About Me

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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Critical Spirit, but a Constrained Tongue

"but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poisons.(James 3:8, HCSB).

As I was considering what to write about this week, I went back and reread some of my previous posts. To my embarrassment, I noticed several typos and awkward constructions. I then started to think about all the papers I have graded over the course of my academic career and how many times on those papers I wrote the phrase, "awkward construction" and then proceeded to deduct points accordingly. I don't regret such grading, nor do I find my past activities hypocritical when I myself fall prey to such activity today - mistakes happen. But I do wonder, how many readers looked at those mistakes and thought "Geez, he should be able to do much better than that!" (readers, there is no need to reply on that point :-)). I also thought about how many times I had judged the quality of the person by the grammatical correctness of their speech, and it is to that issue that I feel led to speak.

I see children "correcting" each other about how a line in a movie really went or chastising each other over menial realities that don't really matter. I see adults with angry words about the idiocy of someone who just cut them off or critical of someone who wasn't as friendly as we thought they ought to be. It would seem that a critical spirit is part of the human condition. Indeed, it might be impossible, this side of heaven, to hold every thought captive that pops into our head about others. But I do believe there is a place in the process where we can take control, and that is before such thoughts are transformed into words and leave our mouths.

James says the tongue is "full of deadly poisons." This imagery is powerful about the need to control our tongue. Especially in light of the central image of the Church as the Body of Christ. Poison does not stay localized in a body. Once it has gained entrance, it spreads through the entire system, infecting and destroying as it goes. When we allow a critical thought or spirit to be transformed into a critical word, we have exponentially expanded the impact that such thoughts have on ourselves and all those who are part of the Body - We have poisoned the Body of Christ!

I have made it my goal to always consider my thoughts before speaking them. Sometimes this leads to awkward silence, and sometimes maybe even to awkward constructions. But I trust that such awkwardness will be more easily forgiven than the critical word that might have been spoken.

"He who sedulously attends, pointedly asks, calmly speaks, coolly answers and ceases when he has no more to say is in possession of some of the best requisites of man." - Johann Casper Lavater

My prayer is that I can be that kind of man!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Children's Theology

"I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15, HCSB)

This past week while the boys were watching the worship channel (hoping the Tim Hawkins ad would come on) Will attempted to turn all the Scripture verses into a song. As a result, he started repeating the refrain "Your ways oh God are Holy!" - A precious moment to be certain. But the event took an unexpected turn when Jonathan decided to sing back-up by repeating behind Will's refrain "home-made, home-made." Though confused in lyric, the content of the repetition expressed a profound reality when one stops to think about it - God's ways are home-made, and in a couple of ways.

His ways are His - they are made by Him alone. We do not dictate to Him. That is in fact one of the elements of holiness - His separateness, His distinctiveness and His loftiness.

Also, God's ways must be the center of the home. They make the home and they shape our paths. The home that follows His ways is the home that stands the test of time.

It was not the first time that I had personally heard a child confuse words being spoken to powerful effect. I will never forget a young child standing in the seats in church while we sang "At Calvary," and instead he shouted:

"Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
AND GOD LOVES ME."

What seems clear from these events is that children make connections about their view of God and transfer those thoughts into words as they believe they fit. They're not always right, but there is a simplicity and clarity in their thought that is something to be valued. I know as a professor and pastor my passion is always to see people go deeper in their faith and to see them to start to catch a glimpse of the power that God is and the sufficiency of His Grace - to understand the life that we have in Him.

On the other hand, there is certainly a value to recognizing the simplicity of the Gospel. That there is a God and He is GOOD. A childlike faith is the heart of how we are called to accept the Kingdom of God by our Savior. A faith that is unfettered, unqualified, and unconditional. A faith that sees all theology as relational in nature - not us-centered (for that is childishness, not childlikeness), but a faith that understands that everything we believe must be understood in terms of the effect it has on our relationship with God and with others. Without that, theology is nothing more than dry dogma and false religion.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Place I Have Never Been Before

Acts 9:9 He was unable to see for three days, and did not eat or drink (HCSB).

I have often wondered what went through Saul's mind during these three days of blindness. His whole life had been changed with his conversion on the Damascus road and now he sits in that city waiting and wondering where that change would lead. What would he do, where would he go, how different would his life be? He did know one thing, his life was in the hands of his Savior and Lord and he was no longer walking the path of his own making. What a rush of emotions - excitement, wonder, curiosity, and even a great overriding sense of peace must have been his. Most likely, though blind at the time he knew he was seeing more clearly at that moment in life than he every had before!

Since receiving the word that my future no longer included a stay at Southwestern, I have entered into a totally new experience. I have always had a "base of operations" in my adult life that kind of defined me. I went from high school to college to seminary, with little to no break in between each. When I graduated with my PhD I was introduced as "Dr. Pierce, Assistant Professor of Old Testament." I have never had a time when I didn't have a planned future, a certain path, and a clear understanding of myself. Now that is exactly where I find myself - a place I have never been before.

