Category Archives: Reflections

What Time Is It?

I am always asking myself, ‘What time is it?’ That question ranks right up there with my other self-talk question, ‘What am I going to eat next?’ I wore a wristwatch for many years, except for that brief period during the post-hippie era when three-piece suits and pocket watches were all the rage. I was hard on my wristwatches. They broke or they cracked or clouded up with condensation. I resorted to having a Sunday or special occasion watch, and an everyday one. I have discovered that it is not really about the watch; it is the tyranny of the clock I am wrestling with.

​During my college days I served as song leader with Evangelist Bob Posey. We held revivals in small towns and in rural churches, mostly in Alabama. It is amazing how God puts unlikely experiences in our lives to help equip us for future service. We discovered one church that was dominated by the tyranny of time. It was an old country church near Phenix City, Alabama. (That is the correct spelling of Phenix, founded in 1830 as Girard, but re-named in the 1880’s after the local mill.) To an outsider it can be the most confusing place in America. The town proper is in both Lee and Russell Counties, Alabama, and intersects into Muscogee County, Georgia. Therein lies the time problem. Alabama is in the Central Time Zone; Georgia is Eastern Time. Crossing the street can put a person across the invisible time boundary. Phenix City tends to be on Eastern Time even though it is in Alabama. But many hardcore time purists stay on Central Time for the principle of it. When we announced that revival services started at 7:30 p.m. we had to clarify that meant 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Starting things on the half-hour was sort of a compromise in order to reach the community for Christ.

​I no longer wear a watch since I can always find the time on my cell phone. The drumbeat of time marches onward. Ephesians 5:15-16 teaches us to redeem the time, seize the opportunity, for the days are evil. ‘Hear my voice,’ says the Lord, ‘Now is the day of salvation.’ (see 2 Corinthians 6:2)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Discern the time. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Our Churches Doing Church

Today I am picking up the story of our churches from last week. I am also re-sharing some from my message during last Sunday’s Combined Worship Service. In 2017, GracePoint Church merged with us becoming Braden Park Baptist Church. At that time we also developed a working plan, that in God’s timing, Monte Los Olivos would begin to take on more of the expenses of the facilities, with a goal to be equal partners in ministry, but with their being responsible for the buildings and grounds, which would be a reversing of our current operational system. This also included recognition of The People’s Pantry Ministry as a vital part of our ministries together.

It appears that God is opening the way for us to begin implementing that plan from 2017. A group of us met to discuss our first steps. Present were Francisco Gaona, Rodrigo Urquiza, David Dryer, Donelle Enos, Armondo Urquiza, and both pastors. We outlined a few next steps like verifying that both churches’legal documents are current and in order.

We set a goal for July 1 to begin to phase-in a new bill-sharing plan to see how things would work. We are checking with our utility companies and major vendors to see their preferred ways of receiving payment from of our churches together. When things are clarified, both of our churches will need to review drafts of an Operational Agreement as an official starting point. By intention there are three things that we are not doing:

1) We are not merging churches.

2) We are not combining budgets.

3) We are not changing either, or both, of our church names.

We are working alongside each other to promote our common ministries and mission efforts. We are working to protect our churches from “wolves” who might seek to take over or destroy our churches, especially during a time when pastorsmay change. There needs to be much preparation work behind the scenes to faithfully follow God to use both churches to proclaim a greater witness to our community, together in service

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Keep telling the story. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Departmento Salem

At the beginning of the year 2000, after the Y2K fears had subsided, our church was asked to consider meeting with Rev. Victor Orta, a pastor in our association of churches and leader of the local Baptist Hispanic network. He had a few families that were interested in starting their own church in our neighborhood. Rev. Orta knew that we had had modest Hispanic Bible classes during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. We met a few times for careful discussions and developed a plan for going forward together. With full congregational approval, we invited this group of about 25 or 30 people to begin meeting with us starting on Palm Sunday that spring. They organized themselves as Departmento Salem, with Ariel Benetiz as their pastor/leader.  

