Remembering Mom

Judy Elaine Harris peacefully transitioned to her her eternal rest in the presence of the LORD at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, MO Wednesday morning, April 22, 2020. Born October 6th, 1946 in Durham, North Carolina to Elaine and John Hunziker.  She graduated from Watson Chapel High School in 1964, and years later after raising her son, began a new journey in education, earning her Batchelor of Arts in English Language from UAPB (1988), and the MA in English Language from the University of Dallas in 1992, then served as a professor of English at El Centro College (Dallas), Oakland University College (Rochester Hills, MI), Schoolcraft College (Lovonia, MI),  and Lone Star Community College (University Park & Tomball, TX)), from which she retired in 2011.

And while Judy was a committed mom and granny, faithfully praying for her son IMG_4688(Michael Battenfield, Highfill, AR), daughter (Tracy Harris, Sterling Heights, MI)43346151_10217450635724014_6701318273721434112_n, grandson (Anthony Fowlkes of Austin, TX), and granddaughters (Anna & Selah Battenfield of Highfill, AR), she was equally engaged in trying to make a difference in the lives of those around her, whether it be her church family (Thank you Stoney Creek Church, Utica, MI), or the great cloud of friends she had accumulated. In fact, most who knew her, knew that once you were her friend, you were thought of as family. Quick to both love and forgive, she often gave far more of herself than she had to give, She also generously supported several causes dear to her heart including campaigns against drunk driving, the arts, and education.

Judy was preceded in death by her parents, John and Elaine Hunziker, and her husband of 26 years, her “Bubby” – William Robert Harris, the love of her life who she so longed to see again.220462_1712803056482_5684683_o In addition to her son, step-daughter, and grandchildren, Judy is survived by her brother J. Emil Hunziker (San Antonio, TX).

But no more important truth about Judy, was her love for Jesus Christ as her very real and personal Savior. Indeed, it was this love for Christ that truly empowered her love for others.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, May 9, 2020 at 1:00PM at First Baptist Church, Cave Springs, AR, and a second memorial service and internment will be held in Michigan as soon as the Governor allows.

For those wishing to celebrate mom’s life, in lieu of flowers, may make a contribution to any of the following:

  • First Baptist Church, PO Box 175, Cave Springs, AR. 72718 or CLICK HERE
  • Stoney Creek Church, 45835 Van Dyke Ave. Utica, MI 48317 or CLICK HERE
  • BMA Seminary, PO Box 670, Jacksonville, TX 75766 or CLICK HERE
  • Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, PO Box 332161, Nashville, TN. 37203 or CLICK HERE

 

I Hate Obituaries

I hate obituaries, and I won’t apologize for saying so.  I do recognize the need for something to combine a death notice with a relatively short life overview that the people who knew the deceased might confirm and acknowledge the loss. Yet I have never read an obituary that has really done justice to the person who has passed away. Some are so brief and cold that there is no indication of who the person was. Others are flowing dedications that essentially try to compliment a person right through the pearly gates, often coming across as pompous. Writing an obituary really is an impossible task undertaken by those who are most emotionally impacted by the passing, and who are really in no position to have to think through and process all that might rightly be included in such a dedicatory piece.

As a pastor, I have often been tasked with reading the obituary in the context of a funeral or memorial service. Time after time, I find myself really no better informed of the person or the life they lived than before the reading. After all, how do you summarize the life of someone who maybe lived 50, 60, or even 73 years as my mom did? How do you honor your loved one without painting a false picture? Yet that was the task before me last week as I penned the above.  And as always, I am disgusted with what turned out. Even after dozens of edits and rewrites, I’ve been unable to come to a point that I am happy with it, but it is what it is.

But I still feel compelled to add a bit – to the person my mom really was.  She was a flawed person – just like me.  She made mistakes.  Just like we all do.  Yet through it all, my mom was one of the most consistent, reliable, and honest examples of unconditional love I have ever known.  Over the last week, I have received phone calls, private messages, and texts from her friends, former students, and others who’s life she impacted with her love.

