Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Morning from Phoenix AZ.

Good morning.  As I write this I am sitting on a folding chair in the hallway of Weinberg Elementary School in Gilbert, AZ.  I am readying for worship with the FreedomLIFE Church of Phoenix, which is part of an exciting emphasis by Southern Baptists to plant churches in larger metropolitan cities across the US.  The cities were chosen based upon their size and because they each hold near negligible ratio’s of evangelical populations and witness. In short, few people claim to be followers of Christ in these cities – hence, the emphasis. 

We are here working with Pastor Shea Ferguson, who, at the call of God upon both he and his wife, Amber, have uprooted themselves and their four children to move here from Georgia and become church planters. ParkwayHills is one of a handful of churches lending them financial support, and this weekend our Missions and Women’s Minister, Suzi Prizer, arranged for us to come and help them with a block party, neighborhood canvassing, partnership with an area pregnancy center, and by bringing encouragement, love and support. Needless to say, for Belinda and me, this has brought back memories of our own journey – one which began for us 28 years ago this month. 

So this morning I asked Pastor Shea what he wanted from me for this final day of our visit, and he told me he wanted me to preach.  I said, “No, Pastor! You preach! This is your church.” Then he added, ‘but, Pastor, our people need to hear from someone who has already done this, and who can tell them that they, through the power of God, can do this too.’  I understood.  So my text in a few moments will be from Matthew 16 – which reminds us that upon Peter’s confession, our confession and the very same confession of all others who will follow, God WILL build His church. And with longing and love in my heart for this pastor, his family and precious church, I will say so once again.  And… I will, of course, remember. I will remember the days of Brinker Elementary school in Plano, the handful of families who came in 1989, the challenges we faced, and the joy and miracle we witnessed over and again. For, indeed, it really is so - God WILL, and DOES, build His church, still.  
So thank you ParkwayHills for giving me, Belinda, Bobby & Kim Adams, Mark Goode, Jim Hitt, Walter Mickels & Lisa Vanderburg the opportunity to go to Phoenix this weekend and tell this pastor and his small flock what we, too, have seen and know – that, ‘with God all things are possible’ - especially the building of His church. For, as the text says...

You are Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (petra – meaning your confession that I am the Christ) I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail (stand) against it.’   Matthew 16: 18 

Blessings from Phoenix, indeed!  

Pastor Sam

Monday, January 9, 2017

MISSION/17 - Legacy

As we begin a new year of ministry at ParkwayHills, I must tell you that I am very excited. For me, Belinda and a handful of others this excitement was born many years ago, as we huddled together against the winter winds of 1989 - praying round fireplaces of living rooms and dens - then stepped out to begin a mission that would one day become this church we now all love. But beyond those years, in countless events and meetings, in strategy sessions et. al, I have not held any greater sense of God’s blessing, plans or purpose than I do now. The why of this is clear to me, and I pray it is clear to you. For I believe that ParkwayHills is entering upon a year that will determine not just the future of this church but the eternal future of hundreds who will walk through our doors to be changed, challenged and prepared to walk out as ambassadors of Christ bringing salvation to others and ushering us ever closer to the day Jesus returns.

Now, we should know that being desirous for what God wants from us must be more than a attitude of the heart, it must be a matter of our will, as well. Meaning, it must be a matter lived through discipline, fortitude, and purpose. In point, it is a matter of us being 'on mission' - and for this reason I will focus my new years winter-message series as one titled simply - MISSION/17. But, be sure, this is not to say this is a new mission. For our mission has not changed. But to say only that it is a new year. For certainly both the year and the times have changed. Yes, we look to the future with the same mission as before - grateful for our past, but only that we might build upon it, not languish in it sentimentally. And, as we do this, we do so under a challenge that bears our full attention. The series is MISSION/17 and our first message is LEGACY, begging the questions, what will we, as God’s church on the Parkway, leave behind worth remembering? What have we begun that must march on? Whom have we readied after us to continue? And... how will our legacy carry on?

