the Doug Williams I knew

 

Doug Williams and I were opposites in so many ways; however, one thing we proudly shared in common was our alma mater, Abilene Christian University. And with that, a common respect for, and admiration of, a professor there: Dr. John T. Willis.

Williams-Doug-2013

Doug Williams (2013)

One of the courses I had with Dr. Willis was a study of the book of Jeremiah. I remember the first class session of that course. We spent precious little time in Jeremiah and almost all of our time elsewhere in Scripture, studying how the Old Testament uses the word “prophet.”

One thing we quickly learned from our study was that the way the Old Testament speaks of a prophet and the way people commonly think today of a prophet are two very different things. Today, people tend to think of a prophet as someone who speaks of things in the distant future. However, while this certainly occurs in happenings recorded in Scripture, it is a relatively rare thing. Far more often Scripture emphasizes the role of the prophet regarding matters of the moment. While the future is sometimes, even often, in view, it is the present that makes up the lion’s share of the prophet’s words and works; it is the here and now that consumes the prophet of God’s attention.

Nowhere is this made more clear than in the words that are found to keep company with the word “prophet” in Scripture. Or to put it another way, in the synonyms used for “prophet.”

For example, frequently a prophet is referred to as a spokesman or messenger of God. A prophet of God is someone who keenly aware that they bear the message of another to others. The message they share is not their own. Their task is to convey that message, to communicate it clearly and candidly, and to live it by it themselves as well.

Similarly, a prophet is known as a servant. As in the phrase “my servants, the prophets.” A prophet’s words and ways are stimulated and motivated by the one they serve, the Lord God. In a word, their life is one of service. They minister to God and on behalf of God, in the way they minister to, serve, the needs of others. As a servant, their own will is irrelevant; it is the Master’s will that drives their thinking and doing.

A prophet is like a watchman. In ancient times, a watchman was not merely someone who helped guard the gates of a city, but one who did so by careful observation and listening. Their task was to pay close attention to what was actually happening outside the city, as well as within, and, as needed, to report their findings to those to whom they were under charge (e.g. – the elders of the people, the king, etc.). In this way, they were a blessing to, and sought to preserve and increase the blessing of, the people they watched after, particularly to those who were society’s most vulnerable. Their observations, or the lack thereof, were crucial, for they could spell life or death for many.

Ultimately, a prophet is a man of God. They function as God’s gift to others. They come from God and are on their way to God. They hold up God to others and call to others by all they think, do, and say, to remember and submit to the God. It would not be at all too much to say that as a man of God, their whole life is about God.

And so, I do not hesitate to say that the Doug Williams I knew was nothing less than a true, modern day prophet of God. And a mighty prophet at that, indeed.

We have all been greatly privileged by Doug’s presence among us. And we have all been made all the more responsible to God because of his time with us. So, might we honor the Lord, and thereby, best respect the name of Douglas Arthur Williams.

some of why I preach

 

A friend of mine recently asked me, and many other preachers, two questions: (1) what led you to decide to preach and (2) what most helped your development as a young man? Feeling a bit  reflective at the moment, I’ll take a swipe at answering such right here.

A lot of creeks fed those two rivers, but I’ll only share a few of them.

First: what led me to decide to preach?

(a) A godly grandmother laid the foundation before I even realized it. My Dad’s mother was a devout Christian. She lived 1,600 miles away and in the course of my entire life, I can count on one hand the number of times we saw each other face-to-face. However, from the time of my earliest memory, she wrote my family a letter every week, without fail; every week for years. With every letter – and with no exceptions – she would include along with her letter some religious clipping, a quote from a sermon, a church bulletin, a prayer, or some such. When I grew old enough to read on my own, I read her letters … and what she sent along. Ever so often – not “too” often, just ever so often – she would write a single sentence to the effect of something specific she was praying about for me and my parents, typically regarding our coming to know the Lord.