It was my mom who, from very early in my life, instilled in me blinders regarding skin color and culture. She didn’t care what ethnicity you are. She didn’t care about your background – she had a unique ability to see you for the human being God created you as, and the amazing potential in everyone.  She was an ardent hater… of hate.  And she worked in every part of her life to try to help people to be the very best they could be – a trait that helped make her an exemplary teacher… and mom, granny, bonus mom, and faithful friend.

My mom was one of the greatest examples of a prayer warrior I have ever known – faithfully lifting up each and every request before the throne of God – beginning with me.  Indeed, I credit my mom’s faithful and relentless prayers for me even being alive today – and continue to give thanks for God’s answers to her prayers even as I try in earnest to glorify His holy name in all that I do.

Another unique trait my mom passed on was her heart for those who became her family.  You see, my mom never quit seeing my dad’s family as still “family” and her love for them never diminished, even after my mom and dad divorced and both remarried.  My cousins remained her nieces and nephews. My aunts and uncles were still her brothers and sisters in-law (and the “in-law” part never really meant anything to her). But extending even beyond literal family, was my mom’s undying love for what we refer to in our family as “extended family” – those who may not be blood relatives, but are every bit as much family because… they are equally loved.  Indeed, while I was an only child by birth, my closest friends growing up, including Matthew Haustein and Arthur Owens were 100% as sons in her world, and she was just as protective and concerned for them as she was me!  When I married Diana, my mom didn’t caller her “daughter-in-law”, she was simply her daughter.  The same for my step-sister Tracy Harris – who mom considered simply her daughter.  No ifs, ands, or buts. Anthony, my nephew through Tracy – was never a “step-grandson” – but simply her grandson, for whom she had a love that was as unconditional and absolute as it was for anyone.

I remember the day that I called mom back what seems like forever ago, to share with her the news that I had surrendered to the ministry. I was somewhat shocked when, through her own tears, stated that she was wondering how long it was going to take for me to figure that calling out.  And the joy in her heart was overwhelming –

I remember the call when we found out our first daughter was to be born significantly

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prematurely. And while she was her usual emotional overflow, she was still a voice ofcalm and faith. And from day 1, was deeply in love with her “Precious Angel Baby”.

And no less was her joy when her second granddaughter, Selah was born.  Granny’s IMG_3116little cowgirl was yet another jewel in her heart.

In August of 2011, Mom and Bob moved back to Michigan to write the next chapter in their lives – with a focus on investing in their grandson Anthony. 12074901_10207850028754840_2360553044091934581_n

Even though her devastating loss of her “Bubby” (Bob Harris), her husband of nearly 26 years to the hands of a drunk driver, she still remained the faithful prayer warrior who was passionate about her family.

The Unexpectedly Short Final Chapter

Last year, she began contemplating one more big move – to sell her condo in Shelby Township and move to Northwest Arkansas to write the final chapter of her life – to similarly invest in the lives of her granddaughters.  In February of this year, she sold her Michigan residence and made the big move.  She was able to find a new home, just 6 miles from our own home in the small town of Gentry. Just as she was beginning to settle in, something happened.  The world, and our nation was turned upside-down by a virus the illness it causes known as COVID-19.  This put a damper on life, but its greatest impact was not direct but indirect.  On Tuesday, April 7, mom called needing me to come take her to the ER.  She was experiencing symptoms of a possible stroke (paralyzed tongue, blurred/double-vision, weakness, balance issues), and her doctor’s office told her to get to the ER as quickly as she could.  I dropped her at the ER and helplessly watched them wheel her into the doors (closed to all but patients and staff due to the virus).  On Thursday morning, mom crashed and had to be resuscitated and moved to ICU.  The hospital called to let me know – and allowed me to come see her that afternoon.  While I was there, she was still responsive though weak.  She had about been weaned from the ventilator, and while I was there, they tested her breathing ability and decided to pull the vent.  Unfortunately, in less than a minute, she stopped breathing and again coded and was resuscitated.  From that point, she never really came back.  She was transferred to Springfield, MO for access to a much more comprehensive neurology department. Yet after multiple MRIs, they simply could not find any evidence of a stroke.  They initially began treating her for Myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that her symptoms seemed to match. yet after intensive treatment, there was no improvement (and initial lab work returned negative). Finally, the CDC was contacted with the one thing nobody had considered – the possibility of botulism. The symptoms, including rapid onset seemed to match, and the CDC even sent the antitoxin to be administered, and samples were sent for testing.  Unfortunately, test results became irrelevant as her condition and prognosis made it all futile. Her written directives were clear, and we had to honor that. So at 10AM on Wednesday, April 22, we said our final goodbyes to mom and watched her slip incredibly peacefully into eternity without so much as a sound, sigh, or gasp… but simply a single tear…

 

I Am Going To Die!

