Una Perspectiva Panameña sobre la Semana Santa

Puesto que pasé casi 30 años en Panamá como misionero, tengo una perspectiva sobre la Pascua de Resurrección que confío que haya enseñado una lecciones importantes.

En primer lugar, la Semana Santa en nuestros primeros años en Panamá tendía a ser influida mucho por el Catolicismo Romano, la religión predominante en Panamá. La semana entera era templada, con menos énfasis en los aspectos comerciales de la vida. El viernes santo era sobrio y solemne, las emisoras de radio y canales de televisión sólo podían tocar música solemne, penas funerarias, etc. Las iglesias celebraban misa para conmemorar el viernes santo. No había deportes o entretenimiento. Posteriormente, el viernes santo llegaba a ser más secular, y ha continuado así. Es posible que algunas emisoras de radio hayan mantenido programación solemne, pero no así los canales de televisión. Algunas personas mayores, estrictamente católicas, dicen que la fecha se ha convertido en tiempo feriado, pero no “día santo.”

Es interesante que en aquellos años el domingo de resurrección era como cualquier día normal. Se llamaba “domingo de gloria”, pero según nuestra perspectiva no había mucha celebración de la resurrección de Cristo, y la gente iba a la playa, tenía paseos, visitaba familia, etc., básicamente como cualquier otro tiempo cuando no le tocaba trabajar. Pero ni la solemnidad ni la frivolidad le tocaba a la gente profundamente. La solemnidad no influía a la gente a venir a Cristo para pedir perdón de pecado y recibir un Salvador que cambiaría su vida. La frivolidad no era gozo cristiano, basado en la certeza del Señor resucitado que había conquistado la muerte.

¡Qué diferencia descubrimos en la iglesia evangélica! En primer lugar, muchas iglesias celebraban un culto especial para el viernes santo que daba énfasis a los últimos siete dichos de Cristo desde la cruz. Yo pude participar en muchos de esos cultos durante los años, a veces predicando una de las siete palabras, como en un servicio unido, y a veces predicaba los siete dichos. El culto a veces se extendía mucho, pero el enfoque teológico y práctio ayudaba al cristiano y daba un buen desafío.

Cantábamos canciones como “Hay Un Precioso Mantanial,” y “¿Qué Me Puede Dar Perdón?” Además, cantábamos sobre la pasión de Cristo como “Oh Qué Amor,” y ¿”Sabes Que Murió Jesús?,” ese último cantada a la música de una canción popular en Los Estados Unidos en los años 1960 “Sealed With a Kiss.” Canciones hermosas, melódicas sobre la muerte de nuestro Salvador en la cruz que me tocaron profundamente, pero desconocidias en inglés.

El Domingo de Resurrección siempre era un día especial en Panamá. Cantábamos en español por supuesto, canciones como “La Tumba Le Encerro” (“Up From the Grave He Arose,”) con volumen y emoción, y luego escuchábamos en mensaje predicado en ese día de días.
Nosotros pudimos introducir el concepto de servicio de amanecer a la iglesia de Bethania donde servimos unos 15 años. Creo que algunas iglesias ya lo hacían, pero era concepto nuevo para muchos a quienes vimos llegar a los pies del Señor, y rápidamente se convertía en una de las actividades más populares e inspiradoras del año. Un servicio temprano, generalmente como las 5:30 o 6:00 a.m., seguido por un desayuno, y luego la Escuela Dominical, significaba un día glorioso en el Señor y con Su pueblo.

Recuerdo nuestro primer domingo de resurrección en Panamá en 1978, cuando nos reuníamos los domingos en la noche. Creo que era un 26 de marzo. Nuestro servicio principal se celebraba los domingos en la noche en aquel tiempo. Cantamos. Oramos. Yo prediqué. Al final, un joven de más o menos 20 años pasó al frente para recibir a Cristo. Su palabras fueron estas: “Sabía que tenía que haber algo más en la vida de lo que yo había encontrado, y esta noche lo he encontrado en Jesucristo.” ¡Cristo resucitó! ¡Él vive! ¡Ha resucitado. Ha resucitado verdaderamente!

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in English on April 13, 2017. You can read it here.)




“Be Still, My Soul”

Most of my generation, especially those of us raised in church, will always love hymns. They will forever have a special, unique place in our heart. Many of us also love other genres of music, like Christian Contemporary, Southern Gospel, Country Gospel, or others forms of Christian music, but traditional hymns will always have a unique spot in our life. Recently my friend Gowdy Cannon had a March Madness hymn sing-off in which people could vote for their favorite hymn, and his carefully-chosen list which matched up some of the best-loved songs of the ages was featured. All were winners; excellent choices that have blessed the saints for decades or even centuries, and all deserved to be on that list.

I’d like to put another song on my list of great hymns. I’m not saying this particular song is the greatest ever. Much of that is certainly subjective, and I prefer to say that there are many wonderful songs that have ministered to the body of Christ, and have been the body’s vehicle to give praise and worship to the Lord and that there is probably no way to pick the “best-ever.”

I would, however, like to add “Be Still, My Soul” to the list of all-time greats. The music is stellar; written by Jean Sibelius of Finland. It’s actually a classical piece “Finlandia,” which is the national anthem of Finland, and tells the story of that European nation. A portion of the music was then utilized to create the hymn. The lyrics were written much earlier by Kathrina von Schlegel, and this is the only hymn she was ever known to have written.

It was translated into English by Jane Laurie Borthwick in 1855 into the version we commonly sing today. The music has been used for other compositions, such as in Elisabeth Elliot’s book Through Gates of Splendor about the five martyred missionaries in Ecuador “We rest on Thee, our Shield and Great Defender,” and more recently by Gloria Gaither in “I Then Shall Live.” The music, of an unsurpassed beauty, lends itself for many poetic compositions.