I was baptized into Christ at the age of 16 and shortly thereafter, my grandmother conveyed to me that her prayers had now shifted from my coming to Christ to my continuing with him and proclaiming him. I have no doubt that had it not been for my grandmother’s prayers, any and all other creeks that might have fed that river would have turned up dry.

(b) A sorry sermon was the tipping point. I was a young Christian (both in terms of age [19] and duration in Christ [3 yrs.]) anxious to hear some good word to help me grow in Christ. I had worked all day at my job, quickly come home and cleaned up, bolted out the door, and drove to a gospel meeting in a nearby town that had been heavily advertised, featuring the preaching of a very experienced and competent minister. However, what I received that night in terms of a sermon was a virtually empty plate, devoid of milk or meat. It was a 45 minute account of how many verses there are in the Bible, how many years required in its composition, etc. When the final “Amen” was said, I walked out the door totally frustrated, muttering under my breath as I exited, “I don’t know ‘come here’ from ‘sic ‘em’ yet and I could have done a better job than that!” It was not the most humble of thoughts, but it certainly was not one devoid of conviction … or lacking genuine foundation. I found myself dwelling on that thought all the way home, that night, considering it until I drifted off to sleep, and for the better part of probably a month following.

To fully appreciate that statement (“.. I could do a better job …”) you should also know that at that time, when it came to speaking in public, I was an introvert’s introvert. Looking back, I can say with confidence that the die was cast as I walked out the door that night; it just took a while for me to realize it.

(c) A college prof sealed the deal. Fifteen semester hours short of a degree, I had dropped out of college. After working at my Dad’s service station for about nine months I decided to get back into college (Cameron University). At the time, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to pursue for my degree, much less my life. My first class back was Fundamentals of Speech, my first exposure to any training in public speaking. The last day of the course, the prof – Dr. Tony Allison, a deacon in one of the Churches of Christ in Lawton, OK – called me into his office to talk privately. He had two things to say to me. First, he asked me what I planned to do with my life. I told him I hadn’t a clue. Second, he simply said: “Have you considered preaching? You’ve got what it takes. I think you should.” I was consumed with much thought and fervent prayer the weeks following. I went on to major in Speech and was preaching every week for well over a year before graduation. All because a brother in Christ, a prof of mine, took an interest in me and offered me his measured guidance.

Now I say all of that to say three things. First, for whatever reason(s), sometimes a sermon falls flat. Not to worry: someone just might get the idea to take up preaching as a result! Trust me, this is no small source of consolation to me whenever I feel upon exiting the pulpit on any given Sunday that I “just didn’t bring my ‘A’ game” that day and would rather just go crawl under a big rock and die. Second, never underestimate the power of little old blue-haired church ladies’ prayers. God’s answers to them just might be what keeps things going! Third, an individualized, sincere question from a righteous person coupled with a thoughtful, considered suggestion, is powerful and effective.

Second: what most helped my development as a young man in Christ?

(a) Middle-aged folks and old timers in the church – not my peers – who took the time and made the effort to learn the name of a faceless teen who suddenly started showing up at church. They went out of their way to get to know me, befriend me, and deliberately be a source of endless encouragement to me when I had little to offer them in return aside from a smile and a simple pleasantry.

(b) Preachers who allowed me to simply be in their presence, ask them questions, hitched me up to responsibilities, gave me opportunities, put up with my mistakes, and/or who simply had a listening ear for a clueless teen seeking company and direction were invaluable. I will forever be in tremendous debt to men of God like Steve Bracken, Duard Givens, Robert Gregg, Jerry Hurst, Stanley Sayers, and Clayton Waller.

Preaching. It’s something that at one time in life I would ‘ve laughed in your face at the mere suggestion of it. Now it’s something I can’t imagine not doing. I wouldn’t ever want it any other way.

my personal reading plans for 2013

 

Reading is a critical part of my life. In case you’re curious as to what I have in mind to graze on in 2013, this coming year I intend to:

1. Read and pray 5-10 minutes every day over one chapter of the New Testament. This reading will be in conjunction with a church-wide program known as The Christ House (TCH) reading project. You’ll see daily posts here on my site regarding TCH starting on Sat., Dec. 29. We’ll begin our reading in Luke’s Gospel with Luke 1 on Tues., Jan. 1.