Our people volunteered to be certified to teach English as a Second Language and held weekly sessions for about 3 years. We were able to provide some workshops where experts taught the basics of church operations, age-graded classes, and the role of deacons. We also provided how-to sessions on immigration matters, citizenship, tax requirements and keeping documents current. The children, as they felt more comfortable, joined in our Sunday School classes and Vacation Bible Schools. We led in the ordination of Pastor Benetiz and the first set of deacons including their current pastor, Francisco Gaona, who is also an original member. Soon their attendance outgrew their department room. They gathered for worship in our Fellowship Hall during the 11:00 hour. By 2009 they were consistently overflowing their space and began dreaming of forming their own congregation and finding their own church facilities. They secured an older church at Pine and Harvard, debt free from the start. They fully incorporated in 2010 as Iglesia Bautista Monte Los Olivos (Mt. Olive Baptist Church).

By 2013 the Monte Los Olivos congregation had outgrown their church building. In the meantime, we had invited GracePoint Church in 2012, to have a similar relationship with us in our facilities. By 2013, Braden Park and GracePoint began holding all our services and activities together. By early 2014 our churches invited Monte Los Olivos Church to share our facilities once again. Three separate congregations approved a new arrangement where we would start our worship Sundays at 10:00 a.m. with Monte Los Olivos beginning at 11:15. Here we are, ten years later, stronger than ever. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Praise the Lord for growth and unity. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Taylor Swift and the Cultural Church

I do not understand Taylor Swift, but she understands today’s cultural environment. Last week she released The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, a double record album with 31 new songs. An unprecedented 1.4 million albums were sold within the first 24 hours at $15 each. The math on that is too high for me to understand. I am an older gentleman and catching all the words in her music is hard. This is her eleventh album, so there is a great deal of backstory in her music. I can listen to the album free right now. I do understand her sentiments in songs like I Can Do It with a Broken Heart, Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me? and Guilty as Sin? My novice assessment is that Taylor Swift is in the tradition of the confessional poet and her songs seem like a peek into her private daily journal. That is why they are so relatable to her fans, who come from all age groups. She seems to have a very strong work ethic and business sense. She understands our culture.

Seminarians are taught that for missionaries to reach any foreign people group, it is wise to learn the culture and traditions of the people as well as the language. Missions is hard because it requires work, patience, empathy and understanding. It moves us outside our comfortable ways into unfamiliar places seeking to build healthy relationships. Taylor Swift leads a cultural “church” where people gather by the thousands to sing her songs of pain and suffering, joy and love. All manner of groups gather to discuss her lyrics and piece together the timelines of her life and relationships. Her every move is watched because she has such a profound influence on a world-wide scale.  On a personal note, I believe there are parallels to Christianity which should not be ignored. The American church is in a Post Evangelical shift. The old wineskins of evangelicalism are breaking apart. The tenants of faith are being replaced by the tenants of secular politics. The confessions of faith are being replaced by the greediness of power and money. The good news of the gospel is being corrupted by meanness, cruelty, and exclusion directed towards sinners and outsiders. God loves us all. Jesus died for us all. Christ is Lord of all. Let’s always confess Jesus.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Share the Good News. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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God’s Grace Is Sufficient

Life does not always give us the chance to learn “the rest of the story.” People come and go through our daily encounters, friendships fade, people move on, we move on. Sometimes I catch myself wondering, whatever happened to some of them. Right now I am reflecting on a life that briefly intersected with mine. I learned this weekend of the passing of one of my family’s pastors at age 97. He was by all measures, a man of grace. He was the minister of the Philadelphia Baptist Church while I was in college in Birmingham, Alabama. He is most famously remembered because of his name, Charles Merry Christmas, Sr. His kind ways encouraged me as a young minister while in college. I attended as often as I could. I preached once as part of a Youth Sunday service. While my parents and sisters attended regularly, across my college years I served on the staff of two churches, supply preached in rural churches, and frequently traveled with a full-time evangelist leading the music in revivals. One of my last occasions at the Philadelphia Baptist Church was the honor of officiating at my sister Denise’s wedding. 

When we first met the Christmas family, their daughter, Joy Carol Christmas, and son, Charles Merry Christmas, Jr., were in high school.  Charles Christmas, Sr. and his wife Louise were married 65 years when she passed away. 

Dr. Christmas was called to preach during World War II at age 18. He graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) and earned his doctorate at New Orleans Theological Seminary. He was widely respected as a Bible teacher who practiced what he preached.  I learned that he pastored several churches through the years and “retired” in 1997 after seven years as a Baptist Associational Director. He served as an interim pastor and guest preacher through his mid-nineties. He wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper called Simple Truth.  Always eager to share a good word with others, he had the idea of giving away baseball caps as a witness. He had caps printed with sayings such as Jesus Christ is Lord, and my favorite, God’s Grace is Sufficient. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Live gracefully. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Wonder of It All

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,

The wonder of sunrise I see;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul

Is the wonder that God loves me.

