Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My wife and I have been married for 25 wonderful years!
The Reality of Suffering and Death

On Friday, May 18, 2007, my stepfather died. He was a great guy, and he will be missed by many people. I did the eulogy at his funeral this past week.

I compared my stepfather to a rather obscure character in the Bible, Ahimaaz (2 Samuel 18). Ahimaaz was the son of Zadok, the high priest. He was fleet of foot and served at times as a messenger. (My stepfather was a fast runner in high school.) After Joab defeated David’s enemies in a rebellion, Joab needed to send the news back to David. Ahimaaz volunteered, but Joab sent another man as messenger instead of Ahimaaz. Ahimaaz, however, persisted and asked for permission to run to David even after the other man had been sent. Joab gave him permission to run, and Ahimaaz passed the other man and was the first person to bear good news to David. He was enthusiastic, loyal, and good in character. When the watchman saw Ahimaaz approaching, David described Ahimaaz: “He is a good man, and comes with good news” (NKJV).

My stepfather was a good man, and he was an enthusiastic bearer of good news. When people saw him approaching, they had a good feeling about him. He was a good man in terms of his faithfulness to his family, church, and various institutions. My stepfather also had a positive, enthusiastic outlook on life, in spite of the various difficulties that life brought him on earth. Sometimes we have to suffer in this life, and his last two years on earth included much physical and mental suffering. He had Alzheimer’s disease, neuropathy, congestive heart failure, and other problems. My mother was his third wife. His first two wives had died. My stepfather was faithful to all three. He loved social events, good food, and travel. My mother and stepfather had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco, Seattle, Charleston, Savannah, Williamsburg, Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Europe during their 30 years of marriage.

I had the privilege of being one of his caregivers during his last two years of life. I learned a lot about him during this time of difficulty. He maintained his sweet spirit in the midst of his suffering. I hope that I die quickly in my sleep and that I will not linger in pain, but I don’t get to choose the manner of my death. (A funeral director told me a few years ago that the quick death of an elderly person in his sleep is called a “Cadillac death.”) If I linger and suffer before I die, I hope I will be as sweet-spirited as my stepfather was.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Unexpected Joy

Last night, my older son needed to go to Wal-Mart at about 10:30 to get a part for his computer. Knowing that this time of the year is gang initiation season in Memphis, I decided to go with him, since two are better than one in terms of safety. (Do I sound over-protective?) Anyway, after we parked the truck close to the entry doors in a well-lit area, we were approached by a guy. He said, “Can I talk to you guys? I’m not going to kill you.” I had a split second to size up the situation: We were near the doors to Wal-Mart, and there were other folks around us. I didn’t see any weapons, and he didn’t have any friends with him. So, I decided to engage him in conversation. He said, “I need to buy some baby food for my infant. If you’ll give me some cash, I’ll write you a check.” I gave him six bucks—all the cash I had in my wallet, and I refused to take his check. I did, however, ask him the two diagnostic questions from EE. He answered the first question by saying that he thought he was saved. In answer to the second question, he said that he was basing his salvation on good works. I explained the plan of salvation to him, and he agreed to surrender his life to Christ in repentance and faith. He didn’t wait for me to lead him in the sinner’s prayer; rather, he started by himself. I helped him after his good start. After we prayed, he was full of joy and said that he really needed what he had just experienced. He showed us a photo of his wife and talked about how fortunate he was to have her. Another neat thing about this whole experience is that my older son was there to see the conversion. I have wanted to train him in witnessing, and this was truly a teachable moment.

Unfortunately, we cannot depend on such unexpected encounters to provide all the needed witnessing opportunities. I believe that we should engage in regular, purposeful witnessing events. Such events don’t always bear a lot of fruit; nevertheless, they are needful. About a week ago, I went door to door in an area near Memphis where many homes are being built. It was part of the survey work being used to start a new Baptist church in the area. For three hours, two of us went door to door. Only one man was ready and willing to hear the gospel. I didn’t need to ask the two diagnostic questions; he blurted out that he was lost. I shared the plan of salvation with him, but unfortunately he was not yet ready to surrender his life to Christ in repentance and faith. He apparently had some “issues” that needed to be settled first. For example, he had wandered away from the church of his youth (where he thought he had been saved), and when he tried to come back to that church, someone at the church told him that he had crucified Christ again and that there no longer was a sacrifice remaining for his sins. He believed that he had committed the unpardonable sin. I told him that God loves him and that we love him, but he needed to work through all that false programming. There were other such issues, and I feel that I and other folks need to help him work through those things. Nevertheless, I thought that our visit to him was a divine appointment and that some good seeds were planted. Not every witnessing encounter results in a conversion, but that doesn’t mean that such encounters are not fruitful.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Herschel Hobbs’s Position on the Church

I have sensed that there is some confusion about Herschel’s position on the church. He chaired the committee that framed the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message only mentioned the local church. The 1963 document added the following description:

“The New Testament speaks also of the church as the body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages.”

This addition, however, is speaking of a universal church that is not yet in existence. Notice what Herschel said in his commentary on the 1963 document:

“The word ‘church’ in the New Testament never refers to organized Christianity or to a group of churches. It denotes either a local body of baptized believers or includes all the redeemed through all the ages.”

Herschel H. Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message (Nashville: Convention Press, 1971), 75.

This position was also held by B. H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

“Of the 117 instances of use in the New Testament certainly all but five (Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 42; Heb. 2:12) refer to Christ's ecclesia. And since Hebrews 2:12, though a quotation from the Old Testament, is prophetic, finding fulfillment in New Testament times, we need not regard it as an exception. These 113 uses of the word, including Hebrews 2:12, refer either to the particular assembly of Jesus Christ on earth, or to His general assembly in glory (heaven). . . . But while nearly all of the 113 instances of the use of ecclesia belong to the particular class, there are some instances, as Hebrews 12:23, and Ephesians 5:25-27, where the reference seems to be to the general assembly of Christ. But in every case the ecclesia is prospective, not actual. That is to say, there is not now, but there will be a general assembly of Christ's people. That general assembly will be composed of all the redeemed of all time.”

B. H. Carroll, Ecclesia, http://www.reformedreader.org/ekk.htm, accessed 23 April, 2007.