Wednesday, November 30, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Humiliating

What I am about to share with you is completely confidential. Yeah, right. This is the internet. What I am about to share with you is completely humiliating to yours truly, but in the event that some stupid male reads this and is helped to overcome his pride, it will be worth it.

As many of you know, I just recovered from a near-death experience from contracting some sort of killer sickness while traveling in India. You might be thinking, "Near death? Brad, we didn't know it was so bad!" Well, once my fever surged past 104 and I had to strip down to my birthday suit and submerge myself in cold water, I asked God to kill me. He refused. I consider that pretty close.

Back to the point. Over the course of the past week, I have been experiencing some symptoms I believe are left over from the murderous diarrhea that conspired with the fever to kill me. Not to be too gross, but I've been passing blood in my stool. EWWWWW!!!

Flash back with me about 8 years. I am a young, single, healthy male of about 23 years of age. One night, during a church service no less, I began to experience excruciating pain in my abdomen. The Kenyan Boys Choir was in the middle of singing, "Soon and Very Soon We are Going to See the King", I was honestly thinking, "Yes, and one of us sooner than you think!"

I went from the Church straight to the emergency room where I was met by a man over 6'3" and around 250lbs. He would be my ER doctor. After checking me out and asking about my symptoms (I was having trouble using the bathroom.) He says, "I'm gonna have to check you out. This is gonna hurt...I have big hands. Sorry."

At that point in time, I had no idea what he was talking about. But when he pulled out the Vaseline and put on the rubber gloves, I broke into a sweat. I believe that was the first time I asked God to kill me. (The cold bath experience being the third.) He found out through his "exam" that I had prostatitis. I took some antibiotics and was cured in a few days. Violated, but cured.

This episode made a psychological scar on my male psyche. It was so deep, in fact, that when I recently found blood in my stool I thought, "Oh the rubber glove test!" I knew that was what was going to have to be done. There was no avoiding it.

So, I choose the smallest doctor in town and I went to see him. They checked my stool culture and asked me some questions. I answered honestly, but the whole time I'm thinking, "Let's just get this over with, man." Eventually, the doctor sighed and said, "I don't like doing this...but I'm going to have to check you." (Doctors call it "checking you" or "examining you". Thankfully, they seem nearly as uncomfortable with this as I do.) I sighed as well. Up to that point, I was thinking that under different circumstances we could have become friends, but after this it's just hard, you know? The funniest thing was while the Doc was probing me he asked, "Does that hurt there?" I said, "Dude, you have your finger in my butt. It hurts, okay?" How am I supposed to answer that question, people?!

There is a reason that I have shared this mortifying story with you all. One is that it is just too funny not to share. Secondly, some of you men will die if you do not go and get your colon/prostate checked out. Prostate and colon cancer are two of the most survivable cancers there are, but men die from them all the time because they are too stupid to go and get their butt checked. In the midst of your check-up, you can thank God that he didn't make you a woman. I dread my wife's trip to the gynecologist for her.

Constitution and By-Laws

I think that one of the best ideas that I have had since I came to First Baptist Church Plaquemine was to teach through the by-laws of our church during discipleship training on Sunday nights. Some of you, at the mere mention of such a study, immediately roll your eyes and start snoring. That is unfortunate. Some of the most interesting reading that you can do comes from the by-laws of your Church. I'll let you know why.

First, it is a very personal, historical document for you. Inside those by-laws is the heart and soul of your spiritual forefathers. In them, you will find how they viewed the church, salvation, authority, and you will get the heads up on what sorts of conflicts that they had to endure. Especially if you have the older copies of the by-laws to compare with the updated ones. You can see how your church rose to the occasion to overcome the new challenges set before her. It is personal to you because this is the church to which you belong. That alone should make it interesting.

Secondly, you will learn through your by-laws how you may be active in your church and where you may fit in. Many by-laws have every seperate committee listed and what their functions are, and how one comes to be appointed to said committee. You may find something in there that interests you. You may find areas of neglect that you may help rekindle. These are committees like benevolence, counting (somebody has to count the money), flower, nominating, transportation, and etc. Your church may have more or less, depending on its polity.

Thirdly, you will learn that you may not agree with everything in your by-laws. You may even find things in them that are un-biblical and that ought to be changed. You should, as a faithful member, bring these issues up to the appropriate people for discussion. You never know how this may affect the church at large.

In our study, I have found several things that need updating. That doesn't mean that they were bad; it means that they need to be revamped. The last time our Church updated the by-laws, we had no Student Minister. Basically, our current student minister has no "official" standing as far as the by-laws are concerned. We need to get a job description in there, how he is to be hired and let go, and etc. All we have policy for at the present time is a "Youth Council." Also, the last time that the church updated the by-laws, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message had not yet been written. This will give us an opportunity to look at the updates in that and discuss why it was done.

Also, it gave me the opportunity to bring up the subject of elders in the church. Our church does not have elders, but it should. Currently, our deacons and myself function as the elders, sort of. Also, our policy on electing and maintaining trustees needs to be updated. The bottom line: It has been a wonderful opportunity for learning for myself and the church. I highly recommend that you look over the by-laws at your church; it will be a great learning experience for you, and I believe it will be an edifying one as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Those Fighting Fundamentalists...and Others

Fundamentalist Christians have been saddled with the pejorative "Fighting Fundies" for good reason, it seems that we/they like a good fight about as much as anything else. Especially a good theological tussle. That's what we live for, right?

There has been a lot of ugliness and snark floating around the blogosphere lately. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you are probably only reading my blog. In which case, you have excellent taste and refinement. I mean really, why go anywhere else? But if you do browse the other blogs, then I don't need to go into detail about it.