My favorite arrangement of “Be Still, My Soul” is that of the group 2nd Chapter of Acts. Converted to Christ during the Jesus Movement, they sang some beautiful compositions, such as “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” “The Easter Song (Hear the Bells Ringing”; a song they wrote), and others. I have found their version of “Be Still, My Soul” to be one of my all-time favorite songs.

Unlike some hymns, which are sung in worship to the Lord (think of “How Great Thou Art”), or as testimony songs (“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine”) “Be Still My Soul” is sung to one’s self as an exhortation, an encouragement, and a reminder of God’s sovereignty and steadfast faithfulness.

Jane Laurie Borthwick’s translation is powerful. I recommend you find yourself a good arrangement of the song; I’d recommend 2nd Chapter of Acts’ version as I mentioned earlier, and listen to this beautiful hymn. Even more, find a copy of the lyrics and meditate on them.

1. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2. Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

3. Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

4. Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.


Hymns are nutritious to the soul when we sing them and meditate on their message. The stability, the strength of the believer is found in our steadfast and sovereign God. Our soul can find its rest and peace only in Him. What a blessing to experience this, even in the midst of storms and severe trials! The song “Be Still, My Soul”, both in biblically-based lyric and unsurpassed classical music, brings countless Christians assurance and hope. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.




Poles of Tension, Balance, and Nuance: Making Sense of Things When it’s Hard to Be Dogmatic

I recently wrote a tribute here in REO to Brother Leroy Forlines. There are so many of us who learned so much from him, both by his teaching and possibly even more so from his example.

Mr. Forlines frequently talked about “poles of tension” in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and probably beyond. This was to illustrate truths that often must be stated in more than one way in order to achieve balance. Mr. Forlines wrote in The Quest for Truth:

Life is not always simple. The complication presented by sin, the shortage of time, money, ability, help, etc. limit what we can do. We cannot do everything we would like to do. Frequently, we need to look at a situation from several different angles, and then make a decision. We are pulled at from many directions. We experience tension. The best is not always possible. We have to prioritize in the light of reality. Proverbs 26:4,5 illustrate for us what I call: “the principle of tension and counterbalance.” The first verse reads, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou be like unto him.” The next verse reads, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”

One verse tells you to not answer a fool. The other verse tells you to answer a fool. Obviously, you cannot do both of these in every situation. If that be the case, how do you obey these two verses? What you have to do is to consider what the greatest risk is. If the greatest risk is that you will be like him, you do not answer him. If the greatest risk is that he will be wise in his own eyes, you do answer him. It will not always be easy to decide which of these to do, but you must do one of them. It is a serious mistake to choose one of these and adopt it as your approach to every situation.

These verses help us develop an important principle of interpretation: There are some truths that cannot be set forth in one principle alone but must be set forth in two or more principles which counterbalance each other. Here we need tension. There is tension between the different sides or angles of truth. This tension is needed to keep balance. This principle of interpretation guides us in areas where we are dealing with what we might call general truth instead of absolute truth. As is illustrated in Proverbs 26:4 and 5, there is no absolute truth about whether and when to answer fools. This principle is similar to the principle, “There are two sides to the same coin,” or “There are many facets of truth.” I will call this principle of interpretation: the principle of tension and counterbalance.

It is important to remember that there are absolute truths such as the moral teachings of the Ten Commandments. These we must obey. But there are some areas of life for which we have general principles rather than absolute truths to guide us. In these cases, we are by the help of God to make wise choices.

As Mr. Forlines suggests, the answer is to found in the remainder of each verse. To blindly and thoughtlessly respond as a fool does is to become as foolish as he. On the other hand (v.5) there will be times when you have to call a fool out, because otherwise he will be wise in his own eyes, and assume he is right. The context determines the response.

Balance is frequently the best and wisest way. Or, as my son David likes to say “nuance,” to not simply take sides dogmatically. Avoiding extremes. We humans have a tendency to gravitate to extremes, and not see nuance, or an even slightly moderated position. We attack our opponent mercilessly and allow no room for compromise. We fail to consider time, place, historical perspective, and heart attitude.

Sometimes balance is not the response, of course. The exclusivity of the gospel, for examples, requires a fixed position, because that’s what the Scriptures state categorically. “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved,” allows for no deviation. The law of gravity is fixed. Mathematical formulas like two plus two equal 4. But many, if not most, things in life do allow more than one point of view.

By way of illustration, there’s an example I would like to share. I have long been intrigued by the phrase “a sinner saved by grace.” In fact, one of my favorites of the Gaither songs carries that title.

I’m just a sinner saved by grace
When I stood condemned to death He took my place.
Now I grow and breathe in freedom with each breath of life I take.
I’m loved and forgiven, back with the living,
I’m just a sinner saved by grace.

A “sinner saved by grace.” Some say we should not use that phrase, that if we are saved we are no longer a sinner, and that we are advocating license to sin by using it. I think we can legitimately use the phrase, as long as it’s properly nuanced, and we aren’t advocating continuing in sin while claiming grace. (See Romans 6)

1. There is a past and present perspective, or before and after. I was a lost sinner who has been saved by God’s amazing grace. Before meeting Christ, I was without God and without hope (Ephesians 2). After I am His and He is mine.

2. Being a sinner saved by grace does not mean continuing in sin. Absolutely not. At no time in this life am I perfect or sinless. But as a believer, I must, and do sin less.

