Friday, March 30, 2018

Our Churches Must Become Christocentric

I remember the day I knelt in the altar of the Highland Park Baptist Church of Kilgore, Texas and a group of ordained men, both preachers and deacons (see photo at left), ordained my by the laying on of hands to the Gospel Ministry.  Prior to that moment which was the climax of the experience, I sat through a friendly but serious and rigorous questioning period by these same men. I was asked about my salvation and my call to preach. I was asked about my view of the church and other doctrines.

Dr. Edwin Mays, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kilgore, served as the chairman of the ordination council that did this candidate evaluation. I got a lot of tough questions and a few softballs as well. Advice and admonitions were freely and lovingly given. It was an exhilarating time.

As Ed brought the council’s examination to a close having given each man opportunity to speak and ask whatever questions they desired he closed out by saying to me that I should adopt the Apostle Paul’s attitude toward sharing the Gospel and then quoted First Corinthians 2:1-5: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I decided to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

That was probably the most important piece of advice ever given to me by another preacher. My job as God’s preacher is not to be the congregations therapist, economic advisor, political activist. My job is to make Jesus known to all people through the proclamation of the Gospel.  In short he was telling me to make all my preaching Christocentric. I have endeavored to do just that. Now that was not the first time I had heard this advice.  My home church pastor told me the same thing when I “surrenderd” to preach. More importantly may pastors over the years practiced Christocentric preaching and as a result I witnessed the power of such preaching to meet the spiritual needs in people’s lives.  In fact, to this day there are others who would attest to these life changing experiences of which I speak.

Unfortunately we live in a day when this kind of focused preaching is an anomaly.  Now as I travel about and visit churches or listen to services broadcast on television I have to search hard to find the Christ anywhere in the message of the day. I usually learn a lot of psych-theology about raising my children; having a good relationship with my wife; about how to build a relationship with my neighbors and get along with society in general. If I do all that I can do that is what I get but if I let the Holy Spirit do all He can do I get what God can do. I think I prefer God's working rather than mine. Before we started stumbling all over ourselves to demonstrate to a secular world that we were legitimate and had a message that addressed their perceived needs we relied on the Holy Spirit to change lives.

Changed lives bring changed communities and changed communities produce a changed society and a changed society brings a changed world. But here is the catch only the life that is changed by the Holy Spirit of God can set in motion such a series of changes. I believe the church needs a  fresh touch by the Lord. We must never forget as we endeavor to reach the world for Christ that it is never about our effort but buy how God uses our witness.

We need to abandon this fruitless and powerless psycho-theology that is nothing but a pseudo
Christian 12 step plan. These may very well explain the process of change but they do not have the power to change. I watch a lot of “Christian” people jumping up and down singing and shouting but I see no miraculous changes. Those who witnessed the miraculous changes in peoples lives know of what I speak. Alcoholics (we called them drunkards) were saved and sobered in an instant; Abusive men were turned to kindness in a momentary experience during some service; . . . .  We saw lives changed as people in repentance and by faith were confronted with Jesus Christ and said in some fashion “Jesus is Lord.”  By the way, in nearly every instance the first thing the wanted to do was go to their family and/or friends at tell them what they had experienced.

Most “Christians” are not telling the Gospel story because they have not actually experienced the Gospel. I believe that if preachers were to return to Christocentric preaching they’d see half of their members come to true faith. The kind of faith that can stand when the praise band is entertaining them; the kind of faith that can look Isis in the eye and say, “Jesus is Lord.”

The truth is that this testimony is linchpin on which true faith and feigned faith hang. In the first century not one single “Christian” would have died if they had been willing to reject Christ by simply declaring “Ο Καίσαρας είναι Κύριος” (Caesar is Lord). Instead they said, “ο Ιησούς είναι Κύριος” (Jesus is Lord) and went to their death.  They were willing to give up what they could not keep to gain that which they could not loose . . . . eternal life. If one really want to feel the impact of Christocentric preaching one merely needs to view the motion picture Paul: Apostle of Christ.

We are living in a day like no other and yet is increasingly beginning to reflect the first century. Preachers should preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We should spend more time preaching against Sin and less time pointing out people’s sins. We need be declaring the universal truth that all of us are sinners and that all of us are repeatedly coming short of God’s expectations and what is more there I nothing that we can do other than to acknowledge our sin and receive God’s forgiveness by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord. We need to get back to basics . . . our world needs us to get back to basics so that those who do come to faith will be able to say “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have complete boldness, so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

My concern is that we are so busy building religious kingdoms that we have forgotten the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”  History tells us one thing for certain and that is everything done by man will return to the earth from which it came only that which is done for Christ will last. And just what do we do for Christ. Well, as one who has done so, I can tell you it is not beautiful houses of worship. It is living and telling what the Lord has done for you.

That’s why I stress the importance of Christocentric preaching. People need to know the Lord in a life changing way. If the core and focus of your life has not been changed then you need Jesus. Everyone who trust Jesus Christ as Lord is changed fundamentally. They become a new creature. Paul is so right when he says in Ephesians that he takes both the pagan and the Jew and makes of both of them a new kind of man (ἵνα τοὺς δύο κτίσῃ ἐν αὑτ  εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον ποιων εἰρήνην,). The kind of man who will knowingly stand and facing certain death declare “Jesus is Lord.” 

Another aspect of this is that he will not deny Jesus by his manner of living. You see, as much faith as it takes to not deny Jesus in the face of physical death it requires and equal faith to not deny him in our daily living. Our prayer should be “Lord help me to live in such a self forgetful way that others they face may see.”

As a Christian you have two ways of sharing the gospel. First, by telling what the Lord has done for you. Share your experience with the Lord.  Like the blind man you simply tell what you do know. “ I can’t answer all my own questions let alone yours but this one thing I do know, once I was blind but now I can see.”  Remember, your story is authentic. It is what you experienced.  As you make your way through life the Holy Spirit will open ways for you to share His story by sharing your story. Jesus told the healed demoniac to "’Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” 

I can guarantee you that when you become a Christian and your life starts reflecting that fact people will take notice and you will have ample opportunity to tell them what the Lord has done for you and share the truth that He can do it for them as well.

The second is the manner of life you live.  Our lives are to reflect the life of Jesus. We used to sing, “Things are different now something happened to me when I gave my life to Jesus.”  Trust me, when Jesus saves you you’ll know it. The external signs may be minimal or they may be dramatic but the internal changes are always dramatic. “I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see.” When we receive Christ as Lord He becomes our Savior by not just forgiving our sin but creating of us a καινὸν ἄνθρωπον (new kind of man) called Christian.