I’m going to die!  I am 100% certain of it – and no doctor can tell me otherwise, nor can they prevent this from happening.

CoronavirusNo, I don’t have COVID-19. No, I’ve not been diagnosed with cancer or some other dread disease.

But Scripture is clear: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:11).  I was born with a death sentence on my life. While I don’t know when that day will come, or even by what means that death will come, it is a date which is already set in stone.   Indeed, even by worrying myself to a frazzle, the same Bible clearly record the words of Jesus: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27)
worry
You see, we all share the same death sentence, totally earned and deserved. For the wages (just payment for) of sin is death
Romans 6:23a.  I will one day draw my last breath and die the first death. Short of the end of the world and the LORD’s return, every single one of us will face that certainty. What comes next is the kicker!

For those who are in Christ – we are partakers of the resurrection – and will be unaffected by the second death –  the eternal condemnation and judgment of a very real Hell and the Lake of Fire – the abode of torment created for Satan and his fallen coconspirators.  For God has made it clear For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)iu-3.jpeg

I not only am completely unable to save myself from this totally justified wrath by the Holy and Righteous creator of all things – but am utterly and hopelessly condemned – BUT…

While I could never in a million years of doing good stuff make up for my sin, God, through His Son Jesus Christ (both fully God and fully man), took on my sins and paid that sin debt on my behalf- All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on 1.jpgHim. (Isaiah 53:6) God Himself paid the debt I owed, taking my sin and shame and carrying it as far as the East is from the West.  And not only that, but He has promised “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37). Even more blessed is that Jesus also said: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30)

And this all is so simple, as to almost be impossible to fathom.  But Scripture says that “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED” (Romans 10:13). But let’s think a moment about what it means to “call upon the name of the LORD” – It isn’t simply like asking someone for a gift. Calling on is at its simplest – when you absolutely and completely trust someone to come through in the very worst of situations – when all people you know might very well fail – KNOWING that GOD alone is there with you – helping you – strengthening you, that you will NEVER be alone. Paul, in quoting the Old Testament passage Deuteronomy 31:6, wrote in Hebrews 13:5 “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.”

“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

Confessing simply means to affirm and be willing to state with absolute certainty that Jesus Christ is LORD (that HE is God, who took your sins in full, paid the price by His death on the cross, carried them away, and was resurrected winning victory over death, and that HE is the King and ruler of your life (he is even if we don’t acknowledge it – but it is a willingness to live it).

Jesus put it even more simply as He was traveling through Galilee calling His first disciples – He simply said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (MARK 1:15). To repent means to literally TURN FROM your sins – reject sin, a change of heart regarding sin and those things that offend God.


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But none of this is even possible on our own – again, I go back to my utter inability to do anything about my sins or to pay for them. You see, God described it way back in Ezekiel this way: “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19)

God begins the work in us, and as part of the greater gift, by drawing us to Himself “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day”. (John 6:44)

That greater gift? It is that Jesus did it all for us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) By God’s Grace (His divine, sovereign will an choice) He draws people of all ages, groups, nations, and people to Himself, gives them than new. Heart of flesh, opens their eyes to see and ears to hear, and gives them the faith to believe and the strength to turn from sin.

I will never, in this life, understand WHY, nor even HOW it all could possibly be –  but that is why it is called faith.  But it isn’t just a blind faith – for history has proven that Jesus Christ was a very real person in time – who made waves throughout the world. We an trust the Bible and how it records it all because, again, history confirms it – and the evidence is overwhelming.

And it is why we can walk without fear – 2 Timothy 1:7 says “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

In fact, God has told us through the pen of Peter: “casting all your anxiety on Cast-Your-CaresHim,because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

And finally, for those who truly trust in Jesus, we have this incredible promise in my own favorite verse of all: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In this, we are not promised an easy life. We are not promised health. We are not promised a lack of pain. He hasn’t promised we won’t face an ugly virus… or even cancer. But HE does promise His children that HE is with us, and that He will use it and work even these hard and dark things – to our good.