3. Paul, the great Apostle, refers to himself in I Timothy 1:15 as the “chief of sinners.” To me, Paul’s referring to himself as the “chief of sinners,” even though he is an apostle, church planter, and long-time believer. This shows that it isn’t out of place when used properly and given nuance to refer to oneself as “a sinner saved by grace.”

4. We are now saints, holy ones. A sinner saved by grace is a saint of God. Both are true. Poles of tension. I am not what I was, though I’m not yet what I long to be. A redeemed, saved sinner, reborn a saint, a child of God.


James Gray was president of the Moody Bible Institute from 1904 until 1934. He wrote the hymn “Only a Sinner Saved by Grace.” (Also may be known as, “Naught Have I Gotten by What I Received.”) Gray wrote the lyrics and a member of the music faculty wrote the music. This hymn has been a great blessing in my life over the years:

Naught have I gotten but what I received;
Grace hath bestowed it since I have believed;
Boasting excluded, pride I abase;
I’m only a sinner saved by grace!

Only a sinner saved by grace!
Only a sinner saved by grace!
This is my story, to God be the glory,
I’m only a sinner saved by grace!

Once I was foolish, and sin ruled my heart,
Causing my footsteps from God to depart;
Jesus hath found me, happy my case;
I now am a sinner saved by grace!

Tears unavailing, no merit had I;
Mercy had saved me, or else I must die;
Sin had alarmed me, fearing God’s face;
But now I’m a sinner saved by grace!

Suffer a sinner whose heart overflows,
Loving his Savior to tell what he knows;
Once more to tell it, would I embrace—
I’m only a sinner saved by grace!


Determining the truth in the most accurate way is vitally important. I’m thoroughly convinced that looking at all sides of an issue, striving for balance in matters that don’t require a dogmatic, inflexible stance, and nuanced position is generally the best way to go.




Five Lessons Learned from F. Leroy Forlines

Let me tell you a story. I am one of many who grew up under the ministry of Leroy Forlines, long-time theologian and professor at Free Will Baptist Bible College (now Welch College). There are few people who have had as great an influence in shaping me than Mr. Forlines; my mother, my pastor, and a handful of others.

Mr. Forlines was a teacher, mentor, example whose personal integrity and godly life touched many of us. Now in his 90s, Mr. Forlines is a national treasure to our denomination, and to the entire body of Christ. A few months ago, an REO contributor wrote a tribute to him. My thoughts here are somewhat a tribute as well, obviously, but I want to be more personal and talk of how he influenced me in several ways, both big and small. I hope to follow this article with another that will focus on one of his sayings or approaches to finding the truth: his well-known “poles of tension” that I first heard articulated in the 1970s.

1. Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.
2. Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.
3. Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.
4. Mr. Forlines was important in our movement as a theologian.
5. Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years – bearing fruit even unto old age.


1. Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.

It was my first or second year at Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1969 or 1970. I asked a young lady (not Judy; it was before we started dating) for an on-campus date. These consisted of either sitting in the student lounge, outside in certain designated areas or walking around one of the approved blocks on or near the campus. This particular day the young lady and I were walking, probably around Richland-Bowling, and met Mr. and Mrs. Forlines who were approaching from the opposite direction. He greeted us, and then pulled me aside and said: “a gentleman walks on the outside of a lady on the sidewalk.” I hadn’t even thought about it. I learned a lesson in etiquette I remember to this day.


2. Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.

Every week, usually on Wednesdays, we men students had an on-campus meeting. Usually, Mr. Forlines met with us. Some guys found the meetings boring and a waste of time, but my friend Seldon Buck and I had a ball, listening and laughing (not out loud) as Bro. Forlines shared with the guys. There was always Scripture, some sort of devotional thought, but so much more, especially as it related to living responsibly in a campus dormitory situation. Things like flushing the toilet, knocking on a fellow students’ door before entering, keeping your room neat; things of that nature that some of the guys didn’t do too well. Occasionally, Mr. Forlines would do some entertainment, such as his famous trick of standing on his head and drinking water. Amazing! I don’t know if we realized it at the time, but he was helping us grow up as young men, and even when it was emphasizing rules, it had its value. I personally am grateful for those “Boy Scout” meetings, as they were known.


3. Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.

I don’t recall the first time I heard him utter the phrase “a passion for holiness,” if it was during my student years or shortly after graduation when I heard him speak at a National Convention or Bible Conference, but I do know that it became a passion of his to stress the importance of striving after personal holiness. It came up frequently and reminded us of how far we often fell short, and how our hearts needed to be focused on holiness. He drove it home every time he could, and I am thankful.


4. Mr. Forlines was importantisimo in our movement as a theologian.

That’s a Spanish word which conveys a little more than any English word could: he was of the greatest importance as the theological voice in our movement. After Bible College, he spent nearly a decade in institutions of higher education, earning multiple degrees, and studying under some of the finest minds in the world. Not only did he shape our movement by training hundreds of pastors and missionaries, he was able to influence others who came to the college who weren’t Free Will Baptist. Additionally, his articles in CONTACT magazine provided theological insight to many more who did not study at the college. His years of service on the Commission on Theological Liberalism was a voice of warning about dangerous trends that threatened the evangelical faith once delivered to the saints. His works such as Systematics, and later The Quest for Truth, showed how he remained current and relevant in theological debate, and did so with grace, kindness, and an irenic spirit, even while standing for the truth boldly.


5. Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years, bearing fruit even in old age.