2. Read the Apocrypha. I’ll start the year (Jan.-Apr.) by reading and reflecting on a section of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) each day. I’ll finish the year by reading the remaining books (June-Dec.). This will require 5-10 minutes each day. If you’ve never read Sirach, but enjoy the book of Proverbs, you’d appreciate Sirach. Here’s a small sample.

3. Starting this year I’ll I’ll spend about 5 minutes each day reading the writings of “The Church Fathers,” a collection of various writings of some of leading Christian thinkers during the first seven centuries of church history. To do this, I’ll follow the seven-year reading plan outlined on the site known as Read the Fathers.

4. Read about and pray for one nation of the world every day. I’ll follow the daily briefing and schedule offered by OperationWorld.org to systematically pray for the peoples of all the countries in the world. I’ll dedicate between 5-10 minutes each day to this objective.

5. Focus the majority of the rest of my reading (listed here by priority) on: (a) weekly sermon and class preparation, (b) matters related to my upcoming trip to Turkey and Israel (Jan.-Apr.), (c) the subject of non-violence/violence (Jan.-Dec.), (d) misc. Bible and ministry-related topics, and (e) photography.

What do you feed your head?

a sermon to my granddaughter

 

I’m a father of two and a grandfather of four. The most recent birth of a grandchild was this past Wed., June 6 when Kinley Lynn Wheeler was born to my daughter and son-in-law, Brant & Amber Wheeler (that was the reason for the tremor in the earth you felt). No, my feet still haven’t touched the ground yet.

Now upon the birth of each child and grandchild, it’s been my privilege and habit to preach the following Sunday morning sermon from some Scripture that came to mind during the preceding week’s glorious gifting from God. Consequently, at MoSt Church this past Sunday morning (June 10, 2012), I preached a sermon entitled A Sermon to my Granddaughter. I very rarely manuscript sermons, but I did write out in advance the majority of the heart of this one, choosing my wording with a bit of extra special care. The words of that manuscript, the words of the lion’s share of this past Sunday morning’s sermon, appear below.

Before we get to the sermon text, let me help set it up with three notes. First, no small percentage of MoSt Church‘s attendees on any given Sunday morning are grandparents or great-grandparents. We have no shortage of gray hair. Not surprisingly, a common question I’ve fielded through the years goes something like this: “How can I, as a grandparent, maximize my influence for Christ in the life of my grandchildren?” This sermon was, by example, a portion of my typical answer: “Start telling them and backing it up with your life as soon as they enter this world!”

Second, I preached this sermon with all of the children and grandchildren present very much in mind. I wanted them to overhear some of the things a Christ-following grandparent would say to them by enabling them to overhear what I want all of my grandchildren hearing and seeing as they grow up.

And third, I nickname the females in our family, but not the males. The nickname I’ve landed on for my granddaughter is “Starshine.” Understand that little Kinley has a head full of dark hair and it was my wife’s long and lovely brunette hair that I noticed first when I first saw my future wife and “Starshine” was my wife’s CB handle back in the day.

Now, the sermon …

… we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. … He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” … we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1.16-19)

I, Jesus … [am] the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who is thirsty come! Let the one who wishes receive life-giving water as a gift. (Revelation 22.16-17)

My Little Starshine,

There’s so much I want to tell you. I can’t tell you all of it now, but I can start. And I want to begin telling it to you this way, in a sermon, because I want you to spend your whole life deeply listening to and engaging sermons with all of your heart and ways. And as you hear what I say, understand it’s all coming from someone who is still has so very, very much to learn.

You have exactly one life in which to do everything you’ll ever do, so live accordingly.

That doesn’t mean live life for yourself. Quite the opposite. It doesn’t mean indulge yourself in whatever you please or whatever feels good to you in the moment. No, not at all.

