Saturday, October 30, 2010


A Baptist church was destroyed today!

Well, not exactly.

450 pounds of dynamite and 1,200 charges imploded four buildings of an esteemed Dallas institution, First Baptist Church of Dallas. The Burt, Christian Education, Ruth Ray Hunt, and Veal buildings went down in a cascade of smoke and debris at 8:15 yesterday morning. FBC Dallas, a part of the cityscape since the mid-1800s was moving into the 21st century.

When the dust settled, the historic sanctuary still stood, shining in the sunlight. That structure will remain a vital part of the new campus to which the four imploded buildings contributed 600,000 square feet of space.

“Now,” pastor Robert Jeffress declared, “we are seeing the sanctuary in a whole new light.”

Dedicated effort went into protecting this sanctuary, a mere 50 feet from the nearest point of implosion. Plywood covered all the stained glass, and a barrier of dirt prevented debris bouncing off the ground to hit the old building. It was a roaring success!

The new campus includes a new 3000-seat worship center, a new education building, a fountain plaza, a sky bridge across a downtown street, an acre of public green space, etc. Supposedly the most expensive (and extensive) renovation of a Protestant church ever!

All set to open Easter of 2013.

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of another impending implosion, of another institution, in light of another imminent “Easter.” It’s an odd account, one of those Markan “sandwiches,” with a split outer story (the two halves of a “bun”) and an inner story (the “patty”).

The outer story is one of a fig tree that, green and leafy, promised much but didn’t deliver. First half of the “bun”: It had no fruit and, as an object lesson, it was cursed. Second half of the “bun”: Peter’s exclamation.

Peter said to Him [Jesus],
“Rabbi, look, the fig tree
which You cursed has withered.”
Mark 11:21

It’s the inner story, the “beef patty,” that explains the whole passage: Jesus drives out the traders and merchants and moneychangers and dovesellers and other such mercenary folks from the Temple, a glorious edifice that also promised much but wasn’t delivering.

“Is it not written [in Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7],
‘My house shall be called a house
of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a ‘robbers’ den.’”
The chief priests and the scribes
heard this, and began seeking
how to destroy Him.
Mark 11:17–18

A malfunctioning institution of worship. It would be imploded.

And Jesus said …
“Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left upon another
which will not be torn down.”
Mark 13:2

So then what is the proper function of such institutions?

The new community of Christ-followers, the church, Jesus said, would be characterized by two essentials: faith and forgiveness.

A house of prayer that demonstrates faith towards God ….

And Jesus answered saying to them,
“Have faith in God. …
Therefore I say to you,
all things for which you pray and ask,
believe that you have received them,
and they will be granted you.”
Mark 11:22, 24–25

And a house of prayer that displays forgiveness towards one another ….

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive,
if you have anything against anyone,
so that your Father who is in heaven
will also forgive you your transgressions.”
Mark 11:25

The new sanctuary, the body of Christ, the church.

Faith and forgiveness. May those be the characteristics of FBC Dallas and every other church in the world.

A redo … because of the first Easter.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


A blissfully mild 60° here in Mt. Hermon, CA, today. What a place! Nestled in the redwoods, a delightful “piney” smell permeating the atmosphere, everything so green, and Mandarin and Cantonese like confetti all around me.

Yup! Mandarin and Cantonese. You heard right.

All those linguistic, tongue-warping, tonal delights produced by a 500-strong army of Fongs and Laus and Engs and Kwoks and Leungs and Yews and Lees and Shens. Etc.

I’m here speaking at a church retreat for Chinese Independent Baptist Church, Oakland, CA (affectionately known as “CI”).

CI has a long and storied history of ministering to the Chinese immigrants in N. California. And an equally long and celebrated association with Dallas Theological Seminary: many in their congregations have attended DTS (and some still do); many of our faculty have spoken at CI and its retreats—this is actually my second ministry venture with these marvelous folks. In fact, CIBC, which has been in existence over a hundred years, just created their Mandarin group a couple of years ago. What a remarkably enterprising bunch of Christ-followers this is!

So CI has this annual retreat for their three congregations: English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. All together. In one place. At the same time.

Well, not exactly. Your humble blogger is completely at sea as far as the last two of the aforementioned languages are concerned. I can barely tell them apart when I hear them, though, I must admit, I’m getting better. And, no, I’ve not been suddenly gifted with the abilities to preach in Cantonese and Mandarin; I’m speaking to the English congregation; the other two have their own speakers in their respective languages.

What is interesting, though, is to sit in on their singing times. English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. All together. In one place. At the same time.

The lyrics projected on the screen in front are in English, Cantonese ("traditional"), and Mandarin ("simplified"). All together. In one place. At the same time.

And everyone sings. In English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. All together. In one place. At the same time.