Amazingly, while still teaching at Free Will Baptist Bible College, Leroy Forlines and his wife Fay were able to travel to Russia and spend considerable time there teaching Russian pastors. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it immediately became possible to travel to Russia, and the Western evangelical world began to do just that. Russian Baptists have always been historically Arminian in theology, but most of those going from the West were Calvinist and brought a strong Calvinist emphasis. Our brothers there were so thankful to learn of Arminianian theologians from the West who were virtually identical in their viewpoints with them, and Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, Garnett Reid, Thomas Marberry, and Ron Callaway were able to spend much time with them. The Forlines stayed for several months, and covered the entire country. Mr. Forlines also spent time in India with veteran missionary and former college classmate, Carlisle Hanna. I well remember him sharing with me, with tears, the impact the India trip made on his life. I think it was tremendous to see someone his age expand his horizons, and no doubt at great personal discomfort serve His Lord in that way.


I suppose someone might ask, “feeling as you do about F. Leroy Forlines, he must have been your favorite teacher.” Actually, I never had one class under Mr. Forlines! The reason is, I had not determined my area of study my first two years, and when I was called into missions I had to cram a number of missions courses into three semesters, and I was not able to include Systematic Theology or Biblical Ethics.

However…in subsequent years I devoured everything Mr. Forlines wrote. I taught Systematic Theology no less than five times in Spanish in Panama, and Ethics at least four times. Mr. Forlines’ works and thought are so embedded in mine, that I think it’s safe to say no other theologian or thinker has influenced me more. I am truly thankful for his life.

*Image courtesy of ONE Magazine.




The Season, the Music, the Resonance

For Western Christians, and quite possibly for all believers everywhere, music is inseparable from Christmas. I’m aware that some folks delight in reminding us that the angelic choir that appeared to the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth didn’t sing. “And the angel said to them…” (Luke 2:10). Then it says there was a multitude “praising God and saying.” (2:13)

That’s all well and good, but I still think they sang. For one thing, he/they might have spoken and then sung those or other words. Also, Job 38:7 tells us the “sons of God sang for joy” at creation, and I’m thinking those were angels, not humans since presumably no humans were present at creation.

No matter. Much of Christianity down through the centuries has inseparably linked the celebration of the nativity with singing.

From the 5th century “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” a piece so hauntingly beautiful that pastor Rob Morgan considers it one of his favorites, to Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley and their powerful all-time hymns “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” to “Mary, Did You Know,” we all have our favorites, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Every year some song or songs resonate with me. Maybe something new, previously unknown. Maybe an old favorite. This year there are several:

1. The afore-mentioned “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”. I’ve listened to it several times and mediated on the poignant lyrics. The story of Christ retold in the 5th century. The Incarnation described in beautiful, ancient poetry. The recurring “evermore and evermore.” By the way, if memory serves this was the lead-off song for the Welch choir project from several years ago, “Alpha and Omega.”

2. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Written by Charles Wesley. Wesley is one of my all-time favorite songwriters, and this hymn has become a favorite Christmas song of mine. It’s the kind of song the ancients would have sung, had they known their Messiah’s name. We do know and celebrate accordingly.

3. The country gospel classic “O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” We sang it at our church a couple of weeks ago and the excitement was palpable, as “amens” were heard at the conclusion. Watching the Gaither video years ago as Ben Spear chokes with emotion as he sings the line “for Jesus is now that star divine, brighter and brighter He will shine,” touches me, as does the whole song.

Just for good measure, I’m going to throw in a few more. They aren’t really Christmas songs but are so fitting for the season. “I Call Him Lord,” by Dottie Rambo, reminds us “but the angel called Him Jesus, born of a virgin, Mary called Him Jesus, but I Call Him Lord. That lyric enables me to celebrate just a little more worshipfully this Christmas.

And there’s the old Fanny Crosby hymn “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” The first stanza has a powerful incarnation lyric “…Tell how the angels in chorus sang as they welcomed his birth, glory to God in the highest, peace and good tidings to earth.. ”

Finally, an older song by Bill and Gloria Gaither, not so well-known. I’ve enjoyed hearing it again, as it tenderly breathes out its Christmas message: “love went on reaching, and love went on longing, right past the shackles of my mind, and the longing and the reaching became Mary’s little son, and his love reached all the way to where I was.”

Christmas and music. Christmas carols. The birthday of our King. Still, a few days to go. I hope we all make the time and find the way, or ways, to worship the Newborn King this Christmas season. Going through the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Reading and studying Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2. Singing the old songs joyfully, and adding in some newer ones. Going to a Christmas concert or candlelight service. “Let every heart prepare him room, and Heaven and nature sing.”

Now I need to listen to “Handel’s “Messiah,” and Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God.”




How Firm a Foundation: A Tribute to the Seniors of Cofer’s Chapel

For the past three years, it has been our privilege – and a real joy – to work with the senior adults at Cofer’s Chapel.  From the days when there was the “50+” group, until more recent times when all the seniors became one fellowship, we have observed this special group of people. When we first joined Cofer’s in 1999, Bro. Eugene Waddell, a former senior pastor of the church, as well as Foreign Missions Director, worked with them. For as long as we have known this congregation, many senior adults have labored in the church, into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.  One of of our seniors, now inactive, will celebrate her 100th birthday this month. Many have gone home to Heaven over the years.

As I thought about this group who love their Lord, their church, and each other, I’m reminded of the old hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” How its truths comfort and assure us, taken as they are from Scripture. While one senior might walk every day, and seemingly have an inexhaustible supply of energy, another may be bent by age, chronic back pain, and have to walk with a cane or a walker. One may have a mind and memory as sharp as when he or she was 50, while another is retreating inexorably into the darkness of dementia. It’s hard to understand. Yet, the Lord cares for each one and is at work in the life of every one of His children.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

The foundation of the believer is the Word of God. He has spoken, and His word is true, His promises are sure. We who have fled to Him for refuge (trusted Him for salvation) are resting on a sure foundation.

Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

Based on Isaiah 41:10, we are admonished not to fear nor be dismayed. He is our God, and He will do all for us. We are held securely in His mighty hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

Isaiah 43 says when we pass through deep waters, they will not overflow us, and when we go through the fire we will not be burned. Sustaining grace through all of life. Cofer’s seniors exemplify that every day.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

This stanza pairs well with the previous one, with its reference to fiery trials. I love the line “my grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;”

E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love.
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn
Like lambs shall the still in my bosom be borne.

This is the stanza that my heart bequeaths to our Cofer’s seniors:  Even in old age we prove His “sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love.” Even though the hairs of our head turn white, He will still carry us like lambs in his bosom! Wow! (Isaiah 46:1-4) Psalms 71 and 92 both reference the strength and presence of a God who will not forsake us in old age, and can still make us fruitful. Seniors can serve! Do not make the mistake of writing them off. I have noticed, as one who’s recently entered that group, that retirees tend to not be included or invited to minister as before, and that’s a mistake, in my opinion. Knowledge, wisdom, sound judgment, and discernment generally characterize my age group better than younger groups. Obviously, we have to make adjustments, and can’t do as much as we used to, but we can still contribute!

The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

The hope and mighty assurance for all of us, regardless of age.




Heaven is Home

I’ve lived a fairly long life – 68 years now. To most people I’m “old,” and I’m fond of saying when asked how I’m doing “pretty good for an old man.” However, that falls flat when I’m with our seniors at church, or at a luncheon with other pastors and retired pastors, and there are many who are 5, 10, 15, or 20 years older than me.

But the longer I live, the more I remember: “I’m not home yet.” Especially in these days of so much turmoil, socially, politically, morally, and even religiously, life is hard to bear some days. The shooting last year at the Texas church brought that home once again. I have cried looking at pictures of the children shot down deliberately in cold blood by a man filled with evil.

The political division, the “me first” mentality, self-identifying, sexual exploitation of children, world hunger, rampant racism, abortion – not only accepted but glorified by so many – cause a heaviness and a sorrow that will never be gone here on earth. We’re reminded that:

1. Perfect healing will not take place in this life, but in the world to come.

2. Perfect justice will not take place in this life, but in the world to come.

This means, of course, that we will suffer angst, pain, anxiety, and grief all throughout our lives. Though Jesus is King, though His peace is real, His grace is sufficient, and His power available, things will never be perfect down here.

Some people are recognized for their greatness in this life, while God honors others in the life to come. Henry C. Morrison was a faithful missionary who served the Lord in Africa for over 40 years. He recalls that emotional day when he and his wife boarded a ship on their way back to the United States. His mind flooded with memories of the wonderful experiences they had enjoyed on the mission field. He began wondering what it would be like to return to his Midwestern hometown — will anyone there still remember us? Aboard that same ship, that day with Henry and his wife was the former President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt. He was returning from a big game hunting trip in Africa. When the ship pulled into the New York harbor, there were thousands of people there to greet him. The crowds cheered and the bands played. There were signs, banners, and billboards everywhere saying, “Welcome Home!”

As the dear missionary and his wife left the ship, they saw that no one had come to welcome them back home. With a heavy heart, Henry Morrison went to his hotel room and told his wife, “Honey, for 40 years we poured our lives into ministry and service. And yet we come back to America and not a single soul comes to welcome us home!”

His wife came and sat down next to her husband. She put her hand on his shoulder, and said to him, “Henry, you have forgotten something. You’re not home yet!”

Do you ever feel like the things you do for Christ are overlooked? Maybe you spend long hours working with children each day, or you work a mundane office job. Never forget that this world is not your home.  Serve your Savior faithfully each day, and He will reward you for your labors — just keep in mind, you’re not home yet.

Earthly crowns are dross to him who looks for a Heavenly one. — Jane Porter[1. Excerpt from a devotional by Dr. James A. Scudder.]


Here’s just a little of what awaits us!

The Absence of all that’s bad (Revelation 21)

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” There isn’t a more comforting verse in all of Scripture!

The  Presence of all that’s good

There’s a joke about two guys who speculate whether there will be baseball played in Heaven. One says “I’ll pray and ask God tonight since you want to know so badly.” The next day, he tells his friend. “Well, I prayed about whether there would be baseball in Heaven, and God answered me.  I’ve got good news and bad news.” “Tell me,” says his friend. “The good news is that, yes, there will be baseball in Heaven. The bad news is that you’re the starting pitcher tomorrow!”

The Glory of God in Jesus (Revelation 22:3b-5)

His servants will serve Him. We will see His face, shine in His glory, and sit with Him as Kings.

Eternal

“And they will reign forever and ever” with Him.

Home

“In my Father’s house are many dwelling places (mansions)…I am going away to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 CBS


Building 429 sang  “This Is Not Where I Belong”

…all I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current
Of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance, holding me

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

 

B.J. Thomas wrote the song “Home Where I Belong”

They say that heaven’s pretty,
And living here is too.
But if they said that I would have to choose between the two.

I’d go home,
Going home,
Where I belong.
While I’m here I’ll serve him gladly,
And sing him all my songs.

I’m here,
But not for long.
And when I’m feeling lonely,
And when I’m feeling blue.
It’s such a joy to know that I am only passing through.

I’m headed home,
Going home,
Where I belong.
And one day I’ll be sleeping,
When death knocks on my door.
And I’ll awake and find that I’m not homesick anymore.