This is the creative work of the Holy Spirit and it enables the Christian to life on a higher plane morally and ethically. We express this theologically as “Christ in us the hope of glory.”  This also explains the miraculous stories in the Bible and in my home church. I want us to once again experience in our churches the powerful life changing work of the Holy Spirit.

There is a little chorus called “Let Others See Jesus In You” that sums this up pretty well . . . . . “While passing thro' this world of sin, and others your life shall view, Be clean and pure without, within; Let others see Jesus in you. Your life's a book before their eyes, They're reading it thro' and thro' Say, does it point them to the skis, Do others see Jesus in you? Then live for Christ both day and night, Be faithful, be brave and true, and lead the lost to life and Christ. Let others see Jesus in you.”

Paul’s name is one that is remembered from those early days of the Faith but there were hundreds of thousands of others whose names are lost to history who faithfully lived their lives day by day expressing the gifts of the Spirit to their community. It was this that drew their neighbors to faith. They may have seen and heard Paul preach once or twice but their neighbors they saw each day. The love and compassion they shared and the strength of their faith in the face of ridicule, persecution and death cause people to stand up and take notice and they soon discovered for themselves that what He did for other He also will do for them.

Hebrews 12 introduces us to what I call God’s Hall of Fame by pointing out that all the believers before us are as it were a great cloud of witnesses encouraging us to complete our race. In light of what many of those between the day that these words were penned and our day many have actually died for the faith and have been added to this collection of faithful saints whose names have been entered into God’s Hall of Fame.  “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.  Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

I learned the following poem from my Grandmother and it has been important to my Christian life since then. It helps me keep things in perspective. Maybe, it will speak to your heart as well.

Your name may not appear down here
In this world’s Hall of Fame.
In fact, you may be so unknown
That no one knows your name;
The headlines here may pass you by,
The neon lights of blue,
But if you love and serve the Lord,
Then I have news for you.

This Hall of Fame is only good
As long as time shall be;
But keep in mind, God’s Hall of Fame
Is for eternity.
This crowd on earth they soon forget
The heroes of the past.
They cheer like mad until you fail
and that’s how long you last.
But in God’s Hall of Fame
By just believing on His Son
Inscribed you’ll find your name.

I tell you, friend, I wouldn’t trade
My name, however small,
That’s written there beyond the stars
In that Celestial Hall,
For any famous name on earth,
Or glory that it shares;
I’d rather be an unknown here
And have my name up there.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Church: We Need To Go Back To Where We Started!

I begin with the prayer of Habakkuk the prophet.  "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy." (Habakkuk 3:1-2) and a challenge:  "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; (Isaiah 51:1).

Most of us recognize that Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, is losing ground in our culture. Christian’s seem to want to hide the fact that they are Christians from their non-Christian friends; Our institutions no longer even pay “lip-service” to our world view and ethical standards; we are certainly not being public with our faith. When we are public about our faith it is usually in a negative way; and it seems that we are prouder of what we stand against than what we stand for. We also find with each passing day a new attack on some aspect of the public expressions of our faith in our businesses and government. The Gospel seems to be an "inconvenient Truth" to our evolving culture that must be marginalized, dismissed or just plain done away with..

I heard today that while 80% of the people in America claim to Christian’s only about 20% actually attend worship services. I also learned that of that 20% who do attend worship services regularly only 65% will have actually opened and read their Bibles over a one year period of time.  I suspect that many of those who do read the Bible do not accept it as God's word. We have the largest churches in the world just down the road from where we live. These churches broadcast their services on television and through live streaming on the Internet. Their pastors and musicians have national followings and have written books on virtually every subject imaginable and still despite all this the influence of Christianity is declining with each passing day.

One writer recently said that Christianity is going to loose the “battle” with Islam because most
people who claim to be Christians do not have real life changing and courage generating faith in Jesus Christ. He went on to say, “They will capitulate and convert to save their lives. There are none in America, he said, who will stand in the face of having their heads removed from their bodies that will declare “Jesus is Lord.”’

I recall my wife’s uncle, then pastor of a large Mississippi church during what I call the pre-mega church era saying essentially the same thing. He said, “I have a church full of people who as Christians are a 100 miles wide and only a few inches deep. The slightest trouble or trial that comes into their life destroys them.”  They are desperately in need of a closer walk with the Lord.

As I listened to this I thought to myself, “These things ought not to be.” If they are true and I suspect they are, what is the reason and what is the answer.” I also thought, “If I am to find an explanation and an answer where do I turn?”

My first thought was that I need to go back in time to a time and place when Christianity was turning the world upside down. The persistent witness of the church was penetrating the Roman world and its myriad of cultures and changing them. If we are going to recapture the ability to impact the world in which we live with the Gospel we are going to have to discover what it was about those early believers that shook the world.

The first thing I think of when I think of those early believers is the testimony of the man who was born blind and Jesus healed his blindness. He couldn’t answer all the questions that the religious leaders plied him with. Instead, all he would says was, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"

All he could do was tell what he had experienced. But then that is the secret, he had experienced something and was willing to talk about what he knew. So, in my mind we must make sure that we have actually had a genuine life changing experience with Jesus Christ. That’s the beginning. Until one has had a life changing experience with Jesus Christ you cannot go another step.

That life changing experience comes when we by faith accept Jesus Christ as our Lord. Paul said it so simply when he stated, “Whosoever declares that Jesus is Lord shall be saved.” Charles Austin Miles penned it so well in his song But This I Know . . . .

I do not know the depths of Jesus' love,
That brought Him down to earth from heaven above,
Nor why He bore the cross up Calvary
And shed His precious blood so willingly.

I do not know what pain He suffered there,
The burden of my sin and shame to bear.
It may be well to hide it all from me,
Lest my own heart should break in sympathy.

I do not know what I can do, or say,
My debt of gratitude to Him to pay;
But I at least may cry,"O Christ divine!
Had I a thousand lives they should be Thine."

But this one thing I know: That when the crimson flow
Dropped to the earth below,  It fell on me.
My eyes were opened wide, I saw Him crucified,
And knew for me he died.