So, I wanted to make a quick remark about what I think of the latest salvos. Honestly, I think that it is par for the course. In fact, I think that great theological leaps are often made in the midst of name-calling, dirty, theological fist fights. As I look back over the history of theological snarkiness, I find that some of the most well-known heroes of the faith were some of the nastiest name callers around. One was John Calvin. Calvin often referred to the pope in such snarky ways that if he were alive today he could get some serious heat going in the blogosphere. Of course, nobody outsnarked Martin Luther. Nobody! He was the put down, character defaming, caricature, ad hominem genius. He called the pope and his "popish knaves" everything from monkeys, to devils, to demons, to anti-Christ, to things I can't write in polite company. Of course, the pope and his band of merry men returned in kind. But they couldn't touch his level of snark with a ten foot pole.

Am I endorsing this sort of mean-spirited debate? Not really. I'm just pointing out that it is no surprise, and that it is not nearly as bad is it could be or has been. Here's the deal: We are passionate about our God. In fact, we love him more than college football, wives, husbands, children, hunting, fishing, living, breathing, and even the Colts. If you start poking his theology, expect some hot retort.

I think the problem goes back to what we believe Christian discipleship means. When Jesus says, "Love your enemies" and "Turn the other cheek," we interpret that to mean we need to be limp-wristed sissies. When someone says something absurd about God, or the ministry, or our loved ones, we are supposed to piously roll our eyes toward heaven and shrug it off without more than a "God bless you." The only problem with that in my mind is the little whipping that Jesus gave the money lenders and the "Zeal for thy house hath consumed me" quote.

No, we're not Jesus, and we're not perfect. We often overreact and say hurtful things. But occasionally, we should slam the shifty, the hucksters, the rapscallions, and the heretics with prejudice. And when they cry and don't repent, we can poke them love, of course.

Can You Believe This?

Apparently, our Senators have nothing else to do. Can this seriously be something that we need to pay our Senators to look into? Look here

Monday, November 28, 2005

Piercing the Heart

The Scriptures are certainly a double-edged sword. I have felt that keenly as I have preached them. I felt it Sunday night. The Word cuts, and it threatens to cut. It is vigilant to keep guard over righteousness. If we sin, it will not spare.

Jesus said to his disciples, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measure back to you" (Matthew 7:1-2). This does not mean, as it is ridiculously reported by some to mean, that we are never to judge. Rather, it means that we must be wary of the standard that we use, for it will be used on us in return. Even our standard, I believe, will be judged by God.

The standard for judgment is the Scriptures. The commands of the written Word will not be avoided or ignored in this life or the life to come. The words are firm, and they are forever.

Sunday night, I preached from Mark 10:23-31. The week before it was 10:17-22. The latter is the story of the rich young ruler; the former is the exclamation by Jesus that it is hard, even impossible, for the rich to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Most who read this fall into the "rich" category. If you have a floor that is not dirt, then you automatically have more than a majority of people who have ever lived. If you have electricity, you are greatly blessed. We have more than anyone before or after us.

Without getting into the sermon again, I want to leave you with the thought that cut and cuts me. I told the church that in order to be a disciple, one must be willing to give up wife, brother, mother, dog, cat, 401k, and even life. I further told them that they must love Jesus more than all these as well. I believe I told them right. I believe that this is what Jesus plainly taught. Yet, I find in myself the love of the world, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. It lingers in me and festers.

The Word is piercing my heart even now because my love does not measure up as it should. But I have hope. It is impossible for me to conjure the love that I need, that I long for, on my own. But with God, it is possible. It is my prayer that my faithful Father will grant me such a magnificent picture of Jesus that it will at once drive away all lingering, wicked attachments to this world. I believe that He is faithful to do it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Hunting Tradition

Some of my more squeamish readers may be sickened by this post, but I submit to you that if you are a meat eater and this offends you, then you need to get over yourself. Your life is too sanitized, Wal-Martized, and un-realityized. If you are a strict vegetarian...good for you. I feel sorry for the tomatoes.

Hunting is something that I enjoy doing because I am semi-insane. I like to get up at 4am, go and sit out in the woods and freeze my tail off. It helps me relax. Further, the best nap that you can ever have, bar none, is the nap that you get when the sun heats you up at about 10:30. That's living, folks.

You learn something about life hunting that you cannot learn anywhere else. You learn about life and death, and you can admire the beauty of God's creation. On the stand Sunday, I was privileged to witness a beautiful pastoral scene. I was hunting by a small canal of water in the midst of a beautiful forest. The wind was cool and fresh; the grass was green; the squirrels were chasing one another. It was wonderful. There were even birds flitting about, mostly cardinals. Early in the morning a doe and her fawn came out for a drink of water by the stream and to munch on grass. I enjoyed the view and marveled at God's creation. Then I rolled the safety off and flattened that doe with my trusty .270 WSM. Roast venison tonight, baby!

If the average person had to gut, skin, and quarter an animal of any kind, then the world would be full of vegetarians. It is hard, stinky, bloody work. But it sure makes you appreciate the deer roast on Thanksgiving, I can promise you that. So why do I hunt? Because I love nature, being outdoors, shooting deer, hanging out with friends, and feeling primal. It also gives me a time of deep peace and quiet to meditate, interrupted only by the occasional rifle report.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pastoral Melodrama, from One Pastor to Another

I love the Church. I love the people; I love the fellowship; I love it. I think that the Church is the greatest thing on earth. I'd be lost without the Church. I'd sooner lose my hand or head than lose my love for the Church. I love to teach in the Church, preach in the Church, pray in the Church, cry in the Church, and it would be fine with me if I die in Church. I even like to write the word Church. I wish I could write love poems that would ascribe to the Church the grandeur that she is due.