The words from George Beverly Shea’s song came to mind as I gazed at the solar eclipse yesterday. Those of us very near the full path saw, once again, the awe-inspiring handiwork of creation. The precision of the heavenly bodies that surround us. The incredible power of sunlight to warm us, burn us, or permanently scar our vision, blocked by the darkness of the whole moon because the moon is not a source of light on its own. All of us were wearing or sharing the funny little paper and foil glasses that were invented to save the eyes of millions of people looking toward the sun in the middle of the day. O the wonder of it all!

Just as the eclipse was beginning, I stopped in a fast-food place near the church to pick up my to-go lunch and headed to the church. It was time for a picnic. I collected a folding chair, put my lunch on a cart and rolled it out to our new pavilion. I sat in the shade, moving into the light to see the first “bite” of the moon. For the thirty minutes around the peak of the eclipse, I sat facing the sun and meditating on the majesty of God. (Psalm 8 and Hebrews 1-2.) Apparently having a “solar eclipse tan” today earned bragging rights for some. My face just burned lightly. I heard the noisy birds go quiet and noticed the odd coloring of the buildings and trees around me. As the sun grew bright again, I slowly gathered my things and went back inside. What a beautiful day to know that millions of others were sharing this glorious moment together.

There’s the wonder of springtime and harvest,

The sky, the stars, the sun;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul

Is a wonder that’s only begun.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Keep looking up. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Pokèmon Go

There is an endless, unseen battle taking place in our church parking lot. I see the evidence of it at random times during the week. Cars quietly make their way over to our air-conditioning cooling tower, park for a little while, then drive away. An unseen artificial intelligence program has designed that area as a Pokèmon Go Gym. Pokèmon Go is a worldwide game played on hand-held devices such as phones and computer tablets. With your device in the right spot a player can see the other pokèmons—picture a cartooned short-eared rabbit crossed with say a cat, horse or dragon. At a gym, players can battle for control over other pokèmon players, winning power enhancements and points. The longer the winning pokèmon can stay in the gym before being defeated by someone else, the more points and rewards can be achieved. This is not just a children’s game. Adults are driving all over town to win more battles over opposing forces. Pokèmon Go takes a great deal of time and energy. 

When I asked our resident family experts to explain Pokèmon Go to me, they suggested this might not be a very interesting topic for everyone. However, I was also thinking about other unseen forces battling it out in the church parking lot, in neighborhoods and in homes across the land. Forces that cannot be seen with hand-held devices, but only with eyes of discernment and hearts of compassion. Evidence of evil activity is relatively easy to discover. Spiritual battles with victories won may be harder to see. One day an angry king’s army surrounded a town by night, intent on killing the Lord’s prophet. Rising early, a servant saw the strong army preparing for the attack. After praying for God to open his eyes, the prophet told his servant to look again, this time the man could see the angelic army, equipped and ready for action against the foes. (2 Kings 6:8-23)

Pokèmon Go is a fun game with an endless array of characters and teams. It challenges people to enter the quest and win personal rewards. The game stimulates our need to see and feel everyday victories over the forces lined up against us. For more details on Pokèmon Go, feel free to consult with the gaming experts you may know. For spiritual victories, look again through the lens of God’s Word into the world around you.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today, with open eyes. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Easter Walk

After all the excitement of the early morning, apparently Jesus went for a walk. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary began to hurry from the Garden Tomb to tell the disciples they had seen an angel, they ran into Jesus and He said, “Hello.” According to one account they fell to the ground, grabbed His ankles and worshipped Him. He told them not to be afraid, and sent them on to the disciples with the same message as the angel—“Go to Galilee and meet Him there.” The disciples did not believe this story. Peter and John ran and found the tomb empty; still, they did not pack their things and head for Galilee. They were processing the events and were somewhat afraid to venture too far from the security of the upper room. 

In the Gospel descriptions, all slightly different because these are eye-witness accounts, Jesus was known for His early morning and late evening walks. It was His quiet time for prayer and reflection, away from the demands of the crowds, and the mentoring of the disciples. 

