Q & A with a young theologian

 

Following this past Sunday morning’s worship gathering at MoSt Church, my bride and I ate lunch together at Pipeline Grill with my daughter (Amber Wheeler) and her family (I highly recommend their catfish). In mid-meal, and out of the blue, my daughter’s oldest, five year-old Ethan, posed a direct and very important question to me.

“Dah-Do, where is MaMa?”

Let the reader understand: I am “Dah-Do” and “MaMa” is my mother, now 20 years deceased.

I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts, for I wanted to answer his question as well as I possibly could. It had been asked with thoughtfulness; I wanted to reply with the same.

However, before I could make reply, another interjected an answer, direct, concise, and thoughtful:

“She’s in heaven.”

I like that answer. I like it a lot! And perhaps that is enough on the matter right now for a five year-old.

But, I also know that my mother was not a Christian, not so, at least, in anything like the conventional sense of the term. Now was she a believer in God? Certainly. Did she believe the Bible was God’s communication with people? Absolutely. Was she a virtuous woman? Far excelling the vast majority of Christians I know (for the record, through the years I’ve had a number of Christian women who knew her well describe her to me as “a saint” in their eyes; their words).

And yet, it all comes full stop right there.

And so, the question, and its true depth, remains:

“Where is MaMa?”

Now while my answer is anything but as concise as the one shared, allow me to share the answer here and now that I was forming as we broke bread (and catfish) together. I like to think of me answering that question after having scooped him up, having set him in my lap, and with my arms wrapped around him in a gentle hug, while I whispered this in his ear.

“Ethan, my man, listen to me very carefully: MaMa is in God’s good hands. That’s where she is: in God’s good hands. Much like this hug I’m giving you right now.

God does nothing but good; in fact, that’s the only thing he does do – good! And with his own hands, he made MaMa; he gave her her life. And that was good! With his own hands, he gave her life here on earth for many, many years. And that was good! He took good care of her all that time. And that was good! And she used her own hands to do many good things in her life for other people. And that was good, for God’s good hands were involved in all of those good things she did! In fact, he remembers every one of those things and can’t forget them. And that’s really good!

“And so, when MaMa died, God scooped up her spirit and now holds her close to him with his good hands of love and tenderness. Again, sort of like this hug of love I’m giving you right now. That is where she is today – in God’s good hands, his good hands of great love.”

“Now you might wonder about death. All things eventually die. But I will tell you this: you need not fear death or worry about it at all, for God has that stuff whipped! God has the last say in everything and whatever he says, and then does with his good hands, is good for her, is the right thing to do with us, and for all. In life, in death, in all things, God always does the good, right thing.

“So, what you and I, what everyone really, needs to do is to live to please God. To live our life here and now like we are walking with God, holding his good, strong hand of love. And then, someday when we are gone, we too will be in God’s good hands. And God will do what is good for us forever and ever.

“You keep loving God and loving people. God’s good hands takes care of everything else.”

And then I’d tighten the squeeze of my hug, “scob his knob” a bit, set him back on his chair, swipe one of his french fries, give him a big grin, and just let him take it from there.

Thank you, Father God, for my young theologian of a grandson, Ethan. May he seek you with all of his heart, all of his days, with all of his ways. May he find you, again and again and again, until the day you scoop him up, too, and take him in your strong arms forever. I ask this in your Son’s name. Amen.

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?