Remember Me!

“Remember me, O my God, for good.”

Nehemiah 13:31

How do you think life will look twelve years from now? Will we be back to life as normal and occassionally look back and talk about at the Covid Crises of 2020? On the other hand, maybe everything will be forever changed, and our “new normal” will be drastically different than it was just three months ago. In any case, we look forward to the time when we can once again interact freely and fearlessly.  We’re hungry for a reunion.

The story of Nehemiah is as much a story of reunuion as anything. God had allowed His own people to be overtaken, conquered, and separated from each other for seventy years, as a result of their rebellion. Nehemiah led the effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, repent of their corporate sins, and bring God’s family back together again – a reunion with God and with each other.

In chapter 12, Nehemiah had finished his project and returned to Babylon to resume his duties with Artaxerxes. Twelve years later, in chapter 13, he travels back to Jerusalem, only to find the Israelites back to their old ways.(Sound familiar?).

* They compromised with culture, (vss 1-3). Instead of being a people who demonstrated godliness, they preferred to accommodate, acquiesce, and adapt to the culture around them. They became polotically correct. Nehemiah insisted on scriptural standards.

*The priests prospered themselves first, (vss 4-14). Instead of distributing the resources equitably, they became more profit-minded than prophet-minded. Nehemiah tossed their belongings to the curb.

*They sold out the Sabbath, (vss 15-22).  Instead of having a day set aside to focus on faith and family, finances ruled. Nehemiah threatened to rough them up – “I will lay hands on you!”

*They failed their families, (vss 23-29). Instead of having homes centered on and dedicated to God, they married pagan partners, adopted their religion, and neglected to teach their children about their true heritage as the people of God. Nehemiah cursed them, punched them, and pulled out their hair. (And you think your pastor is rough.)

While we may see Nehemiah’s responses as extreme, remember that Jesus also tossed furniture, spouted scripture, and whipped up on some folks (John 2). Nehemiah was more concerned about God’s opinion of him than what anyone else thought. He repeated three times, “Remember me, O my God, for good.”

I hope we also will take the extra time we have suddenly been given – time we usually complain about not having – and evaluate our lives, our worship, our business practices, and our family priorities. Twelve years from now, how will we be different?

 

Published in: on March 27, 2020 at 12:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wha I would have Said

Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps

Nehemiah 12:27

In my congregation we have been studying the book of Nehemiah – Rebuilding the Walls. On this Sunday, I was excited to preach the message from chapter 12 because, frankly, it was good. Now that God has put us all in “time out” and has sent us to our rooms, I won’t be able to preach that sermon.

I would have read the story about how they celebrated and how the Bible commands us to give thanks, praise, rejoice, and celebrate. It is just as important, if not more so, as fasting and mourning. The Westminster Chatecism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and ENJOY him forever,” (emphasis mine). We are to revel in His goodness and grace.

I would have pointed out that allkinds of instruments were used, trumpets, cymbals, and stringed instruments. I would have talked about Dusty, who was thrilled when I asked him to play his harmonica for church. I would have told them about old Boozy, who grinned from ear to ear while playing his banjo – the one with a big red light in the middle. I would have told them about Norm, who played the steel guitar for services every week.

I would have talked about how the Israelites praised with singing, using antiphonal choirs that echoed back and forth the anthems. I would have mentioned the Levites who led in the singing (praise team?) I would have encouraged each one to sing with all their heart, no matter how they worry about the sound of their voice.

If I had preached this sermon, I would have reminded the congregation that this year is our 130th anniversary, and we need to plan a celebration. I envision this celebration to be like the one in Nehemiah, with music, singing, and jubilation.

We won’t be able to worship together for a while, but I hope we miss corporate worship. I hope the time away will create a hunger to gather again. When we come back together, I hope  we will start celebrating right then.

That’s what I would have said.

 

“God be with you till we meet again;

When life’s perils thick confound you,

Put his arms unfailing round you.

God be with you till we meet again.”

(Jeremiah Rankin)

Published in: on March 21, 2020 at 3:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Here’s Your Sign

Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign (Exodus 4:8 NKJV.)