Incidentally, I happen to be a pastor. I loved the Church before I was a pastor, and I especially love it now that I am a pastor. Don't get me wrong, I have seen nasty things in the church. I have seen backbiting, temper tantrums, splits, gossip, and other ugly things. I have even been the target of some such things. Can you believe it? Moi?! Slandered!! Moi?! Misunderstood! Is there no justice?!

I can barely muster a whoop-dee-doo when pastors cry about being kicked around by Church members. Yes, there are cases when pastors are treated shamefully by their congregations, and I am certain that before it is all over with I will probably get my teeth kicked in. But, I knew that before I ever became a pastor. In fact, I expected such to come with the territory.

Let me come clean for a minute: I don't much care for pastors. At least, I don't care for a great many of them. Some of them I'd gush over, read everything they wrote, and hope to be worthy some day to unbuckle their sandal strap. Some of you who read this are pastors...I probably like you. You have good taste:). But by and large, I am not impressed. They tend to be whiney, self-pitying, weird, talkative, have the tact of a porcupine and disfunctional in normal life. Some of them are so weird and eccentric that they couldn't even hold a day job other than a pastorate. They get bounced because they are goofballs and they think it is because they are persecuted. Sheesh.

Every time I hear a pastor bellyache, I wonder if this man has ever had another job in his life. I spent a good deal of time in "crummy" jobs, let me tell you. I was a teller supervisor at a bank for a year. I cannot tell you how many times people chewed my butt while I had that job. The sales pressure was so intense it was incredible, plus I had all these thousands and thousands of dollars to be responsible for, and there was the constant threat of some knucklehead coming in with a .357 and making Swiss Cheese of my noggin' for that same money. People do those jobs for twenty years and nobody listens to them whine about it.

I was also in the military, and I have humongous ears. At least, it is more apparent when my head is shaved. I was relentlessly teased about this by my beloved Drill Sergeant. He wasn't kidding. I have big ears, not to mention that my nose comes around the corner long before I do. Boy, did he have some fun with that. Do I even need to mention the sacrifices that soldiers make for the sake of country? And yet the good ones consider it a privilege. The bad ones run away to Canada like the sissified tweety birds that they are and shame us all. (No offense, Daniel.) It is a volunteer army, people.

What's my point in this little rant? Well, it's because I perceive that ministers often believe that they are kicked around more than everybody else. Give me a break. Get over yourself, preacher. Let me quote for you a little verse from 1 Timothy 3:1, "If a man desires the position of an overseer, he desires a good thing." If that desire is not there, go and do something else. Quit griping and whining about deacons and stubborn sheep and the condition of the Church. Seriously, go do something else. If you are called, then put your big boy britches on, suck in your bottom lip, and go be the man that God called you to be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Today, I am feeling somewhat melancholy and poetic.  So I thought I would share with you one of my very favorite poems.  It was written by Lord Alfred Tennyson during the Crimean War.  He read a newspaper account of a terrific battle between a British Light Cavalry brigade and a unit of entrenched Russian artillery soldiers.  Owing to a confusion of orders due to the "fog of war", 600 British horseman charged these entrenched Russians.  Three quarters of them died in that famous charge.  Tennyson commemorated their bravery in this poem.  I hope you enjoy.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Their but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabers bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sab’ring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the saber stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not,
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of the six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Would that God would give me the bravery to charge, not for country, but for my King.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pastoral Leadership Mafia Style

I must ashamedly admit that I have probably seen "The Godfather" at least a half a dozen times. Much to the dismay of some of my readers, I will probably watch it a dozen more before it is all over with. It isn't the gratuitous violence that appeals to me; it is the characters of the movie and how they behave.

Of all the scenes of the movie, a few of them really stand out in my mind. One of the scenes that I love is when the "Frank Sinatra-ish" character comes in to request a boon from the Godfather. He begins whining and crying to the Godfather about this Hollywood producer who is treating him poorly. He asks the Godfather what it is that he should do, and I remember being surprised by this, the Godfather jumps up, grabs the crooner, and starts slapping him and calling him a big sissy.

I sometimes wish that pastors had to go and see the Godfather. I wish that they would have to talk to him about how their deacons are being mean, or how the church won't listen, or blah, blah, blah. Oh the plight of the poor, poor pastor! And then, right in the middle of their self-pity party, the Godfather would jump up and start slapping them around and saying, "Act like a man!" Have you not read that the Overseer must not "be given to W(h)ine!" (1 Tim. 3:3...sort of.) Occassionally, I hear or have a pastoral pity party, and I need a good reminder not to be such a weenie.

The second scene that stands out in my mind is the speech that the Godfather gives to Michael, his heir apparent. He tells him that when he passes away, someone will come and try to get him to meet with the enemy to make peace. He tells Michael that this man is a traitor. He is a traitor because he has been meeting with the enemy.

Now, in a weird way, I have seen this in church life about a hundred times. That is, someone walks in the office and says, "You know a lot of people are saying..." or they say, "I've heard a lot of folks who aren't happy with..." Every time I hear that sort of talk, I think of the Godfather. Who are these "lots of folks"? Why aren't they talking with me themselves? Why was the person sitting in front of me engaged in this conversation? Further, why is it that they are using the unknown "they" as leverage to get what "they" want? Why is the person sitting in front of me so sympathetic to the agenda of the "they"?

Is this leadership a la "Mafia" flawless? Certainly not. I am also not advocating "taking out" any of the malcontents in church. However, I can say that I get a good laugh when I remember the whipping that the whiney singer got when I realize that I am doing that very thing, and I also remember that little nugget of wisdom that the Godfather gave to Michael before he croaked. Both of which are very a much milder form.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I thought I would take a moment to tell my readers that I am extremely and genuinely thankful for my wife. Since she rarely reads the blog, this would be a grand opportunity to boast about without her knowing it for awhile.