This is the foundation of the Christian faith.  People do not become Christians through teaching about better homes, marriages, finances etc. They will not become Christians by works of righteousness or giving of alms. People become a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ as their living Lord.  This is the kind of faith that transforms a life. In point of fact you become a new creation in Christ Jesus.  There are not many ways to be righteous before God. There is but one way and Jesus himself stated it plainly when he said, I am the truth, the way and the life and no one comes to the Father but by me.”  Christianity is inclusive in that salvation is offered to all and it is exclusive in that it only given to those who put the whole weight of their faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

I am here to tell you the power of the early church and the power of the church in which I was raised were one and the same thing. The power of God to change lives was witnessed on a regular basis. We have turned everything in that incipient church’s experience into metaphors when they were is that day actual historical events. Lives were really being changed. A thief is saved and he steals no more; a murderous man is saved and he kills no more; an overbearing husband and father is saved and he ceases to be overbearing. Real lives were really changed and that impacted the community.

They community saw these changes that could not be attributed to anything but the working of the Holy Spirit and because they lived in the community and knew the former way of life of their neighbors and understood the magnitude of the changes the Gospel made in their lives. If the world is going to be impacted by the gospel as it was in the days of Peter, James and John then lives are going to need to be changed the same way of Paul, the blind man and the jailer of Philippi.

When I was a young preacher our community had an abundance of people like myself who felt the call of God on our lives to preach the Gospel. Our churches had pastors who understood that calling because they themselves had the self-same call. Consequently they opened their pulpits to us as you preachers and we began at an early age. I think I was 17 when I preached my first sermon before a Sunday night packed house. I mention this to give context to what I want to say about our merry band of young preachers.

First, we had little education in theology. The depth of your theological thinking was what we got in having grown up in Sunday School. That meant we weren't doing any "in-depth" preaching. It was short and to the point and always included the fact that people are sinners, Jesus died for their sin, by faith Jesus would come into their life, forgive their sin and give them eternal life. We then offered an invitation (altar call) to receive Christ and more often than not people were saved. Before these meetings where we preached we spent hours during the preceding week praying that God would honor His word and lives would be changed. You see we knew our inadequacy and so we heavily depended upon the Holy Spirit to use what we offered. We always saw the lives changed not as a result of our ability to preach but as the product of the Holy Spirit's power to convict and convert. "To God be the Glory great things He has done." I am saying we need to see God do these kinds of great things in our presence so we have a real reason to sing "Great is the Lord."

It was on the power of these personal stories of faith stories and hundreds more like them that got the cultures attention. So much so that one city official declared that “These people who are literally turning our world on its head have come here also.”  The first church which had nothing but their faith and the Holy Spirit were penetrating their world by nothing more complex than the stories of their own transformed lives. It was simple: They said “He lives.” The world says, “How do you know?” They replied, “Because He lives within my heart and you can see the evidence of that in what I say and do.”  They would then add, “And what He has done for me He has done for you and will effect in your life if you have faith in Him.”  In many ways it was the observation of a changed life that gave opportunity for the believer to say, "Well, let me tell you about the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life" and then followed that by telling what the Lord had done for them. Nothing has changed in this regard.

Now keep in mind, and I know this will be hard to do, that these people did not have the Internet, cell phones, or any of the other electronic devices. They did not have marketing gurus to promote their branding and the did not have sales specialists to teach them how to convince people how to accept their message. They did it through the belief that the Spirit of God through the power of the redemptive story of Jesus Christ and its impact on their individual lives. They simply believed there was power in His story and all they had to do was tell His story and live like him.

They did not target sins but they did target Sin. The modern church does one of two things. We either focuses on individual sins and therefore we join marches, protest, boycotts and engage in shouting matches and condemnation of whole groups of people. We find ourselves in the condemnation business instead of the business of delivering the good news of God’s loved and grace.

Other Christians opt to just ignore sinful behavior in favor of the universal love of God for people. They focus on the nature of God. After all does the Bible not say that “God is love?” Indeed it does but it nowhere elevates love to God. The result of this is that people enter the church bringing all their , shall I use the word, “pagan” ways with them. Neither of these occurred to the early church.

The church, if it is to impact the culture in which we live is going to have to get back to basics. The pulpit needs to consistently and continually proclaim the kerygma (the essentials of the Apostles doctrine) and Christians in general need to live consistent lives that demonstrate to an unbelieving world the power of the Gospel to change lives. To emulate Peter and John who said, Silver and Gold we have none but what we do have give we unto you.”   To copy the example of Jesus who said, “The son of man came not to be ministered to but to minister.”

I am not saying this cannot happen with the mega churches but I am not hopeful. I feel strongly that we need to abandon the corporate model for doing church and revive the family model. We were more influential in our communities when our churches were smaller. More lives were powerfully changed than we see today. We developed a Christian culture that while scattered among a dozen church groups infected the whole community. Personally I am not even sure that God ever intended for the church to become institutionalized. There are even companies that specialize in Church Branding, Church Marketing plans and programs, Fund raising companies specializing in churches, architects and builders who do nothing but churches. In short, there are whole industries dependent upon the growth of the mega-church movement.

However, I am pretty sure the modern mega-church is not what He had in mind for His people. The New Testament seems to suggest that the church should meet in small groups (“from house to house” is the phrase) where relationships could be established with depth and where the “least of these my brethren” will not be overlooked.

This return to the family model will be hard because it will have an impact of the religious business industry that has risen around the mega-church. Sermons and books by prominent pastors are copyrighted though produced during their pastoral tenure. Christian musicians now police their music so that small church have to purchase a use license from copyright companies to even sing the songs and God forbid you record one during your service and put it on Youtube. It is a whole new approach to “My house is a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.” The spiritual gifting of God is for the edification of the church not the financial enrichment of the believer.

Unfortunately, the corporate model all but eliminated our being the arms and feet of Jesus to “our” world. We want grand concerts with superstar musicians powerfully singing wonderful “new” songs. We have worship teams that are little more than our own full time gospel singers who entertain us with their abilities. There is no place for the weaker brothers and sisters, or the less talented. Many wonder how can they compete with the virtuosos on the platform? Truth be told, I would never heard my mother sing "Face to Face" in church on a Sunday morning in today's worship services.

We are to be a family of believers who come to the same table to dine and go into the same community to live out our faith. What would happen if our communities started seeing people once again dramatically saved. I know I can recite from my own youth many cases where it was clear to all present that what was happening was the Lord’s doing and not anything we had done. Were we surprised? No, we expected God to work. The surprise came when it didn’t happen.

