Saturday, December 20, 2014

Celebrating the birth of Jesus, redeemer of "lost causes"

In this Advent season, I've been reflecting on this Jesus whose birth we celebrate. What is He really about?

Earlier this week, I was talking with a friend and colleague about a ministry effort in which we're both involved that, when it began, seemed so daunting as to be considered a "lost cause."

Now, after much prayer and hard work (especially on the part of my friend), we have begun to see some light in the distance, leading my friend to exclaim, after a week of extensive travel on behalf of this "lost cause," "We can turn this around - I'm sensing it!"

This isn't the first "lost cause" for either of us; both of us are accustomed to swimming against the tide - and have probably come pretty close to being pulled under for the third time on a few occasions.

One of my favorite all-time actors is Jimmy Stewart, and one of my all-time favorite movies is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. There's one scene that has particularly stuck with me through the years, as much as any scene from any movie. It comes after Stewart's character, freshman Senator Jefferson Smith, has discovered that the friend and mentor he had practically worshipped all these years - Senator Paine - is crooked. Paine, who is controlled by a corrupt political machine, is involved in an effort to discredit Smith and a bill he had introduced, because Smith's bill stands in the way of an appropriations bill, framed by the machine, that includes a dam-building graft scheme.

On the floor of the Senate, in the heat of his filibuster aimed at postponing the appropriations bill, Smith approaches the desk of Senator Paine, and says,
I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them for the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain, simple rule: Love thy neighbor. In this world full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine. I loved you for it, just as my father did. You know that you fight harder for the lost causes. You even die for them.
Jesus is all about lost causes. What must the task of redeeming the world have looked like to Jesus when he started? For that matter, it's still a pretty daunting task today. Did you notice that "one simple rule" that Senator Smith referenced? Yes, it's what Jesus called the second greatest commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:39b, NIV) That "rule," in combination with what Jesus called the greatest commandment - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37) - are the reasons Jesus took on that task of redeeming the world.

And that task is the charge he left with his disciples, just before he ascended to the Father.

Redeeming the world! That takes in a lot of territory - not only in terms of geography but in terms of the task itself. Remember, Christ didn't just say to his disciples, "tell them about me." He told them to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20) And what did he command his disciples? Love God and love people.

Some people may seem unlikable to us, but no one is unlovable, no one is beyond the love of God, and we are not to withhold our love from anyone. Jesus doesn't.

Redeem the world? That's going to mean different things to different people, because God calls each one of us uniquely. My call will be different from your call. But the mission to which God calls us, as His people, is the same - to take part in redeeming the world.

Redemption is about following Jesus, who ministered to the whole person. He saw our immediate needs as intertwined with our eternal needs.

Redemptive tasks will often start out seeming like a lost cause. I can't imagine what our Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery volunteers must think when they arrive at a site that has been devastated by a tornado, a flood, a fertilizer plant explosion. It must look impossible, but they pray and they work, and God redeems that "lost cause."

That's just one example. There are all kinds of "lost causes" of different types and of different scales. For example, a long-brewing conflict that has torn a family apart. How to minister to that family and restore those broken relationships? It can seem like a "lost cause," but God is not overwhelmed by it. He's calling some person or persons to invest themselves in that family. Through prayer and the God-blessed effort of His people, He can redeem that "lost cause" until it is no longer lost.

I've seen it over and over again - in my own life and various ministry efforts, and in those of others. All God asks is our obedience and faithfulness.

Oh yes, one more example. I lost my faith during my college years and spent several years of searching before I returned to faith in Christ. I'm sure I seemed like a "lost cause," but my parents trusted God and kept loving me and praying for me, and so did others whom God called to invest themselves in my life during that time. Thank God for Jesus, who redeems "lost causes" like me, and thank God for people who answer His call to take part in that redeeming ministry..

Jesus calls us to take part in His work of redeeming lost causes. To what "lost cause" is He calling you?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thank you, Jacob Lupfer and Save OBU

This past Tuesday, on his Save OBU blog, Jacob Lupfer announced 'the end of Save OBU' or - at the very least - the end of his involvement in it.

I couldn't let this announcement pass without saying a public word of thanks to Jacob for the significant contribution he's made to the cause of academic freedom and integrity in Baptist circles.

Jacob reached out to me right at the beginning of this movement in December 2011. He had run across some of my TBC 'Baptist Briefs' videos on YouTube and thought I might be interested in the stand he was taking and the movement he was starting. Little did he know!

For one thing, he had no idea that I am a fellow OBU alum. I care deeply about my alma mater. It was at OBU that I learned to think for myself and seek out a faith I could call my own. Some of the great influences in that faith journey were part of the OBU community: Cary Wood, my roommate; Ron Russey, who lived in the adjoining room of our suite at the end of D section, 2nd floor, in Brotherhood Dorm; Jerry Barnes, pastor of University Baptist Church; Dr. Bill Mitchell, whose remark one morning, while teaching 'Dante's Inferno' in Western Civ, started me on the journey of my life - and FOR my life - which continues today; and others.

There is an unexplainable peace that I feel whenever I'm on Bison Hill, a peace that I feel nowhere else on earth. Although I had grown up in Baptist churches, the son of a preacher, had made my profession of faith at age 10, had grown up in youth choirs and as a leader among my youth group, it was at OBU that I first began to truly understand what faith is. When I 'visit' Bison Hill, I am truly home, and my heart is full.

Maybe that's why it's so important to me that OBU remain a place where students can freely ask questions; no, a place where they are ENCOURAGED and PROMPTED to ask questions . . . to speak their doubts . . . to search like I did. That it remain a place where guys in Brotherhood Dorm (though it no longer goes by that name, it will always be Brotherhood to many of us) - can challenge each other in late-night bull sessions; oh, those bull sessions were where I truly learned to think for myself, to ask questions, and to either defend what I was thinking or rethink it!