This past week my church updated the sign in front of the building and the one on the road, removing the former pastor’s name and replacing it with mine. Changing the sign makes everything feel more… official. This reminded me of church signs I’ve noticed over the years and various things that make them interesting – to me anyway.

One thing I notice is the way different churches announce who their pastor is. In my case, vinyl adhesive press on letters did the trick. In days gone by, the name was often painted at the bottom of the sign, below the church’s name, slogan, and worship times. When a new pastor arrived on the field, you had to call a painter to come and make the change. Many churches found the changes came more frequently than convenience allowed. Some stopped placing the pastor’s name on the main sign. Instead, they attached a hook-and-eye chain link at the bottom, with the pastor’s name placed on a small board or placard. Unhooking the departed pastor was much easier that way. One church I saw had simply spray-painted black over the pastor’s name. I would love to know if there was a story there.

At one point, the changeable marquee signs came into fashion. The variety of slogans on these signs are interesting. Some churches feel compelled to warn sinners; “Hell is no joke! Turn or burn! Get right or get left!” Others are meant to be strictly informative; “Holy Ghost Revival April 5-10.” Still other congregations want to be appealing and inviting to seekers; “A loving congregation,” or “Restoring the broken,” or “The church where everybody is somebody.” (Well, I can’t argue with that.)  In recent years, the signs trend more toward pithy quips and puns. “It’s all about that grace, no trouble” or “Sign broken, message inside.” Of course, at some point letters will get lost or the message will require more vowels than usual, forcing the sloganeer to creatively turn a red 3 backwards for an E and use a 5 for that last S.

I’ve thought about the philosophy behind a church sign on the highway. In many rural communities the road into town, from either direction, has at least one church sign. Of course, there are usually more than one. The Baptist church, Methodist church, Church of Christ, and others like to welcome visitors and passers by, inviting them to worship with their particular congregation.  I pondered this in light of other highway signs, such as the one for Dairy Queen, First State Bank, or Haygood’s Farm Implement Store. I always wonder if a family passing through town on a trip might respond to those signs. “Hey, Maybelle, let’s stop here for the day. We can go to church at New Harmony Baptist. You know, their preacher is Les Payne! Says so right there on the sign. Then we can eat lunch at the Dixie Dog. Let’s stay at the Trail Dust Inn tonight and open a savings account at the bank tomorrow. Grandma can wait another day.”

The newest rendition of the church sign is the super bright LED jumbo screen. Mega-church campuses on major freeways can blind millions of motorists a year with the gospel, hastening them toward their eternal destiny, so the last thing they see on earth is a professional head shot of their dynamic hipster pastor and his trophy wife. (Okay, the Holy Spirit convicted me of slight judgementalism and snarkyness on that last quip, but still…). 

In scripture, there are manifold instances where God used a sign to direct people’s attention to Him. Sometimes people paid attention, and sometimes they did not. Jesus said a wicked generation seeks only a sign. A church sign can often be informative and helpful, but more importantly the way we live points others toward (or away from) a relationship with God. If your life was reduced to a church sign, what would it say?

 

Published in: on February 25, 2020 at 11:13 am  Comments (2)  

The Third Time Around

“And if I say, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I cannot contain” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Recently I accepted the invitation from a small congregation to serve as their pastor. When I say small, I mean tiny – about a dozen people. The church is situated about four miles outside of a little old village that serves as home to less than 1,000 folks. The town has one of everything – one grocery store, one bank, one clinic, one cafe, and one traffic light. Like many other Texas towns, the railroad was the impetus for its formation and derived its name from the director of said rail-line. But the church isn’t even in town; it sits literally in a cow pasture.

The way I ended up at this spiritual oasis in the wilderness is odd, in and of itself. I had not been active in congregational leadership for over a decade, and most of that time I spent focusing on caring for Kimberly as she fought cancer. For the last couple of years since her death, I had been exploring the idea of re-entering ministry.  I attended a large city church (5,000 members) where my son served on staff, and they were gracious enough to offer me opportunities to teach. I led Wednesday evening Bible studies that normally had twenty or thirty people in attendance. There were other classes simultaneously taking place, led by other teachers in the church, and members selected which classes they wanted to attend for a four month rotation each. This was informal and fun, at least for me, but I still missed preaching. Shortly after that, I was invited to be part of a rotating team who preached on Sundays at an assisted living facility. Once a month I led a service for the residents, and they were absolutely loving and delightful. Again, my desire grew, and I thought about seeking other preaching opportunities on the Sundays I was free.