What I am getting at is that the church is the Lord’s body. It is His hands, feet, ears, mouth etc. in the world today. Our churches, though small by today’s standards, would have large groups meeting to pray that they become as the disciples at Pentecost . . . in one place and one accord; To confess sin and receive forgiveness; To experience encouragement and share burdens; And, to acknowledge that it was not by might nor by power but by the Spirit of God that people came to faith and were healed.

In short tell His story by telling your story and validate your changed life through the actions you take and the attitudes you express.

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

In Christ there is no East or West,
No North or South;
Only one great love
Inside and out.

True hearts everywhere
Some deaf and some blind
Singin' one melody
Lost souls cannot find.

Join hands and have faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
There is no black or white
Only one great love
Hatred cannot divide

Join hands and have faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me.

Join hands and have faith,
Forgive your enemy
Surely we're all a part
Of one big family.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Bible: God's Message to Humanity

There has been a lot of talk about Billy Graham in the wake of his home going. There is much talk about the simplicity of his preaching, the focus of his message the integrity of his living, and the humility of his character. News media has spoken of his being “Pastor to the nation” and confidant of Presidents and other world leaders. We have revisited his roll in the civil rights movement and the tearing down of the Iron Curtain. Make no mistake about it . . . .this humble man from North Carolina was a mighty man of God during our day.  Millions can testify to hearing him preach, multitudes will tell you were saved because he came to their town. A handful of people can claim to have walked close by his side and a few of us brushed the hem of his garment.

He was a gift of God to a lost and dying world reminding us that God still loves us and though we have sinned and come short of God’s expectations He sent his own Son to give His life for our sin so that whosever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  But by his own testimony he said he could not go one step further in ministry until he settled the matter of whether or not he could trust the Bible. After much trivial and searching of soul he finally came to say that he didn’t understand it all but that by faith he believed it all and the rest is history.

Folks the Bible, the Word of God and I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ it declares: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”

When I was a young preacher having only preached in my home church I had a chance meeting with Dr. Billy Graham at the Houston Baptist College. If was brief as he was leaving the property but for reasons I shall never know this side of heaven as he left shaking hands with those lined along his path he took my hand, looked directly into my eyes as though he were looking at my soul and ask what my plans were for my life. I replied, that God had only recently called me to preach. He then said, "That's good . . . .preach the Bible." With that he moved on but I have never forgotten that handshake, those focused eyes and that advice to "preach the Bible."

He may have said that a thousand times before to other but that day it was to me and it stuck. In turn over my 50 plus years of preaching I have given that same advice to a lot of preachers. It is something that I have endeavored to do myself and it is my advice to all who would seek to be a preacher.  Billy Graham has been, and rightly so, lauded for staying on message. He literally purposed in his heart an d through his preaching to know nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified. His message could be summed up in a few basic Scriptural truths.

 1 .God loves us.
 2. All have sinned
 3. Sin separates us from God.
 4. We cannot overcome the consequences of our sin.
 5. God knowing this sent Jesus, His Son, to die on the cross to pay the price of our sin.
 6. God raised Jesus from the dead
 7. Those who by faith accept Jesus as Savior and Lord have their sin forgiven.

To me these seven ideas formed the core of the Gospel and the summation of everything that Scripture declared. If you do not believe these I do not see how you can call yourself a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel and there is no other. Jesus said emphatically that he “is the way the truth and the life and that no one, absolutely no one comes to the Father but through Him.

“Preach the Bible” . . . . . . . those words ring in my are to this day. Through four years at what I believe to be one of the nations preeminent conservative Christian Colleges and three years at the world’s largest theological seminary I would be exposed to a wide range of theological theories and positions. But when I walked of off the campus of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for the last time as a student I did so with the same rock solid faith in the Bible as God’s word.  To this day I cannot understand how anyone can reject the Bible as God’s Word and call themselves a Minister of the Gospel.

After all, was it not on accepting the authority of God’s word that I came to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If I could not trust the veracity of the Scripture how could I trust its promise that God loved me.  Early in my life I adopted the motto of the Apostle Paul, “Who be unto me if I preach not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

We are living in a society that has largely relegated the Bible to some dusty shelf or cabinet drawer. It is rarely taken out and read. When it is it is usually to debate some arcane doctrine or esoteric point of view.  Billy Graham tells of his having doubts about the Bible and having to have a dramatic confrontation with God in the woods to settle in his heart the roll of the Bible. I have no such story. In fact, it was not un til I crossed paths with people who rejected the Bible and the loving God it spoke about that I even knew not accepting the Bible as God’s word was an option.

So let me say clearly that today I cannot say with the late B.H. Carroll that “there are only a few things in the Bible I don’t understand but I reckon its because I have not studied it enough.”  Well, there are a lot of things I still don’t understand but there is not a single passage that I do not believe to be God’s word.  I must tell you that in all my years I have never seen or heard of a preacher who doubted the Bible . . . . . never in my life, never in my life, never ever.

I heard the following story from Dr. Criswell when he preached the dedication sermon for the First Baptist Church of Longview.  Here is a little description of it.  Seems “there were two mischievous boys who got a hold of the preacher’s Bible and glued some of the pages together.  And the preacher stood up to deliver his sermon, and he read his text, ‘And in those days, Noah took unto himself a wife.’  And he turned what he thought was one page and continued to read, ‘And she was . . . fifteen cubits broad, thirty-five cubits long, made out of gopher wood, and daubed on the inside with pitch.’ He held up the Book and said, ‘My brothers and sisters, that’s the first time I’ve ever read that in the Word of God, but if the Word of God says it, I believe it!’  Amen, amen, amen.  ‘Just goes to show,’ he said, ‘we am wonderfully and fearfully made.’" 

So I grew up believing every word of this Book is inspired, inerrant, and infallible and brings us the good news of God’s love.  I wish that could be said for all my colleagues in ministry. Some began questioning the Scripture as a result of theological studies, some because of harsh life experiences and others for reason only they know. When God called me He called me to preach. He did not call me to be a pastor but to be a preacher. Being a pastor was a means to a platform from which to preach. I used to tell Pastor Search Committees that they were not paying me to be a preacher. As a preacher I did not work for them. I was called of God and took my lead from  God in the matter of preaching. Preacher was what I was.  What they paid for was that other part, the platform, i.e., being their pastor. I was God’s preacher and their pastor.

I also felt that when it came to the worship service my job was to preach the Bible. I was not called to be their psychotherapist though I understand psychotherapy and I was not there to teach them how to become healthy, wealth, and wise although if they were to abide by the word of God these needs may very well be met. My job was to preach the Gospel and then step aside and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.  Every wonder why Billy Graham was so successful with his services. Well, I’ll tell you anyway. Dr. Graham preached the Gospel, told them people what they needed to do and the stepped aside and let the Holy Spirit do what only He can do, i.e., quicken the spiritually dead.

