Now he has invited me to join him as a visiting member of the faculty - and, after our own prayer, we have decided to do so. So beginning in January, and continuing through the spring of 2018 and likely beyond, we will be in Marshall, Texas 4 days each week to do just that.

Now people who know me know I like to talk about the doctrine of faith. I teach and preach about it regularly, and have enjoyed the fruit of this truth all the days of my Christian life. However, contrary to what some might think, the 'faith to walk' is not always easy. I have learned that though the 'faith to believe' comes to us and stays (by the grace of God who gives it, saves us by it, then keeps us) everyday, walking with Him faith does not. On the contrary, the 'walk of faith', or the faith to continue in Christ, is a forever challenge - the means God uses to both push and bless us with, thereby conforming us into His image and leading us in His plans.

So this is the faith that God is stretching me with today. The faith to follow His call toward new adventure. At my age it is tempting to 'park it,' if you know what I mean. To sit back and watch others. But I know that my final destination is not a bench, it is Heaven. And as one who is Heaven bound I serve as His ambassador, a charge that does not sit and is never called to quit.

Perhaps you might consider this walk of faith for yourself. Perhaps it is a walk calling you to cross the street and share the gospel, to reconnect with an old friend, or lead a Bible study, or to volunteer. Whatever it is, trust God's Word for your life in Him. It is a Word filled with promise. A promise that comes to us as we continue walking in the same way of faith with which we first were called and taught. For the faith to believe is just a beginning, opening the door - always - for more.

 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Col. 2: 6

By faith, 

Pastor Sam 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Marks on the Page

I've long supposed this day would come but just didn't think it would be this soon. Or, put another way, I never thought I'd be this young when I got this old. But, alas, it has happened. I have joined the ranks of my elders found oft complaining, 'where the hay did I put that?" And, "I wonder who took my (?) and chose to not put it back?" And why? Well something that was a favorite of mine, something I wrote long, long ago, and something I thought to share with you again, cannot be found. Which means I have but one choice. If it is to be shared, then... I must write it once more.

So... here goes.

When our church was young and B and I were struggling in every way imaginable - financially, as parents, even at times as a couple - and when our daughter, Taylor, was a busy four-year-old with a personality that was, may I say, GREGARIOUS. :-)  Well, when all this was so I went one evening into to my study/office, located out of necessity in our home, to work on my sermon and finish a paper due for seminary.

Now my study was a sacred place - at least to me. Taylor was not allowed in it without me, and Belinda only entered to clean. But this night, as I came into the room, I discovered one of my books - a treasure - laying open on my desk. Now if you know me you know that I love books, and that I especially love old, classic books of literature and sermons. And this book was such a one - a favorite, a classic, a treasure to me.  As I spontaneously reached for it, not yet aware of anything amiss, my eyes were caught by a dastardly scene. Tracing across the open page, and thereupon several pages more, were random and erratic lines marked heavily by pen. Some of them so hard pressed the pages themselves were damaged. I was mortified. My anger swelled immediately. I knew, of course, who had done this, and my emotional burst of outcry would not be contained. Not only towards Taylor, but towards Belinda. For she too had failed in her duty of watchfulness by allowing our daughter into my study in the first place. Not only miffed, I was devastated. The book would never be the same. This precious book, much more precious to me than anything at that moment, was ruined and that was all I could think of.  Raising my voice, I scolded Taylor harshly, then spanked her and sent her to time out in her room. Next, I let Belinda know how angry and disappointed I was before finally huffing back into my study to sulk, while my true 'treasures' gladly left me alone. In other words, that night our home was miserable.

Now fortunately this story does not end there.  For some years later, I think on a night when Taylor had gone off to a function at school, and I was there - alone - in my now quiet and beautifully accoutered study at the church - I happened upon this book once more. In an instant I remembered that night when she was four, and my heart filled with regret. For gazing upon this book with its same lines, those marks on the page, I remembered the little girl who once wanted nothing more that to be with me, in my study, playing as if she were Dad. With this second look I could see her plainly, to remember her climbing into my arms as I sat in my chair, to show me her drawings and to play as if she were reading to me. The little girl, my daughter, who once looked so enviously at my books because she loved me. And there, that night, my lesson was learned - the treasure no longer was my book, but it was now the marks on its page.

So today, if you visit my study you will find things you might think curious. For upon the shelves and scattered about my books are toys. That's right! There are balls of all kinds, and little sit-arounds of every imaginable type, and, of course, lots and lots of cars. They are there to be played with, to be handled, touched and even broken by any and all such children who might come for a visit. For I learned my lesson well on those nights now long ago, the first in my 'anger' and the next through my 'second look', and have since made it my practice never to forget. For the lesson I learned is that people, not things, are our real treasures. And certainly my book, still on my shelf and with marks on its page, is there to remind me so.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. 
Psalm 127: 3-4

And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 
Genesis 33:5


Pastor Sam