What awaits me and my family? I am, like Saul must have been, full of excitement, wonder, curiosity. I don't know where I am headed, and truthfully there is some fear involved too. I am wandering around in a type of darkness and I want to see clearly. At this point, however, I just have to trust that the One who is leading me is enough - and in that knowledge I do find an overriding sense of peace.

I know God has prepared me for this journey and that He is with me through it all. I just hope that like Saul, when I come out on the other side, I will continue to "grow more capable (9:22)" in His power and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

God is Good!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sermon: Praying for the Right Things

video

Sermon on Praying for the Right Things, from Mark 10:34-45.

Delivered at Highland Terrace Baptist Church During the Contemporary Service, 05/24/09

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Practice what we Preach?

Over the last couple of weeks I have been struggling with the role of integrity in the ministry. Actually, I have been struggling with what matters and what doesn't as it applies to integrity. I am well aware of the matter of non-essentials and how the Church has been called to look past these matters of debate in favor of the big issues of Church unity and the cause of the Gospel (Rom. 14). But what about when something is a non-essential and a person chooses to be deceptive about it?

For instance, through my years as a seminary professor I have often come upon ministers who take the term "Dr." on their name, though they alleged doctorate that they have is either honorary or from a degree mill. Now, it is no secret why a person would do such a thing - a doctorate adds "standing" to his or her work (and admittedly some churches won't look at a person who does not have that title). Furthermore, I truly believe that degrees are non-essentials in many respects. My brother has only a Bachelor's degree, yet I would not hesitate for a second to place my family and myself under his leadership as my pastor.

So, what is our demeanor to be when we run into a person who has a "doctorate," even though they did nothing to earn the degree? What does it say about a man or woman who is willing to falsify their credentials for a title?

Paul outlines the qualifications for a overseer/pastor/elder in 1 Timothy 3. The first of these qualifications listed is that the man must be "above reproach." It would seem to me then that integrity is considered the primary qualification for a man who seeks to be an overseer/pastor/elder. If that is so, when one goes down the path of claiming a title which one did not truly earn, I think the church has a responsibility to call him on it and to require an answer. It's not the degree that matters, it's the integrity of the heart claiming the degree that does. And I would venture to say that a person willing to cut corners on such a menial matter, will also be willing to cut them in other places - places that may leave the church in real trouble.

This is but one example of the matter of integrity - we all could be held to account for places where we cut corners. My focus here is not an individual or even pastors as a whole, my point, rather, is the call to be "above reproach" as a Christian. For we must all realize that Paul's list of qualifications in 1 Timothy were not meant to be understood simply as things desirable in Pastors, but pictures of the mature Christian we all seek to be. We ALL need to practice what we preach (myself included)!

Francis Bacon put it this way: “It's not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.”

May we all seek to find integrity in what we do!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

God's Gift to Me - My Wife Kristy!

When I was only six months old, an event took place that would change my life forever, though I wouldn't realize it for 18 more years. On June 7, 1969, a little red headed girl was born to Kenneth and Penny Kilpatrick. Like many girls she would play with dolls, fight with her brother, and laugh with her friends. She came to Christ as a young girl in Williams, Arizona - a decision that would eventually lead her to Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas.

At Wayland, some 13 hours away from Arizona, she would cross paths with with another Arizonan and win his heart in moments. Though it would take some convincing on her part, I knew immediately that she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She had beautiful Irish eyes, an amazing smile that could light up an entire room and a sweet disposition that made even my timid college freshman personality comfortable in her presence. Two years later in December, 1989, we were married. Six years later we would have our first child (a girl), soon followed by two boys.

Today, we're looking at 20 years of marriage. She is even more beautiful, more loving, and more amazing than when we first met 22 years ago. On this June 7, her birthday, I thank God for such a great gift. She has been my strength when I felt like giving in. She has been my encourager when things looked darkest - pointing me toward the One who is ultimately the Hope for all of us. She is a blessing beyond description. She is my light and my life. I praise you God for all my blessings, but none more so than my wife Kristy. Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Does God Want People Dead? Imprecatory Psalms and the Christian

Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! (Ps. 137:9, ESV)

With the possible exception of the herem (Deut. 7:1-11; 20:16-18) [a topic for a later blog], the Imprecatory Psalms such as Psalm 137 represent some of the most difficult texts with which the Christian must grapple. After all, how can one possibly reconcile the above quoted sentiment with Jesus' commands to "Love your enemy" and "Turn the other cheek?"