I fear the is the element that is missing in today’s Mega-Church era. I suspect if Billy Graham were living today and were to preach in any of our Mega-churches you might find half the congregation come to salvation. What do suppose would happen if every pastor went to their pulpit this Sunday and preached a Billy Graham content sermon. Now I did not say style but content. Style of preaching changes from person to person and age to age but the content should not. I believe it is time that we as church leaders we must return to our core beliefs and move away from the psychologically inspired gospel because in truth it is not gospel at all.  God said in His word, “I change not” and we should give care that the changeless God’s eternal message is not changed through our modern psycho-religious preaching.

Let me give you some really good advice for regarding the Bible. First, by faith accept the Bible as God’s word and second as I have suggested to every congregation in churches I served as a pastor and to a multitude of individuals face-to-face, that you read one chapter of Proverbs a day and three chapters of Psalms each day in addition to any other Bible reading that you do.  Do this faithfully for one year and it will change your life.

I once announced from the pulpit that when I die and my mortal remains are laid to rest that I want them to take my Bible and put it on my chest so when people pass by to see where I used to live for the last time, I want them to see me with a Bible in my hand.  Now I am announcing to my children that same thing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham Touched My Life

I awoke this morning o the news that Dr. Billy Graham had died. It did not surprise me, after all he was 99 years of age.  My first thought was a giant of the faith has fallen and then I said to myself, “No, a giant has risen!.” The last of the most effective evangelistic team has now been reunited in the presence of the Lord that they proclaimed.

No doubt people who knew him better will eulogize him from a variety of platforms and venues. Dr. William “Billy” Graham was counselor to Presidents beginning with Harry Truman through Barak Obama. Not only to President and Prime Ministers but also to kings and paupers.

He was quietly working in the civil rights music here in America and around the world. He insisted that his meeting be open to people of all races. He and Dr. Martin Luther King quietly formed and alliance in which Dr. Graham would use his crusades to help bring black and white America together around the cross and Dr. King would lead the movement in the streets. His first integrated crusade was in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1953. After the ropes cordoning off the black section of the auditorium were removed, Graham told the ushers who threatened to put them back up, "Either these ropes stay down or you can go on and have the revival without me."  He did the same in South Africa.

But God called Dr. Graham to be a “Preacher of the Gospel” and he single-mindedness followed that calling. I hear people talking about him preaching with authority but he would say I have no authority other than the authority of God’s word. I doubt you can number the times he would say, “The Bible says.”  That phrase was his equivalent to the Old Testament prophet’s “Thus saith the Lord.” Today, no one has preached face-to-face with more people. It numbers in the hundreds of millions all around the globe.

I remember on of my Christian Ethics professor, Dr. Milton Ferguson,  and later President of Midwestern Seminary speak of his experience in Germany about riding with some other theological graduate student s to attend a crusade Dr. Graham was holding in Germany. They were skeptical of the longevity of the decisions made at the crusades. One of the men stated he had never known on that ever lasted, Dr. Melton, sitting in the back seat piped in with, Well, “I am one of those converts.” Millions of others could say the same thing.

"I tell that story because Dr. Graham never wavered from his message that “God loves you” and thatHe sent His son, Jesus Christ, to die for you.”  There is a lesson in that for those of us who God has “called to preach.”  If God has called you to preach then the most important thing you can do is preach. You may do many things effectively but if you have been called by God to preach the unsearchable riches in Christ Jesus then it is that preaching that God will anoint you to do. By all means be consistent, clear, and unwavering in that message.

All of this you can read in an of the many biographies that have been written but I want to tell you about my experience with Billy Graham. I heard Dr. Graham for the first time as a child at a crusade in Houston, Texas in the 1950's but I met him for the first time in 1963 as an 17 year old "preacher boy" looking for a College to attend. It was on the campus of what was then called Houston Baptist College (follow this link to here that message). It was a brief encounter as he was leaving the campus after have brought an inspiring and encouraging message to the fledgling school.  

As his entourage passed myself and a friend wished only to get an up close look at him. To our delight he stopped and spoke to both of us one at a time. I don’t know what prompted him to stop but I am grateful that he did. Perhaps he sensed we were both also, like he, “called to preach.” What I do recall is in those few moments I felt as though I was the center of his world as no doubt did my friend. He spoke to us individually and look straight down into our eyes as we looked up to his height. He asked about my plans and I told him God had called me to preach. He replied, "God bless you and remember . . . always preach the Bible."

I came away from that encounter with the feeling that is what being a preacher involved at its best. You always give your undivided attention to the person to whom you were speaking and you need to look directly at the people to whom you preach. They need to feel that you are speaking directly to them because God may very well be doing so. That’s what he did in his preaching and that was my experience that day.

The second time I met him was a couple of years later when he made an unofficial visit to the campus. This time I was a second year student and on campus. It was not a big public affair but like Bobby Jones, the great golfer, returning to the Old Course at St. Andrews the word quickly spread that he was on campus. I don’t know what the reason was for his being there but again as he walked from Sharp’s gym to the quadrangle where the stairs on the south side are located we came face to face.
As we met he paused for a moment as though he was searching his memory for something. I think because of time and place he had what I often refer to as a Deja vu all over again experiences. It's that feeling of, "I've lived this moment before." That's the only reason I can find that he then he looked right a me and said, “I believe we have met somewhere before.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I said, “Yes sir, briefly when you were here before you stopped and spoke with me and my friend.”  He said, “I thought so. . . , how are your studies going?” “Fine,” I replied. He then said a few encouraging words and went on his way. Again as before I was impressed that he once again give me his undivided attention and how focused he was on me as he spoke.

The last time our paths crossed were at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were he had been invited to speak. It was standing room only and I was standing along the “western” wall of Truitt Auditorium as the assembly began. I remember I was second in the line and when Dr, Graham got up to speak the guy ahead of me in the line just walked upon the stage and sat in Dr. Graham’s now empty chair. When Graham finished the guy got up and resumed his place next to me.

When the meeting ended naturally they asked that we all stay in place until the platform dignitaries left. That brought them right past where this guy and myself was standing. Dr. Graham stopped had a few words with the guy who shared his chair and said something to Dr. Robert Naylor about not saying anything more about it. He then reached our shook my hand and simple said as he left the building, “It is good to see you again.”  The key word here is "again."  Again, the personal trait that I found most impressive in Dr. Graham was the way he looked you in the eye and made you feel comfortable and this day he made me feel remembered.

