One Potato, Two…No, Just One.

2 Corinthians 9:10

I have gone to great length in previous posts to communicate that many small church pastors live on a meager income.  When I was young, we were often unsure of whether there would be enough food to last the week, and sometimes the day.  We often survived a couple of days on a pot of beans and fatback with cornbread. Sometimes, bologna was the sole sustenance. My sister, Pennye, recalls one occasion I had forgotten.  She happened upon my father in the kitchen looking for something to use for lunch. There was a can of corn, but when he opened it, there was a worm inside.  She said, in his frustration, he threw the can against the wall. That kind of outburst was especially unusual for my father. Daddy often tried to lighten the issue by means of humor. He quoted one deacon as saying, “Preachers should be poor and humble. Lord, we’ll keep him poor if you’ll keep him humble.”  Normally, he displayed tremendous fortitude and faith.

One of my dad’s habits was to invite home “new friends” (interpret that “bums” or “hobos”).  That was often stressful for my mom, who agonized over how to stretch the groceries for a family of five, much less one more adult.  One evening, Daddy showed up with one of his new friends.  In the kitchen, there was some hushed back-and-forth between my parents about the issue.  My dad defended his position by stating this fellow had not eaten in a couple of days, and Daddy felt led to feed him. My mom’s retort was simple; there was only one potato in the fridge, nothing else. How many slices would he like? It was a fairly tense moment. Daddy simply looked at her and said, “God will provide.” In the middle of their conversation, the doorbell rang.  They delayed answering it momentarily, until they reached a stopping point.  When my dad went to the door, no one was there.  All he found was a very full sack of groceries, roughly one week’s worth of food.  I don’t even remember what we ate that night. The memory of that sack on the porch has outweighed every other recollection of the event.

potato

Having taken a similar career path to that of my father, I have experienced the angst of there being more week than check.  As a father, I know that empty feeling in the bottom of my stomach from being afraid of my children having that empty feeling in the bottom of their stomachs.  Through various means, God has always provided.  Sometimes, there was an abandoned sack of groceries on the porch.  Sometimes, I was offered an extra job on the side, which I always took.  Sometimes friends or family would send a card or note with some cash tucked inside.  Once, after my father died, mother opened the mailbox to find an envelope stuffed full of cash. Most often, though, my provision came from the blessings of a healthy body doing a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage. While these seem less spectacular, they are blessings none-the-less. Just ask anyone who goes without these things.

To this day, no one in the family has any idea who our benefactor was that night.  However, the entire family understands this concept: when God calls you to some task that requires personal sacrifice, giving out of your lack triggers a spiritual outpouring of his blessing. God provides what he calls you to give.  Unlike many of my fellow Bible teachers, I cannot and will not make guarantees on God’s behalf. Scripture does a sufficient job of that. Nor will I minimize God’s miraculous responses.    What I can guarantee is you will come away from the experience different than you went in.  Scripture does promise, in many places, God knows our need, God meets our need, God does more than we need, so we can, in turn, bless others.  Now, I think I’m hungry for some french fries.

 

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Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Near Miss

Hebrews 1:14

Have you ever thought about what guardian angels do when they are off duty?  I imagine mine is named Leonard. Leonard is not one of the top-tier angels, not like Gabriel or Michael, but he takes his job seriously and he is pretty good at it.  I can see Leonard, sitting at the bar after work and having a couple of cold ones with a good cigar. He looks kind of beat up, and his robe is torn.  Franklin sits down beside him and lets out a laugh. “Man, what happened to you? Rough day?” Leonard lets out a long sigh. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Through my half-century-plus of living, I have had numerous near misses, and I am very appreciative of Leonard and his colleagues.  Yesterday, I had cause to reminisce over those occasions.  Some of those near misses came early in life.  My father was told by medical professionals he would never be able to have children, and if, by some miracle, he did, they would most likely have serious birth-defects. Some of my closest friends just realized, “Ah. That explains a lot.” To the contrary, my siblings and I are all relatively healthy and past middle-age.

As a child, I remember our family having near misses.  Once we were delayed by car trouble for an out of town trip. Once we were on our way, we encountered a terrible accident in a remote area.  It had just happened, and we were first on the scene.  One man was in particular danger. Realizing how long it would take an ambulance to arrive, my dad had us wait by the wreck to comfort the other un-harmed passengers until help arrived. He loaded the badly injured man in the back seat of the car and whisked him off to the hospital, likely saving his life. I’ll never forget when he returned, and we kids sat in the now-blood-stained back seat.  We were all silent. After a very long time, my father said, “If we had gotten away on time, that likely would have been us.”