Dennis and Barbara Rainey, family counselors and noted speakers, write of an American couple who walked by great faith and left a legacy far beyond anything they could have imagined. This couple lived in the early 1700s in colonial America and their names were Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards felt God's call to become a minister, so he and his young bride began a pastorate in a small congregation. During the years that followed, he wrote many sermons, prayers, and books, and was influential in beginning the Great Awakening in America. Together they produced eleven children who grew into adulthood. Sarah was a partner in her husband's ministry, and he sought her advice regarding sermons and matters of the church. They spent time talking about these things together, and, when their children were old enough, the parents included them in these discussions. The effects of the Edwards's lives have been far-reaching, but the most measurable results of their faithfulness to God's call is found through their descendants.

Elizabeth Dodds records a study done by A. E. Winship in 1900 in which he lists a few of the accomplishments of the 1,400 Edwards descendants he was able to find:

100 lawyers and a dean of a law school
80 holders of public office
66 physicians and a dean of a medical school
65 professors of colleges and universities
30 judges
13 college presidents
3 mayors of large cities
3 governors of states
3 United States senators
1 controller of the United States Treasury
1 Vice President of the United States (Aaron Burr)
100 missionaries, pastors and theologians

So what kind of legacy will you leave? Will it be lasting? Will it be imperishable and eternal? Or, will you leave behind only tangible items—like buildings, money or possessions?

In his last years the apostle Paul wrote a letter to Timothy filled with encouragement and instruction re: things he'd lived, methods he'd employed, and the purpose he had realized. In his letter he passed on a lasting legacy. He instructed Timothy to, like him, invest his life in faithful men who would be able to pass God's truth on to the next generation. Considering Paul's words, where and how does God want you to invest the time you have been given, and with whom? In living a life worthy of legacy, here is some of what Paul passed on in the opening words of  2 Timothy chapter 1. To help our thinking, I have provided an outline that came to my mind as I read these words.

Here Paul shared...

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus,To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day. (Vv.1-3)

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (v.5)

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (fear), but of power and love and discipline. (v.7)

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. 2 Timothy 1: 8-9

For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. (v.11)

 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (v. 12)

A Christians legacy is born, foremost, in a relationship with Christ, and then realized through his/her life and its living. It is meted out by learning from the past, living in the present and building for the future. Great leaders leave a lasting legacy - but the greatest leaders do not become so by investing in things, but rather through investing in people. Why? Because in terms of legacy success without a successor is failure.

Yours in Christ for a lasting and eternal LEGACY,

Pastor Sam

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

21 December 2016
For a pastor, this time of year is anything but silent – but last night I found time to sit quietly by the fire and reflect over the last 28 years of my calling to ParkwayHills. What memories Belinda and I have! Memories of Vacation Bible School in the park, of Brinker Elementary School, and memories of hundreds – even now thousands of faces – who have walked through the doors of 2700 Dallas Parkway and into our lives forever. Weddings, funerals, births  - and even a QuinceaƱera celebration, where I was privileged to dance with the young girl being honored – all of these now make up memories for me of this great church and our time together. 
Of course, as wonderful as all this is, if Belinda and I held only memories, this would not have been enough to sustain God's call upon our lives. For His call was not about these sweet memories alone – no, they just make up the ‘gravy.’  You see, the main course of God’s call was and is always about mission - the mission to reach this community with the gospel and to open our doors to those passing by. Even we could not have conceived of what God had in mind, for what He had in mind was our becoming a gateway for the gospel to people who would move here from all over the world. And… certainly they have come. 

So this Christmas, in ‘my’ silent night last night, I took a moment in the quiet to thank God for His provision, then asked Him to give me strength to remind you of our mission once more. For it has always been about that one child, that one family and that one senior or single adult. Yes, it is for 'that one yet to come' that we are here. This has always been so and I pray will remain till Jesus calls us home.

Now… from our house to yours, Merry Christmas! 
I ask that you remember us with your tithes, your offerings and your prayers.  If in town, join us for Christmas Eve either at 4:00 or 6:00 pm, and on Christmas Day at 10:45 am. And, should you have questions or need assistance, our church and finance office will remain open until 2 pm on December 30.

So, until we see you again, we remain faithfully and with love, always yours

Pastor Sam and Belinda Dennis

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Home with Belinda: at Christmastime

It was Christmas 1983. Belinda and I had been married for 9 months and were settling into life together in our first house. Already she'd done so much - turning my bachelor ways into our 'together' home. For by adding her caring touch, and her ever-present chatter and laugh, I wondered at how I had survived before "B"

But now, as Thanksgiving 1983 was ending, my new bride began digging - not for more turkey, but into our closets - bringing out box after box, and sack after sack. She was unpacking items heretofore not seen. This one whom I'd been forewarned would spend hours as a child decorating doll houses and changing the clothes of her 'Barbie' and 'Ken,' had now switched homemaking into the highest gear of all. It was Christmastime at the Dennises. Christmastime, Belinda style!

