Asking the Wrong Question..

After 9/11, I remember people asking “Why did God allow all these ‘innocent people’ to die?” Some preachers took folks to Luke 13: 1-5, and noted the story of the tower at Siloam falling and killing eighteen “innocent” people. Innocent?  The Lord's response is interesting. He tells these people, who have a very high view of themselves and of their fellow man, “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So maybe we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “Why did God allow this to happen to these ‘innocent’ people?” Maybe we should be asking, “Why didn’t God allow this to happen to a wretched sinner such as I?”

You see at the root of man questioning God’s fairness in situations like this is the underlying belief that we don’t deserve this. My friend, we don’t want God to be fair to us and give us what we deserve, because that would be an eternity separated from Him and everything good. People who recognize their sinfulness do not want justice, we want God’s mercy! God’s mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we deserve. Oh Lord. Please be merciful to me a sinner!!!

My good friend, Bob Collins said it well when he was fighting cancer. When people said, “Why is this happening to Bob, he is such a faithful servant of the Lord?”. Bob would say, “Why shouldn’t it be happening to me.” Bob got it! I pray you do too!

Good out of Bad!

As we try and grapple with the question of, “Why does an all powerful and loving God allow suffering and evil in the world?”, we could point out that God sometimes uses suffering and evil actions of people to achieve a greater good. Remember the story of Joseph? Out of sheer jealousy his brothers sold him to slave traders who took him away from home to a foreign land. I am certain Joseph was not feeling good about his circumstances at this point. However, God had him rise to a place of prominence in the foreign government which allowed him to spare his family, and the Messianic line, from starvation.  While he could not understand the evil actions of his brothers or the suffering he endured at the time, looking back he could see how God used it to achieve a higher and greater good.  We know this because he said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about the present result, to preserve many lives.”

Sometimes we have to trust that God has a perspective we cannot see at the moment.  Much like us looking at the back of a tapestry and all we see is a bunch of loose strings and knots, but from God’s perspective He sees a beautiful piece of art. So that is why we know, “… that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God is good all the time even when life doesn’t feel good!  

 

Angel of Mercy

Today I will deviate from what I have been doing the last few weeks, to talk about what happened to me yesterday.

I was on my way to Dallas to have two, not one, but two root canals, and I told my wife as I left that I was dreading the drive to Dallas more than the dental procedures. Yes, it was worse than even I expected. It was stop and go up most of the Bush Tollway, and then more of the same as I turned East onto 635. We would sit at a dead stop forever, then we would lurch ahead, until we came to another dead stop! Well, at one point my inside lane briefly opened up and as I crested a little hill, all I saw was red tail lights!  I slammed on the brakes and tried to veer onto the shoulder but my passenger front clipped her driver side rear end, and POW! my air bag went off. Then the momentum of the impact sent me sprawling over both lanes two and three, flattened my right front tire and my engine was dead.  Let me repeat that, engine dead, right front tire flat, and I'm sitting across 2 lanes of traffic on I 635-LBJ Freeway in North Dallas.

God was watching over me because it is a wonder I was not hit from the rear myself given the position of my truck on the roadway and the massive number of oncoming vehicles. The only injures I have are burns on both hands from the air bag and my sunglasses were shattered, but I expected to be sore this morning, but I am just fine.

Let me tell you why I think I am OK. As I sat in my truck, unhurt, but mentally discombobulated, a very nice lady stopped to see if I was OK. She also went to check on the other lady and she seemed OK too. When she came back to me, the police were taking my information, but I said to her, "You are a believer aren't you?" She beamed and said she was, then she put her arms around me and prayed the sweetest prayer right there in the middle of LBJ with the police officer taking my insurance proof out of my hand as we prayed. So I praise the Lord today because it could have been a whole lot worse, and I am thankful for an "Angel of Mercy" named Shondra who attends Gateway Church, who showed up when I needed her act of kindness. Would you pray for her today!

