Thursday, January 7, 2016

Streams in the Desert

On the first day of this New Year, with our friends in Texas fast asleep, our ParkwayHills tribe of 35 made its way out of ancient Jerusalem and into the Judean desert. We were leaving to see Qumran, the Dead Sea and Masada - and because the hills of Jerusalem had experienced naught but rain for days - our cold, wet troop was looking forward to this respite, anticipating the warmth and sunshine of the desert.

As we traveled along, our guide commented to me of the rarity of rain at the bottom of the Judean Hills southwest of Jerusalem, but warned of the possibility of our road becoming impassable due to rain water running down from Jerusalem and the surrounding mountains - causing the dry wadis to become active - and spilling across our highway making travel dangerous or impossible. Looking about I thought his worry unnecessary. The area was as dry as a bone, save the drops now hitting our windshield, which he'd just said amounted to only a few millimeters per year.

As we moved south, with the Dead Sea on our left and the mountains to our right, a strange sight appeared. At each place where a dry wadi abutted our road, whether with bridge or not, cars were parked with people standing beside them looking down the crevice of the wadi and towards the mountain top. Our driver, Dubi, and guide, Danny pointed toward the people and began talking to each other excitedly in Hebrew. I couldn't wait to hear them speak an explanation in English to me, so I jumped quickly to ask, "what's going on?" "Oh Pastor Sam," Danny replied, "the people are waiting to see an unusual sight." "They have come to watch the water cascade from the mountains and fill the wadis below." "It is a powerful sight, and one of the favorite things for the people of this area to see."

In Isaiah 43:19, God said this: Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

The NIV translates the word "rivers" as "streams." But, either way, the picture from God's Word to His people became ever more real for me as I gazed at this sight. I thought, 'here they are waiting for this steam, this river to flow - not knowing that God has already done an even greater thing than what they are looking for through His Son, our LORD, Jesus Christ.'

Now that I am far away from the land of Israel - and back in my surroundings of traffic and shopping, football and news, Facebook and friends, I can't help but wonder of my own life.  Am I simply standing by the road watching for sights that pale in comparison to that which I've already been given - life in Christ and fellowship with Him?"

When God told Israel to look (behold) the streams in the desert, He did so because it was something unusual AND something the dry desert desperately needed - water. He did this to show them His ability to make any wasteland flourish. This was something only He could do - both in the desert AND in their hearts.

So now I am back home, and I am praying I shall not forget this sight of something new - of streams in the desert nor my view of the people waiting to see it. And... hoping for more! Hoping I will also always recall the lesson it teaches. For, indeed - Christ is my 'stream in the desert,' and, certainly He is all I need.

Pastor Sam

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christ is Come

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). John 1: 40-41

In the early days of Jesus' ministry He came to the village of Capernaum situated on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Now known as a favorite stop of tourists, the village was then known for its fishing trade. It also was not far from the homes of the young 'Sons of Thunder', James and John - and two other brothers, Andrew and Peter (Bethsaida) - all four of whom were fishermen, zealous after God, and called out by Christ to follow Him and become disciples.

In John the Apostle's recording of Christ's earliest encounter with these men there exists a set of arresting lines that captivate me. They comprise our first example of evangelical witness - or at least its seeds - and read thusly, 'we have found the Messiah (which means Christ, or the one 'anointed').

Thinking today of the countless sermons I have preached and of the many times I've attempted to offer a witness, I suspect I might have fared better had I kept it simply this - "We have found him! Come and see!"  Yes!  I know that there an assumption made in the statement. To say 'we have found him' assumes 'we' were looking.  But... it has been my experience that this is yet and universally true. People I meet are looking - looking for someone, something, and often for both. So to begin a conversation using the words, 'hey!' I have found Him!" if it is true, is an absolutely perfect place to begin.

As you spend your Christmas celebrating the advent of our LORD, why not consider adding the words of the good brother Andrew to your Christmas greeting... "Merry Christmas. I have found Him! Have you?"

For perhaps, like Andrew, you may have the joy of bringing someone to Jesus, too. :-)

Pastor Sam

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