I became aware of this pastorless congregation through our local Baptist association’s website. I sent an email with my resume and offered to fill the pulpit when they needed it. The response was, “We have an interim pastor, but if you would like to be considered for the permanent position, please let us know.” I wondered whether I wanted to give up my freedom. After all, I could take an entire weekend off, anytime I wanted, simply by saying I was unavailable. I contemplated the ramifications for some time and decided to at least explore the idea. If I changed my mind, I could simply decline and move on. After that, I had some conversations with the pastor search committee and preached a couple of times. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Preaching on a Sunday morning filled some desire in me that more than made up for the sacrifice of spontaneous trips or sleeping in. In late December, I preached at the assisted living facility again, and later that week I received a phone call from the chairman of the pastor search committee. “I called to let you know that this past Sunday we voted to call you as our pastor.” I didn’t know they were going to do that, at least not yet. I laughed and said, “Okay!”

I am now six weeks into my new assignment, and I’m making efforts to get acquainted with my flock. According to them, the church was at one time significantly larger with  active youth and children’s ministries. Last spring, the church suffered an episode of vandalism, destroying and defacing much of the building. They have spent months working to repair the damage. Part of the damage is that it was accompanied by strife within the congregation and with the previous pastor. In that process and the days that followed, they lost a sizable number of members. The folks who remain seem tired – no,  exhausted. There is much healing and rebuilding yet to be done, so my initial sermon series is based in Nehemiah, “Rebuilding the Walls.” I hope to comfort and encourage them.

The first quarter of my life, my identity was wrapped around being “the preacher’s kid.” The next quarter of my life, my identity was that of  “the preacher.” The last 15 years have been an odd mix of not really being either. I had no connection to the pulpit or parsonage at all. Honestly, I felt somewhat lost in church. Now, I am a pastor again, and the congregation would love for me to move from my little duplex into the house that sits next door to the church. I would once again live in the parsonage. I can’t help but think God wants to do something really special at Willow Grove Baptist Church, and he might use me as part of that. After all, I increased their attendance 10% by simply showing up!

 

Published in: on February 6, 2020 at 1:56 pm  Comments (2)  

A Short Ride – A Long Journey

John 13:5

February 14, 2003 was warm and sunny. It was a beautiful day for a Friday evening ride with my beautiful redhead. We donned our leather jackets, put on our helmets, and mounted the bike for our Valentine’s Day date. All started well as we turned onto Hewitt Drive and headed for our favorite steak house.

About a mile from the house, we found ourselves surrounded by the five o’ clock traffic. I wasn’t worried at all, since I was a seasoned rider. I had almost forty years experience, and my only spill had been on the first day I learned to ride. (I still have the scar on my leg.) We had just come through a traffic signal, and we were passing the local HEB grocery store when a young teenage girl couldn’t put her phone down long enough to check traffic. She plowed into the rear wheel, and set us spinning in the middle of four lanes of traffic. I was thrown off and rolled about fifty feet down the road into oncoming cars. As soon as I stopped rolling, I scrambled to my feet and ran back to the bike. Kimberly was sitting on the gas tank looking down at her foot.  A piece of the plastic bumper from the car had broken off and gashed her foot open. It could have been much worse, of course. She might just as easily have lost her foot.

As traffic ground to a halt, other drivers stopped to render aid. I was wrapping some cloth around the bleeding wound. Shortly afterward, the firetrucks, police, and ambulance showed up. I noticed a woman walking toward me. I didn’t know her. She introduced herself, “I’m the mother.” I assumed she meant the mother of the young driver. I simply  nodded my head and turned back to my wife and her foot.