And THIS is why – whether its COVID-19/Coronavirus, Cancer, violence, accident, or whatever – I do not fear my last breath. I do not fear what is to come – because God has it all in His perfect hand. And it is in HIM that we can find peace and genuine fulfillment.  And it is my prayer that you too can find “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) Then you too may not fear what this world may bring.

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Apologetics and the Christian Faith

Apologetics: A word that is often misunderstood. It does not in any way point to sorrow or grief or an “apology”. Apologetics is the defense of a belief or system.
 
When we, as Christians, fulfill the command of 2 Timothy 4:2 to “be ready in season and out to give reason for the hope that is in us in Christ Jesus” – we are giving a defense of what we believe (in this case, the “hope” that we have because of what Christ has done – aka “the Gospel”.
 
Apologetics is one of the most often forgotten aspects of what church ministry is supposed to be about. It comprises a major component of “equipping the saints…” (Ephesians 4:12).
 
Ask the typical “Christian” on the street what they believe about _____________, and you may get either a blank stare or a pat answer. But ask WHY they believe it – and the chance of getting a coherent, logical, and evidence-based answer is actually pretty unlikely. Most professed Christians really cannot defend what they lay claim to believing. I won’t delve into the many possible reasons for such an inability, but to actually take the blame as an unappointed, unelected representative of pastors and preachers. We have spent years (decades or more?) giving. information. Telling people what they should believe, and many have done so faithfully and given correct information. But sadly, we often fall short of explaining WHY.
 
In the realm of Christian Apologetics, we have two primary types of defense:
  1. Presuppositional – God doesn’t need to be defended, thus we begin with the “presupposition” that the Bible is God’s Word, His divine and perfect revelation of Himself and His will for mankind. All arguments are based strictly on this foundation (and any other presuppositions one can find).
  2. Evidential  – Like a professional investigator, you piece together the evidence, from not only Scripture itself, but you are able to, by the predominance of evidence prove the Bible is what is claimed, that the claims within its pages are true, and that therefore faith is a reasonable response to the evidence.

In fact, there is a pretty serious theological battle that has been raging for pretty much the entire history of Christianity over which method is the correct method. But when one follows the narrative of Scripture, we actually see both used. For the witness to the Hebrew people, a great deal of presuppositional work is done, beginning with the common ground of God’s law and overall revelation in the Old Testament. But we also see evidential defense made by Paul in many scenarios, beginning not with statement as fact, but building a “logical” case for Christianity based on his own life, the miracles witnessed, the eye witness accounts of Jesus and the other first-hand “primary” evidence, coupled with existing Scripture to “prove” the Christian gospel as correct and true.

But the bigger purpose of apologetics is not to build biblical academics or to give bragging rights to the prideful.  Apologetics serve two purposes that both build up that foundation of 2 Timothy 4:2 – First in that it is to give confidence to the believer. When we not only know WHAT we believe, but WHY we believe it – when we know how to defend our faith, we strengthen that faith and the hope that is in us glows brighter. But the second aspect of apologetics is the outward witness – we can make the case for Christ in a world that is by default against the gospel.

But regardless of the apologetic form you prefer to focus on, they both must begin with understanding WHAT we believe.  For those of us who cling to the biblical platform of “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone), we believe that the Bible is sufficient and complete for all instruction and defense – “All Scripture is inspired (literally breathed out by God!) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16). Read the Bible. Study it. Find new ways to engage with the Word through not only personal reading, but group study. Challenge yourself, be willing to spend time and effort really learning what God has recorded for our benefit.

Plug in to resources by people who have dedicated their lives and often ministries to defending the Bible and the Christian faith. People like J. Warner Wallace are contemporary apologetics, but there are literally hundreds who have, though history, worked extensively to build an incredible defense, both from a Presuppositional and an Evidential basis.

But the very best source of learning to be able to give a defense of your faith, the the Bible itself, for it is truly sufficient!

2018—>2019?