On another occasion, my father had gone for late-night coyote hunting with a buddy. From my bedroom window, I could see the headlights as he pulled into the drive.  He sat in the car for a minute, then suddenly, he left again and in a huge hurry.  A couple of hours later, he returned.  He was now on crutches!  As the family met him at the front door, bewildered and shocked, he explained.  He was unloading his gun when it discharged into his leg.  He drove himself 40 miles to the hospital emergency room in Pecos, where the doctor removed the bullet and patched him up.  He brought the slug back as a souvenir.  When we voiced how remarkable it was that nothing worse happened, he chuckled. “The doctor thought so too.  He said, ‘Preacher, if that had gone in your belly, we would never have found it!'”

One of my father’s favorite tales was how he got rear-ended at a red-light. In his eyes, it was a miracle, because no one was hurt, and he had a revival meeting coming up, for which he needed a new suit. The insurance money promptly funded the purchase, and he received a nice love offering from the other church.

Time after time, too many to mention here, I and members of my family emerged unscathed from potentially deadly situations.  A friend reminded me of the lyrics to the 1984 Amy Grant song, “Angels.”

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.
A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,
Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.
But I know they’re all around me all day and through the night.
When the enemy is closing in, I know sometimes they fight
To keep my fight from falling, I’ll never turn away.
If you’re asking what’s protecting me then you’re gonna hear me say:

Got his angels watching over me, every move I make,
Angles watching over me!
Angels watching over me, every step I take,
Angels watching over me

I believe God’s servants are especially vulnerable because there is a true enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. That enemy specifically targets those with potential to thwart his evil plans.

Yesterday, on my way to work, Leonard was called to duty.  I was on the road I have traveled hundreds of times, with a bite of breakfast burrito in my mouth. I saw a dark shadow in my left periphery.  With a loud bang, my windshield instantly shattered. I had no idea what had just happened. I pulled over as safely as I could and parked the car.  I looked around for the other car…nothing.  Another lady pulled up behind me and got out to see it I was alright.  “I saw the whole thing!” She exclaimed.  I said, “What was it?”  She said, “A deer!” as she pointed to the carcass in the median about a quarter mile back.  Upon closer examination, I had my explanation.  As you can clearly see from the picture below, the deer had been drinking. Let that be a lesson kids, and thanks again, Leonard.

windshield deer

Published in: on November 8, 2017 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  

A Requiem for the Sanhedrin

Matthew 3:7

As I write today, I am in a far-away, large city for a professional conference.  I always enjoy the opportunity to have a break from my normal routine for a few days, and I always enjoy getting back to my routine.  As I attend educational conferences and their respective seminars and presentations, I often mull over the denominational conferences I attended for so many years. I like to compare and contrast in my mind the similarities and differences between these two groups of professionals and how they conduct themselves when away from home.  The presentations themselves aren’t really all that different. We are going to take this new and novel approach to teach ancient knowledge and skills. We are going to change the world!

My dad rarely attended conferences, with one exception. He and Uncle Glen always enjoyed attending the annual Evangelism Conference, sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  He loved the testimonies, songs, prayer times, and preaching. He always seemed refreshed and energized after that meeting.  We, his three children, liked it too.  He never forgot to visit the exhibit hall, where vendors gave lots of free samples: pens, pencils, bite-sized Tootsie Rolls, and little plastic trinket toys.  We would mob him at the front door when we saw the car pulling into the driveway.  He would laugh as he parceled out the little nothings for us.  It was sort of like…Christmas!

In contrast, he did not care much for the annual Baptist General Convention of Texas (the meeting, not the organization), or the Southern Baptist Convention (the meeting, not the organization)…you know, the one where they take votes on officers and resolutions and committees.  (For God so loved the world, that He didn’t send a committee.) Although they too had exhibits and freebies, he usually came home frustrated. He would trudge in the front door muttering something about, “They act like a bunch of Sanhedrin.”

Sanhedrin2

To refresh your biblical knowledge, the Sanhedrin was the body of Jews who would pass judgement on issues of disagreement.  They were much like the Supreme Court, although distant communities could have their own, smaller Sanhedrin, for minor issues.  The group usually consisted of influential leaders like the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, all the folks Jesus was especially fond of.  Eight times in the New Testament, Jesus referred to the Scribes and Pharisees, prefaced with “Woe to…” That’s not a good thing. When he mentioned the Sadducees, he usually said, “Beware…” Also, not good.

