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, 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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Brasil 2017: Day 10, Return to Montes Claros

I returned to the city of Montes Claros, MG - having completed a 5 day trip to the southernmost region of North Minas Gerais. Minas Gerais (MG) is a very large state - almost the size of Texas - and my travel into the southern region of just the northern part of this large state exposed me to the grandness and scope of the P70 Church Planting vision. Their vision, which is great, addresses a need - it is to create and provide quality seminary training for new pastors being called to plant churches here. However, it is also a unique vision because it also addresses the challenge they have of distance and difficulty of travel,  which makes a traditional approach of 1 seminary in 1 locale a difficult and unnecessary hardship. The answer? A model whereby we bring a quality seminary program to strategic areas of this state, which will be accessible for each of the pastors being called.

So check out my video (either here are on FB) which is a greeting from some of the pastors in Montes Claros. This is both to you and to seminary educators like my friend, Dr. Gene Wilkes, the President of B.H. Carroll Seminary. Then, join me in prayer that God might open for them partnerships designed to provide guidance, encouragement - and perhaps even the resource of professors - who can help meet this need. Indeed, Jesus said 'the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.'  Therefore, we must 'pray to the LORD of the harvest for laborer's' - and, may I add, for those who will help as persons willing to provide the training and mentorship they need. Indeed, Christianity at its core is both relational (us to God) and missional (us to others), and the mission from Christ is clear.

Deus Abençoe, 

Pastor Sam

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Brasil 2017 - Day Four, 07.18.2017

The last days have found me quite busy here in Montes Claros, yet not so much to keep me from enjoying the beautiful weather. Today I spent time walking through the Central Market, and, as always, enjoyed the diversity of people I passed along the way. Brazilians love being outside and there is never a 'spot' without the sounds of music, an open cafe, and people enjoying their mild winter season.

For the next 2 weeks Jairo and the P70 leadership are between mission trips, so this means we are able - and will - spend our days visiting the various outposts of churches and missions within a 200 kilometer radius of our base at Montes Claros. In point, tonight we visited the city of Francisco Dumont, a place I first encountered years ago when on mission trip with ParkwayHills. Now it is a flourishing new church with its own building. This church is a product of our work and support, and it is so good to see what God has done through the faithfulness of these people and the support we were able to provide.

Tomorrow I will travel again - staying out for four nights - in order to visit several municipalities further to the south.  This will give me opportunity to visit many other new churches and their support networks. At each of these cities I will meet with pastors, and in many instances hold services. In all cases I will be able to bring them good fellowship and encouragement as we pray, and I assure them of our support and love for them back in the US.

So please continue to pray for these outings, as well as these churches and pastors I will be able to see. Also, pray for my Portuguese, which is coming along well as I am now, more often than not, forcing myself into conversation without depending on the aid of a translator. (Yikes!)

Deus Abençoe,

Pastor Sam

"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you all for your partnership in the gospel"
Phil 1:3

Saturday, July 15, 2017

'Small World, Big God'

Brasil 2017 – Day One, 07.15  - “Small World, Big God”

Arriving safely at Confins Airport in Belo Horizonte at 8:00 a.m. today, I went straightway to catch my breath over a cup of strong coffee (Brasilians know no other kind) and wait for my connecting flight to Montes Claros  After checking for an earlier flight and finding none, I spent my next 4 hours stepping back into Brazilian culture and the beautiful Portuguese language once more. I was pleased when at the coffee bar I was mistaken for a Brasilian – albeit if but a moment - but this soon passed as my attempt at conversation continued. :-) 

Once in Montes Claros, I took the remainder of my day settling into the hotel and awaiting arrival of Jairo Campos, the Executive Director of the P70 Church Planting Mission. He and a team from Shady Oaks Baptist of Hurst, TX, led by Pastor Brad Martin, are returning from the last leg of their mission, so I enjoyed time with Pastor Junior Figueiredo of our ParkwayHills mission plant, which is now a growing, major church, and the Fróes family, including daughter, Juliana, 1 year from finishing her degree as a doctor of family medicine. Indeed, it was good to be back in this beautiful area of the world with its wonderfully mild weather at this season, and people who are passionate and happy by nature. At least that is what I sensed from those of Belo Horizonte and Montes Claros, who seemed less anxious to me than the rest of Brasil over their country’s current politics.   

And... oh yes, speaking of politics, perhaps some distance from my own might help this suffering, overexposed American, too. For it seems I just cannot get away from our 'not so newsy', talking heads sharing 'expert' opinions on – well…we all know what.  So much so I’d recently commented to Belinda that with all our political conversation of late my world seemed over exposed and grossly enlarged. The effect being, that God, well,... wasn’t so much.  At least that’s what I’d been feeling up until boarding my small plane headed to Montes Claros. For… as I looked out my window I could only see beautiful clouds capped by the bluest of sky.  And at that moment my world, even me, became small once again - and… GodWell, He became bigger! Which was not a bad beginning for this preacher embarking upon 30 days of ministry and mission. Yes, a small world (as in less important) and a big God.  Not a cop out!  Certainly not escapism!  But... worship, ushering in a reality check sorely needed.  

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  Psalm 8: 1,  3 - 4

Deus  Abençoe,  Pastor Sam 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

God's Care for Us

We are told again and again in Scripture of God's love and care over us (cf. Psalm 139). But have you thought how this same truth applies to all of creation?

Psalm 50: 10-11 reads: "For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine."

Indeed God's care covers all His creation, and His particular love for us is wonderfully expressed when God sent His Son to die for our sin, so that we might be made right with Him once again.

Check out this video below by clicking the link and hear of the assurance and comfort this brings.


Pastor Sam