That memory is 34 years ago, but for each proceeding Christmas - I can assure you - the same has remained. The difference being this - that what once took hours, or a day, now requires days. But... certainly, for each year since, come rain or shine, whether in plenty or in want, Belinda has turned our home each Christmas into a virtual wonderland. A place of blessing and memory. Memories of 'His Day' and of 'oh so many' family-days gone by. For today our home displays at least 10 nativity sets - most of them given to us, and loads of churches, too - in city and in dale - covered by snow and an assortment of outdoor scenes. There are - let's see - 7 Christmas trees - I think (one in each family room, the breakfast nook, and all our guest rooms, too), and row upon row of garland on stair-rails, mantels, coffee tables and doors. And stockings? Why, of course! The stockings come first. 'Hung by chimney with care' and displayed from the main-room mantel - hand-made - for Taylor, Trey, B and Me but now with Matt, Cannon and Colt added. So that walking through each room decorations are found on beautiful display. Each one made, or set out, with love and care telling story upon story, of place after place, of memories, people, and many great times shared.  

On that first Christmas now long ago I confess to being a bit of a Scrooge - chiding Belinda, after a fashion, for the effort she was putting forth. And now - well now - I am ashamed of my silly, youthful view. For this was, and is, the one whom I was fortunate to marry. The wonderful woman I have grown so to love. One who has sat in classroom after classroom, with child after child, in our church and often in your school too. She has cut, pasted, and made things - things like all these about our home tonight. Treasures, I call them now, each bounding from the same creative energy and 'lure to do'.  This strong and enthusiastic woman who has stood alongside me each and every day, albeit - to most of you - only from the pew, she is this one who has expressed herself with enthusiasm and joy by creating, building, and never fearing to take down and renew. So that being home with Belinda at Christmastime has become the great blessing of my life. For who knew? That what she was taking out of the closet in 1983 was not just our Christmas, but a constant, steady stream of love - for hearth, home, me - and for so many others like YOU.

So Blessings Belinda (meaning beautiful), my Bride.  And Merry Christmas...

From our home - and... to each and everyone of you!

Pastor Sam

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Yom Kippur, 2016

This evening marks the end of the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, literally, 'day of atonement', which is arguably the most important holiday of the Jewish year - as Jews, even those whom might not observe other Jewish customs, refrain from work, fast, and attend synagogue services. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri, and was instituted as a holy day in Leviticus 23:26, and was instructed for in the same book (Leviticus) of the Jewish 'Torah' and our 'Christian Bible.'

...In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work ... For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the LORD. - Leviticus 16:29-30

Though wary of over-simplification, let me sum by saying that Yom Kippur atones only for those sins committed against God, not for sins committed against another person, as Jews believe those must be atoned for first by going directly to the person they have wronged. And, let me add that Yom Kippur begs a truth, which is that to participate one must believe that sins have been committed. And this, of course, begs the question: what has happened to this notion in our culture today? As it appears we are at risk of thinking this is not so based upon our actions and heart. Still... Jews across the world will today so observe, and we Christians, of course, follow the same in our theology. We believe that our sins - all sins - are in need of being atoned for, meaning their penalty paid and forgiven; and that the only way this can be done is by the provision given by God Himself, which is His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Yes, the Bible makes it clear that sin - both toward our fellow man and God - is real.  It also is clear that God is just, and that, as a just God, He cannot and will not tolerate sin un-atoned. But thanks be to God that, by His grace, there is a way just as the prophet Isaiah makes clear:

All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, but God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  Isaiah 53:6. . 

For I believe that the "Him" of Isaiah's verse is Christ - that Yom Kippur has come - and now really is a blessed day...


Pastor Sam

Monday, October 3, 2016

There's STILL time to register - and VOTE

I cannot recall a time of ever hearing so many people complain, 'pastor, I just cannot vote in this year's election for I'm not pleased with either candidate.' But, if I may, let me dissuade you of this. If you are registered to vote, VOTE.  And, if you are not registered, register today (for in Texas voter registration must be completed at least 30 days prior to the election, which is November 8) and do the same - VOTE.