Fascinating! A delightful blend of languages praising God! Heaven!

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You …;
for You were slain,
and purchased for God with Your blood
those from every tribe and tongue
and people and nation.
You have made them a kingdom
and priests to our God;
and they will reign upon the earth.”
Revelation 5:9–10

Yes, that’s God’s heart. For men and women of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Jesus commissioned His followers:

“Go therefore and make disciples
of all the nations ….”
Matthew 28:19

For that’s what God is all about—to bring the whole mass of mankind to Himself, into the peaceable Kingdom of His Son, through the recreating work of the Holy Spirit.

And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That those of every people,
nations and language might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13–14

A kingdom of all peoples. And we will all sing His praise forever.

Praise the LORD, all nations;
Laud Him, all peoples!
For His lovingkindness is
great toward us,
And the truth of the LORD is everlasting.
Praise the LORD!
Psalm 117:1–2


All together. In one place. At the same time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


The Presidential gavel. This week, your faithful blogger was inducted as President of the Evangelical Homiletics Society and presented with this fancy implement.

This little ceremonial hammer is typically used as a symbol of authority of the chairman or presiding officer of an organization, to call meetings to order and to close them. (Some auctioneers and judges use them, too.)

I had the pleasure of striking it to adjourn the Business Meeting that conducted the election. That’s about all the power the President of the EHS has! Bang!

(Maybe I ought to use it the next time I preach, in lieu of pounding the pulpit. That ought to be impressive. Wearing my Aberdeen red robe. Breathing fire and brimstone. Yeah!)

Robert’s Rules of Order, however, prohibits its use in such authoritarian fashion. You can’t use it, so saith Robert, to shush an obstreperous member. You can’t lean on it. You can’t twiddle it, juggle it, or otherwise handle it disdainfully. Needless to say, you can’t use it to whack another on the head. And as for pounding pulpits, nope, that’s forbidden: you can’t use the gavel to emphasize your remarks. Robert hath spoken!

Robert’s dicta are constantly disobeyed in Congress. In a heated debate in 1954, Vice-President Richard Nixon broke the 200-year-old Senate gavel, made of ivory! Incidentally, upon request, a replacement was gifted to the Senate by the government of India; it is still in use today.

And the House? They utilize a plain, vanilla, wooden mallet. It breaks regularly—surprise!—and apparently there is a large box of back-up instruments on the Speaker's Rostrum.

The long and short of it is this: A gavel’s no use—it ain’t got no power.

In fact, real power, true power, is possessed only by one Being—God. And it is from Him all temporal authority is derived.

For there is no authority
except from God,
and those which exist
are established by God.
Romans 13:1

The absolute and divine authority of the Son of God resounds through the New Testament.

And Jesus came up
and spoke to them, saying,
“All authority has been given to Me
in heaven and on earth.”
Matthew 28:18

All authority. Over embodied beings …

You [God the Father]
gave Him [God the Son]
authority over all flesh ….
John 17:2

… and over disembodied ones.

He commands even the unclean spirits,
and they obey Him.
Mark 1:27

As God, Jesus can forgive sins.

… the Son of Man
has authority on earth
to forgive sins.
Matthew 9:6

He is over all, above all. The Almighty One.

And on His robe and on His thigh
He has a name written,
“King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Revelation 19:16

And this One, this Superpower, is coming again. Soon. And He’s coming to set things right. To rule and reign. Forever!

And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
that those of every people,
nation, and those language
might serve Him.
His dominion is
an everlasting dominion
which will not pass away.
And His kingdom is one
which will not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:14

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the preeminent authority.

For in Him all the fullness of Deity
dwells in bodily form, …
and He is the head
over all rule and authority.
Colossians 2:9–10

So relax, Christian, for the One with authority is on our side.

To the only God our Savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty,
dominion and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
Jude 1:25

And He don’t need no gavel!

Saturday, October 09, 2010


That’s Mercury (to the Romans) or Hermes (to the Greeks).

Notice what he is carrying in his left hand: a winged staff with two snakes–the “caduceus.” Nobody really knows why this is Hermes’ symbol. Some speculate he was originally a snake god. In any case, the vocations patronized by Hermes have adopted this symbol of the reptilian double-helix —merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves.

Yup, I know what you are thinking: “Hey, you missed doctors!”

You’re right, I did … deliberately. The caduceus is not really a medical symbol. Somebody in the U.S. Army Corps messed up in the late 19th century and began using that as its “mark.” It was all a big mistake, now perpetuated by the majority of medical professionals. The original medical symbol is actually the rod of another god, Asclepius: a one-snake, non-winged rod.

So one author wrote: “It is hard to trust a profession that cannot even get its symbols straight.” Rightly so, since Hermes’ caduceus protects even those of doubtful virtue.