My wife is a wonderful mother, friend, person, church secretary, and Christian woman. She is way too pretty for me, but God duped her into marrying me anyway. She truly is the grandest evidence that I have that God loves me lavishly. At this time of the year, I am reminded of one of the greatest talents that she has...she is a fantastic cook. The picture that I have attached to this post is actually a Christmas dinner that she once prepared. That's a turkey she cooked. Trust me, it was every bit as juicy and succulent in real life as it looks there. I am a blest man, and without being careful, I will definitely become a fat preacher.

So, I thought I would just gush a little about how great my wife is. Hopefully, she will eventually read this and be embarrassed. The only reason that delights me is because she is so lovely when she is embarrassed.:) And when she's mad, too. It's really a win-win situation for me here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Quick Word on Humility

It is often tempting to believe that I am as smart as I think that I am. So I am thankful to God that there exist persons who can flatten my intellectual pride within moments. One of those is Steve Hays. Whenever I start feeling brilliant, I go and read his blog. Most of the time, I can hardly understand what he is saying. The words make sense, but I am as lost as a freshman in physics class.

This feeling is becoming more and more familiar to me. When I was in college, I fancied myself as a guitar player. What this means is that I could strum G, C, and D and some bar chords. I was a virtuoso in my own little mind. One day while perusing the campus announcement board, I noticed that the guitar genius Eliot Fisk was going to be playing a concert on campus. Since I was a student, admission was free. So I went and watched Mr. Fisk play. It was actually the first time I had ever seen someone hold a guitar correctly. I was such an ignoramus.

Mr. Fisk completely blew me away. From that day forward, I have never, ever even insinuated that I can play the guitar. For much the same reasons, I have given up being a serious apologist, philosopher, or even theologian. I get confused reading the commentary at the Evangelical Outpost. And they aren't even trying to be confusing.

This is not just "aw shucks I'm just an old country boy" schtick. I despise that sort of talk. This is honest-to-goodness fact. If I studied every day, I doubt I could get to where most of these guys are. They see things instantly that I barely understand after they've pointed it out.

So what's my point of this dose of pessimistic self-assessment? First of all, this sort of admission keeps me from pride. Secondly, I am thankful that I can still serve some use, even if I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. As Forrest Gump famously quipped, "I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is." Fortunately, that just happens to be the singularly greatest virtue of Christendom, and I am confident that I do not have to be a brainiac to excel in this area. So go and read some Steve Hays and others like him and be amazed at the gifts that God has given them. In closing, I am reminded that the beloved Centuri0n claimed to be a "B Team" apologist. If that's true, then I am definitely only on the team because the coach happens to be my dad.

Spiritual Gifts and the Work of the Holy Spirit

The Pyromaniac has caused quite a stir in the blogosphere by bringing up the subject of the gift of "prophecy" and how it relates in the modern church. To be fair, he is only pointing out that the world is full of hoodwinking rapscallions who claim to receive special revelations from God on a regular basis. Many of these prognostications never come true, and they are quite damaging to the faith of those who are duped by such nefarious individuals. The discussion has caused a debate over cessationist and non-cessationist views of spiritual giftedness. In simple terms, folks are fussing about whether or not God still gifts people with things like tongues, prophecy, miracles, healing, and etc.

It is, in my humble opinion, quite a needless debate. No matter what gift someone claims that God has given them, the Bible has given us clear guidelines on how someone operating under the guidance of the Holy Spirit should behave. They should not be disruptive, rude, selfish, money-grubbing, or uncharitable. Violate these rules and it doesn't matter what gift you claim; you are disqualified.

Has the gift of tongues ceased? Has prophecy ceased? What loaded questions! What do you mean by "tongues"? Ecstatic utterances? Previously unlearned human languages? Angelic language perhaps? A prayer language? Or prophecy? Do you mean future telling? Exposition of the written Word?

Use some spiritual sense. Is the gift edifying or disruptive. Are they trying to milk you for all your money? Honestly, if someone tells me that God has gifted them with tongues and they never interrupt Church services, never demand that others do so as well, and in general act I going to pitch a fit? I will treat them as I would if someone told me that God called them to teach. I am, as some would put it, open but extremely cautious due to blatant hucksterism and the propensity of the human heart to deceive itself.

Ultimately, here is how I understand spiritual gifts. I believe that the ultimate spiritual gift is the Spirit of God Himself. The book of Ephesians teaches that "you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14). As I understand spiritual gifts, your particular gift in the Church is the consistent way which the Holy Spirit works through you for the health of the Church. My primary function in the body of Christ is to pastor/teach. This is where I find the greatest joy of worship and sense of purpose to my fellow man. It is intrinsic to who I am. I trust that the evidence of my life indicates that I understand myself rightly, and that I am functioning as God is pleased to have called me. If the evidence were not present, then the body itself would reject me from that position.

However, I believe that since I am sealed "with" the Holy Spirit and because the Bible teaches that He is my constant companion, encourager, correcter, and helper, I do not 'limit' what He can do through me for the sake of His beloved children. What I mean by that is, while I do not believe that I have been gifted with healing, I would not hesitate to lay hands on someone who asked and pray that God would heal them. If I had a word of wisdom that was Scriptural that I felt burdened to share; I would share without worry. If the Word is apt and pleasing to God, does that make me a prophet? If the sick are healed, does that mean I am particularly gifted? I do not think so. I simply believe that God can and does work through His people as He sees fit. I do not expect such things consistently, but I do expect and explicitly depend on the Holy Spirit to be with me each and every time I open the Word to preach and teach. I do not expect Him to come in the sense that I may demand anything of my God, but rather I expect Him to come because He is the one who gifted me for the ministry in the first place; so I trust.