Once the EMTs had her loaded into the ambulance, I quickly pushed my bike over to an adjacent parking lot, then got in the back of the vehicle with her. Shortly after we arrived at the emergency room, the doctor began to wash the gash on her foot with pressurized water. He explained that the pressure was necessary to clean out any sand, dirt, or gravel that might be lodged in the wound. It was very painful for her. He then stitched up and bandaged the foot. All I could do was hold her hand and tell her how sorry I was.

Once things began to settle down, some friends from our neighborhood showed up. I was surprised and asked how they knew about the wreck. It turned out that the young girl was their son’s boyfriend. They assured me that she felt terrible about the accident. Again, I just nodded my head. A minute or two later, I walked down the hall for the men’s room. I reached for my wallet in my back pocket; I don’t remember why. At that moment, I realized I had no back pocket. In fact, I had no jeans back there. Apparently, the pavement had torn a piece of my pants off. I had been mooning the whole ER staff, and no one bothered to tell me.

The neighbors stayed to give us a ride home. The doctor had given instructions for antibiotics, cleansing the wound, and purchasing a walking boot once the swelling subsided. She was also prescribed physical therapy to ensure she properly regained full use of her foot. For the next six weeks, she needed assistance with most motion-related tasks. She especially needed assistance with putting the boot on, taking it off, and keeping the wound clean. It was then I learned to wash her feet, and I found it to be a true act of love.  I would gently wash her foot with warm soapy water, pat it dry, then apply some medical creme. To be truthful, I was a little sad when she no longer needed me to do that for her.

bikers

 

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Death Comes to the Parsonage

Psalm 116:15

The night my father died is still vivid in my memory. He had been diagnosed with cancer two months earlier, and his strength was fading. The doctor sent him home with a bottle of chemo pills. This type of treatment was still young in those days. The pills were very large, and they had severe side effects typical of any other chemo-therapy. They made him violently ill and made his hair fall out. I remember him throwing the bottle in the trash after a few weeks. “The medicine shouldn’t make you sicker than the disease,” he said. The only real relief he could find for his aching body was an alcohol rub down. My sister would put the alcohol on her hands, then rub his feet and his back.

Soon after that, he had little strength for walking and poor balance. Someone in the community had a wheelchair and loaned it to us. A couple of men of the church came over on a Saturday and built a ramp from the steps of the house to the sidewalk. For the last few weeks, he preached from a wheelchair and used a microphone. He never needed one before. His strong voice could fill the auditorium with no assistance at all.

My father loved preaching. He would study all week and most of Saturday night to prepare the message for Sunday morning. He read commentaries, used his red Scofield Reference Bible, and browsed his library of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons for quotes. He often said, “If I ever get to the point where I can’t preach, I want the Lord to just call me home.”

His birthday was in November and always near Thanksgiving. That year, he requested his brother and his three sisters to visit. He wanted to see them all one last time. I remember we had Thanksgiving early because his sister, Genevieve, and her husband, Rolla, were scheduled to return to Korea where they were missionaries. After dinner he went to his bedroom. One by one, he called in his siblings to say his good bye. He wanted it to be personal and private. He also called in my cousin, Walter, who felt called to ministry. That weekend, they all went back to their respective homes.

The next Saturday night, we kids sat by his bed watching him with an oxygen mask. He would take it off and talk to us, then put it back on. He finally told us goodnight, and I told him I loved him. Later that night, he fell ill. He had to call another preacher and asked him to fill the pulpit for him the next day. Then the ambulance came and took my dad to the hospital. Mother went with him, and we kids stayed home. At 2:00 am, she called from the hospital. Our father was dead; God had honored his prayer and called him home. That night, I drank my first cup of coffee. I didn’t want to sleep.

That Sunday morning at church, the deacon chairman had my sister, my brother, and me stand in front of the church. “These are the bravest people I know,” he said. I never understood how losing a parent makes a person brave, but that’s what he said. The next night, my Uncle Glenn took us to the funeral home in Dumas for the viewing. He encouraged us to touch my dad, but I refused. I wasn’t scared. I just didn’t want to touch him if he couldn’t touch me back.