The question is one that is finding interest even in the secular media. The ABP reports that recently on The Alan Colmes show a fairly high profile Southern Baptist Pastor expressed that he presently prays Imprecatory Psalms. Apparently, Wiley Drake, a pastor in California and one time Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention prayed such prayers against George Tiller (the recently murdered late term abortion doctor) and admits to praying such prayers as well against President Obama (http://www.abpnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4126&Itemid=53). His reasoning is that such Psalms are the spoken will of God and that praying them is nothing more than agreeing with God. That being his position, he falls back on the "I just preach the Bible" line that has characterized a lot misappropriations of the Sacred Text over the years as if his understanding of such texts represents the plain, normal reading of the material and to question it is to question the authority of the Bible itself.

To be fair, there are those who take a different tact than Drake on such texts that do so using a view of the Bible that does question its legitimacy. Scholars have argued that these Imprecatory Psalms are nothing more than the residue of ancient superstitions and that such thoughts on the part of the Psalmist are, in fact, sinful. Obviously, those taking this view would conclude that these Psalms have no place in Christian life or thought.

But is there not a mediating position that both takes seriously such texts as divinely inspired texts without also going down the road of praying for the death of those we view as "sinners?"

At issue here are numerous issues - the nature of inspiration, proper biblical interpretation, and one's view of God.

Apparently, Drake has a view of inspiration which suggests that the Bible is solely God's words, thoughts, and expressions. I can't speak for him specifically, but it would seem that his starting point is almost a dictation view of inspiration, with little to any contribution coming from the writer's outlook, life, and thought. This view goes further than the verbal plenary view of inspiration which many evangelicals (myself included) hold to which says that there is nothing in Scripture God did not want there, and nothing excluded that He did want there - every word is God's. Yet, God in His revelation did not seek to override the human to the point he disappeared. God spoke within history, using the hurts, questions, fears, and other limitations of man in order to perfectly relate His will for mankind and how we might relate to Him. This fact is revealed in the differing styles, perspectives, and observations of the biblical writers (cf. 2 Peter 1:21 - moved by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.) In the Psalms, this interaction between God an human finds expression in words of real sorrow and grief, real hurt over circumstances, and real anger over the circumstances that caused that hurt and grief. In other words, they are words that God wanted expressed in the text, but not necessarily His desire in expression.

Biblical interpretation must be done mindful of the genre of the text and the historical context. The genre of Imprecatory Psalm is a subset of Lament - an extreme expression of grief. Historically, these psalms were used as a means of praising Yahweh's greatness and power over the nations and life, addressing the hurt and pain the people of God were feeling, and calling on God to address that hurt. They are not reflections on God's desire for people. On the contrary, their purpose was actually an instrument of God to change the hearts of His people and to reveal His greatness to the nations. Like ALL the Psalms, they are expressions of worship!

Therefore, if one is to pray these psalms, one doesn't do so because he or she believes God wants these people to die; rather, one prays these psalms in order to be moved into a perspective of the world from God's viewpoint. And what is God's viewpoint - it is always redemption of both ourselves and others! These prayers awaken a realization of the tension we live in between the fallen world and seeking God's will. God doesn't seek to destroy the person, but that in the person that separates us from Him. It is a cry of sorrow at the present world order, and a plea to God to alter it. Such prayers are simply another way of praying the model prayer's "your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Such texts are not easy. I don't claim to have the last word on them. But I believe I have approached the texts with a voice that is both consistent to the biblical worldview and able to speak appropriately to a world of God's grace and desire for redemption - not destruction. Oh, His wrath is real, but it is never portrayed in Scripture as the starting point.

Finally, it is not so much the faulty interpretation that is the problem with Drake's approach - we all have places where we misinterpret the text at times. Rather, it is the spirit of arrogance that suggests his reading is the only right one and that takes a much debated text (even among conservative evangelicals) couches his take on the matter as "God's viewpoint." Such is the spirit of a false Fundamentalism that exchanges our viewpoint for God's and actually puts us over the text instead of in subjection to it.

Sermon: The Family, Genesis 2

video

Sermon on the Family from Genesis 2:
Delivered during the contemporary service at Highland Terrace Baptist Church, 02/01/09.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Inadequate in Myself

We are not adequate to think anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy comes from God (2 Corinthians 3:5)

The grace of God! We often think of it solely in terms of justification and the transformation that takes place at that moment, but it encompasses all that we are and do. Apart from that grace we are nothing and can do nothing.

As I undertake the task of blogging, I do so mindful of the fact that in myself I have nothing to share. Any gifts I possess, any thoughts I express; all are the product of my relationship with God and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

The blogs here will sometimes involve reflections on theological or philosophical matters. Sometimes I will include elements from life and family (not that those first two can ever really be separated). But mostly, I think what goes on here will be a chance for me to fellowship with friends and family and to further catch a glimpse of how BIG God is and how sufficient His grace is to every aspect of my life.

Blessings!