My father’s instincts were right on target.  In the 1980s, a decade after my father’s death, the Baptist Sanhedrin self-destructed.  The fundamentalists, conservatives, moderates, and liberals engaged in a bloody theological war with many casualties.  Some of those casualties were the lost, the un-saved, and the un-churched.  They really don’t care which side of these ecclesiastical issues we take.  (Of course, I was always on the “right” side.) As my father said, “We just need to show them Jesus.” And Jesus just wasn’t very fond of the taking sides thing.  He usually managed to rile up all of them.

My educational conferences also have exhibit halls, full of vendors with give-away gadgets. None of them are toddler-friendly, though, so I can’t get mobbed at the door for a couple more years. My conferences don’t usually include shouting matches and name calling as part of electing officers.  It’s all done in a fairly congenial tone.  It’s a shame that denominational meetings aren’t that way.  Maybe the problem is, there are no vendors treating the attendees to a free wine-tasting. (Just a thought.)

Published in: on November 1, 2017 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

In This Corner…

Ephesians 6:12

GeorgeForeman

Football was my dad’s favorite sport.  His second favorite was boxing.  He regularly kept up with the status of champions and challengers alike. Jersey Joe Walcott, Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson, and Sonny Liston were boxers of his era. I watched with him as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier rocked the world on three separate occasions.

Fisticuffs is certainly a manly endeavor; it is simply part of how we are built, and many, if not most, brothers regularly engage in pecking-order disputes. My brother, David, and I were certainly no exception.  We didn’t need much of a reason to duke-it-out. Being brothers was reason enough. One or the other of us was prone to agitate our sibling until the bout was on. The main problem was that Mom had a firm rule, no fighting in the house. Even as young grade-schoolers, we had the ability to reduce coffee tables, chairs, and lamps back to their basic elements as a result of a scuffle, kerfuffle, or row.

Often, our fights were the result of some dispute. Sometimes, however, they were mutually agreed upon multi-round engagements.  We would empty the sock drawer, put four or five socks on each fist, then have at it. (Remember, we were poor.) That would soon be remedied, however.  We carried this practice with us to Uncle Glen’s house and included Eddie and Darrell in our tournaments.  Or maybe they came up with the sock idea first, and we stole it from them. I don’t quite remember.

My dad showed up one day with not one, but two brand-new sets of boxing gloves. I think Mom had been complaining about all our socks being misplaced, stretched out, and having excessive holes.  We would go into the back yard in nothing but our skivvies. put on those gloves, and have a full 15 round competition.  Little did we know, Daddy had ulterior motives.  The next time we got into a for-real fight – no gloves, no kidding, no mercy – he pulled us apart then pulled out the boxing gloves.  “Go get in the back yard…now!” He pulled a chair outside and sat right between us. Then, he pulled his belt off and laid it in his lap.  “If you boys want to fight, you’re going to do it right.  Put on those gloves. When I say, ‘go’ you’re going to fight.  The first one to quit, gets a whippin’. Now…go!” For a moment, we just stood there looking at each other, all glassy eyed.  He popped his belt once, and we simultaneously started swinging.

I really don’t remember how long that fight lasted, but I’m sure it felt longer than it actually was.  No matter the actual time, we both swung, ducked, jabbed, and hooked until we were absolutely exhausted.  Our arms would barely move and we were fighting for breath.  Finally, we decided on a strategy.  We worked it out between gasps for air and pathetically inept punches. Surely, if we both stopped at the same time, he would not whip us both.  It was worth a try. “One, two, three, now!” As I dropped my arms to my side, I didn’t factor in that my little brother was in mid-swing. A half-second later, he landed a pretty good one to my jaw before he too dropped his arms.  I gave him a nasty stare, but opted not to return the favor. I was too tired.  As we glanced over at Daddy to discern whether our plan would work as intended, we saw he was doubled over in a futile attempt to hide his laughter. For that day, at least, Daddy was the clear winner.  We slept well that night.