Two previously unnamed followers of Jesus were present that amazing morning when the women told of seeing angels and meeting Jesus on the path. One of the followers was named Cleopas. His mother, maybe the other Mary, had been at the foot of the cross when Jesus died. In his own grief and discouragement, Cleopas and his friend headed home to Emmaus. At some point on their slow journey that first Easter afternoon, Jesus walked with them. “What are you talking about?” “Have you not heard,” they said with eyes fogged by tears, “about Jesus of Nazareth? He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed. We had so hoped he was the One.” Thus the conversation began. Walking and talking about expectations, disappointments, and God’s word. Then there was the whole matter of Peter and John reporting that the tomb was empty, but they did not see Jesus. It was getting dark and they were now in the village. “Would you join us for supper?”  At the table Jesus assumed the role of the host, took the bread, broke it and gave thanks. Then they knew Jesus was truly alive. They did not wait for another minute to tell the others the good news. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Take an Easter walk with Jesus. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Polio Paul

Paul Alexander was 5 years old when he was diagnosed with polio. That was in 1952, in the old Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. I remember when one of our elementary school class projects was to see how many little cardboard folders we could fill with the dimes we put in the round cut-out slots for other children like Paul, who had to live in an iron lung. We learned about the polio epidemic in America, the March of Dimes, and the story of President Franklin Roosevelt who had gotten polio because he went swimming one day in his vacation home pond when he was 39 years old.  We lined up at school for our polio shots, and we were all so very thankful for an oral vaccine that prevented us from having more shots, as well as ever getting polio. One of my teachers in junior high told how he got polio wading in the run-off water by the railroad tracks. Polio caused him to walk with a limp. Paul Alexander lost the ability to breathe automatically. He was known as “Polio Paul” for his remarkable life and the 73 years he spent depending on that iron lung machine. Paul Alexander died Sunday, March 15, at 78, of a recent bout of Covid-19 and other factors. Incidentally, March 15 was the 4th anniversary of when everything closed because of  Covid.

According to CNN:  “Paul’s ambitions were not limited by his condition. He learned breathing techniques that allowed him to leave the iron lung for a few hours at a time. He graduated college, earned a law degree, and went on to practice as a courtroom attorney for 30 years. He also self-published his autobiography, Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung, titled after the accomplishment of learning how to breathe independently for at least three minutes – a feat that took him a year to master and was rewarded with a dog, according to the book.”  According to his brother Phillip, Paul’s last words were, “We are perfect.”

What an inspiring story of courage, perseverance, and a life well-lived. I think I complain about my aches and pains too much. Life is already hard. Adversity, pain, and sickness make it more difficult. Adding our own selfishness and sinfulness to the day compounds our troubles. There is a Savior who promises to be there with us through each day and provides the strength to overcome. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be an overcomer. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Trap of Revenge

In the late 1950’s the price of a gallon of gasoline jumped from about 19 to 26 cents. That was a big increase—about 37%. There was a crisis in the Middle East. Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal; the safe shipment of oil was threatened and then Israel and Egypt went to war. The U.S. and some of our European allies got involved. Eventually that Mid-east Crisis was resolved, but the price of gas never went back to 19 cents. Nearly every time there is a crisis in the world, the price of gas goes up. Sometimes it makes us more cautious about how much we drive. Sometimes we just get angry. 

Around 1959 a man in our Florida church discovered someone was stealing gas from his car. His indignation, his pride and his anger led him astray. Ordinarily he was like a next-door buddy in my parents’ Sunday School class. He and his wife loved to host backyard cookouts and were the first to arrive with food when the need arose. They had two or three children a little younger than we were. He was the joke-teller and the life of every party. Then someone started siphoning gas from his car late at night. His house had an open carport so he could not put his car in the garage. He finally settled on a way to deter his robber. This was revenge.

One evening after dinner he set his trap. He stripped apart the end of a long extension cord and attached the bare wires to the bumper of his car. (In those days cars were made of metal.) He was going to teach that thief a shocking lesson. He thought of one more touch—water. He brought out the garden hose and wet down the car and driveway. He plugged in the extension cord and walked around the car to survey his work. As he neared the front of the car he slipped or tripped, falling with both hands on the hood. His wife ran to unplug the cord, but it was too late. A family lost a husband and father. My parents lost a good friend. I learned a tragic lesson about anger and the high price of revenge. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.  Vengeance is a trap you set for yourself. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Vengeance belongs to God. So let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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