Good News/ Bad News

Again we ask, why would an all powerful and loving God allow evil and suffering in the world to continue? Well, we can all be assured that there is a day in the future coming when God will eradicate sin and all the evil in suffering that comes with sin. This will occur when Jesus Christ splits the Eastern sky and comes to this Earth the second time, reigns for a thousand years, and establishes a New Heaven and New Earth! Oh, what a time that will be! All the wrongs will be righted, and that is when evil and suffering will be completely eliminated by God! That is good news. Yet 2 Peter 3: 9-10 says, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the Earth and its works will be burned up." So those who insist God should eliminate evil and suffering can be assured He will, but the "bad news" is, when He does then the opportunity for lost souls to repent and turn to Christ will be over! Every day that goes by, allows that lost relative or friend to hear and believe. Praise God He is holding off from dealing with evil and suffering in the world for now!

But Not That Far

Today, I continue to share some thoughts on the age old question of "If God is all powerful and loving, then why does He allow evil and suffering to continue?" Well, one thing to think about is, if He begins to eradicate sin and evil from the world, where will He stop. Because the Scripture teaches "...for ALL have sinned and fall short..." and "...there is none righteous, no not one...", so to eradicate sin and evil from the world He would have to eliminate the stubborn preacher as well as the child molester. Someday He will eradicate sin and evil from the world, but when He does, it will be COMPLETE! So how many sinners would God have to zap to rid the world of evil? What about the flood? He eradicated every one but eight relatively "good" survivors and yet the seed of sin carried on to today. Really, to ask the question is quite arrogant, because I am saying I am a good person or at least not as bad as them. We don't want Him to take away our freedom to choose what we want to do, but expect Him to protect us from the other person's bad choices.

Why would a sinner like me dare to question how God chooses to deal with evil. He is good all the time even when life doesn't feel good! He is right all the time even when life doesn't feel right. Keep claiming it by faith until your feelings catch up! Stay tuned for more thoughts....

Our Faulty View of Goodness

A couple of weeks ago, I started addressing the nagging question to some, which goes something like this: "If God is loving and all powerful, why does He allow evil and suffering to exist in the world?"  Well, one problem is man's faulty view of what "goodness" really is. Most people in America start out with the premise that our comfort, ease and happiness is the greatest good in life. But could there actually be a greater good? What if God could achieve a higher good by allowing some discomfort and stress to come into our lives. The Bible says, "And after you have suffered  for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen!" I Peter 5: 10-11 That sounds like suffering caused these people to be even stronger and better, so we see some discomfort can achieve a higher good. Of course the prime example is the Lord Jesus Christ! Imagine if the Father eliminated ALL of His suffering? We would not have a Savior today. Clearly His suffering achieved a higher good. What is your view of goodness?

Evil is Inevitable

Today we continue our thoughts on the age old question of, "Why does an all powerful and all loving God allow evil and suffering to exist in the world?"  We know from verses like Joshua 24:15, that God gives to each man the freedom to choose to serve Him or to not serve Him, rather than as robots programmed to never sin against Him. The reason is found in the fact that He created us to have a meaningful relationship with Him.  To be meaningful, one must be free to choose to serve or love Him or not. In order for love to mean anything to me, a person must be free to choose to not love me. Who would want to be married to someone programed to always do what I wanted them to do? In order for my wife's gestures of love to mean anything to me, she must be free to hurt or disappoint me. So with this God-given freedom, it is inevitable that people sometimes will choose to do wrong things and sometimes other people get hurt in the process.  To eliminate evil from this world, one must eliminate free choice, and that would rob us of life's greatest reward, and that is to have a meaningful relationship with our Creator! No thanks! Stay tuned for more thoughts...