The day of the funeral, it was cold and raining. It was my first funeral to attend. As the family processed in, I didn’t know what to do or how to act, but I saw my friend, John Terrell, and I smiled. I remember thinking it wasn’t an appropriate time to smile, but I needed a familiar face. According to my father’s wishes, my sister sang “The King is Coming,” and Uncle Glenn preached the sermon. My father had instructed him to preach an evangelistic message; “Don’t talk about me. Talk about Jesus.” My sister’s boyfriend stayed after the service to talk to Uncle Glenn. He wanted to be saved.

I remember one classmate dropping by the next day with his parents to pay their condolences. We took the wheelchair ramp across the street to the church parking lot and used it for a ramp to jump our bicycles. We rode in the snow, and I didn’t care. My memory of the days after that were all blurry. I remember my English teacher, who was normally strict, excused me from the assignment I had missed. The math teacher, who was normally sweet, told me I had three days to make up missed work. Somehow, I was expected to resume life as normal. Nothing would be normal again for a very long time.

 

AWW-Sr

Published in: on May 1, 2019 at 10:16 am  Comments (2)  

NASCAR

Hebrews 10:23

I’m not one of those avid NASCAR fans. I’ve never watched an entire race because I get bored with all the circles, but occasionally I enjoyed watching part of a race. I suspect that most of the other viewers are waiting for the same thing I’m waiting for – a crash. We’re not sadists, though. We hope everything turns out alright and the drivers are safe, but there is a certain thrill in seeing a car spin out at 185 mph, then get smacked by another car, sending both vehicles wildly skidding and banging against whatever objects may be in the path. Excitement, fear, and awe are all wrapped up in six seconds of chaos, and it takes our breath away. Seeing this unfold on television is one thing; being in the driver’s seat is quite another.

As a teen, I worked on a dairy. One winter night there was a heavy snow, and I received word that my boss’s farm had suffered damage. The snow had piled high on his milking barn, and it had collapsed. My brother and I were to join other men of the church in a day of clearing the debris and getting the barn functional again so he could get his cows in to milk. We were on the trip out to Harlan’s farm, and the roads were mostly cleared. On one bridge, however, there was a patch of black ice, and I didn’t see it until it was too late. The car spun twice as I grunted the only two words that came to mind; “Hang on!” We slammed against the guard rail and into the ditch. After a minute of catching my breath, I asked my brother, “Are you okay?” He said he was, so I got out to inspect the damage. There was a perfect imprint of the guardrail along the passenger side of the car, but everything was functional. We managed to get out of the ditch and drive on the our destination, then home again. I kept wondering how I would explain to my mother that I had almost killed her baby son.

She didn’t scream. In fact, she was fairly calm as she informed me she was taking my driver’s license away for six months. The truth is that was my second wreck in six months, so that seemed a reasonable consequence to her. The wreck was not my fault, but I had to admit the previous wreck was. In that event, I was driving with my buddy Jay and I missed a tight curve. I jumped my 1966 Oldsmobile over a culvert, like they do in the movies. All I could say was “Hang on!” He ended up in the floorboard, but he said he was okay. I kept wondering how I would explain to Dr. and Mrs. Eckert that I almost killed their middle son. Oddly enough, Jay was the one who drove me to school for the next six months of my driving suspension. That’s a true friend.

I was wreck free for the next thirty years, but history has a way of repeating itself. My son and I have a long-standing tradition of taking one day in the spring, skipping work and school, and taking in a Texas Rangers’ afternoon baseball game. It’s quality male-bonding time. A few years ago, we set the date and headed to the ballpark in Arlington. All was well until about the third inning when a downpour started. Eventually, the game was rained out, so we headed home. We were driving down I-35 in driving rain. I was holding my speed down to 60 mph because of the conditions. Just as we were inside the Waco city limits, the pickup started to hydroplane. I tried to correct the skid, but the truck suddenly spun the other direction. There’s something odd that happens in a moment like that. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion. I watched as we were headed toward a light pole, then spun the other way. I said the only words that came to mind; “Hang on!” My only thought was how I would explain to my wife that I had killed her baby son. As we spun around, we eventually were facing oncoming traffic. The car that had been following us was now in front of us. It had slowed down some, I imagine, but we still hit. Our truck spun another 180 degrees and came to rest on the side of the road. I asked my son if he was okay, and he said he was. It’s hard to explain to someone how I had a head-on collision going backwards at 60 mph, but that’s what happened.

