Memory

Sitting in front of a crackling fire while enjoying a rare window framed glimpse of wintry mix in Bosqueville, I recall cold mornings in southeast Texas huddled before my Grandma Richey’s Dearborn, toasting bread over gas flames and imagining wilderness camping on a great hunt for grizzlies. Memory can be fickle, but though elusive at times, it protects us from losing teachable treasures. I remember where I was the first time I heard Billy Graham preach. It was the 1968 Houston crusade held in the brand new Astrodome, and I was proudly carrying the Bible my grandmother had given me for Christmas. I can’t remember what was said or who was with Dr. Graham, but I do recall that the air smelled like plastic and cotton candy, an odd but unforgettable olfactory combination. I remember where I was the moment we learned that John F. Kennedy had been shot. I was about to enter the J. C. Penny store in old downtown Port Arthur with my mother and Grandma Richey, when a woman burst through the doors, arms waving frantically in the air, screaming “The President’s been shot! The President’s been shot!” I was three years old, but I can still see the scene and feel the emotion attached to it. 

A memory is deepened when formed from exposure to multiple senses. If you think about it, it’s what makes possible, in fact, impossible not to remember experiences in your grandmother’s kitchen, a childhood classroom, or Christmases past. You need only be exposed to a similar scent or situation and the result is instant recall. Others are remembered only briefly: an outline for an exam, a verse that you need to recall for a specific occasion, someone’s name that’s important at that moment. Hearing or seeing does not necessarily forge a memory. Remembering comes from hearing and seeing and tasting and touching and smelling. “Touch has a memory” (John Keats).

There’s a reason for remembering; memory is as much about today as it is yesterday. “‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ says the White Queen to Alice” (Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass”). God created memory so that I may learn from my past, for the purpose of either repeating or avoiding it. “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real” (Cormac McCarthy,  “All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, #1”). 

Jesus answered and said unto him, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:23-26, KJV)

I Forget I Remember

Funny how often I forget that I remember something. It happened again this morning when I happened back upon a hymn that elicited emotions so powerful that I was physically affected (I discreetly wept). By the way, hymns are those archaic forms of teaching theology and establishing core values embedded in mnemonic tunes that once graced the worship of God’s people, more recently displaced by trendy lyrics repeated ad infinitum set to pop melodies. But I digress….

I had forgotten that I remember the moving text of, “My lord is near me all the time.” From the first line, this hymn composed by Barbara Fowler Gaultney awakened deeply embedded childhood memories. One moment I was standing on aching knees downing cup number two of my morning wake up call; the next I was transported back to Trinity Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas, sitting as a boy on curved plywood theater seats that were fastened to an asbestos tile floor. Men wore polyester suits with wide ties, women were in knit dresses and panty hose, and choir members wrapped in blue lustrous robes with gold satin stoles belted out:

“When the thunder shakes the mighty hills
And trembles ev’ry tree,
Then I know a God so great and strong
Can surely harbor me.”

More than anything else I remember God’s closeness. Years later, I read the works of Francis Schaefer who liked to speak of the “God who is there.” I do not disagree with his theology, but more than ever I cling to the memory that God is near, and am increasingly reliant upon the present reality of a God who is here. I had forgotten that I remember just how much I need a loving Father to embrace and harbor me.

In the lightning flash across the sky
His mighty pow’r I see,
And I know if He can reign on high,
His light can shine on me.

I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder,
And felt it in the rain;
My Lord is near me all the time,
My Lord is near me all the time.

When the thunder shakes the mighty hills
And trembles ev’ry tree,
Then I know a God so great and strong
Can surely harbor me.

I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder,
And felt it in the rain;
My Lord is near me all the time,
My Lord is near me all the time.

When refreshing showers cool the earth
And sweep across the sea,
Then His rainbow shines within my heart,
His nearness comforts me.

I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder,
And felt it in the rain;
My Lord is near me all the time,
My Lord is near me all the time.