Objections to our Faith

One of the so called "intellectual objections" to the Christian faith, is the presence of human suffering and evil in the world. Non believers struggle with how an all powerful and loving God could allow these things to exist. Of course, we believe the Bible teaches God is good (Nahum 1:7) and He is all powerful or omnipotent (Psalm 135: 5-6), and yes there is obviously evil in the world, but we do not think that discredits or disproves the God of the Bible.  Over the next six or seven weeks I want to address this topic.

First of all, we need to establish that man is responsible for sin, evil and suffering in the world- Not God!  Read Genesis 1:31 and you will see that God's creative work was declared GOOD. In fact, it was paradise! There was no sin! No suffering! No evil! No natural  disasters! Paradise for man was God's doing. But, then Adam chose to disobey God and everything changed. Man and the world fell and sin and evil entered the world. Whose fault is that? True, Adam is the representative head of the human race and we can try and blame him, but we would have done the same thing as we continue to choose to disobey God every day even now. Futile as it may be, we can blame Adam, and Adam can blame Eve, and Eve can blame the serpent for the mess this world is in, but we cannot lay the responsibility of sin, evil and suffering at the feet of God! God made it "good," and man is the one who messed it up. 

Stay tuned for more thoughts on this subject in the weeks ahead. 

Fun & Faith

Some may think some of the things I do are below a "Senior Pastor," but I have always been willing to take one for the team! Besides, maybe none of us should think so highly of ourselves or our clerical position, because we put our pants on one leg at a time like everyone else and, on my very best day, I know I am nothing but a sinner saved by His amazing grace! Consequently, this Sunday past, I assembled a trio for our morning worship service. We are called the "Tri-bald Trio" because we are all challenged, to some extent, in the follicle area. We chose as our selection to present, "This Little Light of Mine" with yours truly providing the appropriate hand motions, since they wouldn't allow me to sing. Our people were laughing and some even crying. But it had a point, since my message cam from Matthew 5:14-16 and we talked about the Christian's relationship to the world and how it can be summed up in one word-INFLUENCE! That is why the Lord said we are, "...the light of the world" and the world is a very dark place."  In fact, the only reason there is darkness is because of the absence of light, so Christians need to stop cussing the darkness and start bearing the light. So this Sunday past we mixed a little fun with faith and I think the Lord is OK with that, even if our teenagers (both my partners have kids in our Youth Group) thought it was beyond corny!

Working Vacation

Last week, I was telling people we were going on vacation to Nashville, and my wife kept correcting me and saying it was a “working” vacation, and she was right. My wife is in the process of transitioning from her very full time and stressful career in academic medicine into her own photography business. She is working extremely hard to make that happen. So we went to Nashville because of an Imaging USA photography convention and she spent most days in some very intense seminars taught by the best professional photographers in the world, and I attended three seminars and took notes because she couldn’t be in two places at once and wanted to attend both. She insisted I type my notes because she can’t always read my writing, but hey, sometimes I can’t read my own writing. But since Nashville was on my bucket list, we did do some touristy stuff, like we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, heard some local bands, and took a tour of studio “B”, which is where Elvis recorded many of his songs. They even had a blue X on the floor where Elvis stood because they determined that spot had the best acoustics in the room. So tick another one off the list! Oh yeah, make it two off the list, because I had my boots professionally shined in the hotel for $10. Also, I spent Tuesday preparing my message for our return on Sunday. So my wife was right as usual, it was a working vacation!

Good Grief!

I am back after a brief holiday break, and I am super excited about a ministry that started last Sunday evening at our church! I am not excited about the reason for the ministry, but excited about how helpful I believe it will be for some hurting hearts in and outside our church family. It is called Grief Share and it is a 13 week Bible -based program designed to help those grieving over the death of a loved one. We had 13 precious people in our initial group (including two leaders) and we spent two hours watching a video by some learned and capable grief counselors, followed by a group discussion. Of course there were tears, but I think some healing began also. That is our prayer! We pray the Lord will use this ministry to aid in the grief process for these hurting souls; and it is a process, which we pray ends with this sentiment of Joe Biden after losing his son: "We look forward to the day when the thought of our loved one brings a smile to our face instead of a tear to our eye." That quote was brought by one of our group, which blessed all the rest and that is the power of a group ministry like this one. We need the Lord and we need each other to get through something like this. If you, or if you know someone  grieving over the death of a loved one, please join us from 5:15-7:15 pm at South Park Baptist Church this Sunday. Worried about missing the first meeting? Don't because each session stands alone and we intend to do this twice a year, so you can pick up missed sessions later. Hope to see you there, and if not, please pray for the us!   