I’ll be home,
Going home,
Where I belong.


To conclude, I’ve asked my son Phillip to write a little something about C.S. Lewis’ description of Narnia’s version of Heaven in “The Last Battle.”

 

I am hard pressed to find a better depiction of Heaven in any work of fiction than what C.S. Lewis wrote in the final book of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” The last few chapters of “The Last Battle” are full-to-bursting with the beauty, grandeur, and awesomeness that awaits those who believe. Food tastes better. The world is familiar yet deeper, richer, and better in every way imaginable. There are sweet moments of reunion with those who have gone before, as seen when King Tirian is reunited with his father. Yet nothing captures that pull we feel when we think of our heavenly home, that sense of longing – better than these words by one of the characters in those final pages: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.” Heaven is the place we “have been looking for” all our lives. Heaven is home, our “real country.” Heaven is where we belong. What an amazing hope we have as believers!

 

 

 

 

This life is just the preface.  The real story starts when we’re home!

 

 




“My Times are in Thy Hands”

When did this phrase from Psalm 31:15 from the King James Version first cross my mind and eventually stick there? Was it as a child in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School? Or as a teen in Sunday School or youth group, or hearing a message from my pastor? Or later when I started making it a practice to read through the Bible yearly? I honestly can’t recall when this phrase stuck, but somewhere along the way, it did.

The Psalm itself is powerful, from its opening stanza “In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness,” as the writer launches his appeal to the Lord for salvation, deliverance, and rescue. I learned early on that verse 5 was taken on the lips and echoed from the heart of our Lord Jesus as He yielded His spirit to His Father while dying on the cross (Luke 23:46) – the last of the seven final words of our Lord on the cross.

The Psalm is most instructive; trusting in the Lord in the midst of trials, of opposition, of sorrow, and affirming over and over that He will help and deliver. The Beacon Bible Commentary says Psalm 31 is “a striking alternation of lament and praise.”[1. Beacon Bible Commentary] We would all benefit by learning this Psalm, making it our very own, internalizing its principles and, indeed, its very words, climaxing with the powerful exhortation of verse 24 “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.”

Right in the middle is verse 15 “my times are in your hands.” Some versions render this “my future.” Other versions translate “fate,” “life-stages,” “destiny.” I sense that the idea is that all of our life is in his hands, his care, concern, and keeping. Wow! He was with me in the past. He is with me today (and moment by moment). He will be with me always. The CSB translates “The course of my life is in your power; rescue me from the power of my enemies and from my persecutors.”[2. Holman Christian Standard Bible] The “course of my life,” my whole life, from beginning to end, is under His control. What assurance that gives! His power is greater than any other power!

Robert Browning’s beautiful poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” includes the key line from verse 15:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned.
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”[3. Robert Browning – “Rabbi Ben Ezra”]

Because of our trust in a Sovereign God, we can have hope even when we fail (and we so often do!). He forgives, He renews, He gives fresh grace, and new beginnings – things we all need.

 

I will go on, my past I leave behind me
I gladly take his mercy and his love.
He is joy and he is peace, He is strength and sweet release;
I know He is, and I am His, I will go on. [4. William J. and Gloria Gaither “I Will Go On”]

 




Memories (Part 3)

This section of my personal memories deals in large part (not exclusively) with ministry-related memories rather than personal ones, and covers a period of some 20 years from 1995 until the present. I include it because, number one, these are special memories in my life, and secondly, they testify to the faithfulness and leading of God as Judy and I endeavored to be obedient to our calling as believers, spouses, parents, and missionaries.


Russia

We were in the process of completing our fourth term of service in Panama when a phone call came from Brother Eugene Waddell, director of the Foreign (now International) Missions Department. Would Judy and I consider transferring from Panama to Russia? After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, God had opened doors to Russia and all the former Soviet Union countries, and there was the possibility of Free Will Baptists partnering with the Russian Baptist Union, most of whom were very close to us doctrinally. This was the spring of 1995.’’

As we finished up that term and came to the states, with plans to visit Russia with someone from the mission that year, our feeling was that we would be transferring. I picked up some Russian grammar books, a traveler’s course, and other resources, thinking that would help prepare me. By the time we went in October 1995, I had learned several phrases and lots of individual words.

The trip was unforgettable. We traveled with Jimmy Aldridge (Overseas Secretary with FWB International Mission) and Galen Dunbar (board member). We met Brother Nicolai Sobolev, pastor and leader in the Russian Baptist Union, and what a wonderful host he was! We traveled from Moscow to Chelyabinsk, and then to Yekaterinburg. We attended a conference in Moscow with many Russian pastors and leaders, and a number of expatriates. What a humbling experience to listen to Russian pastors relate their experiences of time spent in prison, torture and isolation. Their faithfulness to our God came through in their testimonies. Through impossible situations, they labored to keep the church alive in Russia.

As a result of that amazing conference, and through an extended season of prayer and reflection, we reluctantly told Brother Waddell that we didn’t feel the Lord’s leading to go to Russia. At that time, we did not know why God said no. A year or so later, Mike and Cathy Corley where appointed to do what we were asked to do and they did it so much better than we could have!. He knew Russian and could begin ministry without the years of language study. Don’t second guess God. His ways are always perfect.


Director of Field Operations

In not choosing to go to Russia, we opted to return to Panama for a fifth term. That concluded in the middle of 1999, and we moved to Nashville to be near our oldest two sons (Michael was married and Phillip was a senior at Welch), and to enroll David in Bible College. Stateside assignment usually lasted a year or so, and involved visiting churches, speaking in mission conferences, attending associational meetings, and other mission-related opportunities. I was in western Missouri in an area-wide mission conference when one unusually warm November afternoon I received a call from James Forlines, who had become General Director of the Mission in 1998.

