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


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Delight in the LORD

Friends. We have been blessed to serve Christ this summer in many places and ways. Now we continue, on by readying ourselves for an exciting fall, always aware that our delight must be, first and forever,  only in the LORD. (Psalm 37:4) 

Check out this latest video 




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BRASIL 2017, Day 32 - Brazil, Charlottesville and Home

I arrived home at noon today - having started my journey from the state of Bahia, Brazil, 27 hours prior. Before coming home, on Sunday evening August 13, there was a final message for me to preach. The setting was a small church in a Barrio on the outskirts of Vitoria do Conquista. The crowd was small, not more than 70 including children, but the spirit was warm and inviting. From the moment I pulled up I could feel the glow of Christian fellowship and kindred spirit around the mission of Christ. Indeed, though small, this congregation was the place for a last 'burdening me' message there, one that had as much to do with my own country as as it did with them.

Now my 'burden' had come from me having just logged off my computer to witness the news from Charlottesville, VA. And though I was far away, my heart was broken by what I saw. The news reminded me of how things were back home, and gave me but one more example of what I believe has become the greatest period of civil, political and idealogical unrest I have ever witnessed in our country. I was torn, and thought - "What did this 'news' have to do with Brazil, or with the church I was to speak to tonight?" Yet, this was what was on my heart, and I knew it was exactly what I was to do - regardless.

My text was taken from Luke 10, concerning Jesus' encounter with a lawyer (a religious elite) in the crowd, who asked Him about eternal life.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?  

And this is what I shared:

In my country we are struggling with racism. What people claim as a call for 'their right' is become nothing short of only their own, regardless of others. The new rule of tolerance is intolerance. And kindness and civil disobedience surrounding our rule of law is being replaced with mob violence by extremists groups who are not in keeping with what we believe, nor of who we are. Added to this is a political partisanship filled with deep division and gridlock, and a leadership base - on all sides - far too silent where it needs to speak out, and far too loud where it needs to be silent. Gone are men and women of great words and noble actions. Instead, they have been replaced with media tweets, responses, and viral videos too quickly composed, which only 'fan the flames' of fire rather than putting fires out.

Now sensibly we all may 'say' that any notion of superiority on the part of one ethnic group or race over another is but an example of the 'fall of man' at it’s worse. But, perhaps we should be reminded tonight of more; perhaps we need to be reminded that, as Christians, we have been given both a mandate by God's Word and the gift of grace in Christ to be otherwise. In short, we are called upon to expose this evil, to combat it with Christian charity and kindness, and to diligently work toward providing the only certain 'cure' with the gospel of Christ.

So how is this so? In a message by Pastor Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson MISS, http://ligonduncan.com he lists 3 Biblical teachings, or doctrines, on which both the church and us as individual Christians can stand against racism. I concur with each one of these, and here they are:

1. The doctrine that all men are created in the image of God 
God created our first parents in his own image (Genesis 1:26, 27, WCF 4.2), and therefore all human beings are of the same race. Scripture says: “The God who made the world and everything in it, . . . gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Act 17:24-26). Because of this, Christians are to treat every human being with equal dignity as made in the image of God. So both the doctrine of creation and the biblical doctrine of man inform the Christian’s treatment of everyone, including people of other and minority ethnicities.

2. The doctrine of moral law from Moses, Jesus’ command to love our neighbors
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament command love for our neighbor. Moses is very specific about what love of neighbor entails: “You shall not oppress your neighbor . . . . You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. . . . You shall not hate your brother in your heart, . . . lest you incur sin because of him. . . . but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:13-18). Neighbor love, then, according to God’s moral law, exemplified in the fifth through tenth commandments, calls for impartial kindness and justice to be shown to all. Moses grounds this behavior in God’s character (Leviticus 19:3, 4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18) and it is our responsibility as believers to imitate him “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And this neighbor love was not reserved for Israelites only. Moses extends it to foreigners: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Jesus reiterates this command in the New Testament (e.g., Mark 12:31, Luke 10:25-37). After summarizing the ethical requirements of the moral law of God for the believer’s life by saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) Jesus is met with the self-justifying question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). In other words, the lawyer who queried Jesus was seeking a delimitation of the demands of neighbor love. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan, and makes it clear that the better question is “Am I a good neighbor?” Jesus’ application of the story shows that those who obey God’s command to love neighbor don’t attempt to delimit the obligation of neighbor love, but rather show mercy indiscriminately and even at significant personal cost (Luke 10:36-37) On this basis, Christians are enjoined by the moral law and by Jesus’ direct exhortation to show love, care, concern for the well-being of, justice, mercy and kindness to all people, with impartiality.

3. The doctrine of the communion of the saints
Jesus commissioned his church to “make disciples of all nations”  (Matthew 28:19). The language of “all nations” (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη [panta ta ethnē]) highlights the connection of Jesus’ great commission to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4) and the Gentile mission of the church. The command to make disciples from “all nations” indicates that Jesus intended us to go to all the peoples of earth with the Gospel, and that he intended his church to include disciples from all peoples. “Don’t just go to the Jewish people, but to all the Gentile peoples,” Jesus is saying. He reiterates this in Acts 1:8 when he tells his disciples that they will be his witnesses “to the end of the earth.” The New Testament repeatedly celebrates the fact that Jesus’ redemptive work has brought believing Jews and Gentiles, once separated by the ceremonial law, into one body, the church. No passage states this more clearly than Ephesians 2:11-22

There was so much more that I shared on this night, but any thought that this was not what was needed in Brazil was dispelled as I gazed on the faces of these dear brothers and sisters nodding their heads. Clearly, the teaching of Christ and call of the gospel and the church was as evident and necessary to them as it was to me. But what else?

Well, as I was preaching my message this is what else happened. It was Father's Day in Brazil - Dia do Pai - and God laid on my heart - right at the end of the message - to ask each of the fathers in the congregation to stand and face me. As they did, I challenged them to stop this evil by combating it in their own homes. To dispel racism in every way possible by what they did (their actions) and by what they taught (their words). I was intentional in speaking of actions first and words second. As well, at the same time I was asking them to teach to their charges in every conceivable and measurable way possible the truth that all men are created equal, that all are to be shown charity, and that all are called to the table of Christ as brothers and equals. As I faced these brothers in Christ, one grandfather - about my age - had his arms about his two grandchildren. His hands were gnarled with the work of his days and his brow curled deep by the sun. Yet, his eyes were clear and strong as they gazed steadily into mine. I could tell he was listening, and that he was willing to do whatever it took to make this so in his own home. As he did this he reached down to hold his two grandchildren by the hand, his eyes filled with resolve. Then, as I looked upon the faces of these two children myself, I saw something that was very moving to me. The man's grandchildren were not looking at me at all. Instead, they looked only at their Avô, their grandfather, and the look they gave him was enough for me to know that my burden had found a proper voice this night. For though on this night I could not be in Charlottesville, I could be - and was - in Brazil. And for me, witnessing this scene, that was quite, quite enough

Deus te Abençoe,

Pastor Sam