A few years later, I hit a bit of a growth spurt, but David didn’t.  He was small but still an expert antagonizer.  His go-to incendiary act was turning his back to me, jutting out his rear, slapping it with his hand, and with a Cheshire-cat-grin on his face, yelling out, “Kiss it!  Kiss it!” If it had been only me he did this too, life could have been close to normal.  No. He would pick the biggest high school football defensive tackle and, without pause, employ this David-and-the-giant posterior pose. Many times, I had to make a spur-of-the-moment choice between mustering some feeble attempt to rescue my brother or watching with glee as he got beat to a pulp.  Most times, before I could intervene, he was quick enough to escape, saving us both from certain doom.  Perhaps, it was actually his adversary who got saved. Another practice David had was to quickly find an equalizer. Biblical David used a sling. My brother used whatever was in arm’s reach.  I have had scissors, hammers, wrenches, and dishes all narrowly miss my cranium.

As brothers grow into men, they often realize the folly of these ways.  My brother is now one of the meekest men I know.  I’m sure if he were pushed, that quick-moving, hammer-throwing, spit-slinging little fellow might reappear, but it would take a lot.  Now, we just have couch conversations about challenges our wives and children face and how cute our grand-kids are. As it turns out, our enemy was never each other at all. There is a real enemy, but we engage him on a different battle-field with different weapons, and I fight side-by-side with my brother.

Published in: on October 25, 2017 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Yellow Pages

book

Ecclesiates 12:12

Recently, a friend recommended a book to me. Normally, when that happens, I smile and say, “Thank you,” then promptly forget it.  In this case, however, because of who recommended it and because it was a fairly controversial book in certain circles, I decided I would give it a read.  I don’t particularly like to be in the middle of a controversy, but I do love getting to the source.  First, I want to know if those arguing have correct information. Second, I want to evaluate for myself whether the issue merits an argument.  Afterward, I may jump into a conversation here or there with my two-cents-worth, but I will have an informed opinion. As a pastor, many people would recommend their latest read as “life-changing,” but I rarely found anything new or different or that truly sparked my interest. Therefore, if I am going to read nothing new, I want to read something old, something very old.

That is where yellow pages come in. My father loved yellow pages. I don’t mean the phone book, of course. I am talking about books that have stood the test of time.  A classic book vs a best-seller is like classical music vs the Top 40.  If people sing and play your song for years, it’s a hit. If people sing and play your song for centuries, it’s classical. Those are the kind of books my father loved and the kind I love.  He would spend hours in a used book store, an antique store, or a garage sale, combing over the books. He only looked at the ones with yellowed pages though.  It wasn’t enough that the content was classic; he wanted to find the earliest volume of the work that he could.  He would often bring home an entire set of books, classic works of literature and theology that still today adorn my sister’s bookcases and mine.

Not only did he love buying books with yellowed pages, he loved giving them away.  If he read something he thought was worthwhile, he actively sought an opportunity to give it away.  He was no hoarder.  I am reminded of one particular volume he purchased.  When my mother’s sister, Pat (the happy hillbilly hippie) declared her major in college as English, he gifted her with a 1913 edition of H.G. Wells’ The Passionate Friends.  What makes this particular work interesting is that Wells was very well-known for works of science-fiction, such as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Island of Dr. Moreau.  This work was a novel, a love story, and a very good one.  A couple of years ago, I was visiting Pat and Don, when she asked me to sit down.  She carefully pulled out the hardback copy, still containing the little note he had placed inside the cover, explaining how he (unlike her father) had honored her desire to immerse herself in literature by giving her the book. She now wanted to give it to me in return.  I was humbled and honored, too.  As soon as I returned home, I started reading it.  A few months back, I started looking for the book, trying to remember where I had misplaced it.  It dawned on me that I had loaned it to another friend, who evidently hadn’t returned it.  No matter. That’s what he would have done. He would have given it away.  My father must have bought and given hundreds of books in his lifetime.  That’s just how he operated.

I am about halfway through the book my friend recommended. For the life of me, I don’t know why it has stirred up so much controversy, other than the fact that some people simply like to argue.  Even though it is a current best seller (not my usual fare) I am thoroughly enjoying it.  The only problem is, I will now have to keep it for several decades before I can give it away.  The pages are too white.

 

Published in: on October 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Church with Props

Amos 7:8; Matthew 7:24-27

There is nothing quite as charming as a quaint little white chapel, welcoming the weary wanderer to come in.  It was in such a chapel that I made my personal commitment to live the rest of my life as a follower of Jesus.  On the last night of a summer revival meeting, on the last verse of “Just as I am,” I went to the front of the church and told my dad about my decision.  A few weeks later, I was baptized, buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in the newness of life.  Of course, at age seven, I didn’t have a lot of sins to confess, and I didn’t have much of a rebellious life to overcome.  I was making an honest attempt to get my life straight with God and set a firm foundation.