Restore Sanity!

As you know, there is a torrent of accusations concerning sexual harassment swirling all around us recently! Certainly, if any woman has been sexually assaulted or forced upon beyond her will, that man needs to face the full weight of the law. But an allegation does not mean one is guilty, so everyone should reserve judgment until a person has had due process, because we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Remember, even Jesus Christ was accused, convicted, and executed for crimes he did not do, and that is with  Him receiving due process in the legal system of that day.  For the willing participants, they should be reminded, "For nothing is hidden that shall not become evident, nor anything secret that shall be known and come to light." Luke 8:17  People, especially high profile people, should surely know, YOUR SINS WILL FIND YOU OUT!" But I am also convinced if a woman does not want advances, she can and should stop it cold! When I worked in accounting for a contractor, I witnessed a former Marine pilot, rub his hand on a female coworker's back and address her as sweetie, and then I witnessed her step back and yell for all to hear, "DON'T YOU EVER PUT YOUR HANDS ON ME, AND I AM NOT YOUR SWEETIE!!!" That cocky Marine walked away with his tail between his legs, convincing me, that no matter how big a man's ego may be, a rejection like that will stop him dead in his tracks.  So if you are outraged, be outraged at the time of the incident. Now, if you kept silent because you feared losing your job, or that raise, or that promotion - then I encourage to not to wait 30 to 40 years to report the offense. If something is right or wrong, then we stand for right or wrong and trust God to provide whatever we need at the time. Sometimes the "bandwagon mentality" causes us to lose a grip on sanity and common sense!

I Am Still a Guy!

O.K., I am not a real macho guy, but I am still a guy! So I wasn't sure about going to our "Cookie Decorating Party" this past Saturday, but I was needed to open the doors, provide security- and oh yes, to head up quality control! I was doing my job enthusiastically until my loving wife reminded me my blood sugar was probably spiking about now. But after being the only man present and hanging out with the ladies, teenagers and children for a couple of hours, I had a blast. I love to gather with my church family and work together toward a worthy task, because there is laughter, levity, and a feeling of camaraderie that feels good. Besides, this was an idea from our ladies to be a part of our vision to reach out to our mission field next door at SGPHS, and of course, I am all for supporting that. "We" baked and decorated a tote full of cookies, and Austin will be delivering them to our administrators, faculty, and staff next door this Monday. Pray it will leave a sweet taste in their mouths!  So, don't judge me macho man, because I bet I had more fun than you did Saturday! You should join me next time.   

Football, Food and Faith!

We all know the 3 F's of Thanksgiving- football, food, and faith! I truly love the game of football, but my season ended this weekend. The one bright spot was our South Grand Prairie Warriors who went two deep into the state playoffs, and played their guts out  before falling to the #1 team in the state. I am now a fan! It started when Coach allowed us to speak to the players every Thursday through the season and we got to know them and to become very fond of them.  I attended most of their games and followed the others closely, so this was my favorite part of this season. College and Pro ball- not so much! My college team just hurts my heart too much to watch, and my Pro team is going back to their annual pursuit of mediocrity, so I am done for this year!

Concerning food, I enjoyed my fair share. I love my wife's cooking very much, especially her version of our Thanksgiving Meal. Typically, I do not like turkey, but when I can put my wife's dressing and gravy on top, I love it. I may be one of the few men who truly loves his wife's cooking more than his Mother's. Sorry Mom, but it is the truth.