(“My Lord Is Near Me All the Time”, words and music by Barbara Fowler Gaultney)

Paying Attention

Eugene Peterson loved Denise Levertov’s poem, “Overland to the Islands,” in which the poet depicts a dog meandering “intently haphazard,” sniffing and leaping rocks, taking note of everything it smells and dances across. Through it all, the dog:

keeps moving, changing pace and approach but not direction—every step an arrival.

Events, encounters, and adversity may seem random to us, but those with eyes to see and ears to hear will recognize the Father’s heart on display. Only God knows what is in store for each of us this year, but the intrepid disciple keeps advancing, discerning every heartbreak and heart song along the path as an arrival on our journey of re-creation. Eternity hangs in the balance of how intently we pay attention.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 | ESV)

Gender Matters

In the current hubbub and uproar over gender identity and gender related roles, allow me to make something perfectly clear—gender matters. I do not place myself above or beneath any other person on account of my God-given gender, economic status, or ethnicity. Having stated that, allow me to say that I thank God He created me as a man, and I am neither confused nor ashamed as to what that means. As a man, I am certainly no better than a woman. Truth be told, I will never be my wife’s equal. But I do not want to trade places with her, or my mother, or my sister, or my daughter, or any other female. It is a full-time job just trying not to screw up being the man, husband, son, father, brother, and friend God created me to be.

There is far more at stake here than cultural preference or generational differences. Make no mistake about it, whether you like it or not, the simple unavoidable truth is that if you refuse to acknowledge and accept that God created you either male or female and seek to honor Him according to His sovereign choice, you will never acknowledge him as Lord, never yield to him as King, never relinquish control of your life and take up a towel as slave before your Master. You cannot deny yourself if unwilling to acknowledge the true self God created. Semantics will not change how God sees you. Surgery will not alter who you are before Him. Argue the point until you are blue in the face, but a genderless society is a godless society.

“Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.” Genesis 5:2 | ESV

Precipice of Socialism

I shared with my church in Waco last night that now more than ever we will need to be vigilant about maintaining congruence between what we profess and what we practice. The cultural tide in this country is swelling, and is not headed in a godward direction. It threatens to take out to sea all those who have built their spiritual houses on shifting sand of popular opinion and personal convenience. I am convinced that courageous disciples of Jesus in the United States will face unexpected and unfathomable persecution in the near future as this country runs hellbent pellmell down the precipice of socialism.

Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver from Missouri opened the 117th Congress in prayer, but he closed his prayer by saying, “Amen and a-woman.” Actions and words like those in the so called “prayer” before congress are not funny and cute. They are an offense to Almighty God, whose name by the way is not Brahma, Mohammed, Shiva, Krishna or Buddha. Get ready to stand Church at all costs. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

God Save America

The news media (including Fox News) and some well meaning people want us to believe that this election is about mere differences of opinion, and that once it is over we can simply put them behind us, join hands, and skip glibly forward into a future where biblical morality is distant memory relegated to the arena of impotent nostalgia. Make no mistake about it, this country has become a battlefield upon which critical issues of sanctity of life, biblical marriage, religious freedom, and democracy versus socialism are at stake. These moral issues are far too important for believers to relinquish to the secularists and all those on the left, regardless of the outcome (positive or negative) of any election.

Regardless of what results from delayed and hazy election results and who eventually prevails in the U.S. presidential election, one thing is crystal clear—a startling percentage (perhaps majority) of persons in this country now favor legalized murder of yet-to-be born children, redefining marriage and gender to be anything-goes, removing God from the pledge of allegiance and all other facets of public life, and a socialist form of government in which the State supersedes individual and state rights. Tragically, this could not have happened without vast numbers of Christians choosing to be complicit in the moral demise. For those reasons, I can no longer pray or sing “God bless America”; instead, my constant plea will be: “God save America.” The divine hand may already be in motion writing “Ichabod” (“my glory has departed”) across the portals of this country that once revered God Almighty, but surely it is not too late for God’s people to confess our sins, repent in sackcloth and ashes, and desperately turn to God as our only hope. In reality, He has always been our only hope. God save America.