The song says, “Life is a highway,” and sometimes that’s how it feels. We are going through our daily routine, and something happens. Suddenly, we are spinning wildly out of control at the mercy of our circumstances. Every correction we try seems to only make the situation worse. Catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes in slow motion, and we fear the worst. I don’t have profound insight for situations like that, but the writer of Hebrews said, “Let us hold fast…” I think that’s probably Bible-speak for “Hang on!” Sometimes, that’s all you can do. It won’t last forever, and you will most likely survive.

 

Published in: on April 16, 2019 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Against the Wind

Hebrews 12:1

When I was a freshman in high school, I signed up for athletics. Our school was small, so students either signed up for athletics or something else. Everyone in athletics competed in all sports, which in this case meant basketball, tennis, and track. The track coach couldn’t figure out what to do with me. I was too slow to be a sprinter, too small to throw shot or discuss, and too uncoordinated to high jump or pole vault. I tried it all with varying degrees of un-success. He finally decided to place me in the mile run. I had only one quality that proved to be an advantage – endurance.

Because the school had limited resources, the “track” was simply a pasture in which some of the local farmers had graded an oval running space. The dimensions were a little off, so the distance was actually a little shorter than the regulation 400 meters. The coach adjusted by marking the actual finish line at four and a quarter laps instead of four. This dirt track is where we practiced most days. On other days, the coach would drive the team 15 miles to a nearby town for practice on an actual asphalt track. Just outside of that town, he would stop the bus and tell the milers, “Head toward home, and we’ll pick you up when practice is over.” So we started running down the highway.

Tracksters in the Texas panhandle face a challenge that few other locations present – the wind. Track season is in the spring, and springtime is the windiest time of year. A calm day meant the wind was less than 40 miles per hour. (One day, after practice, I went home to find the wind had peeled the siding off our mobile home and blown it several blocks away.) All this meant that at least half of the time, I was running against the wind. It also meant that after the second lap of a four lap mile on the dirt track, I had worked up a sweat. There was dirt from the track and from the surrounding plowed fields blowing in the air and into my eyes and sticking to my sweat.  Nonetheless, I had endurance.

The local newspapers published the results of the track meets. They printed the names of first place, second place, third place, and so on. Then they printed the other names as “also ran.”  I never won first place, in fact I never placed, I was an “also ran.” I finished every race, though. I refused to quit. Through wind, dirt, sweat, and mud, I would not quit.

In my final track meet, I didn’t finish last. I felt that was what they call “a moral victory.” After we all loaded up in the bus for the trip home, I called from the back of the bus, “Hey coach, what was my time?” He hollered back, “5:56.” Everyone on the bus cheered me; I had never broken the six minute mile. I grinned all the way home.

I learned that running against the wind doesn’t last forever. Around the next turn, I would be running with the wind at my back. Life is like that sometimes. We just have to keep going. Some days the wind is stronger and some days it is lighter. Just don’t quit.

Against the wind
We were runnin’ against the wind
We were young and strong, we were runnin’ against the wind.

(Bob Seger)

Published in: on April 2, 2019 at 12:52 pm  Comments (1)  

Hypocrites and Reprobates

Matt. 7:5 & 2 Tim. 3:8

I remember words my father often used when he was preaching, words like “hypocrite” and “reprobate.” Those are very fine preaching words indeed. I wasn’t quite sure what they meant, but I knew they were bad and I knew I didn’t want to be either one. My seven year old mind conjured up images for these things.

I remember my father explaining the hypocrite as a play-actor. He described how actors in the days of the New Testament would put on a mask. That was a hypocrite. I listened intently, but the image my mind created was not the classic comedy-tragedy masks that now are the worldwide icon of drama. My mind imagined something more like the character Michael Myers from the movie Halloween.  It was downright scary.