Until Jacob Lupfer came along, I had figured OBU - being under control of the Fundamentalist-led Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma - was a lost cause. But Jacob and Save OBU gave me - and many of our fellow OBU alums - hope that OBU could truly be 'saved.'

In his final blog post, Jacob has expressed regrets and made some apologies. Those are between him and God, and between him and those he believes he has wronged. For my part, though, I can do nothing but affirm his handling of Save OBU from beginning to end.

What has especially impressed me has been the depth with which Jacob has researched and interviewed to develop a wealth of information about the situation at not only OBU but other Baptist schools as well. He never wrote careless accusations; he documented what he wrote. Many of us in Baptist life, but especially OBU grads, owe him a great debt.

Where does Save OBU go from here? I'm not as sanguine about OBU's present and future as Jacob is. Experience with Fundamentalist Baptist leaders here in Texas - as well as nationally - has taught me that they are relentless. It is not their nature to co-exist - to 'live and let live'; no, it is their nature to control. They are not cooperative Baptists; they are controlling Baptists (an oxymoron if ever there was one).

Jacob writes, 'By the middle of 2012, however, I began to doubt that my efforts were helping.'

I respectfully disagree. It seems to me the beginning of the Save OBU watchdog movement was followed - in short order - by definite changes in administration activities. Jacob writes that things have calmed down since December 2011. I see a strong correlation, and I worry about what will happen with the end of Save OBU's watchdog activity. I hope someone will take up the movement that Jacob started.

The battle here in Texas has changed; the fight moved from the highly visible convention battles to subtle, stealthy attempts to sway local churches. By going somewhat 'underground,' Fundamentalists have convinced many that 'the battle is over' and there is no more need for a watchdog like TBC. But the Southern Baptists of Texas are more active than ever - they've got their own convention now, so it's churches that they're out to control.

By the same token, I suspect that the 'calm' at OBU is only on the surface. The BGCO is run by people who don't like ambiguity, people who discourage the asking of uncomfortable questions, people who ultimately want their theology taught as incontrovertible truth. Again, I hope that someone will take up this cause.

In November 2012, I drove up to Shawnee - following Homecoming - to meet with Jacob and a group of Save OBU supporters and inquirers on campus. I've tried to give Save OBU as much support as possible, because I believe this movement is a natural 'fit' for Texas Baptists Committed - and because I care so deeply about OBU. However, like Jacob, I have my own regrets. I wish I could have done more. I promised Jacob, early on, that I would write a post for his blog, and I failed to keep that promise, for which I have apologized to him. Actually, last spring I began writing what I planned to be a series of posts relating my experience at OBU to the importance of preserving academic freedom - and a robust liberal arts education - on Bison Hill. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to complete that series. I still plan to do so, however, and will ultimately post them either on the Save OBU blog - if it's still available - or here on the TBC blog.

Well, I've said more than I had planned, because I felt that I needed to put some context around my comments. The bottom line, though, is that all real Baptists owe Jacob Lupfer a debt of gratitude for his commitment to academic freedom and an authentic liberal arts education at OBU and other Baptist schools; for his dedication to keeping OBU truly Baptist.

Jacob, you've accomplished more than you know. Thank you for your dedication, your hard work, your integrity, and your friendship.

God bless OBU.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

George Mason, 25 years . . . Thanks be to God

This weekend, at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, we have been celebrating the ministry of George Mason, on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as senior pastor at Wilshire.

George's contribution - to Wilshire, to the immediate community surrounding it, to the Dallas area as a whole, and to the larger Baptist and Christian communities - is being celebrated this weekend.

But I'm writing a very personal post today in celebration of what George - and Wilshire - have meant to Joanna and me. You see, this is a significant anniversary for us - 10 years as members of the Wilshire community of faith. After we walked the aisle on August 29, 2004, and were greeted as new members, we then sat and watched with the rest of the congregation as presentations were made to George in celebration of his 15th anniversary at Wilshire.

In truth, this post is about what a pastor can mean in the faith journey of one person. Multiply that a few thousand times, and you will begin to have a tiny idea of the influence of a George Mason.

One of the presentations that morning was made by our dear friend, the late Phil Strickland, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission (CLC). Phil had been the key person most responsible for our arrival at Wilshire as members. In May 2004, I had attended the annual CLC conference held at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio. George Mason was one of the three speakers Phil had lined up for that meeting. It was the first time I had heard George Mason speak.

As he spoke during the first session of that conference, I remember leaning over to my good friend Dan Williams and whispering, "Is he always this good?" Dan nodded. During a break in the meeting, as David Currie and I were talking, George came over and introduced himself to me. Later that day, I approached him and told him that my wife and I lived in Plano and would soon be looking for a new church home. George said, "Well, we're just down the road from you."

For almost 17 years, Joanna and I had been members of a church in Plano. Our kids had grown up there, and we had formed many friendships there over the years. But we had grown increasingly restless as the church's mindset had lurched toward Fundamentalism. Since 2000, I had been challenging the pastor directly; predictably, he didn't take it well. When I had gone to him in 2002, wanting to teach the Baptist Laity Institute's Baptist Distinctives course, he told me that he wouldn't permit me to teach the session dealing with the Fundamentalist Takeover.

A few of my other concerns: the huge floor-to-ceiling American flag that was unfurled on patriotic holidays to completely cover the stained-glass window - with Jesus at its center - above and behind the chancel; the pastor's use of the pulpit to go on a tirade against the critics of George W. Bush at the beginning of the Iraq War; and the pastor's edict in the fall of 2003 - again issued from the pulpit - that women would no longer be permitted to teach men in Sunday School, accompanied by his declaration that God would 'prune' from the church anyone who dared disagree with this decision.

To more fully understand what George and Wilshire have meant in our lives, back up for a moment to the early 1970s. As I said, this post is a very personal reflection.