That little chapel would have been more quaint if it had not been situated in the parking lot of the high school football field.  Yes, you read correctly.  Every Friday night, the church yard was filled with fiercely loyal Texas high school football fans.  My father simply found it useful as a reference point when inviting people to church. Everyone knew where Trinity Baptist was. In addition, we were known as “the church with props.” Through some design flaw, the walls of the building began to lean and bow out over time.  Therefore, the solution was to scotch two by six studs together at a 45 degree angle and prop the walls up. There was always a deacon or two stationed outside to deter youngsters who might view those props as some sort of playground equipment.  “Hey! You kids get off there! Do you want the walls to fall down?”

Some of you may be saying, “But the Cathedral of Notre Dame has outter supports, and they’re beautiful!”  Yes, it does, and yes, they are. I have seen it in person. It’s breathtaking. This is not that.  Two by six studs, painted white and stuck in the ground, leaning into the top of the wall do not a cathedral make.

cathedral-notre-dame-paris-36137_w1000

I’ve often wondered over the years whether the builders were woefully incompetent or pitifully apathetic.  In either case, they must have had accomplices. This kind of thing had to be noticed by at least one person.  I’ve also wondered why the congregation never decided to employ a proper fix and remove the props.  Neither ignorance nor apathy are extolled as spiritual virtues.  To be fair, though, we often conduct our lives like that.  We prop up whatever is leaning, and we leave it there….just… propped up. We tell people not to lean on the props. We paint the props to match.  In the end, we’re still just propped up.

I drove by that little church a couple of months ago. The props were gone! Someone finally realized this was a real problem, a spiritual problem. God doesn’t live in a building, but it is a physical representation of his presence in the world. Should it not reflect diligence and thoughtfulness? So, whoever you are, dear saint who moved the congregation of Trinity Baptist Church to fix the walls and remove the props, may God bless you for your work. You are in no wise least in the kingdom.

Published in: on October 10, 2017 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Preacher’s Work Week – Part 4

Wednesday night prayer meeting

I Thessalonians 5:17

Wednesday night in our little country churches was hit-and-miss.  My dad used to say, “On Sunday morning, you can tell how popular the preacher is. On Sunday night, you can tell how popular the church is. On Wednesday night, you can tell how popular God is.”  The truly faithful, die-hard members of the congregation would gather for prayer meeting and missions activities.

My father was very intentional about prayer meeting being just that…prayer.  He might give a short, five-minute exhortation on the effectiveness and benefits of prayer, but then the congregants were expected to pray and pray fervently.  He was fairly creative about leading the folks in the format. One week, it might be silent prayer, kneeling where you are, getting down to business with God. Another week it might be sentence prayer. Each person was expected to contribute a single sentence of thanks, praise, or intercession. (Deacons never stopped at just one sentence.)  Other times, you just simply pray silently, if you like, or out loud, if you like, and a designated person would end.

I don’t remember this specific event personally because I was very young. However, my parents often told the story of one especially dark Wednesday night prayer meeting in deep East Texas.  The church was about ten miles from town in the piney woods, and the congregation was specifically praying for God’s conviction on the lost.  At one point, the room fell silent in the ebb-and-flow of prayer. At that juncture, a coyote began to howl, just outside the window of the little chapel.  My dad often quipped that three people got saved right then.

In order to free the adults from the burden of tending their young ‘uns on Wednesday night, so they could fully devote their attention to beseeching the Almighty, Baptists developed children’s programs designed to educate them on Missions. The WMU (Women’s Missionary Union) whole-sale plagiarized the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, threw in some scripture verses, and called them RAs (Royal Ambassadors) and GAs (Girls in Action).  The preschoolers were Mission Friends.  I’m certain I may have just drawn the ire of many SBC patriots, but consider the many similarities of uniforms, merit badges, camping activities, and levels of achievement.  I could be wrong, but I doubt it.  I didn’t mind, though.  Making an African noise-maker from a block of wood and string was a whole lot more interesting to me than praying for Aunt Myrtle’s second-cousin’s ex-husband’s brother-in-law and his gout.  Besides, I just wanted to hurry up and get into the Youth department, so I could play volleyball and croquet. Have I mentioned that?