I don’t remember exactly how he described what a reprobate was, but I distinctly remember the mental picture I had when he used the word. Somehow I connected “reprobate” with a “trilobite,” a pre-historic cockroach sort of animal I had seen pictures of in a book. There are probably some analogies that could be drawn here.  A reprobate is defined as an unprincipled person, a rogue, a scoundrel. That sounds kind of cockroach-ish to me.

trilobite

In his preaching, my dad emphasized that the remedy for a person who was a hypocrite or a reprobate was to become regenerate. Now there was another word I had to decipher. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be regenerate, however, because it sounded too much like degenerate. Of course, I had no idea what that was either, but I knew it was ugly. From the context I surmised that one was supposed to be good and the other bad. Neither prospect sounded very appealing to me, though.

I was a little more open to the idea of being redeemed or converted. Redeemed sounded sparkly and shiny, glowing even. Converted sounded like instantly putting on a brand new heaven robe in place of my worn out jeans and shirt.  I rarely had new clothes of any kind, so that seemed pleasing.

I didn’t want to go to hell and I did want to go to heaven. That was the most important issue. I knew hell was everlasting flaming torment. While I wasn’t quite sure what heaven was like, I imagined it was the exact opposite. For a time, I thought it might be icicles and snow. I could put on a coat and be just fine. In the end, I decided to simply get saved.

Sometimes traditional theological jargon can hinder rather than help seekers. Like many others, I lament the decline of vocabulary in post-modern English. That being said, believers need to put the gospel in a vernacular and context the listener can relate to.  Otherwise we run the risk of our soteriology becoming obscure and enigmatic, and the listener obtuse. In other words, keep it simple.

 

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 1:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Toddler Talk

Deuteronomy 6:6-7

My youngest granddaughter, Adelaide, has started mimicking sounds at four months old. Her mother will look at her and coo, “Ohhh,” and the sweet baby smiles, then echoes, “Ohhh.” Over and over they repeat the cycle, and everyone in the room is mesmerized. We all want a turn to say “Ohhh,” for the sheer bliss of having it returned.

Those early efforts to reproduce human speech first begin with sounds, then their versions of the adult words.  Our offspring don’t remember their first words, but it is forever imprinted in the parent’s memory. For some reason we adults continue to use the toddler versions of words, long after they are abandoned by the original orator.  Some situation will spark a memory, and we feel obliged to remind our now adult children of their valiant efforts to communicate verbally. I recount some of those efforts here:

Fiver – (short “i” sound) Amber’s version of river. “Look, Daddy! Fiver!”

Mo’light – Amber’s request to see more Christmas lights. “Mo’light, Daddy! Molight!”

Weewah – Art’s version of “sister,” interchangeable for either sibling.

Growed up – Alyssa’s report she had thrown up, just after eating a cherry Slushee and just before kindergarten graduation. “I growed up, Daddy!” She also growed up after eating dogfood at a neighbor’s house.

Frosty_Fruit_cherry_slushy_grande

My oldest granddaughter is learning new words in Pre-kindergarten. This was discovered by her mother, when they were rhyming. “What rhymes with duck?” She picked the only word a parent does not want to hear. Why couldn’t she say “truck?” It was reported by her teacher she also knows a word that rhymes with “itch.”

I remember hearing a word on the playground when I was five years old. The youngsters who uttered it were speaking Spanish very rapidly, but this particular word stood out, and I remembered it. Later that day, I asked my mother what the English equivalent of “sh-t” was. Surely it was a Spanish word I needed to know, but she refused to tell me.

My parents were more intent that I learn the words in Scripture. Our church had Sword Drill competitions. The Word of God is our Sword, and every good Christian soldier needs to practice for combat. (This was long before the days when such violent language was considered taboo.)

Each youngster was given a Bible. They would stand in front of the church, holding the Bible out in front of them. When the book, chapter, and verse were announced, then the command was given, “Go!” The first one to arrive at the correct reference read the verse aloud. I was actually pretty good at Sword Drill. I had memorized the songs that rehearsed the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament in order, so I knew whether to flip pages in the front, back, or middle. As we grew older, we transitioned from finding Bible verses to memorizing them. We were hiding God’s word in our heart.

Today, I’m reminded of the song Graham Nash made famous. I think it’s an appropriate exhortation for parents to choose carefully the words they pass on their children.

 Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.

Published in: on September 24, 2018 at 5:08 pm  Leave a Comment