(Personal photo taken during Prayer March 2020, Washington D.C.)

Platform Versus Personality

We hear shouts from every direction that the November election is about ousting certain persons and installing others in their place. Do not be deceived. This election or any election has nothing to do with personalities and everything to do with platforms. It is not about persons, but principles. Read the official platform of the party you place your stamp of approval on with your vote, and realize that you are morally responsible for the principles you choose to support. Like it or not, a vote for a Democratic Party candidate supports an official platform that upholds in clear and unmistakable language the right to kill unborn children, calling it “reproductive freedom.” The Bible calls it reprehensible. The Democratic platform portrays this as the majority opinion—“Like the majority of Americans, Democrats believe every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion. We oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to women’s reproductive health and rights, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment and protecting and codifying the right to reproductive freedom” (I reference page 42 of the official platform of the Democratic Party). And, admit it or not, a vote for a Democratic Party candidate takes a stand with an official platform that grants sexual preference the same status as gender by birth, and applies the ambiguous designation “conversion therapy” to damn any attempt to address sexual preference from a corrective stance.

But don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself. The platforms of political parties are easily accessible at no cost online. Then look beyond certain faces and focus on what values you embrace for this country and want upheld for your children and grandchildren.

Click to access 2020-07-31-Democratic-Party-Platform-For-Distribution.pdf

Click to access platform.pdf

Prophetic or Popular?

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” John 17:13-18 | ESV

Sanctification is what allows the believer in Christ to experience the quality of life Jesus describes as “eternal life.” The word “sanctify” means “to set apart, consecrate, make sacred.” In ascribing this holy state of being, Jesus makes what on the surface appears to be a major contradiction in verses 17-18: “Sanctify them by the truth…. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one…. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” One would logically think that if eternal life is a certain quality of life, the goal of which is to make me sacred to Christ, that I should look for every possibility to escape the world. Instead, Jesus says his purpose for us is to remain sacred to him while living smack dab in the middle of a culture characterized by deepest darkness. In other words, you and are to live sanctified lifestyles while remaining in the world. That is far more difficult and necessary than retreating from the world.

There has likely never been a more critical moment for the church to stand out and speak out in this country than right now. My wife and I once enjoyed Hallmark holiday movies, but the Hallmark company is now joining those in this country attempting to redefine marriage and family with non-biblical language. According to an article by Lawrence Richards, Hallmark will now prioritize and reflect “diversity.” According to a company spokesperson, that will include “projects featuring LGBTQ storylines, characters, and actors.” “Diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us,” the statement said via Good Morning America. “We are committed to creating a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.” Dr. Jim Denison reports that a recent episode of HGTV’s House Hunters show featured a “throuple” (a three-person “couple”) seeking a new home in Colorado. He goes on to say that the American Psychological Association has created a “Consensual Non-Monogamy Task Force” to promote “awareness and inclusivity” about polyamorous (“many loves”) relationships.

“Without revelation people run wild, but one who keeps the law will be happy.” Proverbs 29:18 | Holman Christian Standard Bible

American culture is running wild, casting off restraint right and left. Every pulpit in America should sound forth prophetic cries calling culture to be weighed in the balance of biblical truth. The problem is that taking a moral stand always offends. What are we willing to sacrifice for popularity? If you bow before the altar of public opinion you forfeit the privilege to be prophetic. Prophetic voice rubs the wrong way because it goes against the grain of public intent and popular culture. Prophets are rarely hailed until long after they are gone. During their active ministry prophets are misunderstood, maligned, and frequently martyred. But this, evidently, has been Christ’s plan all along. When the sanctified live sacred lives among those who are thoroughly sacrilegious, the Truth stands out in stark contrast to popular lies masquerading as morality.