As life went on I was privileged to attend a couple of his Schools of Evangelism (Lake Louis and Denver) and work in a couple of his crusades (Houston and Denver) where I met leaders of his team who demonstrated that Billy Graham was the real deal. As I worked with them and others I came away know that Billy Graham was the real deal.

The world has lost a giant with the loss of Dr. Graham. His example is a message to those of us who are called of God to preach the gospel.  We are not called to create a message but to deliver an ancient truth. If when we finished people do not see Jesus then we have failed.  Or niche in the  kingdom is to declare to people that God loves them, Jesus died for them,  and Jesus is coming again to receive his own.

Friends we do not need to spend too much time explaining the gospel but we are to clearly proclaim the Gospel.  His reputation was untouched by sex or financial scandals. He never built a mega church, launched a political lobby or ran for office. Instead, he consistently preached Christianity's core message — Christ died for your sins — downplaying denominational details and proclaiming the joys found in faith.

However, Billy Graham had a natural charisma the seemed to draw people to him.  He once said, "I despise all this attention on me . . . I'm not trying to bring people to myself, but I know that God has sent me out as a warrior." Is that not the desire of every preacher. There was a time in my own ministry when  I had a sign on the pulpit that stated simply, "Sir, We would see Jesus." It was there to remind me and everyone else who spoke from that pulpit that our job was to call attention to Jesus not ourselves. I got it from Spurgeon who had it carved into the wood just above the edge of his Bible.

So this week we bid farewell to the world’s greatest evangelist. He has entered into his reward and has no doubt heard the words he longed to hear . . . "Well done thou good and faithful servant."  Those are the exact same words this preacher of the Gospel wants to hear. Indeed, it is not the amount of work but the faithfulness to the calling that God rewards his children. With that truth in mind I encourage you to be faithful unto death.
I have an absolutely unshakable confidence that Billy Graham and I will cross paths one more time . . . .when I get there myself . . . . . as I meet the Lord I like to imagine catching a glimpse of Brother Billy off to the side and maybe just maybe hear him whisper, "Look Cliff, there is that guy again. He seems to be standing around everywhere I go.”

Lord I mourn the loss but I thank you that Billy Graham lived in my generation and I pray he sends us more men like Billy Graham. I look forward to a longer conversation . . . . . and with his passing I say, “Even so come Lord Jesus.”

 Share your own experience with or thoughts about Dr. Graham in the comments box below

Friday, February 16, 2018

Well, It Has Happened Again

I remember standing under the covered drive at Southwest Memorial Hospital waiting for the rain to let up so I could walk to my car. As I stood there I was speaking with fellow chaplain Bill Nash about the crazy drivers up on highway 59 and how I was a little apprehensive about getting out there with them. Bill looked at me and said, “yea, that scary alright. But, you know what scares me more?” Me, “What?” He then said, “What scares me is having spent all day working in the Psychiatric Ward (he and I both worked there) with the mentally ill I get off work, come down here and see those same people running loose.” I replied, “I agree and they’re driving those cars on that highway I have to get on in a few minutes.” All he said then was, “Yep” as we stepped out from under the portico to head to separate parking areas.

Folks we need to get serious about the mental health of our people and I offer the following as something to consider.

Well, it has happened again.  A eighteen year old former student entered his school armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon shot and killed 17 people and wounded a number of others. He ultimately surrendered to the police without any resistance at all. It was almost as if he were saying, “Well, you finally noticed me.”

Immediately the champion’s of the Second Amendment begin saying, “Guns do not kill people; people kill people.” And they are absolutely correct. People died not because an AR-15 decided to run on down to the local school and start going off.  Truth is people died that day because a person in his twisted mind decided for reasons we may never be able to understand got up one day and decided to kill them.

On the other hand, the Gun Control faction begins to cry out that we need to control more strictly the availability of guns. If it hadn’t been so easy to get his hands on a AR-15 not so many people would have died that day. That is probably true as well.

It is this very argument that is keeping us from discovering the causes of these kinds of events and until we know the causes we cannot apply any cure let alone the specific cure. Now I do not expect anyone to listen to what I am about to say because it reeks of common sense and you and I do not want to accept our culpability for being where we are as a society.

I am old enough to have a first hand experiential view of the process that brought us to where we are on this issue and for that matter a lot of other issues. Back when I was 19 years old and even younger you rarely heard of a mass slaying and when you did it was rarely committed by persons under the age of 20.  Oh, to be sure we have had them. I have not forgotten about Dean Corll & Elmer Wayne Henley or Jeffrey Dahmer. But these were the exception not the rule and differed from these shooting sprees in significant and profound ways.

So how did we get here? I begin by saying that I lay virtually all of this “modern trend” of mass
killings on the general deterioration of our society. When I was a child we held up a largely idealized standard of what the family unit was to be. We had Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Father knows Best, My Three Sons and even Dennis the Menace.

I know, I know . . . . they weren’t the reality. But that is the whole point they weren’t the reality they were the ideal. They were the goal we sought for our own families.  We weren’t deluded . . . . we knew our families were flawed. But they provided a modicum of social structure that made it possible for us to adjust to society in general.

At the same time the erosion of the American family is part of the problem. It is not the totality of the problem but it is a part. You see it was in the family unit, even when it was functioning poorly, where we learned much of our early socialization. We learned about authority and it’s role in our lives; we learned about responsibility as we discovered our place within the family; we learned about give and take, caring and sharing, helping and supporting each other; self-discipline had a chance to develop and as we matured decision making skills were added within that microcosm of society . . . . the family unit.

All of those individual microcosm interacting with each other formed a society where everyone knew their roll and how to basically coexist in a peaceful way. That interacting of families formed communities and those communities formed a nation so that wherever you found yourself you were able to “fit in.” Some places might have been strange to us but in most cases we knew how to adapt. We also know that within our society, just as in some families there were elements that just refused to integrate and in some case reintegrate.

Then we entered the “New Age.”  The age of “latch Key” children and absentee parents. This marked the takeover of family responsibility by the schools and government. As poorly as families may have functioned they did a far better job of socialization than do the schools and government.