As a student at Oklahoma Baptist University, I went through a wrenching faith struggle. I had publicly professed my faith at 10 and grown up very active in Baptist churches and with parents who were the two most faithful Christians I have known. But my understanding of faith was built on pretty shaky ground and, early in my sophomore year at OBU, the bottom fell out of it. As I then set out to search for a belief system (not sure I was looking for faith at that point) I could call my own, a friend in the dorm, Ron Russey, suggested I go see the pastor of University Baptist Church across the street, Jerry Barnes.

It was the very best thing I could have done. Jerry Barnes became not only a friend and counselor to me along my journey, my 'search,' but his preaching made me dig deeper for understanding than I had ever dug before.

Fast-forward back to that day in May 2004. That evening, I called Joanna - back home in Plano - and told her, "For almost 30 years, I've been looking for another Jerry Barnes. Today I may have found him." What I meant was a pastor who would make me dig deep for biblical truth and understanding - as Jerry had many years before. Though I had come a long way on the journey of faith since those days at OBU, I felt I had - in many ways - stagnated for a long period, sitting in Sunday School classes where the only questions asked were those with pat answers, listening to a pastor who had become a dictator imposing his own theology on the congregation. I had been looking - longing - for another Jerry Barnes, someone who didn't profess to have all the answers, someone who could occasionally utter the phrase, "I don't know" or "I'm not sure."

Jerry and George are two very distinct personalities, but they share those qualities of grace, honesty, intellectual curiosity, and a faith of great depth and conviction.

On July 4, 2004, Joanna and I drove to Wilshire to visit for the first time. On our way there, Joanna said, "I'm not sure I want to drive a half-hour to church every week." Then, after hearing George preach, we hadn't even reached the parking lot when Joanna said, "I want to come back here."

George had preached a sermon entitled "The Cross and the Flag." It was an innovative sermon, in which he interrupted himself three times for us to sing three great old hymns - hymns that had often been viewed as patriotic and militaristic, but for which he now gave us new understandings, interpreting them in terms of our relationship with God. He also provided a completely different understanding of the relationship between patriotism and our Christian faith than we had observed at our church in Plano.

It was - and I mean this in a sense that could almost be felt physically and viscerally - a breath of fresh air overcoming the stagnant air of our past. That summer, Wilshire had a series of Sunday evening events in Fellowship Hall. In one, George treated the then-popular Left Behind books and movie; in fact, he discussed that whole "Left Behind" theology with an understanding that, to my mind, was much more consistent with the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ than the understanding we had heard at our church. On another Sunday evening, George sat on a stool for an hour-and-a-half, fielding any question that people wanted answered. What impressed me the most was that, when George would be asked some question dealing with theology, he displayed an honesty and humility I found rare in a pastor in that he occasionally answered, "I don't know" or "I'm not sure." That was different than the environment we had encountered over the previous decade-and-a-half.

Looking back, I'm not sure why it took us until August 29 to join, except that we had rushed into our previous choice of a church home in 1987; this time, we wanted to make sure. All I know is that, once we made the decision to join Wilshire, we've been thankful ever since.

In the months to come, we would hear women preach, baptize, and both administer and serve the Lord's Supper. Women preachers and women deacons! When George would speak in his sermons about women's roles in the home and the church - as being the same and equal roles that men have - I would find myself in tears and would reach over and squeeze Joanna's hand; after 10 years, that still happens, for - as much as I try - I still haven't shed the baggage I carried into Wilshire in 2004.

That fall, we visited a Sunday School class called Epiphany. Almost 10 years later, we're still there - it's a class that knows no pat answers. It's a class that asks questions - of the Bible, of the teachers, of each other. We challenge each other, but we also love each other. What a blessing that class has been in our lives! We usually walk out of there with more questions than answers - and that's a good thing. It means we're no longer stagnant; instead, we have things to think about during the coming week. Driving to lunch after church, Joanna and I often find ourselves discussing some of the questions raised in class that morning. That's a very good thing!

So this isn't just about George, it's about Wilshire. But it all comes back to George, because he has encouraged a community where it's safe to ask questions and it's safe to say "I don't know" or "I'm not sure"; a community that is committed to Christ's Lordship rather than to one man's theology.

George has become a great friend to me, and he was a friend to Texas Baptists Committed long before I came along. I'm thankful that his commitment to TBC continues. He has been very supportive of this work and my role in it. He and Kim give generously to TBC, and he has led Wilshire to do the same. I'm very appreciative of that.

George and Wilshire are also good friends to the T. B. Maston Foundation for Christian Ethics, which I chair. In fact, the Foundation has held its last several biennial Awards Dinners in Wilshire's beautiful Community Hall; it has been the perfect place for these dinners, and we appreciate the gracious welcome that George and Wilshire have extended to us.

Much more has been said about George in celebrations this weekend - particularly his contribution as a leading pastor in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and chairing the search committee that chose Suzii Paynter as executive coordinator; and even moreso his contribution to Baptist life in pioneering the Pathways to Ministry program at Wilshire - since spread to other churches - in which Wilshire serves as a teaching congregation, mentoring young ministers in a two-year residency, giving them opportunities to learn and perform pastoral responsibilities. This program has been a great blessing not only to these young residents but to us as a church as well.

Beyond all of this, however, what our family will always appreciate most about George is the morning of April 2 of last year, when he showed up at Medical Center of McKinney at 6 AM to pray with us. Our son, Travis, lay in critical condition after suffering a stroke the night before. In less than 2 hours, Travis would undergo surgery that would save his life. We needed the pastoring George gave us that day and will always be grateful for his care and concern.

Thank you, George, for your friendship and encouragement, and congratulations on 25 years as Wilshire's senior pastor. Thanks be to God for George Mason.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

From the TBC archives: by DAVID R. CURRIE (2008) -
The Danger of Politics in the Pulpit

Texas Baptists Committed has hundreds of articles archived on our Web site (, mostly from the TBC (print) Newsletter (1993-2009); David R. Currie's A Rancher's Rumblings (2007-2009); and Baptist Reflections (2008-2009). Much of this material, though originally presented years ago, is still relevant to our lives and circumstances today. TBC will be presenting archived articles from time to time on our blog.