So these are my quick thoughts on spiritual gifts which God, in His kingly pleasure, distributes to men and women as He sees fit. His gifts are as mysterious as His election; He bestows them particularly as He sees fit. I am thankful that God has honored me to serve Him in the capicity to which I am called. I do not boast in it as if I have merited it; it is the gift of God. I am Brad Williams. I am 5'10" tall. I am a pastor. I can no more boast in my height than I can in my calling. I am just overjoyed to be here and to be given the opportunity to serve. I pray that God will make everyone's gift as plain to them as He has to me, and I pray that when He reveals it to you that you will serve with all the might and joy that God can give.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Perseverance of the Saints

One of my favorite bloggers in the entire blogosphere, the great Daniel recently taught about the great doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints to his Sunday School class. I treasure this doctrine. I am convinced that it is only through the great stamina of the Lord that I will be made safe to the end, and that it is not a matter of my being able to keep myself in grace.

Having said that, I believe that this doctrine is terribly misunderstood. In Baptist circles, it is often referred to as the doctrine of "Once saved, always saved." This is a true statement, but I think that it reflects too much on a "moment" and not a lifetime of discipleship. There is a something essential that comes with the word "perseverance" that we must not lose.

Sunday night, I preached from the text of Mark 10:17-22. (We are making our way through Mark's gospel verse by verse.) I believe that Jesus' words to the rich young ruler in this section is particularly relevant to the discussion.

First, the rich young ruler asks what he must do to "inherit eternal life." Oddly, Jesus actually gives him something to "do". He tells him that he must sell everything that he owns and give it to the poor, then he has to take up his cross and follow Jesus. Can you believe that Jesus said that? I promise that He did. Look it up for yourself.

Now imagine me, as a preacher, saying something like that. I dream of people "running" down the aisle and asking on bended knee, "Good Teacher! What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?!" Of course, like any good Southern Baptist, I would say, "Repeat after me, 'Dear Lord Jesus, I recognize that I am a sinner...'"(end sarcasm).

The answer that Jesus gave was much more difficult than the answer the average pastor gives. Jesus told the man that he had to give up all that he had. Everyone must give up all that they have to inherit eternal life. Every nickel you have, every relationship that you treasure, even your very life is now the property of the King of Kings. It is essential to inheriting eternal life. Jesus tells a man that he must give up all that he has, and then he must come and die.

Here is where perseverance comes in. It is hard to die every single day, but that is just what the Puritans believed that someone had to do. Every day we have to give ourselves to the Lord. Every day we have to face a sinful world with a message that it hates. Every day the things of this world try to grind the gospel out of us with enticing, counterfeit pleasures. Every day we must be faithful to our Lord.

This was driven home to me in India. On a trip to a certain city to spend some time with a pastor and the orphans that he cares for, the local militants threatened our lives. The president of the ministry was accompanying us on this particular trip; he was the one that they really wanted to get. They called in a bomb threat, and basically told him that he wouldn't leave the city alive. This was problematic for me since I was riding with him. Thirty years before in the same city, they had made good on such a threat to the previous pastor.

How does this relate to persevering? Obviously, I made it out of there safely, under police escort. I got to return home to ease and comfort. But that pastor is still there. He lives under those threats every day. Every day he has to be willing to die for the gospel. That is perseverance.

This is a hard teaching. The rich young ruler went away sad, and so do many others who hear the truth about what eternal life costs. It is easy to deride the rich young ruler as foolish, isn't it? But have you given up all that you own? Would you go away sad if Jesus asked you to sell everything you had? Would it bring you joy? Or does your persevering amount to counting on shaking the preacher's hand and repeating a prayer to inherit eternal life?

You may ask, "Wait a minute Brad, are you saying that I have to sell everything I have and give it to the poor?" Answer: Maybe you do. This young man had to. What I can guarantee is that if you and I want to inherit eternal life, we have to obey the voice of the Master, even when He bids us to come and die. Do I believe in Once Saved, Always Saved? Absolutely. I believe that a man or woman is saved forever the moment that they prize Jesus Christ more than life and riches and fame. This is a work of the Holy Spirit; only He can show us the measure of the value of Jesus Christ. Only He can remind us of that value constantly and consistently enough to keep us persevering.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Short Reply to India's Anonymous Commenter

I am glad that the anonymous commenter left his/her thoughts about the caste system in India and elsewhere.  Anonymous brought up many issues for thought, and before I continue with the description of the trip to India, I want to address some of the concerns that have been brought up.

First off, I want to assure Mr. Anonymous that I want India to prosper and be successful.  If I could snap my fingers and make poverty go away, I would do so in a heartbeat.  As for why I don’t bring up the “caste system” in the Philippines or Brazil or elsewhere, it is because I am unaware that it exists.  And if it does, let me go on record as saying that I hate it there as well.  The reason I did not mention Japan’s cast system or some other system is because I did not just return from those countries.  Fair enough?  I’m not going to defend discrimination of any kind based on race, creed, or tribe in any country or religion.

For the non-Indian readers of this blog, I ask you to please read the comment that anonymous left.  I believe that you will find them insightful as to the attitudes of some in India towards the West.  In his comment, anonymous insinuates that it was an “Aryan group” from central Asia that made up the caste system and Hinduism.  Further, it is said that Hugo Chavez is feared because he is upsetting “the Christian caste system.”

I grieve that the word ‘Christian’ can even be used to modify the word ‘caste’ in anyone’s mind, but anonymous certainly believes it.  There is nothing Christian about the caste system; it is evil.  You cannot support it from Christian Scripture.  The good news of Jesus Christ overthrows discrimination; it certainly does not condone it.  Jesus Christ came to set men and women free from sin and its penalty.  Further, the fact that God became man elevates the status of every man, woman, and child on this planet.  Jesus was born as a poor carpenter’s son from Nazareth.  There is simply no way that a Christian can excuse prejudice of based on birth or privilege.