What’s in a date change?  Beyond some business and personal fiscal year change (particularly tax year) stuff – the change from one year to the next is little more than the turn of a page on a calendar (or the putting up of a new calendar).

Yet we have made the year change into something bigger – though maybe with the wrong motives!  The calendar change doesn’t by some miraculous action “close out” any pains or griefs you experienced the year before (in this case, 2018).  The page turn doesn’t suddenly set you up for some grand spiritual “breakthrough” as some are posting.  And the changed digit in the year designation does not somehow give special powers to some grand and optimistic “resolution” you might make to undertake any number of changes (weight loss/health improvement, financial renovations, relationship adjustments, etc.). But the flipping of a number does give us an opportunity to reflect on the past year – to give an honest evaluation to where we have been, where we went, and where we are today – all in preparation for setting our eyes every more on the goals, aims, and purpose GOD has set before us in the new year.

But let me begin with a caution – don’t set some unrealistic goals and resolutions that you won’t keep!  You are simply adding to the burden society and the world in general throws at you and you are setting yourself up to fail – and year-after-year, what have the countless “resolutions” done for you? For most people, these repeated failures have done little more than to add defeat and disappointment.

I would propose a different tact this year as you begin trying to look forward to this new year: Focus on the LORD.  In Mark 12:30, Jesus responded to a Scribe who was questioning Him on which was the greatest of commandments with “…AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”  The focus of God’s commands all go back to giving everything to the LORD – and trusting HIM with what comes.  It’s the spirit behind Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

One of the most difficult parts of life we face doesn’t’ come from the outside world, from those we work with, or those in positions of authority and leadership.  No – among the most difficult parts to deal with are those set up by our failure to heed these words!  We don’t place God at the very top and unquestioned position of priority in our lives.  Because of our low view of God, we don’t “trust in the LORD with all our hearts” – we trust in “ME” – until I fail… again.  Then we seek those in which to place blame, or even worse – we mess it up then blame God!  But what do we actually see here in this passage?  An incredible promise made when you quit relying on yourself and our own (in)ability to grasp the whole picture and to actually make good judgement in directing your path – and instead you acknowledge HIM in ALL your ways: acknowledge isn’t just naming or giving God credit, but literally means to KNOW Him – an intimate, close, life-changing, life-directing relationship with HIM where you are constantly seeking HIM and His will in everything you do.  Thus bringing a promise that if we will quit doing it “our way”, quit trying to be masters of our own fate – and simply seek HIM in all things, in all ways – He WILL “make your paths straight”.  What is a straight path here? It simply means that He will – just as we can see over-and-ver in the conquest of the Promised Land in the book of Joshua – when Joshua and the people committed everything to God’s will and plan – they experienced 100% victory.  When they deviated from God’s direction -they often stumbled and suffered greatly.  And in every single time – when they completely sought God’s will and followed it – God always delivered – and He still does today!  We just have to realize that HIs answers and direction may very well run contradictory to our own desires and opinions!

Life is a minefield – and God has not promised us a smooth, explosion-proof journey.  He has promised to direct our paths and to guide us IN that minefield.  But sometimes we are in a minefield to make a difference for others – especially those who have deviated from God’s path and stepped on those mines!  And lest we forget – helping people (truly loving our neighbors) can be a dirty and messy endeavor!  But if we are there WITH God – following God with everything in our being – trusting HIM and HIS way over our own – He will see us through, and ultimately – see us Home!

So – regardless of what your flesh and culture are telling you to focus on in 2019 – or the resolutions that you may be mulling around in your brain – how about being resolived first and foremost – in truly KNOWING the LORD as never before, fully trusting in HIS grace – and following HIM in all things as He directs your path!