The very best thing about Wednesday night was it often marked to beginning of our vacation.  My dad didn’t often take time off from work, but when he did, it started on Wednesday night.  The work week was over, and we could squeeze in a trip to see Mamaw and Eddie, Glen, or Pat.  We would leave on Wednesday night, drive past midnight, bed down on a pallet in the living room, then wake to bacon and eggs and two days of fun.  We always had to get back by Saturday night, so as not to miss Sunday.  My dad never missed preaching. He loved preaching more than any vacation.  I am not my father, but Kimberly and I did adopt and perfect the art of day-cation.  We would leave after school on Friday, drive a few hours to nothing special, spend the weekend sampling that town’s local wares and local fare.  I still like those trips and how they refresh my spirit in a short time.

When we arrived home on Saturday night, we all slept soundly.  Then, Sunday morning came, another week started in the house-of-God, another week in the life of a pastor.

Praying child.

Published in: on October 4, 2017 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  

The Preacher’s Work Week – Part 3

Luke 14:23

Visitation

On Monday, the pastor doesn’t have the energy to do much more than recover from Sunday.  For many a layman, that doesn’t make sense.  Their limited understanding thinks the pastor works only one hour a week, and most of them, even that’s too long. There have actually been research studies on the effects of stress for varied professions. One study found pastors experience the same amount of stress in one Sunday service as any other person who works a full eight-hour day. So, the preacher may get the mail, return a few calls, or just take care of mundane chores. It’s not a day to start anything.

On Tuesday night, the pastor goes on visitation.  This is the time set aside for the pastor to get into people’s homes – the lost people, the shut-ins, the inactive church member.  The pastor and perhaps one or two of the deacons would arrive at the church, distribute contact lists, say a prayer, and head off into the highways and the hedges to compel them to come in.  In smaller churches, the pastor is often the only one to go.  I heard of one frustrated preacher who decided to buy a boat and name it “Visitation.”  That way he could just go the lake on Tuesdays and tell people he was on Visitation.

My dad would occasionally take me along with him.  I loved the opportunity to spend a little time with my dad, but I wasn’t crazy about being around other people.  Years later, I discovered through the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory I was an introvert.  Being around people I didn’t know very well drained me. Forging new relationships was often a challenge, much less relationships with grown-ups.  My father was an extrovert.  He thrived on meeting new people and being with his flock.  Sometimes visitation for him took odd forms. A few years ago, an older fellow informed me he thought my dad was the best pastor he ever had. When I inquired why, he stated, “He went to farm implement sales with me.”  My dad went wherever the people were, not just to their homes. He knew a little about everything, so he would often end up helping repair a plow or working a squeeze-chute at branding time. More often than not, he came home from visitation with dirty pants. Daddy loved visitation.

(Warning: Adult Content Ahead)

An Un-welcome Visitation

One visitation night stands out in my mind above the rest.  Rather, it haunts my mind.  I went with my dad to an elderly lady’s home on a Tuesday night.  She was a stalwart of the little church and he wanted to check on her because she had not been well.  When we got there, her grown children happened to be at home.  There was her 20-something year old daughter, another female friend, and two male friends. They were in a back room talking and laughing while my dad was visiting.  At one point they hollered at me to come meet them. I looked at my dad, and he nodded that it was alright.  I timidly walked in and they started talking to me.  One of the men quietly shut the door, while another of the men and one of the women held me on the bed.  The man and woman proceeded to unzip my pants and take them down.  I didn’t know what to do. I tried to get loose, but these were grown people, and I was nine years old. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t yell out.  I struggled to get free, but I didn’t yell. The woman began to fondle me, while the other three laughed and pointed.  It was all a big joke. While my father prayed with Mrs. Brown in the kitchen, four adults molested me in the bedroom. After a couple of minutes, they put my pants back up and let me go. I was confused, angry, hurt, and dazed. When they released me, I ran outside and looked for a place to get away.  The only thing I could think of was to climb a tree, which I did. I climbed as high into that sycamore tree as I could go.  Then, I just sat there in the branches until my father came out.  I never told him why I was in the tree. In fact, I never told anyone until I was well past 40 years old.