Now concerning faith, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and be grateful for the many blessings we receive every day. My "Thank List" is long, but at the top is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! His grace is amazing and His mercy is new every morning! I know what a wretched sinner I am, but I have wonderful Savior that I pray each of you KNOW! If and when you do, He will ascend to the top of your "Thank List" like He has mine. Happy Thanksgiving!

Guidin' and Providin'

Last Sunday night we had a wonderful celebration meal with our church family and the 2018 budget process was completed! As I said last week, my prayer throughout the process has been that God would guide each step of the way to insure the final result is His will and not anyone else's. Not everyone got what they thought was ideal (not even me), but there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors and I believe His will was done. The final number is a stretch, meaning it will require God to work because it is beyond our ability to do, but with Jesus Christ running our individual and corporate finances, it is doable. As Bro. Will says, "If He is doing the guidin' then He will do the providin'!" So, if we think God guided the process, then we can trust He will provide what we need to fulfill our mission in 2018. Of course, it will require the joyful and obedient giving of His people, but I know you want to see our church not just survive, but thrive, so I think you all will step up and do your part. Remember, it's not equal gifts but equal sacrifice! Please pray about what your part should be in seeing this vision come to pass!

It's Time Again!

One of the hardest parts of being your Pastor/Church Administrator is to lead our church family through the annual budget process. Why? Because we are trying to support unlimited desires with limited resources. Of course, we know God's resources are unlimited, so it is a matter of discerning "His plan" for us in 2018 and trusting Him to fund His will.  So that is why from late August until our Thanksgiving Meal/Business Meeting, my prayer is that God will guide the process and when the dust settles this Sunday night, and the church has spoken, I (we) can feel like His will was done.

My task is to guide the process and trust that the collective wisdom of all of us will discern His plan. Thank you to each of the members of the Stewardship Committee, who are willing to take on this often underappreciated task. It is not easy. We start with a first draft reflecting every leaders full request for next year, consider our projected giving for the current year, and try and arrive at a bottom line that gives God room to do more than we can do on our own. Then we begin the agonizing process of prioritizing and adjusting to get to that number.

But here is the other side. Here we are dealing with the "spending" side, but my concern is the "giving" side, because if every member of SPBC was giving as we should, as unto the Lord, we could easily allow EVERY leader to have their full request. Here's the fact; We can do as much in 2018 as your giving allows us to do! Will you pray and ask God to teach you how to be a joyful, obedient giver? See ya Sunday!

Why Lord?

Why? That is the question on many minds this morning, especially among Christ-followers, because it seems some of our fellow believers were ruthlessly slaughtered by a mentally disturbed man while in the very act of worshiping our Lord and Savior! Probably at the very same moment we were worshiping Him too, and we have to ask, Why? Why them? Why now? Why not us? If it was some kind of divine retribution because of sin in that church, then we are all in line for our massacre.

All we can say is, we live in a fallen world with evil and wicked people all around us, who sometimes choose to do evil and wicked things and then even God's people may be touched in such a profound way as this horrific tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas. So we can't answer the Why question this side of heaven, but we can answer the Who question. We can only pray they will turn to the Lord in hope and not away from Him in bitterness. We can only pray that the Holy Spirit will be their sustainer, healer and strength during the coming months and years, as only He can do. We pray their faith would grow through the ordeal and their confidence in the goodness of God would remain unwavering. We pray they will be bolstered by the hope of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ will return some day and right all the wrongs and replace the world's wickedness with His righteousness. But until that glorious day. we pray the fellow Christ followers in Sutherland Springs will continue to hold onto His hand and we know He will never let go, because He is our rock, our shield and our tower of refuge during times of trouble. Psalm 18:1-3