Baptism and Faith

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation, and to the Lord’s Supper; in which the members of the church by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:5-6; John 3:22-23; John 4:12; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 10:47-48; Gal.3:26-28; Rom.6:4; Col. 2:12; I Peter 3:20-21; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:41-42; I Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; I Cor.11:28; I Cor. 5:1-8; I Cor. 10:3-32; I Cor. 11:17-32; John 6:26

 

The New Hampshire Confession of Faith is a beautiful document that is the original foundational statement of faith the church association I am a part of rests. it does a beautiful job of describing baptism.  This document itself finds its origins in Scripture (of course), as well as a preceding Confession which is somewhat more detailed and the one to which I prefer to fall back on – the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, as it holds more details. The chapter on Baptism is as follows:

Chapter 29 Of Baptism

1 Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4)

2 Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37; 2:41; 8:12; 18:8)

3 The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19-20; Act 8:38)

4 Immersion, or dipping of the person fin water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance. (Mat 3:16; John 3:23)

I bring this up because of an all too common issue that comes up from time to time in ministry:  Those who make professions of faith, especially at a very young age, that FromD2L-Nelsonmight not have been genuine professions at the time. But because of “our” relatively modern methodology of “get them to say a prayer and dunk ’em” has led to many false assurances of salvation, and ultimately spiritually dead church members. In his book Death To Life, Allen Nelson IV refers to these folks as the walking dead. The startlingly sad reality is that there are (and have long been) those who – as he put it:

We would be stunned at how many people have a date written down in their bible but not their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Even more alarming is how many of these people might be pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or other prominent leaders within the church. Just because people feel saved, doesn’t mean they are saved. (From Death To Life: How Salvation Works, Chapter 2, p. 19)

This is a reminder of why I am so thankful for several brethren the LORD placed in my path as I began ministry. One that really sticks out in my heart on the issue of salvation and baptism is Bro. Harrel Herring. Bro. Harrel’s real burden and passion was for not just professions of faith – but for genuine conversion.  His own testimony was one oft-heard – having “walked the aisle” when his brother did, and an evangelist who asked all the wrong questions and offered raving, yet false, assurance of salvation.  Bro. Harrel knew at the time he wasn’t genuinely saved – but who was he to question or argue the 

image1point as a youngster?  But Harrel knew what the problem was and did indeed come to
genuine repentance and saving faith.  But this experience planted in him the passion he spent much of the rest of his life trying to help other to avoid false professions and to find real, saving faith. Indeed, I first met Bro. Harrel at Budd Creek Baptist Camp during the BMA of Arkansas week back in 2006. At camp, Bro. Harrel had the privilege of meeting with each young person who made a profession, to ask the right questions to at least have some basis for recording decisions.  He also gave out copies of a booklet he had put together specifically for new believers titled Starting My Life With Christ. I still have a handful of copies and find it quite useful!

The problem Brother Herring was trying to address is a real one. Every church I have been a part of in my walk since conversion has had more than one similar illustration – someone who made a profession, but then at some point later determined that it was not a genuine conversion and came to Christ afterward.  Unfortunately, there are those in churches who never do realize their repeating of a “sinners prayer” was nothing more than the “vain repitition” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:7! They are, as Allen Nelson labeled them – The Walking Dead.

But God is indeed full of Amazing Grace! And He does still call many from that spiritually dead state to new life! He is indeed faithful to call ALL who are His to repentance. And the responsibility of those He does call out of that dead state is to, as those lowly fishermen Jesus called in Galilee did – drop your nets and follow Him!

And one of the first steps one called to new life to take is baptism. Even if you were dunked in a pond, creek, pool, or “official” church baptistry – if it was on a false profession – it was nothing more than getting wet.  It was not a genuine act of obedience in faith. Therein lies the rub for many – whether it is pride or shame, some who realize their old profession was without merit find it difficult to publicly proclaim their newfound salvation for fear of shame or for their position. And many shudder at the thought of submitting themselves for “re-baptism” (a misnomer if the first was not scriptural). Sadly, some never make known their latter genuine conversion for fear of what others will think. And this is what brings me to the impetus for today’s entry:

As both a father and a pastor, I am always extremely concerned about the possibility of pressuring a young person, particularly my own daughters, into a “decision” that is not God-initiated, and preceded and empowered by the Holy Spirit and HIS complete work in salvation. In this case, my youngest daughter, Selah, made a profession several years ago while I was still in my first pastorate (Park View Baptist Church, North Little Rock). She followed on the heels of her older sister. Both had been immersed in the gospel from birth (or before if you consider in-vitro time in church!). Both had received the benefit of not only their mom and me trying our best to speak and demonstrate the gospel, but a church with many caring souls who also poured into them the words of Life. So when Selah came to me and said she had asked Jesus into her heart, she had all the right answers, to the right questions (as Bro. Harrel would put it). Selah is sharp and while casual observation might lead you to believe she is paying zero attention – she soaks in what is going on around her in an amazing way. So – after several of us visited with her, she submitted herself to be baptized.