I know many of you are shocked that I would include such a graphic story in an otherwise light-hearted blog.  I do it for two reasons. First, life is not always light-hearted and fun. Sometimes it is messy, ugly, and confusing, even in a pastor’s home.  Second, I have discovered I am not alone.  There are many others who have experienced such transgressions in church-related settings.  Little boys and little girls are scarred for life by others.  I was emotionally fractured by that event.  I do not feel like a “victim” per se.  I do realize, however, the profound impact this had on my life.  For years after, I experienced sexual confusion and poor choices.  Through some solid biblical counseling and conversations with other friends, who I discovered had experienced similar events, I have found a sense of resolution. This is not mine to avenge.  That is a right God reserves for himself (Romans 12:19)  Forgiveness does not ignore a wrong. Forgiveness looks the wrong straight in the face and says, “What you did was wrong! However, I give up the right to punish you.” Also, forgiveness does not mean automatic trust. Forgiveness is free, but trust is earned.

I offer no simple solutions for any reader who may have experienced a similar event.  Only, know you are not alone, and you can survive. If you have been through such an ordeal, please talk to someone. Seek counseling. There are many fine trustworthy biblical counselors available. Don’t hide behind secret shame anymore.

Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 2:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Preacher’s Work Week – Part 2

Psalm 134:1

Sunday Night

Sunday night services were really my favorite time the church gathered.  The atmosphere was relaxed, and people were in a good mood because they had a big Sunday lunch, watched the Dallas Cowboys win, and maybe even had a nice nap. We still covered the same basics as Sunday morning, three songs, Scripture reading and prayer requests, then a practical teaching from the Word.

Before Sunday evening worship, we had Training Union.  This was basically Sunday School, part 2.  We divided up into age groups, just like Sunday School. We had a book from the Sunday School Board in Nashville, just like Sunday School. The only difference was instead of the teacher teaching, we each had to read a part and offer some response to what we had read. Most of the time the response would be something profound, like, “Uh…I dunno.” Then the teacher would kick in his or her two-cents-worth.  In previous years, this had been known as BYPU (Baptist Young People’s Union). It was meant to keep young people off the streets and get them into church with interesting activities. In latter years, it was called Discipleship Training. I always envied the youth group, because they got to do things like playing volleyball or croquet with a short devotional.

The singing on Sunday night is where I first started developing a love for music.  Relaxed singing just feels better. You can experiment with harmonies a bit without people looking at you funny when you hit the wrong note.  On Sunday night we diverted from the officially ordained Baptist Hymnal to the little paperback Stamps-Baxter songbooks. The ones we used had shaped notes. For the un-initiate, shaped notes were a way for people who had no formal music training to learn melodies and harmonies. The heritage is found in the Sacred Harp singing schools that started in the Applachian churches. The notes were still found on a staff, but they were shaped into triangles, squares, and circles, representing the solfege system of do-mi-so, and so on.  We sang “Dwelling in Beulah Land,” “I Shall not be Moved,” and “The Good Old Way.”

I remember Cleta Carrol, the pianist.  She was pretty good on Sunday morning, but on Sunday night, she let loose.  Because it was less formal on Sunday night, Cleta wore her  house-shoes.  Not just any house-shoes, but sparkly, gold lame house-shoes with a little point on the end.  We called them “genie” house-shoes.  On Sunday night I would alternate between learning the shaped note harmonies and watching Cleta’s genie shoes working her magic on the reverb pedal. She pretty much ignored the soft-pedal until the invitation.

On Sunday night, my dad would switch from preaching mode to teaching mode. He would expound on the delicate intricacies of the verses, finding hidden gems previously unknown, then make a practical application for everyday living.  My fifth-grade English teacher had taught outlining, and on Sunday night, I practiced it. I would label my dad’s first point with a Roman numeral I. The supporting details and illustrations were capital A, B, and C. Point two was Roman numeral II. Supporting details were duly noted. The final point was Roman numeral III. Supporting details followed.  I could follow the sermon! There was a sense of satisfaction in this new-found note-taking formula. It was like…discovering the combination to a long lost chest and gazing on the treasures locked inside. (Truth-be-told, anyone can follow a good Baptist sermon; a good joke in the introduction to warm up the congregation, three points, and a sad poem.)

After church, everyone was happy. The biggest day in a pastor’s work week was complete. We went home full of the peace of God, the grace of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Sunday night supper was simple, but satisfying, usually scrambled egg and bacon sandwiches. I still love that meal today. It is true comfort food.  Then we would all sit around in the living room watching the second half of Disney (the Devil’s way of keeping the luke-warm out of church) or Hee-Haw (my dad’s personal favorite).