The following article appeared in the October 2008 issue of the TBC Newsletter.
With the presidential election only about 5 weeks away – and early voting right around the corner in many areas, I urge all of you to make the effort to vote and to vote your principles and values. Every voter should be a “values voter.”

And pastors should preach what the Bible has to say about values. And churches should seek to carry out Biblical values, as they understand them, in all of the work that they do. However, pastors and churches should not be in the business of advising you how to cast your vote.

This past weekend, something happened that was unconscionable. Encouraged by an organization called the Alliance Defense Fund, 33 pastors endorsed a presidential candidate from the pulpit in violation of federal law. Organizations that receive tax-exempt status are prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. That is the law, and it is a good law – both for the political process and for the church.

No, this does not restrict a preacher from speaking from the pulpit about what he or she believes the Bible says about issues and values. I have preached many sermons addressing what I believe to be biblical teachings on ethical issues. That is my right – my legal right – just as it is the right of every preacher in this country, and we should fight any attempt to restrict what a preacher can say from the pulpit regarding biblical teachings, even when they deal with issues that have political overtones.

But endorsing a political candidate from the pulpit is something I believe is horribly wrong and destructive, not just from a church-state perspective, but from a Kingdom–local church perspective.

It is said that, if you get two Baptists together in one room, you get three opinions. So it is the rare – perhaps even nonexistent – church whose members all support one political party or one candidate. That’s a good thing. A healthy church is a church of unified mission but diverse opinions. I have friends in my home church who I know plan to vote differently than I do, and none of us would stand for it if our pastor were to endorse either candidate from the pulpit. Thank God we have a pastor who would never do such a thing.

Not all of San Angelo is so fortunate. One of our local San Angelo pastors was one of the 33 who followed the Alliance Defense Fund’s strategy last Sunday.

But hear me again on this. Preaching on biblical ethical issues is appropriate. Good, prophetic preaching challenges Christians to think about what the Bible says and what it means in their day-to-day lives. That is good Baptist theology, encouraging persons to think for themselves and interpret the Scriptures for themselves.

But engaging in partisan politics, especially to the point of endorsing a political candidate, is wrong and destructive to God’s Kingdom.

What is the next step? Will we rename our churches the First Democratic Baptist Church of Paint Rock or the Grace Republican Baptist Church of Dallas? That would be unthinkable – but no more unthinkable than what those 33 pastors did last Sunday.

This kind of partisan political preaching spreads from the pulpit to the pew and poisons relationships in the church body.

A person’s decision to vote for either McCain or Obama is not the test of whether that person is a committed Christian who believes the Bible and loves Jesus. Strong Christians will and do vote differently, and that is normal and healthy.

No matter if you and your best friend disagree, it does not make either of you right or more spiritual than the other.

Whoever wins, all of us – as Christian citizens of this country – should pray for him as our president, realizing that either can accomplish much good – or much harm.

The Kingdom of God is bigger than America, American politics, and any political party or organization or individual. Yes, government policies and activities can help to carry out values that are biblical, both in America and around the world, but keep two things in mind – one, those policies and activities should represent all Americans, not just Christians; and two, God is not limited by government activity.

Practicing Christian citizenship is important and biblical, but we must always be humble, gracious, and respectful in sharing our human opinions. Always remember that none of us knows the mind of God perfectly. “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I serve on the Board of The Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C. I love this organization and what it stands for and works for in protecting religious liberty.

Its Web site,, has posted a pledge that it is asking members of the clergy to sign. It is a pledge that is based on principles that are faithful to the Bible, our Baptist heritage, and the U. S. Constitution. It includes a promise to refrain from endorsing political candidates “in or on behalf of our house of worship.” I encourage all ministers to read this pledge and sign it. To sign the pledge, go to Here is the pledge, as it appears on the Web site of The Interfaith Alliance:
I Pledge...
  • To educate members of our congregation about how our faith relates to issues of the day.
  • To refrain from endorsing any candidate, either explicitly or implicitly, in or on behalf of our house of worship.
  • To prevent partisan speech from candidates or their surrogates, as well as the distribution of partisan materials, in our house of worship.
  • To resist using or soliciting the resources of our house of worship for the exclusive benefit of any candidate or party.
  • To respect candidates whose religious beliefs are different from my own, and stand against the use of religion to divide our communities.
  • To encourage members of our congregation to take an active role in civic life, including casting informed votes.
Click here to sign this pledge.

The Interfaith Alliance does work that is essential not only to protecting religious liberty but to encouraging dialogue among those of different faiths. Times of financial crisis are hard times for all, including nonprofit organizations such as TBC and The Interfaith Alliance. Please give what you can to support both TBC and The Interfaith Alliance. These groups are working on your behalf. We need your support.

Please vote November 4 as you feel led, and respect those who disagree with you. Just remember – the Kingdom of God is much, much bigger than a political election.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

50 years ago today: LOU BROCK, a trade, and clippings on my wall

Sports idols of our youth - somehow, they're always a part of us.

I didn't really become a baseball fan until I was 11. In July 1962, my parents and I moved to Kansas City, Missouri. A week later, Daddy took me to my first major league baseball game - our KC A's were playing the Yankees of Mantle, Ford, Maris, Richardson, et al. That's all it took, and I was hooked for life.

But the A's were perennially a pretty sorry team in those days. Their cartoonish owner, Charley Finley, was forever trying to move them out of Kansas City; in the offseason between the '63 & '64 seasons, he threatened - in a ploy to get a more favorable lease agreement for KC Municipal Stadium - to move the A's to a cow pasture in Louisville, Kentucky. Ultimately, after four more seasons, he moved them to Oakland, California.

But I discovered, early on, that I could pull in - on the transistor radio my parents bought me in the summer of '63 - a station from St. Joe, KFEQ, that carried the St. Louis Cardinals' games. That year, the Cardinals were battling the LA Dodgers in a tight race for the National League pennant, and I found that it was a lot more fun rooting for a contender than for the sad-sack A's.

