Thursday, May 23, 2019

Pro-Life

We live in an interesting time. There are so many avenues for self-expression. Facebook, Instagram,Twitter are all a part of our everyday lives. Cable “news” often deteriorates into biased rants and diatribes aimed at infuriating one segment of our society and placating another. Any hope of decent, well-considered, meaningful, respectful dialogue seems futile these days.

Issus like racism, abortion, gender, sexuality, and ecological concerns are often discussed on these various platforms in the most detrimental fashion. Social media can be such a positive force for change and such a cesspool for degrading conversation.

Recently, I have noticed numerous discussions concerning abortion, abortion laws, and the entire topic of life debated on social media and in the news. I have found these discussions to be fascinating and disappointing. Something this complex cannot possibly be summarized in a tweet or Facebook post.

Life is precious. And complex.

God is the Author of life. He is the Creator of this universe. He designed it to be teeming with life. It uniquely supports life. And life is incredibly complex. That does not mean that we are not to develop convictions that are firmly rooted in Scripture and consistent with the character of God. 

Consequently, I am Pro-Life. That is not a political declaration. I am neither Republican nor Democrat. I am equally disappointed by both parties in my country. Neither of them has the copyright to life. They don’t own words, nor do they create dictionaries.

I will say it again --- I am Pro-Life. That means I value life. In all matters. I care about vulnerable people. I care about unborn children. I care about vulnerable women who are pregnant. I care about families trapped in poverty. I care about people victimized by oppressive laws and systems. I care about people who either struggle with their sexual identity or choose to live a life that is very different from what I have chosen. I care about unfair policies designed to diminish populations of people. I care about providing mechanisms designed to improve life skills for those who have not had adequate provision in their early lives.  I believe in ministering to people in tangible, helpful, and healthy ways. I care about responsible governments—both local and national—that serve the best interest of citizens. I care about moral integrity. I care about extending grace and patience.

I care about honest, helpful dialogue aimed at solutions. I care about people. I don’t mind paying taxes to support responsible means of governing our society. I believe in helping people flourish. 

I also have convictions. I believe in the historically orthodox Judeo/Christian view of marriage and sexuality. I believe Jesus Christ is the Redeemer for all of humanity. I believe The Jesus Wayis the only way to abundant and eternal life. I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I believe the Church is the physical representation of Christ’s mission on earth. I believe Jesus came to offer us life.

I don’t believe in demeaning people. I don’t support mean-spirited, judgmental attitudes. I don’t think complex life issues can be easily solved through angry personal exchanges with strangers. I don’t believe in always seeking a quick-fix to complex problems.

I believe we should spend more time in action than argument. Instead of trying to convince others about my convictions, I would rather demonstrate them through my life. Consequently, I felt called to serve First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas as its pastor. Our church started Mission Arlington in 1986 to address some of the concerns I have outlined in this article.

We remain the sponsoring church for Mission Arlington. We are its largest financial supporter in its history. We have invested millions of dollars and millions of hours in sharing the love of Jesus in very tangible ways. We also have been instrumental in establishing shelters in our community for those victimized by abuse and neglect. We also own and operate Soteria—an individual/family counseling center at our church.

We are one of the founding churches of Restore Hope. We are the largest supporting church for Restore Hope. Through it, we are addressing some of the needs I have outlined in a cross-cultural context in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Spain, Slovenia --- and many other places around the world.

We also support Living Hope. When people come to us seeking help in relational healing, we walk alongside them in a journey of discipleship. We believe in the Gospel!

My church is engaged in all manner of ministries designed to help real human beings live real lives. My church is not perfect. But it is good. We care about people at our church. We are on record --- we care about life.

I am Pro-Life. That means I am concerned for life in every situation. I cannot be conformed to the Image of God’s Son without being Pro-Life. Our lives are often determined by the choices we make. I want to help people make the best choices to discover the best life available to them. I want to assist people in having the opportunity to make wise and healthy choices. So, I am also Pro-Choice!

I am praying for myself today—and you. I am praying that God will give us the maturity to be His people in this day.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Denominational News

Now, that’s a catchy title! I’m sure it will garner great attention! But, our church is actually connected to a denominational family. We are a Baptist congregation.

Historically, we have chosen to voluntarily cooperate with the Tarrant Baptist Association (TBA), the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), and the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). Remember those acronyms – there will be a test later.

In the past 25 years or so, the denominational landscape has changed, to say the least. So much so, that we most closely identify today as a Texas Baptist church. We are still vitally connected to the Tarrant Baptist work – but, the Texas Baptist “gene” is in our DNA. Obviously, Dr. Wade served as both the President of the BGCT and the Executive Director of the BGCT. I have been very involved in Texas Baptist life as well.

This summer, the three denominational bodies ---- BGCT, SBC, CBF --- are all holding their annual meetings in the metroplex! Arlington is hosting the annual meeting of Texas Baptists. This will be our family gathering. All of our affiliate convention bodies will meet together (e.g., African American Fellowship, Baptist Convención, etc.). It will be a wonderful meeting.