Bro. James told me he was considering me as a possibility for the Foreign Missions (now International Missions) administrative staff. Was I interested and willing to be considered? I could take some time and think and pray, talk it over with Judy, etc. We prayed earnestly, considered the possibilities and implications as to what it would mean for us, and in early January 2000, I called and told Bro. James that if he selected me for the position, I would accept. In mid-January, I became the Director of Field Operations.

It was my role to supervise and coordinate the efforts of our field personnel. I had an office in Nashville, and from there traveled to approximately 20 countries over the next eight years. It was truly a great adventure, a challenge beyond anything I could have imagined. Thanks to the Lord’s enablement, I was a part of several initiatives that enabled us as a people to have a greater impact around the world: partnership with Bible Mission International in Central Asia, the creation of the position of Regional Director which served us well for a number of years, although it has now been eliminated, the creation of the Hanna Project, and ongoing efforts with our international Free Will Baptist family. One of my most special memories was going to Bulgaria with Clint Morgan and Tim Awtrey to survey that country as a potential field of service for our mission, and later making that recommendation to our Board. The Board approved opening Bulgaria, and today, nearly 15 years later, God is working there in a mighty way through four missionary couples and a growing number of Bulgarian believers.


The International Fellowship of Free Will Baptist Churches, Inc

In 1992 a historic event happened for Free Will Baptists around the world. Panama was host to a consultation that would bring representatives from a number of countries where our missionaries served. Spearheaded by Dr. Melvin Worthington, Executive Secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, USA, the consultation became the catalyst for an international movement.

The International Fellowship of Free Will Baptist Churches, Inc. was officially organized in 1995 in Brazil. They decided to meet every three years. I missed the 1995 and 1998 meetings in Brazil and Uruguay, respectively, but starting in 2002 (we skipped 2001 because it was so close to the terrorist attacks of 9-11), I attended every meeting through 2010, plus a number of executive committee meetings on off years as a translator-advisor, or as a member of the committee. Bro. Worthington decided to postpone the next session until 2002, and we met near Nashville, Tennessee at Camp Garner Creek. We met in Panama in 2004, France in 2007, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 2010.

We’d basically meet every three years or so for a general assembly. The other years I would help coordinate an executive committee meeting, sometimes as a liaison and sometimes as a member of that committee. Working with men like Gerardo Acevedo (Uruguay), José Manuel Parrón (Spain), Luis Felipe Tijerina (México), and others remains a joy I can’t adequately describe and has led to some treasured friendships as well.


Panamá, Part II

God is truly a God of surprises. I had served as Director of Field Operations at International Missions, truly loved it, and was able to visit around 20 countries during those years. However, I was having some health issues (turned out to be sleep apnea at the time, and later some more problems), and I also began to sense some unrest in my spirit that perhaps it was time to leave and find a different ministry. The Lord graciously opened doors. I would leave the position of DFO, but stay on with the Mission. The original plan was to stay involved with the International Fellowship of Free Will Baptist Churches and help countries that had received the gospel from Free Will Baptist in the United States develop plans and strategies to begin sending out their own cross-cultural missionaries. At the same time, it was felt that Judy and I should have a field ministry somewhere, so we decided to divide that role between Panama (helping the Bowermans at the seminary) and Uruguay (teaching Bible institute classes). However, by the end of 2008, Eddie’s health had deteriorated, and he was going to have to return stateside immediately and go on a liver transplant waiting list. We made a trip to Panama in early January 2009 to meet with Eddie and LaRhonda Bowerman getting a crash course in the operations of the Seminary in Chame. Someone would need to assume leadership of the seminary, and it seemed that the Lord had brought us back to Panama for that hour. We served the next five-plus years in Chame, which turned out to be some of the most rewarding years of ministry. But it was not easy. The daily schedule was exhausting, on call 24/7, readjusting to the heat and humidity of Panama, and responsibilities without number. My undiagnosed health problems also left me extremely tired most of the time. Only God can be credited with giving us strength for each new day.

Judy had some flowers planted around the porch of the dorm where we were living. The beautiful small purple flowers bloomed every morning and then faded away in the heat of the day. Judy said they reminded her of Lamentations 3:23, “They (God’s mercies) are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.” It was a reminder every morning when we walked out the door, that God is faithful and His mercy to us is new and refreshing each day.

Another blessing to us was how God sent us Ariadna and Lazaro Riesgo from Cuba to help us in the seminary! “God sent” is putting it lightly! They came and stepped in immediately relieving us of many of the duties we had.

Also, the churches in Panama were seeing the importance of the seminary and taking ownership. Pastors were willing to dedicate two days a week to teach classes and this was essential. We had students in three different years so it was necessary to have three classes simultaneously. Not only was it a great help to us but the students learned from seasoned pastors. Another benefit was the pastors caught the vision and shared it with their congregations.

It is hard to believe that we’re talking about nearly 20 years here. From a middle-aged couple with children still at home to watching those same children grow up, go off to college (all went to Free Will Baptist Bible College, now Welch College), meet their future spouse, get married, and start their own family. Now we’re grandparents, several times over, but “greatly blessed, highly favored.” As the old saying goes, “how time has flown!”