This degeneration continued until in our day we have large segments of society who don’t even know what gender they are.  What I am saying is that the first stage of our trip to a degraded society was the deviation from the nuclear family and its traditional roll of families in our society.  There is something to be said about families being at home together and eating around a common table.  Society is only as good and strong as its individual families because the family provides a learning sphere where basic morality, responsibility, self-discipline etc. can be  modeled and learned.

In my mind the second issue is the over use of drugs to control behavior. Because the home has been neutered by our society our children have been placed under intense pressure. A few children grow being kept by a loving grandparent or other family member but most are growing up in what I call “baby camps” (day care).

My point is our children are institutional babies. They spend their whole life under the influence of people who may be kind and caring but cannot provide the nurturing environment need to develop balanced children. Instead, it develops regimented lives that are designed to fit the demands of the particular institution in which they are raised. Then come along that 1% who don’t fit the regimen, they are a little different, they are socially awkward.

These children spend a lot of time being disciplined for their behavior and acting out. Soon they are put on the alphabet soup syndrome. They get diagnosed and prescribed some sort of behavior modifying drug such as Ritalin. Then a teacher and the school counselor recommends they see a doctor as they seem to be showing signs of some kind of anti-social deviation or have become uncontrollably disruptive.

I am convinced that the excessive use of psychotropic drugs to control children's behavior whose full impact we do not understand may be playing a roll in the way things go around inside of the child who is taking them. Are their children who need them . . . .absolutely!

But among children 0-17 years we have 8,389,034 kids on psychiatric drugs and 1,080,168 are five years and under. We have 4,404,360 kids on ADHD Drugs and 188,899 of these are five years old and under.  We have 165,279 kids on antidepressants and 110,516 are five and under. We 830,836 kids on antipsychotics and 27,343 are five and younger, and 2,132,625 kids on anti-anxiety of which 727,304 are under five. That’s a lot of kids taking some sort of mind altering medication.  I don’t remember a handful of kids when I was growing up who ever took anything stronger than aspirin and an occasional antibiotic.

My point here is that we know that Ritalin alone has the following “negative effects:”  nervousness, agitation, anxiety, sleep problems (insomnia), stomach pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, headache, vision problems, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, skin rash, psychosis, and numbness, tingling, or cold feeling in your hands or feet. All th other drugs given to our children have their own set of negative effects as well. Truth is, we have no real understanding of what these drugs do in a child’s developing brain.

Another ingredient in our social pie that is at crises stage is a lack of real social interaction and “real” personal  friends.  They don’t get it at home, they get little at school, and they get none through social media. I recently heard a group of about 40 or so 15-17 year olds be asked to raise their hand if they had anyone in their life that they would call their “best friend.” Not a single hand went up. Social media is taking the place of socialization. No best friends, no group with which to hang, . . . . just a phone, wifi, and Facebook.  In real life when a friend dies we weep on Facebook we just “unfriend them.”  Social media is fun but unless you have some level of self-discipline and at least a few of people whose real presence you prefer over their electronic identity you will find yourself alone and maybe very lonely.

Finally, we live in an age when rage is everywhere. Again social media has become the place where we vent our frustrations and anger with others and their views. Violence and vitriolic language shows up on everyone’s time lines. Add to this the impact of computer games of the worst kind where the dead don't stay dead; and the failure to develop skills in our enforcement authorities to recognize mental health "red flags" and our mental health industries incompetence with it comes to treatment.

Now take this mixture and throw in the lunacy of not insisting on fire arm specific training; age/maturity appropriate weapons. A15 year old shouldn't be able to buy any kind of fire arm and if one is bought for them either they are their dad must take the safety course for that weapon. Some how we need to remind the NRA that individual minutemen never owned any cannons. Those Minutemen sure would have made short work of the British if they'd only had a few AR-15's.

Something must be done about availability and I believe if we really try we can solve the conflict between the second amendment and the proliferation of military styled weapons. Personally though, I think that cat is already out of the bag. With over 300 million registered firearms I'm sure a big old chunk of that number is made up of AR-15's.

My friend Bill, remember Bill, I mentioned him in the beginning of this missive, well, Bill was good
at spotting what officials call "red flags" and insisted it could be learned and was teachable. He and I often discussed this and could never agree or even come up with method that didn't open the door to the loss of everyone's valued civil liberties or unnecessarily inhibiting suspected people who prove to be fine or responded well to therapy from future discrimination because we have required them to go through some sort of psychological evaluation.

Will we solve the problem this time? Not likely. It is too far embedded in the fabric of our culture and our national conversation is dominated by voices on the extremes. I am afraid we have already gone too far down this road. The toothpaste is out of the tube and I fear there is no putting it back without great patience, effort, pain and some loss. Emotions blind us to reason and sacred cows prevent us from separating our fiction from the facts. In short, we really deep down don't want to make the significant social and personal moral changes required bring peace to a nation divided six ways to Sunday.

Personally, I suspect short of a Divine intervention things will only progressively get worse. I think a really good dose of the Old Time Christian Gospel which is able to create a new kind of person out of the person we are and do it without drugs of any kind. I just don't think our present society is apt to be up for that given its present attitude toward Christianity.  As Lincoln proclaimed a new birth of freedom I wish I could declare a new birth of morality and ethics. But alas I must yield to Scripture and acknowledge that only God can make that new society and thereby bring peace. There will be no Utopia until "we all get to heaven" but until then perhaps we can be a little kinder, a lot more watchful and start extending a hand to our brother who is weaker.

αὑτ  εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον ποι ν εἰρήνην

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Now That I Have Retired

I read a post by Sue Russell Dismukes on Facebook about how time has passed so quickly since retirement and how she could make a short list of the things she misses from her job and a long one for what she doesn't miss. It got me to thinking along those same lines

The list of things I miss would be very short and the things I don't miss might be a bit longer.
However, the ones I miss . . . .I really do miss! Now that shouldn't be news to anyone because I suspect it is true for most of us who are officially “retired.” What might be more surprising to you, as it was to me, is what was actually on my short list when I finally sat down and wrote it.

When I actually sat down to make that list I thought, “It’s a short list how long can it take and how hard could it be?” Well, it took a lot longer and was a lot harder that my initial impression. It really wasn’t easy.

First, I had to take an inventory of just what I did during my pre-retirement years. I must confess that when I got finished doing that I was absolutely mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. The occasion for making my list was in preparation for a biography I am in the early stages of writing.