But I want to make a point that Anonymous did not address.  Really, all he has done is attempt to distract from the issue.  The fact of the matter is that discrimination is apparent and obvious in India, despite Mr. Anonymous’ protests.  It does no good to point to another country and ask us to decry unfair treatment there.  We’re dealing with India where the caste system is alive and well.  

What bothers me is that I saw persecution of Indian Christians by Indian Hindus on Indian soil and I saw that the Indian government was reluctant to prevent it.  I know for certain that much of this persecution comes because many are jealous that the Christians are taking outcaste orphans, caring for them, educating them, and elevating their status.  I also saw that Hindus were angry because people, of their own will, were converting to Christianity because of the truth about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What makes me sorrowful is that Mr. Anonymous and others in India associate Christianity with the un-Christian conduct of the British and others during colonial rule.  What Mr. Anonymous seems to forget is that my country was once a colony as well, and that religious freedom was one of the founding impulses of this country.  Legally, Christians have religious freedom to an extent.  Practically, they are persecuted, beaten, ostracized, and some have been killed.

The bottom line is that the caste system is just another expression of human sinfulness.  It is simply another form of discrimination, and discrimination is common to every country, culture, and nation.  But it was worse in India than I have ever seen, even in South Louisiana.  

Finally, Mr. Anonymous asks what I will say when India is richer than other countries.  I will say, “Hooray for India!”  And, I will cheer for their cricket team.  I hope that India prospers; I truly do.  But my greatest concern is that Christians are allowed to practice their religion without fear of abuse, and that they can evangelize and share their faith without fear of retribution.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Rebuttal to My Impressions

I have been getting a good amount of traffic from an Indian Discussion Forum, so I thought that I would address some of the issues brought up there. First of all, I am thankful that you came. The comment bar is open for your thoughts, and as long as you keep the language clean, whatever you say will stay. Secondly, I want to say that what I am saying are only my thoughts and impressions, not those of any other person or persons.

A writer from that forum takes me to task for my assessment of the Hindu caste system. The justification of the oppression that occurs because of that system seems to be that white people are worse at "caste" than Indians. Or at least that a white person should not open his or her mouth about the caste system because we do it in a worse way, and that white people have historically suppressed people of other races. This is a fallacious ad hominem attack, but I will go with what is presented.

Here is an example of what this writer has to say:

The Christian caste system is so much superior. Sure, Dalit Christians have to stand in a separate line to get into church, but you know it's superior to Hindus.
So how does this poverty = caste system. He must know something that most Indians don't, he seems to actually know the caste of people by looking at them.

The Phillipines is an example of Christian superiority, where slums house Jesus followers. The author conveniently forgets to mention Brazil's Casta system. Anyone else notice the caste system in Latin America where White leaders rule over hordes of poor natives/non white races. Vincente Fox a White Irish guy (White's are 7% of Mexico) rules over a country that's 92% non white!
This is what they want for India, make no mistake about it.

First thing I want to deal with is the accussation that Dalit Christians (A Dalit is the lowest of the castes) have to stand in a seperate line to attend Church. I never observed this, but I cannot speak for every Church in India. I know for certain that this is not the case with the ministry that I was associated with, and that great pains are taken to make certain that people from all backgrounds are treated with equal respect.

Secondly, I cannot tell caste by looking, nor can anyone else. But to pretend that people are not relagated to poverty because of their caste is even more naive than such an assertion. I daresay that no one would attempt to argue the contrary.

Thirdly, it is true that some "Jesus Followers" live in slums. In point of fact, some of the pastors I met chose to live in such places in order to minister to the needs of that community. They serve the lepers as well. I am not upset simply at the poverty; it is no crime to be poor. What I find revolting is the oppression instigated by the caste system, and the resistance to the poor bettering themselves that I encountered in India. I would oppose this regardless of race, religion, or country, as does the gospel of Jesus Christ. I did not forget the "casta" system of Brazil...I was there far longer than I was in India, and I have closer friends from that country. It is that I never observed it even once. I do not even know if it exists. If it does, it is shameful. But I can tell you that if it does, it is negligible compared to the blatant discrimination found in India.

Fourthly, it is asserted that white people wish to take over India just as they have other countries. For the record, I have no ambition to see any white guys running India. I certainly did not leave my family and go to the poor of India to instigate some sort of ridiculous "whitey" take over.

The reason that there is no caste system in Christianity is because the Bible teaches plainly that every man, woman and child is made in the image of God. That levels the ground. I am not superior to any Dalit in India, nor am I inferior to any Brahmin. The Bible teaches "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus...There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26, 28). God is no respecter of persons according to birth, intelligence, wealth, race, or country. We are all share in the image of God. Any people who come short of this ideal, whether they be Hindu or Christian, fall short of the truth of God's Word.

Let me close this by adding that while I was in India I witnessed the persecution of Christians. My own life was threatened on a visit to a certain city in India to the point that I and my comrades were escorted out of town under police protection. The militant Hindus surrounded the bus going in to the pastor's conference, armed with staffs, in order to intimidate Indian Christians. Last year, many of the pastors were beaten. I know for certain that over the past thirty years, some pastors have been killed.

The reason is not very complicated. One is that certain Hindus do not like it when other Hindus convert to Christianity. Further, some in India find it hard to deal with the fact that Christians are taking orphan children, dalit children, low caste children, and they are raising them and loving them. They teach them that they are made in the image of God and that they can do or be whatever they wish. They can be doctors or lawyers or farmers or anything. Certain people do not like to see people elevated above their perceived station. So, they persecute them to "keep them in line." This is not an issue of white people oppressing Indians. This is an issue of Indians oppressing Indians. Actually, what I observed were Indian Hindus oppressing Indian Christians.