Bethany

A highlight of 2014 for us was our trip to Peru to see David, Bethany, and their three children; Isaac, Jude, and Naomi. Peru is a beautiful country, Lima is a fascinating city, and being with the kids was special. We actually had them to ourselves for a few days while David and Bethany went away to have a short vacation and celebrate their 10th anniversary. The next time we saw them was just before Christmas 2014 when they flew in to spend their Christmas break with the Lytles Bethany’s family in the Huntsville Alabama area. How could I ever forget the night Bethany told us she might have cancer? She didn’t feel well from the time they arrived, and kept getting worse. Judy and I were to have gone to Panama on January 7 for a special “Passing the Baton” meeting that weekend in which International Missions was turning the work there over entirely to the National church. Because Bethany was feeling so bad, Judy decided not to go and went down to Huntsville, AL with Sheila Sass. I was to go on to Panama, but that very morning David called to say that cancer had spread throughout Bethany’s body. I got the message en route to the airport, so I canceled my trip, went down to Alabama that morning straight to the hospital. Bethany went home to be with Jesus the next morning around 2:30.


Epilogue

I told one of the editors of Rambling Ever On that the Epilogue would be relatively short. We left Panama as missionaries assigned to that field in 2014 and retired from the Mission in June 2015. Growing health concerns led to an MRI which revealed that I have Intracranial Hypotension, a spinal fluid loss, which causes the brain to sag and, in my case, led to severe headaches, especially when preaching, lack of balance which caused me to not be able to walk a straight line, and even speed up, trip, and fall. To that, we could add lethargy, slurred speech, and delayed reactions that at times made it dangerous to drive. God has been merciful, and though it took a while, we’ve learned that getting horizontal and resting every day has helped tremendously.

Judy and I have both had a number of health issues, mostly minor, and for that we praise the Lord. It’s all part of the aging process. Speaking of aging, our pastor at Cofer’s Chapel, Allen Pointer, asked us to serve on staff at the church part time and work with the senior adults and to begin a ministry to internationals. God has allowed us to start a Hispanic ministry, and we now have around 30 Spanish-speaking folks to whom we minister, and whom we’re seeking to fully integrate into the life of our church. It’s also exciting to get to know our seniors better, especially since we are a part of the group!

At this stage of life, watching our grandkids be born and grow is truly one of life’s greatest blessings. We have nine, with another on the way.




You Don’t Know Who Ty Cobb Was?

A baseball great.  Record holder. In the first class of Hall of Fame players inducted in 1936. Lifetime batting average of .366 – the highest of all time. Three times batted over .400 for a season. Possibly the greatest player of the early 1900s.

Violent temper with a reputation for viciousness and thought to be a racist.

Some recent studies seem to indicate that some of the things thought to be true about him may not have been factual. (This may have been due to an inept and extremely biased biographer.)

Earlier biographers depicted Cobb as extremely violent, sharpening his spikes and endeavoring to slide into other players and cut them. He is said to have attacked blacks and sought to inflict bodily harm on them. Even Ken Burns of the famous video series Baseball, presented that picture of Ty Cobb. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the ghost player Shoeless Joe Jackson talks about not inviting Cobb to come to the magical field because “we hated the ____.”

More recent studies seem to show that he was not hatefully racist, was respected by teammates and opponents alike and tried to graciously reach out to fans. He was, according to Charles Leershen, in “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” an extremely complex man, far from perfect, but not guilty of many of the things alleged in earlier biographies.

Ty Cobb was born in Georgia in 1886, just 21 years after the Civil War ended. He played for the Detroit Tigers, and because of his attitudes and actions, and being a Southerner, he may have created more problems for himself than he should have.

Interestingly enough, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947, was also born in Georgia, 33 years after Ty Cobb. And recent information would seem to show that Cobb was not against African Americans playing in the major leagues. “The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly,” he said. “The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?” And he was proved correct in the years that followed as African Americans reshaped the all-time baseball statistics from that point forward.

Now while I am sure there are those who do, it is likely that most people in China, India, or the heart of Africa would not know who Ty Cobb really was; in fact, he or she would never have even heard of him. Fame is not only fleeting, it’s also limited by time and place. In this case, the real and total truth about Tyrus Raymond Cobb is known only to God.

Historical facts, anecdotes, trivia and the like, are interesting, at least to some people, at certain times, and in at least a few places. They do serve as good attention grabbers, make for memorable illustrations, and help transition us to consider more important things. But only one bit of information and only one Individual makes any real difference.

It’s not Ty Cobb who must be known – it’s Jesus! Jesus, Name above all names. Jesus, who said of Himself “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the father but by me.” Jesus, supernatural birth, sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious, bodily resurrection, all to save people from their sins. Jesus, of whom it was said: “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

If Ty Cobb remains unknown except for a small group of baseball aficionados and historians, it will make virtually no difference. But if Jesus is not known – and received – there are eternal consequences. He tells us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. His name is to be proclaimed in all the earth.

Last, but certainly not least: we must clearly and accurately communicate the message. If indeed historians have missed the boat on what kind of person Ty Cobb was – intentionally or accidentally – that is sad, to be sure. However to miss the message of Jesus, or to transmit or receive a distorted message, is tragic.

There are still hundreds of millions of people who are not only unreached with the gospel – the only message that can save them, remember – but are still unengaged in the sense that no believer or group of believers is plotting a strategy to engage them with the gospel. There remain some 1,600 languages and dialects that do not have even a portion of the Bible. Thankfully, major efforts are underway to change that and get the Word to them in their tongue.

Ty Cobb was a great baseball player and a complicated person and while it is interesting to know who he really was and what he accomplished, that knowledge holds temporal importance. The same cannot be said about the most significant person to walk the face of the earth – Jesus Christ. We are to know Him and to make Him known to the uttermost ends of the earth. We should proclaim the Good News about Jesus with clarity, accuracy, and consistency. There is nothing more eternally significant than this.