I will be nominating my friend, Dr. Michael Evans, as a candidate for President of the BGCT. Michael is the Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield. He is such capable leader and will serve Texas Baptists well.

The SBC and CBF will hold their annual meetings in June in Dallas. These are the two national bodies that used to be all be together in the Southern Baptist family. The SBC was established in 1845 and the CBF in 1990.

As time has progressed, the SBC leadership has migrated way to the right of the theological spectrum, while the CBF has migrated to the left of the same spectrum. Unfortunately, there are many of us who are in the “middle” of these two groups. In fact, the BGCT became the first denomination of any size to reject BOTH extremes of that spectrum. We are solidly in the theologically orthodox, centrist position now.

With that said, there are machinations at work to encourage, enhance, and further explain that “theological middle” position. I am engaged in helpful and robust conversations with leaders from across the country who are seeking new ways to partner in Gospel witness with like-minded theological centrists like me.

I love the dialogue I am in. God is stirring. We have no plans to start a new denomination. We are just seeking ways to partner together to answer the call of the Great Commission with folks who refuse to be led to extremism. 

I’m very hopeful. There are some wonderful Christian leaders from across America who are longing for a space for us to live collaboratively together in a missional, purposeful community. Our hearts are warmed by the Gospel. We are guided by Biblical authority. We are Christ-centered. We are Spirit-led. We are church-friendly. And – we are happy in our faith. We are winsome in our spirits.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Beauty of God's Word

We have just navigated through a very meaningful Easter Season. I loved it all. I so enjoy walking through these significant seasons with my church family. I love to see how God works in your lives and mine as we journey together.

We read through John’s Gospel this Easter. Wow! What a powerful expression of the Jesus Story. John certainly offers a fresh perspective on Jesus. You know you are in for a ride when you read his opening sentence: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.Again --- Wow!

We have just begun to read the book of Genesis together as a church family. Notice how it begins, “In the beginning . . .” As the author of Genesis (we think Moses) looked back into pre-history, he decides to just start at the beginning. There in the far reaches of eternity past --- we find God. He is present. In fact, He just is!

In the opening page of the Bible, we read of God, His Spirit, and His Word. The Spirit of God was hovering (Genesis 1:2) and then the Word of God began to express the will of God (Genesis 1:3). God said!God’s Word.

God’s Word is powerful. As He communicates – beauty emerged. All of creation came into existence by and through the authority of the Word of God. God’s Word would eventually find its greatest expression in the truth shared by John, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:15). Again --- Wow!

God’s Word is powerful and beautiful. His Word is the revelation of His character, His intention, His will, and His way. God knows best. When He reveals Himself through His Word, He is always right. His Word gives shape and definition to reality. His Word gives life. His Word endures. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

The Bible is the record of God’s Word. It is the inspired expression of God through human instruments (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). God’s Word is life-shaping and life-giving (Hebrews 4:12). The Apostle Paul admonished Timothy, the pastor of the church at Ephesus, to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).

God’s Word is authoritative for our lives. It is not always popular. We live in a day when many people struggle with authority in general. It just doesn’t “seem” to fit the spirit of our age to assert that God’s Word still holds its “place” in our society. So often, we are tempted to bend the Word of God to fit or match our sentiments. When we do that, the Word of God loses its beauty. In fact, it becomes our wordinstead of God’s Word.

Our world is filled with challenging issues that clamor for true and deep answers. It is so easy to allow the spirit of the age to dominate the conversation and shape perspective. I would encourage all of us as followers of Jesus to consider the beauty and richness of God’s Word. Even when God’s Word contradicts what we feel. Even when God’s Word is counter to the prevailing view.

Certainly, God’s Word has be read, analyzed, studied, and interpreted by every generation of God’s people. Thankfully, there are trusted methods to be implemented in a fashion that honors true historical and critical research. And – our interpretive method can be honest and not given to dishonest, contortionist, mental gymnastics that do not accurately reflect the true meaning of the text. Usually, we resort to the latter when God’s Word challenges the climate of the day.

Let’s honor God by honoring His Word. His Word is His breath! It is the intimate expression of His will and His way. As we read, study, reflect, meditate, interpret, and apply God’s Word to our lives---may the beauty of God’s revelation be on display in and through us!

God has given us His Word to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). May my life and yours reflect the wisdom that is only found in the eternal, beautiful, and powerful . . . Word of God!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tribute to My Mother

I was awakened early last Saturday morning by a phone call. One of the attendants where my Mom has lived for over a year was on the line. He called to let me know my Mom was unresponsive that morning.

Many thoughts rushed through my head as I rushed to her bedside. After I arrived, the paramedics met me there to let me know that she had died early that morning in her sleep. She had passed peacefully from this life to the next. I sat next to her for a few moments in the quiet. Just me and her. It was a special time for me to just gather my thoughts and thank God for my Mother.

Mother was born in Griffin, Georgia to a mill-working family. The Dundee Cotton Mill dominated the landscape of that community in the early 1920’s. Mother was the last of 9 children in her family. The 5 boys all died before they were a month old, but the 4 girls all lived into adulthood. They never solved that mystery.