Hopefully some of the visitors from the forum will leave their input here. It would certainly be enlightening for many of the readers of this blog. As I said, if you keep the language clean, your comments are welcome and desired. I look forward to hearing from you.

The Next Leg of the Mission

The next day was an odd experience for me. I have often woke up and been disoriented. That is, when you wake up in a strange environment, it takes you a moment to get your bearings. This, however, was the first time I have ever woken up and not known "when" I was. It would take me two more days to figure out which day it was. It's weird being halfway around the world.

We had a fine breakfast complements of Samuel Thomas. He is the current president of Emmanuel Ministries and the American side, Hopegivers Ministries. You can check out their website at Hopegivers. Hopefully, you will come to believe that this is a worthy ministry as I have; maybe some of you will even become supporters. Samuel came down from Kota to greet us. He also brought another pastor from Delhi named Baboo CJ. Samuel is the son of M.A. Thomas and has known Bro. Terral since he was a small child. It was a happy reunion.

From there, we caught a flight to the state of Goa. Goa is an extremely interesting state. It is the smallest in India, and it was a Portuguese colony until the 1960's. England pulled out of India in 1947, give or take a year, so Goa remained under Portuguese influence a little longer. Goa itself is a beautiful state, perhaps the most beautiful in India. Because of this, it is an attractive vacation spot. Once again our accommodations were top-notch and very inexpensive. I hardly felt like I was on a mission trip at all.

There is a reason why Goa is the home of the Bible College that Bro. Jason Job is directing, and it is not just because the place is beautiful. Because the area is so rich with tourists, it is a little easier to bring in professors there from overseas. The visas are easier to come by, and less questions are asked. Further, the area is more Christian than others, though Bro. Job lamented that it was easier to talk to a Hindu about Christ than a Catholic. It is a good situation for the school and for the teachers, and I considered it a haven, a small, wonderful outpost for the kingdom of God. The poverty in Goa is not nearly as apparent, and the standard of living was much better.

My reason for being there was to meet Bro. Job, and I was asked to speak at the Bible College graduation. There were about thirty graduates. Most of them men heading into the ministry, some were pastor's wives receiving training. They were from all over India. This college in Goa is actually only a nine week training institute; it is more like an extended seminar. The students were glad for the opportunity for study and fellowship.

Since the students more or less spoke English, I was able to preach without an interpreter. That is a blessing. As I stood to speak, I knew full well the type of situation most of these men were going to. Many were going to cities with almost no Christian work to speak of. Many would be or had already been persecuted for their faith. What do you say to such a crowd? Why would God privilege me to speak to such a group. I was overwhelmed.

This is the text I chose for the night, and I confess that it is my heart:

"I thank my God upon every remebrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:3-6).

As I spoke, I asked the Lord to be merciful to me and help me remembered those faces and remember their struggles. I asked Him to remind me to pray for them. I asked for Him to remind me that we are partners for the kingdom, and that they are dear brothers and sisters called to a task for which I have not yet been found worthy. They will suffer in ways that I will not. Though I have training for the ministry that they could not begin to dream of, God has called them to a task that I might not be able to handle. One would almost despair for them in their hardships if it were not for verse 6. My final prayer as I spoke was that God would remind me again and again and again that what He starts, He finishes.

After the graduation, we were treated to a great meal of curry and rice. Perhaps you have heard that Indian food is spicy. I am here to tell you that the half of it has not been told to you. I believe that even the coffee is spicy in India. I am judging by South Louisiana standards, and they are no slouches when it comes to spice.

Before we left Goa we went to visit Jason Job and his wife at their home. I suppose their home has around 3,000 square feet. In that home, they take care of nine orphans and their two children. This is the second home that they have lived in while staying in Goa. They rent, and when the landlords find out that they are Christians and that they have orphans there, they will not renew their lease. As you can imagine, this is a terrible strain. Almost every year pastors such as Bro. Jason Job have to find a home that they can afford and that is large enough to accommodate the children. I pray that the Lord will grant Bro. Jason enough money to buy a place to set up. It is not only inconvenient for him to move, but also for the small church that meets in his home. They currently have around 20 members.

I have walked on the shores of Arabian Sea of India, and I have met the believers there. But more wonderful than the Sea and the scenery there are the men and women who labor there for the sake of Jesus Christ, who struggle in a dark place to reveal His bright light. Please pray for the church of God in Goa, and for the work that they are building there.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

First Impressions of India

After thirty hours of travel, my plane landed in Bombay (Mumbai) India. Nothing in my personal, missionary, television watching experience had prepared me for what I would see there. The only word that I know that comes close is squalor.

The way the Bombay airport is designed, I had to actually exit the airport in order to rendez-vous with the other two men that I would travel with. We had to come on seperate planes because of a price issue with the airline. Fortunately, they only arrived 15 minutes after me. Unfortunately, I had to take my first steps in India virtually unguided.

The first thing that you notice in Bombay is the smell. I caught the fragrance before I ever exited the terminal. It smells like sewage. I was told that of the 19 million people who live in Bombay, 10 million of them live in slums. I believe it. I could see what looked like miles of slums from the plane. The people use the street as their bathroom. Some places literally smell like a latrine.

The second thing that you notice in Bombay is the mass of people. People are everywhere. They are crowded together like stacked wood. I can't imagine how they live in such conditions. Many of the people that you see beg for their food. From the time that I left the terminal, to the time that I found my friends, to the time that I got into the car, I was thronged by hungry little boys. They touch your hand and pull your shirt. They bring there hands to their mouths and they grunt. They are begging for money for food. Their "beggar pimps" watch them like a hawk. Give any one of them a dime, and it will promptly be confiscated.