Yes, I rooted for the A's, but I decided pretty quickly that the Cardinals were my great love. Late that season, they put on a dramatic surge, winning 19 of 20 to pull to within a game of the Dodgers, but never quite caught them. The Dodgers of Koufax and Drysdale went on to a four-game sweep of the mighty Yankees in the World Series that year.

But that didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the Cardinals. They were my team!

Then, in June 1964, something happened to put a face on those Cardinals for me - a player who would become, for me, even larger than the team.

Nowadays the trade deadline is July 31, but back then it was June 15. On June 15, 1964, I was away at a science & nature camp for which my parents had signed me up. (From my perspective today, as a seasoned parent and grandparent, I totally understand - they wanted a couple of weeks of peace and quiet!) To be truthful, I hated that camp. Nature hikes, learning how to identify different flora and fauna? I even wrote a song while I was there, which I had the whole camp singing by the time it was over; I titled it, "I wanna get out of camp," which was also the lyrics - one line, repeated over and over ad nauseam, "I wanna get out of camp." No, originality and creativity weren't exactly my thing back then.

One thing that made the camp bearable, however, was turning on my transistor radio and listening to the Cardinals' games. One night, the Cardinals' legendary broadcasters Harry Caray and Jack Buck were telling about a new leftfielder who had just come to the Cardinals at the trade deadline, in a trade with the Chicago Cubs.

Yes, June 15, 1964 - fifty years ago today.

That leftfielder's name? LOU BROCK

I had barely heard of Lou before that time, didn't know a thing about him, except that the Cardinals had traded a pretty good pitcher, Ernie Broglio, to get him. But it didn't take me long to embrace the trade - and the player. You see, Johnny Keane, the Cardinals' manager, DID know a few things about Lou Brock. Most of all, he knew that this kid - who would turn 25 three days after the trade - had two of the quickest feet in major league baseball; not only that, he knew how to use them on base to get in a pitcher's head, throw off the pitcher's rhythm and timing. And he knew how to run! Oh, did he know how to run . . . and run . . . and run!

So when Lou came to the Cardinals, the first thing Johnny Keane did was to turn him loose. Most players didn't steal a base without a sign from the base coach or the dugout. But Johnny told Lou he didn't need a sign. He trusted Lou's own instincts, and he wanted Lou to take advantage of those instincts.

It didn't take but just a few days - I was still at camp - for me to fall in love with the way this kid played baseball. It brought to mind Pepper Martin of the Cardinals' old Gas House Gang back in the '30s, which I had read about. (I knew - and know - my baseball history, folks; I devoured it when I was growing up.) I loved that style of baseball - and still do!

Untethered and turned loose, Lou started running. Immediately! Within just a few days after that trade, I decided Lou Brock was my favorite player.

Before long, I was clipping pictures from the newspaper of Lou stealing bases. Those pictures wound up plastered all over the walls of my bedroom as I was growing up.

I had a couple of other sports heroes in those years, too, and they rank today as my second and third favorite athletes of all time. As I said in beginning this post, the sports heroes of our youth tend to stick with us. No matter how many others come along to divert our attention as the years go by, those sports heroes we grew up idolizing can never be replaced.

For me, those other two athletes were Muhammad Ali and Len Dawson. Daddy and I listened (and watched, if possible, though few of his fights were shown live) together to all of Ali's fights, beginning with the 1964 bout in which Ali took the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston. Then we would watch the analysis on ABC's Wide World of Sports, where Ali would sit down and banter with Howard Cosell. Ali was larger than life. It wasn't that I was a boxing fan. Truth be told, I haven't watched a fight in over 30 years. I felt like, after Ali retired, what's the point?

Len Dawson was the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Dallas Texans of the American Football League had moved from Dallas to KC after the 1962 season, and I fell in love with the Chiefs just as quickly as I had with the baseball Cardinals. "Lenny the Cool," as some had nicknamed him, was an exceptionally gifted quarterback, and was truly a cool customer. He wound up leading the Chiefs to the first Super Bowl against the Packers and winning the fourth one over the Vikings.

But neither Ali nor Dawson could match Lou Brock in my esteem. Maybe it was because I love baseball more than football or boxing. All I know is that I'll always be thankful to Bing Devine, the Cardinals' general manager at the time, for pulling off that trade, because Lou sure gave me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

Back to 1964. Lou was hitting .251 for the Cubs at the time of the trade, with 10 stolen bases. After coming to the Cardinals, he hit .348 the rest of the season (raising his overall batting average for the season to .315), with 33 stolen bases. In the last 10 days of the season, the Cardinals made a mad dash to the National League pennant.

This was the year of the infamous collapse of the Phillies, led by Manager Gene Mauch, who led the National League by 6-1/2 games with only two weeks left. In a classic case of overmanaging, especially with a comfortable lead, Mauch tried to squeeze an extra start out of each of his top starting pitchers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, by starting them on short rest. It backfired! The Phillies ended up tied for second place with the Reds, and the Cardinals won the pennant on the last day of the season.

So it was the Cardinals who would meet those mighty Yankees. In fact, 1964 would turn out to be the last hurrah for the Yankees of that era. From 1949-1964, they appeared in 14 of 16 World Series, missing only in 1954 & 1959, winning nine of those 14. But several of their key players had grown old together. Now Yogi Berra was a player-manager, with the emphasis on manager; Mickey Mantle's knees, a problem ever since he tripped on a drainpipe during a game in 1951, were becoming increasingly painful (I saw him in a game on Memorial Day 1964 in KC, and he was taken out early in the game, which had become typical when the Yankees got a big lead early); and age was starting to take its toll on Whitey Ford, too.

The Cardinals beat the Yankees in seven games. Lou Brock was one of the main forces in their win, hitting .300 with a homer, two doubles, five RBIs, but no stolen bases.