Yet far too often, we saw signs that gave her mom and I serious pause regarding her actually having seen genuine regeneration. Some of her actions going way beyond “childhood indiscretions” or “immaturity”.  Six months ago, Diana and I both voiced concern about Selah’s spiritual condition and began praying in earnest for answers, guidance, and for God to truly work in her.

On Wednesday evening, July 18, those of us at Ozark Baptist Encampment, Week 1, those of us at camp knew something was up.  But when I got the message that I was needed at our girl’s cabin at nearly 10:30PM, I knew something was serious.  Selah was afraid that I would be mad if she told me – but she knew without a doubt that when she made her “profession of faith” several years ago – it wasn’t real – she just did what she knew the rest of us wanted – and what got her positive attention. There were signs this time of genuine contrite heart and very heavy conviction.

And the Sunday after camp, Selah came before First Baptist Church and confessed before the entire assembly of what had happened, including her false profession years ago, and submitting herself humbly for baptism! I am pleased to announce that on Sunday, August  19, I get to genuinely baptize my precious daughter! And don’t ever doubt my joy and thanksgiving that God didn’t just leave her to her own case of The Walking Dead! And don’t ever doubt the power of God to call His own unto repentance and genuine salvation!

And preachers – never tire of preaching the gospel, the whole gospel, the saving gospel always!

Glorious Day, Yet Grieving…

Today will go down in history, at least in my own little world, as a radical rollercoaster. We had an incredible day at First Baptist Church, Cave Springs today, including the addition of a new church member and a discussion with another couple who expressed their intent to join next week.

We had a fabulous lunch fellowship and then the crowning time of the day – the ordination of my brother in Christ, friend, and servant-minded man Roger Meredith to the deacon ministry (my first such service to lead). It all was quite wonderful!  Yet while all of this was unfolding in our little neck of the woods, in Sutherland Springs, Texas – a young man, Devin Kelley carried out a horrific and apparently planned attack on the First Baptist Church in that small community.  A church with just over 100 members, and an average Sunday attendance around 50…  Reports so far are that at least 27 are dead and possibly 20 others wounded/injured.  The victims at this point range as young as 5 years old.  And particularly heartbreaking for me – the pastor’s daughter, Annabelle, only 14 years old, was among those murdered. In fact, this particular detail is the one that kicked me in the stomach the hardest – bringing this story FAR too close to home…

At the same time – while I grieve for Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife as they have to struggle to come to grips with the loss of their youngest daughter – maybe this extremely ugly, evil, and sad event serves as a bit of an illustration. You see – this morning, preached a message from Luke 9:57-62 titled “No Excuse Faith” (should be posted on the church Facebook page in the next 24 hours or so). The basic message in a nutshell – Jesus wants followers who have a a No Excuse Faith – who step up and follow Him TODAY- because we really don’t know what tomorrow may hold – or even if we will HAVE a tomorrow.  It shadows Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that “TODAY is the day of salvation!”

How many who were gathered together for worship with FBC Sutherland Springs had a clue that today would be their last? How many put off decisions the Lord had been leading them towards? How many went to their grave having shrugged off the conviction of the Spirit?  How many had a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ – that they carried to the grave because they thought they would deal with reconciliation “tomorrow”?

How many of the young victims among them didn’t hear their mom or day tell them they loved them this morning? How many forgot to tell their spouses how much they loved them? Who among them possibly put off turning to Jesus until a “tomorrow” that, for them, won’t come?

The reality is – today is the day to take a step of faith to follow Christ with everything you have in you – to trust in Him, because you may never find  another opportunity.

The same goes for our loved ones – have you hugged your wife/husband’s neck and simply told them “I love you”? Do you sometimes skip telling your kids the same? Take the opportunity you have right now to tell those you love just how much you do!

Stop making excuses – make the most of today, because we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. It’s a shame we sometimes have to be reminded by such shocking events.

Make a difference today!