I was relived to find my traveling companions. They were men who had been to India multiple times. They knew how to negotiate the city. When I found them I also found our guide for the day. His name is Matthew. Matthew is a pastor just outside of Bombay. He pastors a small church and takes care of around 11 orphans. He takes care of these children with his wife. They do the cooking, the cleaning, the wash, and everything. Of course, the children help, but the adults do most of the work, and they shoulder the financial burden. Matthew works with Emmanuel Ministries.

Another thing that shocks you about India is the traffic. It is bumper to bumper and fender to fender. You see camels, cows, pigs, bicycles, scooters by the thousands, and just about anything else you can imagine wondering the nearly laneless roads. And they drive like maniacs. The horn is the only law on the street. When you hear it, you move or you get hit.

Matthew took us to our hotel. It was right across the street from a very large slum. I should take a little time to describe what a slum is. Mostly, these shanties are just three walls and a tin roof. They have dirt floors and no sewage. Everywhere you look there is garbage piled high. It looks like New Orleans after the hurricane. Yet people live there day after day.

The hotel that we had arrainged was a five star hotel. The contrast was incredible. It was, by far, the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed in. The floors were all white marble. The decorations were exquisite. The beds were fabulous, and the view was...of a slum. Lavish living across from absolute poverty. This is the Inida I saw. It is a country of contrasts. By the way, the hotel cost me $80 a night. Not bad for five star accomadations. As I looked out the hotel window, I felt the guilt of privilege.

These are my first impressions of India. I do not know if they are fair, but this is how I felt. The poverty that I have seen in the USA, Brazil, and Portugal did not touch what I saw in India. It was overwhelming. What is worse is that I firmly believe that much of this physical poverty is due to the spiritual absurdity of the caste system. The caste system enslaves people to squalor. It is a part of the Hindu religion, and I hate it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Introduction to the Mission

I should probably begin my reflections on India by telling you why I was there in the first place.  In a very real way, I was there because of a meeting of two men that took place in 1969.  One of the men was my traveling companion and is my grandfather-in-law, T.W. Terral.  The other man is M.A. Thomas.

M.A. Thomas, I believe, is originally from southern India.  As young man, he felt the call of God to go north to begin a church.  He and his wife obeyed that call, and so they began walking north.  Yes, I believe that they walked.  Their destination was a city in the state of Rajasthan called Kota.  

Upon arriving in Kota, Dr. Thomas was promptly beaten by a hostile mob.  His books were burned, and I think that his skull was cracked.  (I know that it has been broken twice, and I believe that it was at this time that it was first broken.)  Nevertheless, he remained obedient to God’s call and stayed in Kota with his family.  They handed out gospel tracks, lived on next to nothing, and saw a few people come to Jesus Christ.

It was a few years after this that Dr. Thomas and Bro. Terral met.  Bro. Terral was in India for a short mission trip, and he heard that a pastor in Kota would like someone to come and stay with him.  My grandfather agreed.

When Bro. Terral came, the church had grown to around nineteen members.  Bro. Terral remembers that they had a wonderful time of worship together.  As he and Dr. Thomas fellowshipped, Bro. Terral began to ask Dr. Thomas why he didn’t try to do church planting in other areas with other willing pastors.  Dr. Thomas said that he had never heard of church planting before, but for $25 a month, he believed he could sponsor a pastor to church plant.  Bro. Terral agreed to help with the money, and he pledged to return and help with crusades and to help meet any other needs that they might have.  A few years later, Dr. Thomas would begin an orphanage.  I believe that he supported nine of them at first.  They lived in a three-walled hut with a tin roof.

Every pastor that would subsequently be sent out by Dr. Thomas faced the same persecution that he and his family faced.  Most endured.  Some were actually martyred.  They all still face hostility today.  I have seen it with my own eyes.

On this trip, Bro. Terral and I and our other companion, Dr. Willie Greer, a pediatrician who has accompanied Bro. Terral on many trips since the early eighties, visited Dr. Thomas and some of those original orphans.  That small church of nineteen has spawned a national denomination which today has over 500,000 members.  The one church has become 20,800 churches.  Nineteen orphans has become over 10,000.  Some of those orphans now have orphanages and churches and Bible schools of their own.  It was quite the trip for my grandfather and for myself.

There is more to this grand partnership than I can here tell.  There has been more fruit than can be expressed in numbers.  As I relate the details of this trip, I hope that some of the story is more fleshed out for you.  It is an incredible story of the faithfulness of God, the grandness of Christian partnership, and the ability of the Church to thrive in a hostile environment.  I hope that you are challenged and encouraged by what you read of the men and women of God that I met in India.

So I Can Rest Medicine?

I wanted to begin on India today, but I have been sick still. My medication to knock out the bug I got in India actually makes me nauseous and dizzy. Isn't that ironic. Anyway, if I look at a computer screen for more than 20 seconds the room begins to spin. Will try again tomorrow.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

To The Faithful Remnant

Thank you all for staying around during my absence, and thank especially to those of you who prayed for us while we were in India. We had a wonderful trip. For me, it was eye-opening in many ways. I hope to document that in a series of posts here. I saw first hand the poverty of India, the hideousness of the caste system, persecution, and the bravery of our brothers and sisters in Christ in India.

I will try to begin that tomorrow. Today, I am taking it easy. The day after I returned home from India I became extremely ill. My temperature reached 104 degrees, so I went to the emergency room. I was admitted, and I only returned home today. I had eaten, drank, came into contact with something contaminated and contracted ecoli. I was not pleasent. They thought I had cholera. Please continue to pray for me. I am still pretty weak. Thanks again for not utterly abandoning the place while I was away. I look forward to sharing with you about the work in India.