“As god of the high-road and the market-place Hermes was perhaps above all else the patron of commerce and the fat purse: as a corollary, he was the special protector of the traveling salesman. As spokesman for the gods, he not only brought peace on earth (occasionally even the peace of death), but his silver-tongued eloquence could always make the worse appear the better cause. From this latter point of view, would not his symbol be suitable for certain Congressmen, all medical quacks, book agents and purveyors of vacuum cleaners, rather than for the straight-thinking, straight-speaking therapist? As conductor of the dead to their subterranean abode, his emblem would seem more appropriate on a hearse than on a physician’s car” (Stuart Tyson).


Then again, quite ironically, maybe it is appropriate that the commercialized business that medicine has become has the symbol of tricksters, shysters, and cheaters as its mark.

Not that the other guy, Asclepius, is a lot better. He and his snakes exercised considerable mystical powers of healing. His temples were infested with these creepy things that crawled over those afflicted with disease; supposedly these folks were cured. But this happy tale ended in tragedy: Zeus killed this ancient medic with a thunderbolt for raising a dead man … for gold.

All in all, I’m not very convinced about either Hermes or Asclepius, both dodgy characters. As a physician, I’m not sure I want their mark!

What’s the mark we bear as children of God, as Christians?

… I bear on my body
the brand-marks of Jesus.
Galatians 6:17

Paul, here, is referring to suffering. That was his mark!

… we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body
the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus also
may be manifested in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:8–10

That’s the brand-mark of Jesus: suffering. And that’s brand-mark we’re called to bear.

Amy Carmichael (1867–1951), missionary to India, put it well, in Jesus’ voice …

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star:
Hast thou no scar?

No wound? No scar?
Yes, as the master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound? No scar?

Suffering. Wound. Scar.

The true mark! Of Jesus followers.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Mercury. AKA Hermes (to the Greeks). A bronze by Giambologna (1529–1608) in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

Hermes is best known as the messenger of the gods, the one who bore their communiqu├ęs to mortals. Hence, “hermeneutics”—the science of interpretation, primarily of God’s Word. So there he is, with winged hat and winged sandals (as well as a staff with two serpents—but more about that next week).

Preachers and teachers of God’s Word—hermeneuts—therefore have Hermes as their patron saint! Perhaps that is why Hermes is also the god of orators and poets.

Unfortunately, he is god of more than those ….

Apparently Hermes was quite precocious. On the first day of his life, he invented the lyre. That same night, he stole the immortal cattle of Apollo, driving them back to Greece and hiding them. He is said to have walked the cattle backwards to fool those giving chase (rather confusing, if you ask me, but who am I to argue with Homer?). Despite these stratagems, Hermes’ thievery was discovered, but he enchanted Apollo with the lyre (which he had just invented); Apollo allowed Hermes to keep the cattle in exchange for the instrument.

Thus, Hermes is also the god of thieves, perjurers, and miscreants and malefactors of every shade and shape. A deified trickster—this Hermes.

And for some reason, Hermes is also the one who escorts the dead into the underworld.

Altogether, a rather unsavory character, who is known to have had a whole collection of lovers and sired a large number of offspring, among whom are Pan, the god of nature, and Eros/Cupid, the god of love.

Not necessarily an icon for good!

Of course, some folks considers preachers and deceivers to be of the same ilk; Hermes, then, is an appropriate god for both!

Hopefully that is not the case with us believers who interpret and apply God’s Word.

You are witnesses, and so is God,
how devoutly and uprightly
and blamelessly we behaved
toward you believers;
just as you know how we were
exhorting and encouraging and
imploring each one of you
as a father would his own children,
so that you would walk in a manner
worthy of the God who calls you
into His own kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:10–12

While we are all, one way or another, hermeneuts interpreting God’s Word for application in our lives, Hermes ought not to be our mascot. Paul is a much better model.

For our proud confidence is this:
… that in holiness and godly sincerity,
… in the grace of God,
we have conducted ourselves.
For we are not like many,
peddling the word of God,
but as from sincerity,
but as from God, we speak
in Christ in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 1:12; 2:17

For those who expound the Word of God (formally or informally) are held to a higher standard of holiness.

Let not many of you become teachers,
… knowing that as such
we will incur a stricter judgment.
James 3:1

Indeed, all God’s people, but especially God’s leaders—both men and women—are called to be irreproachable.

… blameless and innocent,
children of God above reproach.
Philippians 2:15
An overseer, then, must be above reproach ….
1 Timothy 3:2
… give the enemy no occasion for reproach.
1 Timothy 5:14
… keep the commandment
without stain or reproach
until the appearing
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 6:14

As someone said, we may not be above sin, but we can be above reproach.

Definitely better than Hermes!