Why? Because I believe the single greatest expression of the freedom we have in this country is the freedom to vote our convictions. Not to just have an opinion, for you can have that anywhere, but to actually exercise our opinion with a vote. And though I do sympathize with many over their distaste with much of our political rhetoric, vitriol, and circumstance during this seasons campaign, I still believe that we should never give up that which we've been given - the freedom to choose - for this, after all, is not only our privilege but our responsibility. Christian's are given the responsibility to be good citizens - and we should do so faithfully with integrity and grace. For this formulates a witness that cannot be ignored.

If you are not registered, the link below will help.

I hope to see you at the polls!

Pastor Sam

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Word or Two About These Days, and Choice

I confess to feeling sad of late. Watching the news and tracing the rhetoric of this years Presidential campaign, and the vitriol that has followed. Listening to talking heads on TV, and witnessing the division in our country at heights I cannot recall - even in the decade of the 60s - including Colin Kaepernick not standing for our nation's anthem, and now the similar act of others. And then, last night, gazing at coverage of one more city, Charlotte NC, in riot over perceived (whether real in this case, or not) racial bigotry - all of this has, frankly, left me sad.

But today this sadness came to a head as I received a text and pic from my daughter, Taylor, who is visiting Philadelphia, PA. to attend a wedding. She is with our dear family friend, Debbie Irons, and they've taken this opportunity to visit sites of this famed city, such as Independence Hall (aka the State House of Pennsylvania), pictured here. This is where our nation's Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed. So that when I saw the pic Taylor sent my heart was seized. Seeing it and reflecting over what now is, I wondered over what we have become. How have we come to this? What has happened to our sense of unity, common ground, or our national thankfulness and pride? At least... that is where I began. But now, in thinking further, I offer up this - for, for me, it brings both a reminder and some needed hope.

How so? By remembering that the idea, which is America, has always been, first and foremost, just that - an 'idea.' One capable of creating, if you will, in any of us the 'hoped after ideal.' For think of it. Both those who framed our Constitution and those who fought for our liberty were simply those who, one person at a time, chose to believe in this idea and thereby live. In other words there were, even then, those who disagreed - not only across the ocean but here on this very land. They were those who saw things differently, who did not want change, who chose not to join in and who even chose to resist. Did this dash effort or halt progress?  Did this change sentiment or cause our constitutional framers and militia to give up?  No! The majority held. Some early on and some sometime later.  And so, today, we remain hopeful in this ideal. One which still, on any given day, is either true or not- but certainly only for those who choose it to be.

Now the way of my point is this. Many of us recall parents teaching us of choices we could make everyday - to choose right over wrong, love over hate and good over evil. Like mine, perhaps yours reminded you this 'choice' would never be any more true than it was right then - encountering your next circumstance or the person you next might meet. So when Taylor sent me her pic my reaction, though at first sad, is now changed. In realizing that the framers of our constitution and those who declared our independence did not do so because of their reality but because this was the reality they chose - one they wanted so; likewise, my own patriotism and hope should not be based only on what is, but as much so on what should and yet might be. Meaning, my patriotism - the best part of it - lies squarely in choice. My choice everyday to defend your right and mine to have an opinion, and do so in respect and awe of my fellow man. Not with hate, vitriol, vengeance or revenge, but with love. Yes, racism is real in America. To say it is not would be foolish. Like you I don't like it. Not one bit. But why is it so? Not because our constitution is failed, but because we are fallen, sinful and come short, each of us, of God's ideal.

Christ once told His disciples that freedom is not found in circumstance, but in knowing - saying, 'you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.'  He was talking of Himself, and of potential freedom from sin through 'knowing' Him. Today I stand on this very same thing - both as a man in Christ free from sin because of Him, and as an American citizen free from tyranny over ones actions and my own mind. I stand and choose. I choose not to hate but to love. I choose not vengeance but forgiveness, not sentimentalism but freedom - even from those with whom I disagree. In standing so I am free indeed. I will not give up simply because of someone else's response, and in this way my sadness over what is can be replaced with hope in what might yet be. I will not be made a prisoner.  For in Christ, and in these United States, I am still... free.


Pastor Sam