Those Cardinals of Lou Brock and Bob Gibson wound up going to three World Series in five years, winning another seven-game series in 1967 against the Red Sox and losing in seven games to the Tigers in 1968. In that 1967 series, Lou set a World Series record with seven stolen bases. He tied his own record against the Tigers in 1968. Almost 50 years later, no player has ever matched that record. In three World Series, Lou compiled a batting average of .391 in 87 at-bats, a record that still stands in 2014 for all players who have more than 75 at-bats in World Series play.

By the time Lou retired at the end of the 1979 season, he had amassed 938 stolen bases, a major league record that has since been eclipsed by only Rickey Henderson, though Lou is still the National League record-holder. In 1974, he set the record for stolen bases in a season, 118, another record that has been broken only once, by Rickey Henderson. Lou is still the only player in baseball history to collect 50 or more stolen bases in 12 consecutive seasons. Henderson never came close to even tying that record. In 1967, he became the first player in history to steal 50 bases and hit 20 home runs in the same season. Finally, on August 13, 1979, he became only the 14th player in history to get 3,000 base hits in a career. That, along with the stolen base records, puts him in an elite class of baseball players.

In 1985, his first year eligible, Lou was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

On Good Friday 2001, I was driving in Dallas, listening to Mike Rhyner and Greg Williams' "Hardline" show on "The Ticket" sports talk radio station. They mentioned that "the great Lou Brock" would be with them after a station break. So I kept it tuned there. When they returned from break, they explained that Lou would be appearing later that afternoon, from 4-5:30, at the Blockbuster at Skillman & Abrams. He would be signing autographs as a promotion for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, tied into MasterCard. MasterCard had created a special card featuring Lou Brock's picture; MasterCard would be donating a specified amount to Boys & Girls Clubs of America for every Lou Brock MasterCard "purchased."

Well, that's all I had to hear! I hurried home to Plano and went through my old Cardinals memorabilia. I found a 1967 Sports Illustrated featuring Lou and his teammates on the cover - the first starting nine (including their ace pitcher, Bob Gibson) to total over $1 million in salary; keep in mind that I said "total." It was a different day and age. Then I found a Cardinals Yearbook from 1965.

I gathered up those two items and hurried back to Dallas, searching for that Blockbuster. I pulled up at 5:25 p.m., with only 5 minutes to spare. I went in, and there he was - big as life - Lou Brock. There was one person talking to him, and no one else in line. When it was my turn, I took the opportunity to tell him how much enjoyment he had given me over the years - especially in the '60s, when I was growing up - and ask for his autograph on my memorabilia. His wife, Jackie, was helping him with the MasterCard sign-up. So I agreed to sign up for a MasterCard; after all, it gave me more time to stand there and chat with him. He thumbed through the Cardinals Yearbook, commenting, "Boy, this really takes me back!"

When I finished signing up for the MasterCard, Jackie tore off the part of the application that she didn't need and handed it to Lou, saying, "Here, sign this one for him, too." (Jackie was very friendly and helpful; thanks for getting me the extra autograph, Jackie!) So I got three autographs!

Then three teenaged boys walked up and just kind of looked at Lou, trying to figure out what was going on. Jackie asked them, "Do you guys know who Lou Brock is?" They shook their heads - they had no clue. That was the opening I was waiting for. I turned to them and said, "He's the greatest ballplayer who ever played the game!" I know I totally embarrassed Lou, but I loved it! A moment later, Lou said, "Well, I guess it's time for us to close up shop here." So I shook his hand one more time, leaned over, and said, "One more thing, Lou. Rickey Henderson couldn't carry your cleats!" He just grinned, and I left. As soon as I got to my car, I called Daddy, because Daddy and I enjoyed sharing our love for baseball through the years, and he knew just how much Lou Brock had meant to me.
A few months later, Joanna and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Aided by our son, Travis, she bought me a present - a framed photo of Lou Brock on his way to pilfering another base. It hangs in my study to this day.

To this day, most baseball experts consider the Ernie Broglio-for-Lou Brock trade the most lopsided trade in baseball history. Thank you, Bing Devine!

Three days from now, Lou - who today, with his wife Jackie, leads a Christian ministry - will turn 75. Happy birthday, Lou . . . and thanks for the memories.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fresh expressions . . . of TBC (part 2)

In addition to introducing a new TBC logo, this week we've given the home page of TBC's Web site an 'extreme makeover'; thankfully, it was much less expensive than the 'extreme makeovers' you see on cable TV.

The cluttered, text-heavy look of the old home page has been replaced by . . .

  • 3 quick-click buttons at the top
    • What is TBC?
    • Join/Renew/Donate
    • Join Our Mailing List
followed by . . .
  • 3 rows containing 9 major navigation categories
    • Help for Pastor Search Committees
    • TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup e-Newsletter
    • Texas Baptists Committed Blog
    • Videos
    • TBC on YouTube
    • Article Archives
    • TBC Mission Statement
    • Current TBC Update
    • Other Baptist Sites
Finally, at the bottom of the page are four photo boxes, continually cross-fading (a Web term I learned during this process) between photos of just a few of the folks who have been a part of TBC life through the years.

I hope you'll find TBC's new home page not only welcoming and attractive, but easier to use and helpful in your own journey as a Baptist. Whether you live in Texas or Georgia or North Carolina or Virginia, or even Africa or the United Kingdom (yes, our TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup has readers in all these places), if you are committed to staying true to historic Baptist principles of truth and freedom in Christ, you are a Texas Baptist in spirit.

The folks shown in those photos at the bottom of our home page are representative of the thousands who have supported TBC and worked to carry out its mission over the years. If you are a TBC supporter, count yourself among them, for you are TBC.

Fresh expressions . . . of TBC (part 1)

For some time, I've been intrigued and impressed with the work of Fresh Expressions, a movement that began in England, and has been brought to the US by Virginia Baptists. Fresh Expressions encourages creativity and innovation in worship and, generally, "doing church."