HeeHaw

Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 10:06 am  Leave a Comment  

The Preacher’s Work Week – Part 1

Hebrews 10:25

Sunday Morning

As good dedicated Baptists do, we had services three times a week. On Sunday morning, there was Sunday School, then worship. On Sunday night, there were discipleship classes, then another worship service. On Wednesday night, there were missions oriented activities and prayer meeting. Although larger churches had choir practice on Wednesday, the churches I grew up in had no choir because then there would be no congregation. Here’s how each of these events looked close-up.

Sunday School

Sunday School was the time when young boys and girls were, against their will, dressed up in their Sunday best. For the boys this meant starched black slacks, starched white shirts, bow ties or neck ties, black socks, and spit-polished black shoes. The girls were adorned with modest dresses, white ankle socks, and patent black shoes. Have you ever tried to play Red-Rover in Sunday clothes? Well, it ain’t easy. We antsy young’uns listened for 45 minutes to whatever old codger – who had been shamed into teaching by his wife – agonizingly reading word-for-word the lesson from the Sunday School quarterly (issued four times a year).  He ended with, “Now think about those things.” Then we ended with a prayer.

preaching

Sunday morning worship was the big guns, the pinnacle of the week.  I could always sense a slight nervous energy in the air. I’m not sure why, because the service was fairly predictable. After the welcome and announcements, there was the Scripture reading. Our little country churches were informal enough that anyone could chime in during the announcements.  This included a recitation of the week’s events, which rarely varied, and prayer requests. I dreaded that part because it seemed to take forever, and my breakfast was already playing out. I didn’t care about Fred’s mother’s second cousin’s husband’s gall stones. I was hungry!

One of the deacons led the singing (no paid song leaders); three hymns, verses 1, 2, and 4. Even though we had a printed bulletin with the song titles and number in the hymnal, they were announced, each one twice, “Hymn number 412, ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers, number 412.” I never really knew why we skipped the third verse of every hymn. I speculated that third verses were reserved for less evangelical groups, like the Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians.

A few of the other men would take the offering, passing the plate, trying to strike that delicate balance of looking at you in a way that made you want to pitch in your folding money without drawing attention to the fact that they didn’t. I mean, if you take up the offering, that’s contribution enough, right? These offering takers were often viewed as Deacons-in-training. If you could be trusted with the offering, you could be considered as a potential Deacon (Luke 16:11).  One day, I will expound more on the Capital D Deacons. We don’t have time here and now.

Then came the Special Music. These were the original stars of  contemporary Christian music. That’s where you got your start. Special Music pre-dates The Voice, American Idol, and even karaoke. My sister began singing the Special Music early on.  My dad’s favorite request of her was “The King is Coming” by Bill Gaither.  I was glad when Pennye sang because the others, quite frankly, just weren’t very good. No matter, though. Whoever sang earned a throaty “Amen” from the deacons.

Next, the sermon. My daddy was a fine blend of teacher / preacher. He could expound on the Scripture and seamlessly shift into fire-and-brimstone. Daddy spent hours in his study, hammering away at a sermon, carefully selecting the Scripture passage and just the right words to convey its full meaning. When he preached, he never needed electronic amplification. He had a way of waking up the crowd when he sensed they were drifting into thoughts of football, fishing, or the roast in the oven. On one Sunday, he pounded the pulpit; “There are lost people all around you going to hell, and you don’t give a damn!  Right now, more of you are concerned about the fact that I said, ‘damn’ than you are about those lost people!” Another time he announced he was going to preach from the Sears and Roebuck catalog because no one cared to bring their Bible to church, so they wouldn’t know the difference. The most scathing sermons, however, were those that included the 10 second silent pause for effect, followed by the words, “Wesley…go sit with your mother!” Oh, the shame, the guilt, the depth of remorse is unspeakable.

Once the congregation was sufficiently under conviction, then came the invitation; “Just as I Am,” or “Living for Jesus” or “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” The struggling mourners would walk to the front of the church to get saved. If they were already saved, they would rededicate their life. If they were saved and rededicated, they would just kneel and pray. I was always most impressed with the praying kneelers. They were certainly the most spiritual.

Finally, the benediction, offered by another of the men. I could finally loosen my tie, eat Sunday dinner, and watch the Dallas Cowboys whip up on their foe of the week. My next post will reveal my favorite service, Sunday night.

Published in: on September 14, 2017 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment