60 Years of Blessings

Today, I turn 60 years of age. Just writing that seems surreal. I know, “60 is the new 40”, but wow. Just…wow.

And that’s all I have to say about thaaaa-aat.

I decided that the best way I could celebrate would be to “count my blessings”, in the words of the old hymn; to “name them one by one”, sixty blessings for sixty years. I have led an incredibly blessed life. Incredibly blessed, so blessed that it seems almost unreal. This is a long post; I am writing it as much for my own benefit as for anyone else, but feel free to read along.

  1. I was born in the United States of America, which gave me an automatic leg up on 95% of the world (people who were not born in this land of opportunity).
  2. I was born to parents who gave me unconditional, supportive, nurturing love, and gave me every opportunity to succeed in life.
  3. My parents are still living, soon to celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary, Lord willing, and in good health and good mind late in their 80s. For that matter, my in-laws will soon celebrate their 60th anniversary, and they too are sound in mind and body.
  4. I spent my childhood in a great neighborhood, in a wonderful city (Roanoke) in a beautiful state (Virginia).
  5. I was blessed with a good mind (OK, take it easy on me, since 60-year-olds are definitely old), and a healthy body, which enabled me to play sports.
  6. My mother took me to church as a small boy, prior to my dad ever becoming interested in the things of God. Then, when I was 8 or 9, my father became a follower of Jesus, and began to lead our family in a clear spiritual direction.
  7. When I was a little kid, a family in our neighborhood held a five-day Good News Club, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. I memorized the books of the Bible, and have never forgotten them, in order (though I think that I briefly got a little hazy in the middle of the Habakkuks and Nahums).
  8. Our family attended a church that, for whatever weaknesses it may have had, proclaimed the gospel of Christ clearly enough that a 10-year-old boy could understand and place faith in Christ. I was baptized and began to follow Jesus.
  9. I had some good Sunday School teachers in that little church, some of whose names are lost to time, but they each made an impact on my life.
  10. Mom instilled in me proper English (no thanks to Dad!), proper manners (not that I always use them), and a proper reverence for God.
  11. Dad inspired me to think for myself, rather than going along with the crowd. The ethical and moral example that he (and Mom) set were of the highest order. He taught me to mind my own business rather than meddle in that of others, and he (and Mom, again) showed me how to treat people…I have never heard my father tell or laugh at a racist joke, nor ever use racist language. Not. Even. Once.
  12. Dad particularly helped me gain a life-long love of sports. I played eight years of sandlot baseball (mainly 2nd base, but some shortstop and a little bit of catcher thrown in). I became a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan watching the ’68 World Series, the first baseball I really watched. I started out as a Colts fan in football–like my Dad–but soon found it was more fun to root against him, and the Steelers became my football team.
  13. My sister (my only sibling) and I, despite being a few years apart in age and never really living all that close to each other, get along very well, love each other, and have never had a serious argument (well, that is, after I got past the stage of calling her “fatty” or whatever juvenile things I called her as a child).
  14. When I was in junior high school, my family changed churches (to the church that is, to this day, my parents’ church, Shenandoah Baptist in Roanoke). The ministry of this church had a profound influence on my life, and on the lives of all of those in my family. When I was entering 10th grade, my parents enrolled myself and my sister in Roanoke Valley Christian Schools.
  15. I had the opportunity to serve, beginning as a sophomore in high school, in the AWANA children’s ministry at Shenandoah. My motives in beginning were incredibly noble: I was sweet on a girl who was part of the ministry, and I went so as to hang out closer to her! She, though, was not to be a long-term love interest, while AWANA has been; I’ve had the privilege of being instrumental in beginning two other AWANA clubs in churches and am in the process of another.
  16. As a young person, I had adults who saw potential in me and offered me opportunities to lead. I will always be grateful in particular to Jerry Hayden (in relation to giving me such opportunities through AWANA). Jerry asked me, as a junior, to coach the AWANA Pals Olympic team, and our team of boys brought home a state championship! He also, my senior year, asked me to be the speaker at the year-end AWANA banquet. I am thrilled to report that to my knowledge, there are no extant copies of that speech–I cringe to this day when I think of how awful it was–but nonetheless, he gave me that opportunity.
  17. Still thinking of my time as a teenager, two men came into my life who played an incredible role in my development. The first was my youth pastor, Steve Futrell, whose passion for the Lord, love for the youth, and–gotta say it–slightly zany streak at times, was a catalyst to my desire to follow Jesus more closely. The same can be said–including if not even more so the “zany” part–about a much older gentleman, Dr. Walter Craymer, who taught Bible and Spanish at Roanoke Valley Christian. Words cannot do justice to the debt I owe to those men.
  18. I had some success in sports as a young person, mainly in baseball and soccer. Highlight: in 9th grade, Lucy Addison Junior High won the Roanoke City championship, and I was All-City at 2nd base, batting .429 for the champs (and it was particularly special that we beat Ruffner Junior High, where my lifelong friend Rusty Snyder played, in the championship game.). Also was soccer MVP at Roanoke Valley Christian School in my junior year; I scored the first goal in school history (I believe it was a penalty kick during a drubbing from Lynchburg Christian Academy).
  19. I was class president of the first graduating class (1978) at Roanoke Valley Christian. This was an exceptional class of people, many of whom I still consider good friends to this day. Jim Hill, who as the years have gone by has become a much better friend than ever, has already called me this morning to sing an off-key version of “Happy Birthday”.
  20. I was able to attend Tennessee Temple University and graduate from there–in the used-to-be-standard four years–with a degree in Christian Education. I met many fine people there, and significantly through the magic of Facebook, have been able to continue some of those friendships.
  21. I met my wonderful wife (of 38 years and counting), Karen, as a junior in college, and she has been a faithful companion for all of these years. We met at Zollie’s Pizza Factory (long-since closed) at a birthday party for a mutual friend, Warren Wright.
  22. I worked for a year while she finished college for Little Debbie (yes, I have shaken the hand of the “Little Debbie”), at a wage higher (for that time) than a lot of places for which I might have worked.
  23. Moving back to Roanoke while I went to seminary at Liberty, Karen was able to work (and I had the great privilege of serving in a junior-high ministry internship at Shenandoah Baptist), such that when I graduated seminary, we had no educational debt.
  24. I was able to graduate magna cum laude from Liberty Seminary, where I sat under some great teachers. I did this by getting seminary credit–and my readers will be tempted to call me a liar here–for 36 semester hours between January and May of 1985. I don’t recommend that course of action, by the way, but I am proof it can be done. Oh, and my “formal education” was completed just a few years ago when I had the opportunity to take on class on the D. Min. level, at Reformed Seminary here in Atlanta. I made an “A”, so my final doctor’s level GPA is 4.0. For what it’s worth. Which isn’t a great deal, truth be told.
  25. God allowed me to learn some important life and ministry lessons through two short-lived ministry experiences in Colorado upon graduation from seminary. Even though neither would be considered “successful” by typical norms, I thank the Lord for friends made through those situations (ironically, I made more lifelong friends–at least by Facebook standards–in the more difficult of the two than in the “easier” one. Go figure.).
  26. While living in Colorado, our first child Anthony was born. He brought a lot of joy into our lives with his arrival; he was always the happiest little kid! He is married and living in Durham with his sweet wife, Ellery, and we look forward to seeing them both at the beach next Saturday! Still no grandkids yet, though… 🙂
  27. First Baptist of Bassett, Virginia was for Karen and myself a wonderful place of healing. The people there were–and are–some of the finest people I have ever known. They took Karen, myself, and Anthony in, and loved us and cared for us and made us feel part of the family–and we still do. I served only two-and-a-half years there, first as Minister of Education and Youth, and then, for 14 months, as Interim Pastor, but God used that time to heal us and to prepare us for other ministry opportunities.
  28. I was privileged to serve Brentwood Baptist Church in High Point, NC, as pastor for just over three years. It wasn’t all peaches-and-cream; there were some rough spots. Probably rougher on the congregation having to deal with a young (29 when I began) pastor making many dumb young pastor mistakes, but we all persevered together. Still count some of those folks as good friends to this day.
  29. During our time in High Point, our second son, Brent, was born. Brent was the absolute best little kid. He made us laugh on a daily–sometimes hourly or…minutely?…basis. He always had something silly–sometimes ingeniously funny–to say. The stories could go on for hours.
  30. In October or November of 1992, seeing that my time at Brentwood was likely drawing to a close, I contacted Chuck Byers, who was serving as the head of the search team for a little church in a place I’d never heard of–Mercer, Pennsylvania–as that little group of folks was looking for its first pastor as they were planting themselves as a new church in Mercer County. That blossomed into a thirteen-plus year pastorate, with so many wonderful things that it’d take a separate document to try to count them all. God did some great things as we tried to be faithful.
  31. Our baby girl, Chiannon, was born a little less than two years into our Pennsylvania odyssey. There’s a special bond between daddies and daughters, and there was no exception for us. She’s continued to be such a blessing, and now she has this fella Grant…no, he’s a separate post.
  32. Grant is our son-in-law, and he’s become, literally and not just in words, one of my best friends. What an absolute joy for me to be able to say that. And the cool thing is that he would say the same.
  33. Back to Fellowship Community Church in Mercer: that wonderful little church was privileged by God to work with hundreds of college students through the years, most, thought not all, from Grove City College. Many alumni and faculty from Grove City remain friends to this day; I argue with some of them on Facebook regularly (but more often, agree, and definitely on the most important things–for the most part). I love college students!
  34. In 2006, we moved to Georgia, where I was involved in attempting to replant a very small church. Ultimately, it didn’t “take”, but God is sovereign, and some good things happened for the kingdom even in this.
  35. I began working at Chick-fil-A right about the time that I left that little church. I had a wonderful (and patient) boss, Zach Thomas, who is and will remain a lifelong friend. I learned new skills at Chick-fil-A, made more great friendships, and felt like I made a real contribution. God used this time off from “vocational ministry” to help me develop in various ways.
  36. I also am very blessed that, just at seemingly the right time, opportunities in the “gig economy” became available to me. I have driven for Uber for going on six years, and for Lyft for over a year-and-a-half. I am thankful that I can make money on my time and my terms in these ways.
  37. I am grateful for Grace Community Church in Marietta, where I’ve now been on staff part-time for over two-and-a-half years, but where we’ve been attending ever since I left the church plant in Marietta. This church has been and continues to be a blessing in our lives!
  38. I have been blessed through the years–beginning with little Billy Gray while I was in high school and continuing through the present day–to be able to share the gospel in conversations with a number of people, and to see many of them decided to commit their lives and eternities to Jesus. I get to do that very thing this very evening (in a teaching format). What an incredible blessing that God allows believers to have!
  39. I have had the privilege of making some tremendous friends. What a blessing they have been throughout my life! If I were to start naming them, I’d surely leave off some that I dare not. You know who you are. Thank you.
  40. I have been incredibly blessed with the spiritual leaders I have had in my life. Specifically, four pastors: Bob Alderman, Lee Roberson, Lew Bennett, and John Harris, each of whom have played a significant long-lasting role in my spiritual development, and three of whom I consider close friends.
  41. I have had some unusual (and exceptional) experiences. I was on a game show, Scrabble with Chuck Woolery, and was the champion on the first two days. In total, I won $13,500. It’s an experience I will never forget.
  42. That wasn’t my first TV game show, though. When I was in maybe 5th grade (?), I was on the Fairview Elementary team on “1-2-3”, a math quiz show on educational TV in Roanoke where various elementary schools competed against each other in a math competition. We made the playoffs (where we were summarily bounced in the first round).
  43. I drove an actual race car in an actual race…you know how there are not a whole lot of things in life that don’t actually end up being as much fun as you thought they’d be? Yeah, this was not one of those. I drove in the “Faster Pastor” race in 2006 at Sharon Speedway in Ohio, a 3/8 mile dirt oval in Hartford, Ohio. Sliding a car through the corners on a dirt track, then picking up the throttle and flooring it in the straightaway…man, I’d do that again tomorrow.
  44. Continuing the theme, I’ve driven up Pike’s Peak, parasailed in the Carolinas, hiked up Duns River Falls in Jamaica, climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, swam in the Mediterranean, skied Keystone, and gone over Niagara Falls in a bucket. OK, I’m lying on that last one.
  45. Mom and Dad never, ever neglected to take a vacation. While my parents worked hard, they were never workaholics and understood the value of getting away…I cannot for the life of me fathom people who never take a vacation; I think that they do so to their own detriment. We were fairly routine in our choices: a lot of years we went to Myrtle Beach, while others we went to Virginia Beach (often to Seashore–now First Landing–State Park). The vacation of our family’s lifetime was a two-week jaunt down the Gulf side and back up the ocean side of Florida, with the requisite trip to Disney World; this took place in 1975, and we all still think back fondly to it.
  46. I have traveled across a lot of these United States in my sixty years. Following my parents’ lead–but expanding the parameters a good bit–we always took the family on regular vacations. Our favorite spot is Avon, on Hatteras Island, NC (where we head in just a few days, as a matter of fact!). We’ve been to the Grand Canyon, to Las Vegas (not a penny was gambled!), to Mount Rushmore, to the Great Salt Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park and the Riverwalk in San Antonio and the ocean in Santa Barbara, to Cape Cod and the Liberty Bell and NYC. We’ve been to Florida many times, to the “Redneck Riviera” (look it up), to beautiful Charleston and lovely Savannah, to the Jersey shore and the St. Louis Arch and the Windy City and Malibu and Niagara Falls and the UP. Oh, and Bonsack, of course (Roanoke friends will appreciate). And I could add a lot more places to the list!
  47. I’ve also traveled to a number of foreign countries, some via cruises and some via…not cruises. Favorite spot? Italy, hands down. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Sunset on Sugarloaf (Rio), though, ain’t bad either.
  48. Some of my overseas trips have not been for “pleasure” (mostly), though. In 1979, I was able to go to Guatemala and help build a Christian school. In 1992, I went with a Baptist group to Sao Paulo (ending up in Rio for a day-and-a-half, hence the “sunset on Sugarloaf” comment above). During the past decade, I’ve traveled to Nigeria, El Salvador, and Ecuador, all on trips to do the work of ministry and share the love and gospel of Christ.
  49. I have been privileged to become an instructor with Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, teaching the Bible in various places (including Nigeria, above). Walk Thru the Bible presents the timeline of a given Testament and explains how the Bible is laid out, pointing to Christ. If you have never taken part in a Walk Thru Live Event, you must. Better yet, contact me and I will come and do it at your church!
  50. What wonderful things are pets! We’ve had three cats (Ozzie, named after Ozzie Smith, not Ozzy Osbourne; Muffin, and Smuckers, who technically is our daughter’s cat but who has remained with us since Chiannon moved to Greenville) and two dogs (Swee’Pea, a wonderful little Jack Russell–or rat–terrier, we’re not sure which, and our current little beast, Gilligan, who is part dachshund and part Jack Russell). What wonderful companions they are; Gilligan has been such a blessing during Covid lockdown!
  51. Through my friend Luke Livingston, I came to learn of Elm Street Cultural Arts in Woodstock (at that time, it was Towne Lake Arts Center), a community theater where I have been able to reignite a passion for acting that lay dormant for decades, and where I’ve also developed a new hobby, improv. I’ve also done a few things with other theatres. Favorite roles include Harold Hill in The Music Man, Putti van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank, Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Papa Murphy in Bright Star, and Buffalo Bill in Annie, Get Your Gun. What fun…time to get involved in another (once this infernal Covid thing is past).
  52. I’m incredibly blessed to have a rich diversity of Facebook friends. Being involved in the theatre is one key reason, but there are others. I want to be able to have intelligent, reasoned, respectful discussions with people of various stripes. Sometimes, it’s just…discussions…but not usually! There’s more common ground between us than a lot of us realize or will admit, and I appreciate and try to build on that. We certainly need more understanding and civility. A lot more.
  53. God has blessed us with a beautiful home to live in. We were able to pick it up 12 years ago as a foreclosure, and we’ve tried to make improvements as we’ve had money and time. It’s now a lot more house than we need, but that’s enabled us to have the blessing of
  54. Renters, to help pay bills and get us on firm financial footing. We’ve had some great ones as well, including our current tenants and, for a few years, some young Saudi students. Yahya al-Dosary…what a joy to know that goofball and consider him a friend (and if we ventured to Saudi Arabia today–and one day we might–we would be treated like absolute kings and queens).
  55. I mentioned “healthy body” early on, and on that point, I have been–to this point of my life–almost never sick. I can’t remember the last time I had the flu, and have never really had anything more serious than that in my entire life. At the risk of grossing you out…I have not thrown up since my oldest was in diapers. Literally. Oh, I get a cold occasionally–and the older I get, the more that knocks me for a loop–but if that’s the worst it’s been at age 60, I cannot complain. Yeah, I’ve got a bum knee–two surgeries on my right knee have left little to no cartilage–but I manage, and it doesn’t typically give me a lot of pain. The blessing of good health is one we should not take for granted.
  56. I’ve not often been closely touched by tragedy; with one exception, none of my closest family or friends have died young. That exception was when one of my very closest friends in life, Rusty Snyder, died suddenly at age 47. That was a hard loss. But it was the exception, not the rule.
  57. I have been in the same fantasy football league for 31 years, a league I started when I was turning 30. I’ve been in the league half my life now, and have made some great friendships through it. It’s a blessing (if not also a frustration, since I’ve only won the championship three times; it’s been 15 years since my last championship; this year doesn’t look good).
  58. I have a great library full of good books (many of which I have actually read!). My theological library isn’t as extensive as I’d like it to be, but that sentiment can be echoed, in almost those exact words, by every pastor in the world.
  59. Mostly, and I alluded to this earlier, I am incredibly blessed in that, being a sinner through and through as I am, God saw fit to choose to save me by His amazing grace. This is the greatest blessing of all.
  60. Finally, I am absolutely certain that I am forgetting–or failing to see–a lot of blessings that God in His grace has bestowed upon me, and I am absolutely certain that He will continue to do so in whatever remaining years He gives me. Soli Deo gloria.

The Most Important Vote I Will Cast this Year…

does not involve deciding between presidential candidates.

I want to begin this piece with two truths that seem obvious to me. I say the first one first because when you read the second one, you may be tempted to doubt that I am serious about the first one. So the first one is this: you should vote in the election. There are many reasons why this is true. We have the unique privilege as Americans, and as a result of our Constitution and the sacrifice of millions, to select those who would govern us. I don’t do a particularly good job of voting in local elections–and I really need to do better, though I often find it difficult to cast a knowledgeable vote in these–but I always vote in national elections. I have never failed to vote in a national election and I have no intention of beginning. I think it’s so important to vote that I would encourage you to write in a name, if there’s no one for whom you can vote, rather than simply ignore the privilege and responsibility. So vote. And because of what I am about to say in the next paragraph, I’m going to reiterate about 11 times: vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote your conscience. Vote. Please vote. Vote knowledgeably. Vote this year. Vote. Vote, for goodness’ sake!

Second truth: your vote won’t make any practical difference. Let’s just be honest here and not pull any punches: the chance that your vote will actually decide an election is a lot less than the chance you’ll get hit by lightning. The larger the race, the truer that is. Oh, occasionally we hear about some local race in a very small municipality that is decided by a vote. Even that is rare…but on a statewide scale–much less a national–your vote isn’t likely to matter. Even the 2000 election “fiasco” between Bush and Gore in the state of Florida–which did decide the election–was settled by 537 votes…not by 1.

If you think I am “dissing” voting, I refer you back to paragraph one. Vote, in case it wasn’t clear.

The point of this piece isn’t to talk at all about who to vote for, but to talk about the most important “vote” that Christians will “cast” this fall. The chances are strong that this vote will matter very greatly. This vote very potentially has very real, eternal consequences. I am talking about “voting” to honor Jesus in every way possible in these times of dissension and discord. And I want to talk about how to do that, several suggestions about how to navigate these perilous and divisive times in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, make honoring Jesus your clear, number one priority. That should go without saying, but it very obviously needs to be said. I can’t help but wonder (I’m being very generous in my phraseology here) if that’s something which a lot of professing followers of Jesus are forgetting. I represent Jesus in the words I speak and write, in the attitudes in which I speak and act, in the motives behind all that I do. I fear that we have all too often sent mixed messages, given an unbelieving world plenty of ammo to persist in their unbelief. Next,

See the person who disagrees with you as a person for whom Jesus died. I don’t see other people as the “enemy”, regardless of their political beliefs, their disposition toward me or the gospel, their political party affiliation or lack thereof, or anything else. According to the apostle Paul, for the Christian, it’s not “flesh and blood” against whom we have our battles; it’s against Satan and his forces. Granted, people are often used by Satan; they often fall for his devices and lies; they often espouse beliefs that are harmful and detrimental to truth, freedom, and the well-being of people. Opposing bad ideas, lies, and systems of government that would wreak havoc and bring misery on people is a responsibility that we ought to take seriously. That said, the people who advocate such things are fellow human beings made in the image of God who often desperately need the gospel. In our urgency to argue our positions, we can often forget this critical truth.

Tell the truth at all times, and tell it in love, at all times. No one who knows me would ever suggest that I shrink back from calling things as I honestly see them, and I would never encourage you otherwise. Tell the truth; sometimes the truth is ugly, painful, convicting, contrary to established thinking, difficult to swallow, and any number of other descriptions. Tell it anyway (making sure of course that it is truth; if it’s opinion, please be careful to label it such, but don’t be afraid to share properly-labeled opinions either). But it’s not enough to simply tell the truth, according to the Bible, because the truth can be used in brutal, destructive fashion. The Bible says that without love, whatever we do is without value. Our words are like the annoying clanging of a single gong; without love, I am nothing. Couch the truth clearly in love.

Make honest arguments. All too often people, including professing followers of Jesus, present caricatures of their political opponents rather than honest portraits, and all too often, they do the same with the arguments that political opponents make. This takes actual work and actual thinking, which too many people seem unwilling to do. Ask yourself, “would my political opponent himself characterize his position as I have characterized it?” If not, you have (perhaps unwittingly) borne false witness. People who call themselves “pro-choice” don’t “love killing babies”, nor do people who call themselves “pro-life” love “controlling women”. Those are disingenuous arguments, but such are rife in the contemporary political landscape. They are not befitting Christians.

Be consistent. Don’t ignore (or worse, praise) in your favorite politician that which you would castigate were it done by your political opponent. This, sadly, happens all the time; partisans of one party will have a field day criticizing a political opponent for doing something, then look the other way at similar words or actions done by their guy (or gal). If it’s wrong for one party to do it, it’s wrong for all parties to do it. Period. End of story.

Finally, listen. We have gotten really good at talking past each other. It often seems that we are so concerned to get our points across–sometimes via whatever silly, half-truth meme or “gotcha” photograph–that we don’t care to even hear what other people are saying. Of course, sometimes that’s because their words drip with venom, we think, and so instead of defusing the situation, by listening, asking questions, considering the merits of their position (instead of only looking for the demerits and capitalizing on them), we fight fire with fire, forgetting that “a soft answer turns away wrath”. I don’t have to ultimately agree with a person to do her the courtesy of listening to her argument; I don’t have to adopt another person’s political solutions, but I can take the time to try to understand why he believes in them. To listen doesn’t mean we have to agree, in the end, but sometimes, if we’ll take the time to do that, we might just find that–horrors!–there is some common ground upon which we can build, and some respect that we can have for each other, even as we disagree.

I haven’t spent one word, in this election cycle, trying to convince others of how they should vote (well, OK, several months ago, I announced who I’d be voting for, and urged others to consider that candidate, whereupon he summarily left the presidential race only a few short weeks later). I do not intend to try to convince you for whom you ought to vote. I have, though, spent way too many words responding to well-meaning friends, people of sincere conviction, explaining why certain candidates will not receive my vote. I’m done with that; too much time and too many words spent, to my regret. Instead, my focus now will be to encourage believers in Jesus to be very careful to “vote” to honor Him in everything they do–including voting–for the sake of His name, for the glory of the gospel, and for the good of the world. Because unlike the votes you cast on November 3, which will not ultimately be difference-makers, the “vote” you cast to honor Jesus will almost certainly make a difference.

Oh, and for the love of all that is good and your responsibility as an American this November, vote.

Dr. MacArthur Has Altered the Gospel

Last evening, I began a four-part teaching series entitled, “What is the Gospel?”. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the center of the church; absent the gospel, the church…isn’t. The gospel must be treated with utmost seriousness, proclaimed with utmost urgency, and guarded with utmost security. If you are my friend, and you mess with the gospel, I will call you out. If I mess with the gospel, I implore you to call me out.

And if an esteemed Bible teacher messes with the gospel, I will call him out.

Dr. John MacArthur is the closest thing imaginable to an “evangelical pope”. His Bible teaching has impacted multiplied millions around the globe for a number of decades, and I count myself among that number. For me, it’s his excellent, thoughtful, faithful-to-the-Scriptures Bible commentaries that have had the most impact. If I have a MacArthur commentary on a passage of Scripture I am called to exegete, you can be pretty certain that I will consult it. In other words, there’s a little bit of John MacArthur in a lot of sermons I have preached through the years.

This isn’t to say that I agree with everything Dr. MacArthur teaches or says, but so what? I sometimes don’t agree with myself, for goodness’ sake, and so I can’t name a person on earth with whom I agree 100% of the time. Big deal. And while I’ve grown a bit concerned in recent years over some of the things Dr. MacArthur has said and done, I still count him a faithful Bible teacher.

But he has messed with the gospel. And nobody—NOBODY—is above the gospel.

Yesterday, it was revealed by Dr. MacArthur in an interview, that he had had a recent phone conversation with President Trump. During that conversation, Dr. MacArthur confesses that he told the president, “any real true believer is going to be on your side in November.” These are his words.

And they are wrong. Period, end of story.

This strikes home personally, because as many of my readers know, I am not “on (the) side” of Donald Trump; I will not vote for him in November (nor for Joe Biden). Now, you can disagree with my decision, and I understand that. You can tell me I am “wasting my vote”, and while I will disagree, that’s an acceptable viewpoint. You can roll your eyes at some of my political leanings, and that’s perfectly fine, too; sometimes I roll my eyes at myself (and at you, too). You can talk to me all day about how bad you think the Democratic platform and is, how problematic for our nation’s future you think electing Joe Biden would be. At least to a significant point, chances are that I will agree with you.

But I am not weighing in, here, on the wisdom of voting for Donald Trump. Nor, for that matter, do I concern myself here with the platform of the Democratic Party, or Joe Biden, or frankly, with politics in general, but only as it is germane to the subject of messing with the gospel, as Dr. MacArthur has now done.

Dr. MacArthur is tying salvation, purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, to voting for one particular individual. He is judging the hearts and conditions of the eternal souls of professing believers on the basis of (certainly among other things) whether or not an individual will, or will not, vote for Donald Trump. This is disappointing, yes, but it’s truly infuriating, and frankly, it would be so even if the person in question were not Donald Trump.

Are we to understand an addition to Paul’s list of the “fruits of the Spirit”? Love, joy, peace, long-suffering…and a vote for Donald Trump? Or should we amend sola fide to include a vote for the president (guess it wouldn’t be sola any longer)? Perhaps a vote for Trump is like an indulgence, like the ones sold by the Catholic Church back in the days of Luther.

OK, I’m being facetious, but the words of Dr. MacArthur, so egregiously and theologically incorrect, richly deserve scorn. They do so, not only because they are wrong, but precisely because of the worldwide scope of his influence. Already, I have seen one Christian Facebook friend quote his words approvingly, and I have no doubt there are plenty of others, following Dr. MacArthur’s lead down the path to a conclusion that simply does not square with, but instead does injury to, the precious gospel. Further, his words give even more ammunition to the charge by some that evangelicals—and I still call myself that, though I’m reconsidering terminology—have thoroughly mixed Republican politics with their faith, such that the evangelical church is little more than an adjunct of the GOP. Further yet—and perhaps most importantly—his words which confuse the gospel tarnish the witness of Jesus Christ to a world and to individuals that desperately need the good news of the gospel.

I finish by saying that I don’t relish writing this. I don’t lightly take to task a man who has been so greatly used of God for decades. My influence, such as it is, is utterly insignificant in comparison with his. I thank God sincerely for John MacArthur’s role in my life. Some may be upset with me that I would dare to criticize a man that many of us—myself included—would call a “giant of the faith”.

But the gospel is so very, very much more important. It’s so much more important than you or me…and it’s also infinitely more important than Bible teachers like John MacArthur.

How to Elect a President

Short answer: NOT the way we are doing it.

As I write this, Americans are looking at a choice that many find very unappealing: Donald Trump or Joe Biden will be sworn in on a cold Wednesday in January. This on the heels of the election of 2016, where both candidates were loathed to a historical degree. For what it’s worth, my opinion isn’t that Donald Trump is the “only person who could have beaten Hillary Clinton”, but rather that “Hillary Clinton was the only person who could have lost to Donald Trump”…but of course, that’s only speculation, and it serves no purpose now to dissect it further. This time around, Joe Biden doesn’t arouse the visceral disgust that Hillary did–you may not care for Joe, but he certainly doesn’t produce nearly the vitriol summoned by Hillary–but there are concerns that he’s aging quickly, that his long-standing proneness to gaffes is now something well beyond that, that he’s really losing it. I honestly think that if Joe were elected, it’s about 50/50 that he has the chops to finish even one term. And then there is President Trump; I won’t belabor this point, but suffice it to say that there are a whole lot of people who dread having these as the only two people with a realistic chance of being sworn in in 2021. The question is, why do we now seem to be finding ourselves again in the position of having two candidates that a significant percentage of Americans find to be some degree of awful? And what can we do about it?

I lay the blame in large measure on the process. We have a process perfectly designed to achieve the results we are getting…and so if our results are poor, then if we were smart (unfortunately, if by “we” I mean “our two primary political parties”, then the answer is, “we are categorically not smart”), we’d fix it; we’d overhaul the process. A futile endeavor, then, might the writing of this turn out to be, but it won’t be the first time I offer suggestions that will go unheeded, and I doubt seriously it will be the last.

The fix, as I see it, begins with our primary system. How do we fix it? Pretty easily, in my judgment: with the largest wrecking ball we can find. With strategically-placed explosives. With a wipe-the-slate-clean-and-start-over approach. In short, we abolish the entire primary system as we know it. No more of this inanity of pandering pols pretending that Iowa and New Hampshire actually matter to them. No more of these states’ inflated-beyond-all-sense-of-proportion influence on our presidential election system. No more of worthless primaries held well after outcomes have been decided. Yep, just burn down the primary system and don’t look back.

Next, limit the choices that party voters have to choose from. “What? We’re ‘Murricans. We want to be able to vote for whomever we darn well please!” To that I’d ask, “how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

Instead, the parties should limit the choices we have…to three, I would suggest, but no more than five. Period. Full stop. No more of these ridiculous 16-25 candidates being presented to voters. Chuck that. Forever. How to accomplish this? Let party leadership–make it a broad representation, sure, but the people who have risen to leadership roles within the party–engage in a vetting process. Instead of silly/pointless “debates” (that term is only barely descriptive of the charade that goes by the name), where voters get to see snippets of contenders sniping at each other in a made-for-TV extravaganza, where little substance issues forth and where the main thing seems to be to avoid some gaffe that could doom a candidacy, let those policy differences be discussed behind closed doors. No cameras. Let each candidate explain in detail his/her position on various issues. Let there be a free-wheeling discussion, but in front of the people best positioned to know what they are looking for in a candidate–and what they aren’t.

Further, let the party fund advertising that is divvied up equally between its 3-5 candidates. On as level a playing field as possible, we get to know where the candidates stand on the issues rather than slickly-produced silliness such as most political commercials are. If a political party is functioning as it should, it will do what it can to field electable candidates and inform the electorate on why its policies should be preferred; advertising could be used to accomplish this, were there the political will to do it.

Next, whatever replaces our hopeless primary system, whatever method of voting parties use, make that voting closed to all but people who are members of that given party. That means I (an independent) get no vote. This is a good thing. I don’t deserve a vote in these matters, any more than a person who is not a member of my church gets a vote on who our church’s elders should be. I am not disenfranchised by this; I get my vote in November like everyone else. But I am not owed a vote or any say in the affairs of any entity to which I do not belong, such as a political party. ‘Tain’t my business. Both parties, spurred on by Limbaugh-types, have had people who engaged in “crossover” primary voting, in states where primaries are open. It’s legal. It’s also wrong, and for that reason, it shouldn’t be legal. The determination of the nominee of a given party ought to rest solely with the members of that party.

So at some point, on one day all across the country, Democrats and Republicans head to the polls to determine which nominee they believe will be the best representative of their party in the general election.

Does this guarantee great candidates? No, but it should go a long way toward keeping us out of the situation that seems to be regularly presenting itself to us these days, the sense that, of 330+ million people in this country, these are the two we consider the best for this job?

Finally, in the general election, adopt ranked choice voting. It just makes sense. For that matter, use ranked choice voting in every election we have.

In the end, what do we have to lose? Seems to me that just about anything beats the way we do it currently.

The State of the Fame: 2020 Baseball Edition

One of my favorite sports topics is the question of sports “immortality”, as in, “who belongs in the Hall of Fame”, or “who’s the greatest of all-time” at a given position. Baseball and football are the two sports I feel most qualified to speak about, knowledge-wise, and with baseball gearing up to finally get going in 2020, I thought it might be fun to take this moment in time and consider current players in relationship to their chances at making the Hall of Fame. I’ve divided them into a number of different categories (each of which are explained); tell me where I’m wrong. Let the fun begin!

I’ll begin with the “locks”:

Hit by a Bus Tomorrow: (This player would be in the Hall of Fame if he were hit by a bus; he currently has already compiled a Hall of Fame resume, and it’s only a matter of time.)

Albert Pujols – The great Albert Pujols is the current active leader in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and nobody is all that terribly close to him. There was a time when his pace was such that he could have made a run at Lou Gehrig as the greatest all-time first sacker. Ironically, his leaving my beloved Cardinals for the Angels–a move I greatly rued at the time–was perfect timing; he’s never really had a season in L.A. like the ones he had in St. Louis, and of course he never will. But he’s not only a first-ballot Hall of Famer; his election should be unanimous.

Miguel Cabrera – I wasn’t sure we’d ever seen another Triple Crown winner. Miggy pulled it off, and though he’s of course on the downside of his career, his place in Cooperstown is secure.

Clayton Kershaw – Kershaw is the premier pitcher of this era. His lifetime WAR is well ahead of Sandy Koufax, though he’s played more seasons than Koufax was able to. Still, for all his accomplishments, he’s only 31 years of age, and has time to cement a place, not only in Cooperstown, but in the high rent district of Cooperstown.

Mike Trout – There are simply not enough superlatives to say about Mike Trout. Babe Ruth is the greatest player of all time; I’m not sure it’s even close, and Mike Trout won’t displace him. That said, could we talk about Trout in the same breath as Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, one day? He’s that good. He has to stay healthy, but the numbers he’s putting up make him baseball’s best player, and he’s only 27 years old.

Justin Verlander – I think that this year put Verlander over the line. 90th all-time in WAR, with those numbers sure to rise, Verlander is already ahead of Hall of Famers such as Jim Palmer, Don Sutton, and John Smoltz. Nobody’s keeping this guy out.

The Numbers Say So, but I Just Don’t Know: (These guys are close and might make it, but…)

Zach Greinke – Greinke trails Verlander in lifetime WAR by less than one win, but honestly, he just doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer; I just don’t think of him nearly the same way I do Verlander or Kershaw (whom Greinke actually leads, but who is four years Greinke’s junior). I think he makes it, particularly as sabermetrics continues to rise in popularity. But do you think of Greinke as a shoe-in? Maybe it’s me.

Robinson Cano –  Bonehead move of a career: getting caught with PEDs. Robbie is another guy who, I don’t know, I just don’t think of as a Hall of Famer, but his stats don’t lie. Unfortunately, Cano’s stupid move might cost him Cooperstown.

Missed it by THAT Much: (The Hall of Very Good)

I don’t see any of these guys getting in. They’re all pretty good ballplayers, and some have had one or two exceptional seasons, but I don’t see any crossing that threshold. If I had to pick one, it’d probably be Felix the Cat; Hamels has a stronger case than you might imagine, such that if he were to have a couple more really nice seasons, he might show up on some Hall of Fame radars. McCutchen is young enough to tally Hallworthy stats, but his career seems to have peaked, and he’s on the downside. Still, if he could turn things around, I’m not absolutely certain it’s too late for him. But it probably is.

Evan Longoria
Cole Hamels
Ian Kinsler
Dustin Pedroia
Felix Hernandez
Ryan Braun
Jon Lester
Andrew McCutchen
Adam Wainwright
Brett Gardner
David Price
Ryan Zimmerman

Keep Up the Good Work: (Stay on pace and they are in)

Joey Votto – He still has, in my judgment, just a little bit of work to do. If he fell off this season into mediocrity, I say he doesn’t make the Hall,  but if he can have a good short season this year and follow it by a reasonably good one or two (at age 37 and beyond), I think he gets the lifetime achievement award and the call to the Hall.

Max Scherzer – If I were to add a sixth player to my “Hit by a Bus” list, it’d be Max Scherzer. To me he’s right on the border of the Hall with his career to date, and if he were hit by that bus, he’d get enough sympathy votes to make it, I think. One more season of Max being Max, and he can punch his ticket, if it isn’t punched already; he’s that close.

Chris Sale – I grabbed Chris Sale early on my 2019 fantasy team, and he proceeded to ruin my season. Suffice it to say that if he keeps duplicating 2019s for a couple more seasons, his name falls off this list and onto whatever list Bret Saberhagen and Tim Lincecum are on. But he showed some signs of pitching better toward the end of the year, as I recall, so we’ll call 2019 an aberration and assume that if he resumes his pace, we’ll one day hear his name called.

Paul Goldschmidt – I could almost write the same things about Goldy as I did about Sale. The Cardinals didn’t get their money’s worth in 2019 by any means, but we’ll say he was just getting adjusted to being in St. Louis, and that he’ll bounce back to normal, which in his case means building a Hall of Fame resume.

Mookie Betts – In six short seasons, he’s already putting up incredible numbers. A lot can happen, of course; at this point in his career, Andruw Jones looked like a lock for the Hall, and now he’s an afterthought. Still, Mookie is well-positioned if he can keep it up.

Buster Posey – He’s 32, and so he has a few years remaining, we should assume. He isn’t in yet, and if his career tailed off pretty quickly from here, he’ll have to buy a ticket like the rest of us. That said, he shouldn’t have to put up massive numbers from here on out to have a good shot at the Hall. I don’t feel as confident about this pick as I do about most of the rest.

Giancarlo Stanton – Nor about this one. He had that one absolute monster season, and he’s still only 29. His career doesn’t scream “Hall” yet, and like several on this list I’ve already mentioned, he’s still got some work to do. I feel certain, by the way, that of these ones about whom I’ve expressed apprehension, some will make it and some won’t. It’s just hard to say who.

Nolan Arenado – We might be looking here at the most underrated player in the game. The glove, the bat; it’s all there. He’s still young (28), and is putting up great numbers (in a great place to do it). His name was linked to my Cardinals in off-season trade rumors, and I was salivating. Nothing happened, to my chagrin. But to the point: Arenado keeps up this for a few more years, and he could be a first-ballot guy.

Jose Altuve – As could this guy. But cheaters make me sick.

Manny Machado – Will the real Manny Machado please stand up? Hard to know what to make of this guy. He has the tools, but something’s got to click in for him to really reach all his potential. He might well belong on the next list down, but for now, I’ll keep him here.

Christian Yelich – He’s really come on lately, one of the ten best position players in the game, I think. I see a path to Cooperstown for him.

So You’re Sayin’ there’s a Chance: (Gotta pick up their game a bit)

Josh Donaldson – Time lost to injury hurts Josh’s chances, and at his age, he’d have to yet have several more years like this past year in Atlanta. The shortened season might be enough to doom whatever slim shot he had.

Freddie Freeman – As it stands right now, Freddie is a prime candidate for the Hall of Very Good. Every year, he’s very good. An MVP season and/or a Braves championship, and he might get enough oomph to make it over the line. Absent that, I think he falls a tad short.

Jacob DeGrom – He just got started too late. Great pitcher, but with only six seasons under his belt at age 31–and the shortened 2020 season–his only chance is to find a way to dominate into his late 30s, which is a tall order for most players.

Anthony Rizzo – See: Freddie Freeman.

Stephen Strasburg – Exactly the same lifetime WAR as Rizzo, but a year older. Hyped as the next Nolan Ryan, he is going to fall short of the Hall unless his 2019 season (along with the playoffs) represented Strasburg really getting it all together, in which case yeah, I’m saying there’s a chance.

Bryce Harper – When you make the cover of SI at age 16, the expectations are off the charts. He’s put in 8 major league seasons, and he’s only 26. And he’s got an MVP award as well. Still, is the career Bryce Harper is putting together the career you expected him to? Not me. Even yet, though, if you pinned me down, I think he’ll do enough–barring injuries, a big “if”–to make it to Cooperstown.

Anthony Rendon – He’s really playing great baseball now, and if he keeps this up in his new Anaheim digs, Rendon could hear his name called. Still got a lot of work to do, but the trend lines are all heading up.

I Just Really Don’t Know:

Yadier Molina – The Cardinals homer in me wants to say, “absolutely, Yadi belongs in the Hall”, but the numbers don’t really support that. If you look at all the players grouped around him in lifetime WAR, he’s in the company of the very good, but not the great; hardly any of these folks (people like Dave Concepcion, Andy Messersmith, Moises Alou, Dave Parker, and Albert Belle) made the Hall. He is just ahead of Ernie Lombardi, a Hall of Fame catcher. He’s not a bad hitter for a catcher, of course; he’s contributed offensively at points during his career. But of course his calling card is his glove and, particularly, that arm. He’s 36 years old, which is approaching ancient for a catcher, and he doesn’t hit enough to justify moving him to another position to prolong his career (plus, he still has the cannon). I’m honestly not certain he should be voted into Cooperstown, but my guess is that he will be, particularly if he can have a couple more reasonably good seasons.

On His Way to the Stars: (Two years minimum)

These guys are all off to great starts, putting up the type of numbers which suggest superstardom. I didn’t realize until I looked at the numbers that Alex Bregman belonged in this group, but he absolutely does; if there’s one player on this list I’m the least convinced about, it’s Aaron Judge. Soto is an absolute beast, and Acuna is right there with him.

Francisco Lindor
Ronald Acuna
Juan Soto
Aaron Judge
Alex Bregman