Maybe Fresh Expressions was on my mind when I began thinking about a new logo for Texas Baptists Committed (TBC). In recent years, TBC has been faced with the need to develop fresh expressions of its mission and its work.

Why the need? The reasons are varied. Fatigue among Baptists weary of past battles; the presence of generations who view those battles of the 1980s & 1990s as irrelevant to their expression of faith in the 21st century; vast changes in Texas Baptist life; shifts in societal attitudes; drastic changes in communications - all of these have made it necessary for all Baptist entities to be creative and innovative . . . to create fresh expressions.

TBC's major change in recent years has been to shift our focus from the convention level to the church level, because the Southern Baptists of Texas are aggressively and relentlessly targeting Texas Baptist churches for their campaign of misinformation and control.

We're also working to encourage today's students and young adults, and to help them find places of leadership; many of them are ready to lead, and we need their fresh expressions to carry forward the cause of Christ, together with historic Baptist principles, for decades to come.

But what about TBC's logo? One logo has served us well for many years. It was right for another day, but now our logo needs a fresh expression . . . with warmer and brighter colors, and a text that proclaims our mission.

So the new logo is a fresh expression of who we are at TBC and what we do. It pictures a cross bathed in a brilliant light, symbolizing Christ, the Light of the world. At the foot of the cross are people, standing together in unity . . . through the Light of the world. The text reads, "tbc . . . standing together for truth and freedom in Christ."

The logo is a fresh expression of who we have been from our beginning. TBC is you . . . and we will continue to stand together for truth and freedom in Christ.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

PHIL STRICKLAND (2005): Where have all the prophets gone?

(NOTE: The late Phil Strickland, who served as director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission for over 25 years, prepared this address for presentation to the 2005 Texas Baptists Committed Breakfast at the BGCT in Austin. Because Phil's illness prevented him from attending, his friend and pastor George Mason delivered the address.)

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various tongues.…” (1 Cor. 12:27-29)

Prophets! I thought we got rid of them a long time ago. Actually, I haven’t seen many around lately. Where have all the prophets gone?

You may remember the Pete Seeger song made popular by Peter, Paul and MaryWhere Have All the Flowers Gone. Well, I think we need new words to that tune. On any given Sunday morning in a Baptist church there are plenty of flowers in front of the pulpit, but not a prophet to be found behind it.

Where have all the prophets gone?

Lord knows we need them. Consider:
—One half the world is living on $2 a day. But that’s the other half, right? They are used to that;

—25% of our Texas children living in poverty. But that’s other people’s children, right? Figure that’s the way God thinks of them?

—Religious liberty is being lost without our seeming to notice. It’s oozing away through our fingers like a fist full of sand until we open it all too late to discover there is not much of it left in our grasp;

—And then there’s the dramatic and continuing shift of the world’s wealth away from the poor and the middle class to the largest corporations and the wealthiest people. But not to worry, we can trust them to do the right thing with all that money, right? After all, the marketplace evens everything out in the end. Isn’t that where we can depend upon the “invisible hand” of God to work? Or was that just Adam Smith’s hand?

—Environmental regulations are disappearing every day. But we are given by God the right to have dominion over all the earth, aren’t we? Well, something like that;

—And what about another tax cut of $70 billion that will be funded by $50 billion of cuts to children? That proposal will probably be passed by the House this week and is supported by the administration. 300,000 people will lose food stamps and another 300,000 will lose access to daycare. The bill cuts Medicaid by $45 billion when we already have 45 million people who have no health insurance. Something tells me that’s not what Jesus meant by “Suffer the little children ….”

Where have all the prophets gone?
Have they all disappeared? Or is it possible that some of them are around but aren’t doing their job? Is it possible that God is still appointing them, but not many of us want the job? I mean, we know what happened to Jonah, and the belly of a whale doesn’t sound like fun, does it?

Walter Brueggemann is one of our best Old Testament scholars. In books like his wonderful work, The Prophetic Imagination (and Finally Comes the Poet), he doesn’t let us relegate prophecy to biblical times. Prophets are not obsolete, although they seem rather rare these days, despite the great need for them in our churches and in our world.

I want to suggest that pretty much all of us are called to have an element of the prophet in us. Yes, I understand that is not the primary role for many of us, but I’m thinking that being overcrowded with prophets is not our problem right now.

I’m suggesting that for pastors, for example, as we call them to the role of pastor/ preacher, we might also want to add the word prophet —pastor/ preacher/ prophet. Such pastors will value our values and will fight for them. The title of prophet might even apply to laymen, or, God forbid, to a denomination! These groups, with a little prophetic imagination, could become the cutting edge of the prophetic in our society, rather than the six to eight “prophets” we hear on TV whose prophetic imagination is limited to Armageddon. These genuine prophets would be ready and willing to confront the principalities and powers, whether they be school boards, city councils, the legislature, Congress, or even our own Baptist institutions.

But seldom do I go to churches and hear prophetic, or even strong ethical preaching. And the brave pastors that want me to preach for them often say a word to me before I go. It goes something like this: “Now, Phil, our church is not really in a place where it can deal with anything controversial.” Which tells me that they don’t want to do anything that involves risk. Which tells me that no prophecy is happening there since prophecy always contains an element of risk!

Back to our $70 billion tax cut being currently being considered, funded partially, as I said, with $50 billion being cut from programs that are used for poor children. If the pastor as prophet wanted to point out the injustice of that, how would that go over with some of the members of the church?

Well, I think I can answer that for Phil. They would cry “Politics!” They would suddenly become strict church-state separationists. Of course, what they really are saying is that they don’t want God and government to go together if it’s not their brand of politics. I’ll also tell you that there’s a widespread feeling in many church pews that has to be challenged. People think government is by nature always bad and needs constraining. They think government is lousy at caring for the poor and that that’s really the church’s business. But I can tell you that I have never once seen a line of those folks forming at my door begging for ways to give the church more money to care for the poor or eager to start new ministries that would do it better than the government.