It means to live your life deliberately and to live it for the one who gave it to you.

It means to:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22.37-39)

Worship God. Develop an unquenchable thirst and unceasing hunger for God. Crave knowing him. Revel in rejoicing in him, praising him, and thanking him.

Stand in awe of God. Neither assume nor presume too much of him. He is wholly other. Ever remember your place before him, small like a grain of sand before a mountain, and ever personal, present and perfect. He is love. Live your life caught up higher and higher into the clouds of the wonder of him.

And so, see your whole life as worship of him. You were given life to serve God, and serving him is your life. This is worship. This is life. Let no one lead you to think otherwise.

Memorize and meditate on what God has revealed to us. Take the book of God, the Bible, and eat it. Make it your daily food.

Count success in your life not by your number of accomplishments, but by your accommodating yourself to the will of God.

Pray. Talk to God and never stop. Listen. Listen to God and follow up with your life.

Plant yourself in the community of faith, Christ’s church, and stay there, bearing shade and fruit as God enables you. Life among God’s people, his church, is your laboratory for living out eternal life. Among his people is where he put you, and so, is where you belong. In his church is where you’ll be equipped and sharpened for use by God to be fully his.

Walk with God. Pray for and summon up the courage to actually live out whatever you understand of God. Whether anyone else does or not.

Make faith, not fear, your foundation in life. And as you walk thru your life, walk by faith in God and not by sight. Never stop moving, and inch ever closer to making your good intentions reality.

Keep walking with God, come what may. Troubles will come your way. Some will go and some may stay. No matter the size of the trouble, keep walking with God. He’s the one who will see you through it.

Let Jesus be your hero and model your life after him. Make your life about living well, not about living well off. That is, live your life holy and pure, wholly pleasing to God.

Soak your attitude and spirit in the holiness of God’s Spirit, for this is the soil out of which all of your actions grow. Guard your heart and your mind so that nothing or no one can trick you or deceive you into behavior that isn’t pure.

Never stop seeking and accepting God’s forgiveness. Don’t dwell on your mistakes, failures, and sins, but run with them to God for your forgiveness.

See every person you encounter as one made in God’s image. Treat them as you would treat Jesus Christ or as Christ would deal with them.

Come to know the power of your words to others, and so, choose them wisely and spend them economically.

Become a very good listener with true care for others, for the world is very short of, and in great need of, such people.

Establish and devote yourself to healthy habits that will keep you healthy in body and spirit. Those habits will shield you from many a distraction and temptation, wrong turn and sin. And so, die daily to yourself that you may live daily to Him.

Or to put it all of this in just as few a words as possible, I cannot improve upon the words of the Spirit-filled and Spirit-inspired apostle Paul …

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5.6b)

I love you. Far beyond words. But not nearly so much as our Lord does. And so, love him so.

Your Da-Do

Kinley Lynn Wheeler is born!

Hey, I’ve been a grandfather (Da-Do) for a few years now and that never gets old, but today I became something different: the grandfather of a granddaughter! Whoo-hoo!

Granddaughter Kinley Lynn Wheeler arrived at 3:00 p.m. today, June 6, 2012. Thanks be to God, mother and daughter are doing great! And let me add that my daughter and I both predicted the exact time of her arrival to the very minute this morning.

This little girl – who already has me wrapped around her little finger! – weighed 6 lbs., 8 oz. at birth and is 19″ long. She’s got a goodly amount of black hair; not a lot, not a little. And I’m told that “Kinley” means “fair-headed hero” (or “fair-headed heroine”). We’ll see if her hair lightens up as she grows up, but I can tell you right now she’s already a hero in my heart!

Pray with me:

Heavenly Father, thank, thank you, thank you! May this little one you’ve entrusted us with rise up to be a devoted disciple of your Son Jesus, full of, and fruitful in, your Spirit, for life! May you ever be the hero of her heart and life in every way, all of her days. Amen. And amen.