She was reared in somewhat of a scrappy family – eking out a living during the Depression. Like most of the men and women in that community, my Mom’s family all worked at the cotton mill. My grandfather ran a slashing machine that turned the cotton into birds-eye so that it might be used to make towels and diapers.

Mother would later work in that same mill alongside her husband – our Dad, after she married. However, her early years were marked by learning to hand-wash clothes on a rub-board, churn buttermilk, sew clothes, cook on a coal stove, wax hard-wood floors, clean the outhouse ---- all the routine skills that children learn today!

Instilled within my Mom was a strong work ethic. Woven into the fabric of her life was a deep love for God, for family, and for country. Her parents were gentle people who lived simple lives and enjoyed all God gave them. There was a sweetness about them that flowed through the life of Naomi.

When I think of my Mother --- I think of the values that made her into the strong woman our family knew and loved. She was a hard-worker. Our house was “grand-central-station” for all family gatherings and celebrations. My Mom cooked for the masses and served everyone. She went to work when I was a kid to help out with the bills. She used her money to buy us clothes at Parisian’s in Birmingham. She usually put it all on “lay away” and paid on it week by week. She loved the Lord. She taught us about Jesus. She modeled prayer and Bible reading every day that I can remember. And, she loved her family. Family was always welcome in our house.

My Mother dropped out of High School after her junior year and married my Dad. They lived in Griffin until the WW II started. Daddy was blind in one eye, so the military would not take him. He was drafted and tried to join every branch but was rejected. About that time, a plea went out from US Steel in Birmingham for men to work in the steel mills there. My parents moved to Alabama to join other family and help out with the war effort by producing steel for tanks, planes, ships, and various other needs.

They would rear their family in Birmingham. I was the last child in the brood and the beneficiary of a loving family that remains close to this very day. My life has been shaped by the gentle hand of a Mother who loved me all of my life. She always believed in me. She always blessed me. She always cared about me.

She went to countless ball games as she reared us. She washed countless baseball, basketball, and football uniforms through the years. She listened to us share our dreams and blessed us in pursuing them. She was always “present” with us. Her heart never ventured far from home and family. We were the joy of her life.

In these later years, she lived with our family for the past 20 years. I can’t measure the impact she has had on my own children. She was a part of the everyday ebb and flow of life. She is just a stable fixture in the Wiles family picture.

In the last week or so of her life, we lifted her from her wheelchair into a chair at the table in our kitchen. I sat down next to her for a moment. I thought briefly about all of the time she had spent “lifting and carrying” us. I thought about what a privilege it had been to care for her during these later years in her life. She was always appreciative and always said, “Thank You, Son.”

So, I will say – “Thank You, Mother.” I hope those values you held so dear will always be alive in me. I’m proud to be your son.

And so, heaven became richer when a sweet, kind, gentle woman named Naomi Wiles checked in to claim her reservation. I’m not sure how it all works there—but if they have family gatherings and reunions---then look for Naomi in the kitchen. She will be happily serving the people she loves. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Reflections on Charlottesville

Needless to say, our nation is in turmoil. We are polarized on just about every issue. And, we were reminded last weekend of just how much work there is left to do in our society. Hatred, vitriol, violence and racism were all on display on the streets of Charlottesville for all the world to see. It was truly a sad spectacle to behold.

I grew up in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Era. I remember “coloreds only” and “whites only” signs in public places. I also remember the ease in which those practices were enforced. I remember the “comfortable” separation of races and the belief that it was just supposed to be that way.

I also remember the darkness of racism and just how toxic it could become. Watching the expressions of hatred and violence last weekend brought back old memories of a bygone era in my life. I remember hearing racist taunts and witnessing expressions of racism at school and in my neighborhood. I was deeply saddened to see it raise its head  again in such a dramatic and public fashion.

But, let’s be honest—racism is felt in all of our cities. Charlottesville is not alone. It may not be as violent and as public—but it is there. It is evidence of the depravity of the human heart. The darkness of racist convictions is never far from abusive and corrupt behavior. The fire of racist ideology lurks in the shadows of neighborhoods and schools across America.

As Christians, we have to stand against it. Every. Single. Time. From. Now. On.

For those of us not in Charlottesville, it is easy to condemn racism and violence from afar. It is much harder to combat it our own communities. It is even more difficult to battle it in our own hearts.

May God grant His people the wisdom and grace to overcome hatred and evil. May we be true harbingers of hope and purveyors of peace in our communities. May God give us grace to be victorious over sin in our hearts first and then to be examples of God’s redemptive work in our schools and neighborhoods. Now is the time for God’s children to act like His children.

I am praying for healing in this nation. I am praying for all of us to be true examples of God’s redemptive work. I am praying for leaders to stand strong in the face of such evil. I am praying for God’s people to reflect His glory and light across our land. I am praying for the love of God to be on display through the lives of those of us who have benefited so greatly from it.

May God have mercy on our land.