So what is happening to prophetic voices? What is the juggler that trumps the pastoral voice? Is it lack of courage? Or ambition? Courage and ambition seldom hang out together. Or is it just the desire not to rock any boats?

When John F. Kennedy was in Berlin in 1963 for the birth of the German Peace Corps, he cited a passage from Dante’s Inferno in his speech.

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintained their neutrality.”

It was actually a liberal paraphrase. What Dante actually singled out were “those disembodied wretches who were loth when living, to be either blamed or praised.” He said that Heaven cast them out for fear of losing its beauty; and Hell didn’t want them either, lest the wicked should glory over them. (Canto 3)

Prophecy requires the capacity to grieve about injustice, to quit pretending that things are all right, to imagine that things could be different, and courageously to say so to the people, risking the consequences. It requires confronting the principalities and powers.

For compassion to move to action requires an alliance of love, power, and justice. As Paul Tillich said: “In both interpersonal and political relationships, love, power and justice are inseparable. Without love, power becomes tyrannical and justice is only a name for the rule of strong. Without power, love is reduced to sentimentality and justice to an impotent ideal. Without justice, love is a perverse dance of domination and submission.”

Always, the prophet must be imaginative. One does not prophesy about what is but about what ought to be. Which usually makes prophecy sound absurd to the common ear.

Let me give you an example. A pastor mentioned to me that he did not like the beginning of our CLC flyer, that it could cause controversy in his church. Here are the words, aptly authored by Joe Haag, so I’ll brag about his work:

“To follow Christ means that we allow his life to gain leverage against our lives. Against our lust for power, he endures the cross. Against our pride and arrogance, he washes the disciples’ feet. Against our upward mobility, he preaches good news to the poor. Against our self absorption, he has compassion on the multitudes. Against our tight circles of family and friends, he reaches out to strangers. Against our safe noninvolvement, he confronts the powers. Against our violence and hatred, he demands that we love our enemies. Against our self righteousness, he welcomes sinners. Against our bigotry, he tells us about a Good Samaritan. Against our frenzy, he invites us to trust God. Against all the lies which enslave us, he tells the truth which sets us free. How can we be transformed into the image of Christ? One answer is that as we surrender our lives to God’s purposes, God changes us.”
That pastor did not like the words “our pride and arrogance” or “against our self absorption.” He said, “I’m not going to say either one of those about America.” Which means, what, that he accepts the Lordship of America? Who will be left to speak a word for the Lordship of Christ?

I was amazed yesterday to meet one of our church’s first time messengers in hallway outside the meeting. She was running to and fro trying to find a way to resolve her anger. She is Iranian by birth and has been in this country only seven years. She is a Christian convert from Islam and is now in seminary.

She asked me breathlessly, “Did you see it? Did you see that flag processional? Can you believe they brought the American flag in ahead of the Christian flag and all the other flags of nations after that? And the American flag was higher than the Christian flag. That is idolatry!”

She is right, and I am embarrassed that it took someone so new to the faith and to our country and to us Baptists to even notice. She didn’t know whether she needed to bring a resolution or a motion, but since a motion calls for action, I hope we move that that never happen again in a Baptist meeting.

We need more laypeople like that. Mercy, is there any possibility that this prophecy notion might even apply to them? What’s happened to those laity with a prophetic word? What is trumping the laity’s ability to discern the differences in the present culture and the Kingdom of God? Could it be that we are so consumed by consumerism that we have little power to believe or to act. Do we live in this cultural imagination rather than a Kingdom imagination?

Consumerism, the thing that tells us to go shopping to solve all our problems, must be addressed in our churches. The barnacles of consumerism grow on us day after day until our hope of hearing Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” is slim indeed.

Now here I need to start with confession time. The boat is used and the motorcycle is several years old, but I do not lack for toys. This applies to all of us.

And we need to remember that for many of our Baptist brothers and sisters, consumerism is not the issue. It’s survival. Like the fellow we met outside the Dixie House where we had just had dinner with our friends Bob and Judy Coleman. He was asking in his wheelchair how to find the nearest homeless shelter. People like these are often invisible to us. We have to intentionally put ourselves in places where we can see them. Prophets have that kind of vision. They see things and people we otherwise do not see, and they tell us about them.

We desperately need a “theology of enough.” We are stewards, not owners, of what we have, at least in Christian teaching. So do we have any walls around what we will spend on ourselves? Do we have any sense of enough for ourselves? That’s where the prophets will emerge.

Ah, but what about one more—denominations. Should they take risk and speak prophetically or declare that the only real role of the denomination is meeting the need of the churches who are a member of the BGCT? To me the answer is easy. Meeting the will of churches, vital as it is, comes in behind one other: listening for and meeting the will of God.

What trumps the prophetic role in denominations is fear of financial loss, and the lack of understanding what crosses they are willing to die on, if any. What is so compelling that a denomination will stand there and ignore the consequences? Do we know the answer to that question? The question must be asked of laypeople and pastors and churches.

A half century ago in this very city some of the brightest lights of Baptists shone in church pulpits. One of the brightest was Blake Smith, pastor of the University Baptist Church. One Sunday morning he stood tall in that pulpit and declared that it was past time that the University of Texas open its doors to all Texas citizens. The time for integration had come. What’s more, he said to his all-white church, the time had come for University Baptist Church to open its doors to all for whom Christ died.

Well, right after the benediction the predictable took place. An emergency deacons meeting was called for that afternoon. For hours those men grumbled on about what the preacher had said that morning, about whether he had the right to say those things, about the autonomy of the local church to decide who would and who would not be its members, about whether Blake Smith ought to be their pastor at all. After a long while, the moderator looked to the back of the room where an old respected judge was sitting quietly. The man said, “Judge, we haven’t heard from you on this matter. What do you think?” The judge rose to his feet and said solemnly, “Well, boys, you know I don’t like what our pastor said this morning any more than any of the rest of you. But I think Jesus liked it a lot.” Motion to adjourn.

Where have all the prophets gone?