Race and Real Religion

O.K. I agree with my children when they say I am a nerd! Recently, I began reading literary classics because I want to and not because I have to like in high school and college. My latest read was "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and I chose it because, supposedly, Abraham Lincoln said to her in the white house, "So this is the little lady who started this great conflict."  Being a student of history, that line intrigued me. Why would Abe say that to her? Well, after reading this book, you can feel the pain of how horrible the institution of slavery was, especially her description of how families were torn apart and sold. I can see how this book helped to galvanize public sentiment to do what we all know now was the right thing to do. But I also was curious about the derisive moniker, of an "Uncle Tom," and how that came to be. That term has always suggested a weak, slow, overly compliant, lap dog type person and had a very negative connotation. Yet, the real Uncle Tom in the book was a strong, smart, organized, trusted, and a capable manager of his owner's business. Of course, it wasn't his to own to manage, but he clearly is shown to have the skills of a competent business man in his own right. So why is he remembered so poorly by most people? Well, I think it is because Tom was also a very, very strong Christ-follower, who chose to bear under his wrongful suffering with humility and meekness just like the Lord he loved did! So as I read the book, I saw an example of Christ-likeness in Tom that the world sees as a weakness, but we who know Christ know He is the epitome of strength and virtue!  "...God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong..." I Corinthians 1:27.  The world doesn't get Tom and they don't get us either!

Picking up the Pieces

The other day, I heard a secular speaker on TV say if teens in America would do three things, their trajectory in life would be exponentially better. The three points of advice were: 1. Finish High School. 2. Avoid drugs. 3. Remain abstinent until marriage. I think he is right! Think about the young people you know who didn't heed this advice and found themselves so deep in a hole, they constantly struggle to get out, and they seem to be behind the eight ball for the rest of their lives. One of these points seems particularly glaring to me today. Statistically, nationally 15 to 17 year old girls are giving birth to 1,700 babies per week. Not close enough to home? The school nurse at South told Austin there are fifteen (15) pregnancies per year at our mission field next door. Wow! What is a church to do? Condemn? Judge? Scorn? No! A thousand times no! Our Mission Statement says we are a church that shows grace. We do so because we also are struggling sinners who stand in need of God's amazing grace every day. We do not applaud what they did, nor do we call it anything but falling short of His Holy standard, but once done, this church will applaud those girls who choose life for the child, and we will come along side of her and help her get back on her feet. We are currently gathering brochures for the Pregnancy Resource Center and Embrace Grace for Austin to deliver to the school nurse. Just another open door from God! Also, I would point out that God has at the same time raised up Jo in our church with a strong passion for the Embrace Grace ministry, and we stand poised to put our money where our mouth is during this next year. Do you sense God putting things together? I sure do!  

See you again, Gary!

In my 25 years in full time gospel ministry I have conducted nearly 80 funerals, and some have been harder than others! This week I officiated the service of a very dear friend from high school. Gary and I hung out in high school and into our early college days at Eastfield College, which Gary liked to say we went to the University of Texas at Eastfield. It just sounded better! Oh we did some stuff that 17, 18, and 19 year old boys will do, but by today's standards it was pretty mild. I always thought Gary was fun and funny. He was one of three people in my life that could always make me laugh. He was good for me. But as life often happens, we drifted apart for many years, but about five years ago God laid Gary on my heart and so I tracked him down. By then he was having some major physical issues with his vision, heart and even cancer. I am glad I stayed in touch with Gary because when his God-appointed time of death came, his wife asked me to conduct the service. He had told her he wanted me to if I could. Of course, I wasn't glad to do it, but I was more than willing to do the service in honor of my good friend and his family. I know he knew the Lord, because not long after I came to Christ, a mutual friend and I went by and heard him pray to ask Christ to forgive him of his sins and be his personal Savior! That is why I know I will see him again, because the Lord Jesus Christ promised, "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." Then the Lord asked Martha, "Do YOU believe this?" She said, "Yes, Lord I have believed you are the Christ the Son of God who came into the world!!!" Gary and I answered the question the same way as Martha when we were posed that question. That is why I KNOW I will see my old friend again!!