The Lion Has Roared

“The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8, Catholic Study Bible)

The moral fiber of America is unraveling at a staggering pace. Tragically, Christians are doing little to stem the plummeting decline. We speak out, but at the risk of appearing hypocritical, I must point out that the majority of our rhetoric targets fellow believers. It is more comfortable to debate other Christians than stand out as salt and light in a desperately dark culture. Social media fosters this enfighting because, after all, our posts are largely read by our self-imposed circle of influence—those who have “friended” us. Huddling in protest is nothing more than impotent isolation. Since we do not address the world, I assume we are expecting unbelievers to eavesdrop on our dissent. This was not the way of the Church in ages past. Her influence was indelibly imprinted on unbelieving pagan cultures. The result quite often was the lions or guillotine or prison. We have lost sight that the word “martyr” comes from the Greek martur, meaning simply “witness.” Few seek or embrace that spirit today. We prefer debate to demarcation, passive aggressive outbursts in social media to inescapable mercy. This is not the way of costly grace. We have counted the cost and come up wanting.

Do not misunderstand my challenge. I am not calling for shouting in the public square, but imploring myself to serve the least among us. You may reject my words, but you can never refute unimaginable mercy. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, ESV). Mercy is compassion in action; it does not shrink from angry opposition. Mercy is selfless love on display. As such, it is not overly complex and actually simple to navigate. Extend human dignity to the homeless by making eye contact and refusing to turn away in disgust. Express appreciation to law enforcement for their sacrificial public service. Invest in relationships with individuals from cultural backgrounds other than your own. Employ non-violent protest of Planned Parenthood facilities and abortion clinics. Seek to enact legislation that protects the unborn and upholds biblical standards of human sexuality. Don’t just sit there with your face in your phone—enact justice. Seek to emulate Christ to the degree that it costs something, perhaps even your life. Be a martyr (witness). We are not playing the Game of Life. We are at war, but the weapons of our warfare are unsheathed in love, not hatred or fear.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4 | ESV).

Glory and Love

“All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.” (John 17:10 | NIV)

The Greek word translated “glory” is doxa. It likely looks familiar to churchgoers who grew up standing in Sunday worship to sing the Doxology. Its meaning comes from another root word that denotes “to be of reputation, honor resting from a good opinion.” In other words, glory refers to something or someone revealed in some way or other; hence, “to glorify” means to reveal the worth, value, or honor of another. When we apply this understanding to Christ’s statement in John 17, we grasp more fully your purpose and mine in this world. Collectively and singularly we reveal the worth, value, honor and beauty of Christ to the unknowing and unbelieving world. This harkens back to Jesus’ imagery in John 15 of a vine and its branches. The only way anyone discerns the value of the vine is by observing the beauty and tasting the quality of its fruit. Herein lies an opportunity of eternal consequence—my obedience, love and humble service shouts approval of the Son; in fact, all the stars and galaxies combined cannot reveal more fully the worth of God than each simple act of love on my part.

Make no mistake about it—I deplore inconsistent rhetoric, lawless destruction of that which offends, and politicians that employ fear tactics to paralyze opposition and garner votes for political and personal ambition. I will continue to rail against injustice of any variety, and endeavor to match opinion with corresponding action. But what disturbs most is when I detect a shift within me from compassion to cynicism, from love to disdain. A day will come when I no longer walk this way, and all that persists is the memory of how I loved or failed to do so. “If nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self” (Christian Wiman). What I want most is to be remembered as a man who loved like a hurricane—stood strong by his family, adored his wife, hoisted courageously the banner of Christ, loved the unlovely, and cherished the forsaken. Will a sweet fragrance that reminds of Jesus remain, or will the stench of self-importance spoil my legacy? I learned the hard way that I can never control how others respond, but I can and must love from the inside-out, to the glory of Jesus Christ.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 | ESV)