It was mentally exhausting because it required me to reach into the file cabinet of my mind and recall and organize the memories that I find there. Emotionally exhausting because I had to relive all the painful events in my life as well as the lives of those to whom I ministered. Physically exhausting because of the amount of time and energy put into the effort. I remember a speech teacher in College and later one of my professors of preaching saying that preaching one sermon on Sunday morning was as emotionally, mentally and physically draining as eight hours of hard physical work. Now, 52 years after I first heard that all I can say is, “I believe it!”

At any rate, what I list here will not be complete . . . . that would require the book I plan to write. This list will be in any order of priority I give to each activity. When it came what I missed the most and what I missed the least . . . well, that was easy. It is all the things in-between those two extremes that defied being ranked in order of significance. Besides, I don’t need them all for the book.

I suppose I should give you a little background. I often just assume that people know what I did with my life. Having spent most of it in the public eye and on the stage. Mmy mind sometimes forgets about the passage of time. So many of the people who would know what I did with my life have now entered into their eternal reward . . . . for you more contemporary people that is a metaphor for, “They’re dead.”

When I was a senior at Pasadena High School in Pasadena, Texas I had an experience with God during a Sunday night worship service that brought purpose and meaning to my life. My intention was to teach history at some University but that night God spoke to me so clearly that it almost seemed to be an audible voice. That voice was wrapped in the statement of Jesus, “And I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me.” In my mind that was God telling me that my life was to be invested in lifting Jesus up and that is what I have tried to do for the last 52 years.

On that night a struggle in my life came to an end when I said to God and that congregation that God had called me to preach. I made it clear that he did not call me to pastor, he did not call me to some oblique ministry . . . . no! He called me to preach and that is what I have been all my life. I am a preacher first, second and last. To be sure I have performed the tasks of a pastor, I have been involved in missions, visited the sick, cared for the dying, fed the hungry and all the rest. But that was not what I was called to do . . . .no indeed, it was what I was obligated to do as a Christian.  I was called to preach the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus to both saints and sinners.

Why do I tell you this you wonder? I tell it because it relates directly to the thing a miss more than anything else in life. The number one thing I miss is standing at the sacred desk week after week proclaiming the truth of the Word of God to God’s people. Now people who know me well aren’t surprised by that but those who know me casually might be.

Let me explain. I am not by nature a person who as a rule being the center of attention. I can sit quietly on the sideline and be happy. I really did not like being in front of a crowd and have to
say something. I have never entered the pulpit that inside my nerves were all over the place. But somehow by the grace of God when I got there opened that Bible and began to read that nervous person left and someone I never really got to know came forth and preached with authority and confidence as the Holy Spirit of God did His work.  In that moment the pulpit became the most comfortable and only place I wanted to be.

So, there you have it. My number one missed thing was the regular preaching. Oh, I enjoyed teaching. . . . . . but I relished preaching. I just had this conviction that I believe came from God that night at the Boulevard Baptist Church in Pasadena, Texas when He called me to be His preacher.

As I understood that calling it was to preach. Small group large congregation didn’t matter to me. I have preached to the 3 or 4 gathered in His name and to the 100's gathered in His house. When God called me to preach it was almost like He was saying,

 “Ok, here is the deal. I have chosen you not because I needed you or you are worthy of anything. I have chosen you simply because it is what I wanted to do and as God I have that right.” He continued, “And here is what I expect from you. Prepare your self intellectually; prepare yourself spiritually; and prepare yourself collegially (in short associates with others I have called to preach).  Why, because on a day that I will choose I will have you stand for me and when you do I want you to do so with intellectual, spiritual and communal integrity.  And remember, I am not holding you responsible for the results I am holding you responsible for your obedience to My call. Once you have finished the preaching step aside and let My Spirit do His work. It is He who is responsible for the results.”

It like God was saying, “You take my words that my Spirit impresses on your heart and faithfully and truthfully speak them to the people and then my Spirit will take them and speak to the appropriate people in the congregation.” So when I say the number one thing I miss is the week by week public proclamation of the Gospel this is what I am speaking about.

The number two thing that I miss is the collegiality with others who God has called to preach the Gospel. I am not at all sure I appreciated it at the time but being a preacher of the Gospel has brought some of the greatest leaders of Christianity in our time into my life. Now mark it well, I do not see a pecking order of importance among preachers. As preachers share the same calling from God. We all serve the same God, preach the same Gospel, have the same calling from God’s perspective we are all the same and that is how it should be among us for the most part in my experience that’s the way it was. From Europe to Australia God has brought godly men into my life to enrich my life. (I’ll not detail it here . . . . buy the book).

There is only one feeling that exceeds that of preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit and that is the fellowship one shares with others who do the same.  During 52 years of being a preacher God brings a lot of people into your life. Some for long periods; some just momentarily; and in a wide variety of personalities but all with purpose and meaning. One of the benefits of this fellowship was reflected in my life just a week or so ago when I was down because of my back. Notes began to arrive from people we had served with over the years. I got messages of sympathy and prayers for recovery from fellow “Preachers” from around the world.  Maybe that account for me feeling no pain when I went to the spine doctor.  At any rate, while that fellowship continues it is getting smaller, though no less significant, as time and people pass. I never wanted to achieve greatness in this life but I have always being with those whom God has called and learning what God was doing through them.

Number three on the list is a bit harder and maybe harder to explain. It is the relationships that you develop as you minister to members of the church and as you work with them in ministry. By “members” I mean those people on whose life my ministry had a major impact in some way. There is something about walking with people through the valleys of their lives representing in a physical way God’s presence that binds lives together. This one surprised me. You see, of all the things I enjoyed the least it was visiting people in the hospital. I had to be trained to do that. That training took place at Memorial Hospital in Southwest Houston (Old Houston Baptist Hospital). Dr. Tom Cole and Tim Van Divendyke took me under their wing and helped me “learn” how to make a meaningful hospital visit and how to grow from it even if I didn’t like doing it . . . .and I never did get to where I liked it. I got pretty good at it but never liked doing it.

So there you have it. That’s my short list. If I go any further I will quickly move from least enjoyed to those I hated to do.

So that brings me to a suggestion for the rest of you retired folks . . . . Identify what you liked most about your job or profession and then find a new way to do it. After 52 years there is little chance that a man of my age will ever stand week after week in a pulpit but, and that is a big. But, he can still proclaim the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus through social media and writing and perhaps the use of Youtube. My point is find a way to keep what beings you joy from your working years and use it to provide joy in your retirement years. That may take some reflection and honest evaluation coupled with some creative thinking. Not to worry these activities are good for you. You cannot help aging but you can stay young of mind and heart and find significance and meaning in your retirement years.