What Others Say

Mr. Tinsley, thank you for your well-written and insightful article about Luther.
I shared it with my children during family worship. It lifted us up.
Warmly, Kari.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

I like Thanksgiving, partly because it resists being hijacked by commercialism. I like the sounds of family and friends laughing around the table. I like the fall leaves scattered about the lawn, the crisp mornings and the smell of turkey baking in the oven. I like what goes with it: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and pie (any kind of pie).  And, most of all, I like dressing, the one thing that still divides the north from the south. Those from the north prepare bread dressing.  Those with southern roots cook corn bread dressing.  Turkeys come and turkeys go, but my wife’s corn bread dressing is to die for.  She learned the recipe from her mother: corn bread, celery, onions, chopped boiled eggs, broth, butter and other ingredients I will never figure out.   With giblet gravy, it is a meal in itself.

By Friday the tryptophan and carbohydrates have worn off. After missing the third quarter of the Thanksgiving ball game we regained consciousness enough to stumble into the kitchen for leftovers.  Loaded up again, and slept the sound sleep of a thankful soul.  And now we are ready to get on with the real business of the American holiday season: shopping.

Of course Black Friday isn’t what it was. Online shopping, Amazon and some stores opening their doors late on Thursday have taken some of the zap out of it.  At its peak,
lines would form in front of Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target long before the first gray light of day.   A few spent the night camped out in tents on concrete sidewalks.  Our pilgrim fathers knew nothing of this.  They hunted and harvested and cleaned and cooked, but they never stood in lines in front of glass doors waiting for the opening bell. They never rushed through aisles searching for treasures that were sure to disappear.  They never stood in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store.  They had it easy.

Fifty years ago we eased into Christmas.  No one had heard of Black Friday.  We used Friday to digest the Thanksgiving feast.  It was a quiet day, the day after we gathered at grandma’s with cousins and kin.  Christmas decorations were not yet up.  We savored the season.  But today, we are jolted from Thanksgiving into Christmas.  


Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line.  It seems to represent the commercialization of Christmas and threatens to turn Thanksgiving into a season of “thanks getting.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I like a good deal and deep discounts.  I want the American economy to thrive.  But, along the way, I hope we cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit that is not measured by the sum of what we can get at the cheapest price. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Our Sexual Crisis

Every day we are bombarded with new allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by celebrities, corporate executives and politicians. The list is long.  Perhaps it started with Bill Cosby, then Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and others.  The list is growing by the day.

How did we get into the mess?  How did we sink so low? 

It seems to be a “frog in the kettle thing.”  You know, if you place a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out and save itself.  But if you place a frog in room-temperature water, it will rest there as you gradually raise the heat until the frog eventually cooks and dies.  It is unaware of the danger and does not jump out.

Maybe it was the mid-1950s that our sexual mores began to gradually change. Our commitment to marriage started to slip. Divorce and remarriage, multiple times, became acceptable.  Consensual sex began to replace the covenant monogamous relationship that had guided sexual standards. 

I don’t think there is any single source to blame.  TV sitcoms gradually adopted the consensual sex standard and portrayed it easily and somewhat attractively.  We went from Father Knows Best, The Nelson’s, I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver to Friends (with benefits) Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory and a whole slew of day-time soap operas. Movies portraying casual sex are too numerous to list.   “Sleeping around” became entertaining and acceptable.   

Fifty Shades of Grey was originally self-published as an e-book in 2011. The book includes erotic scenes of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism. It became a best-seller around the world with 125 million copies sold by 2015,  the fastest selling paperback of all time in the U.K.

Pornography, once only available in seedy newsstands, became a click away on laptops, PCs, iPads and tablets.  Email inboxes were bombarded by invitations to smut. 

Repeated moral failure on the part of national leaders undermined our moral standards further. Bill Clinton’s sexual tryst in the oval office, chief among them. Of course, President Trump’s recorded “locker room language” didn’t help. The world and our culture will likely continue down this path.  But God calls followers of Christ to a different path, a different standard, a healthier way of life. 

The standard set by Jesus has always been the same. David P. Gushee, noted Christian ethicist stated it best: “What is the sexual ethics standard that applies to followers of Christ? Celibacy outside of life-time covenantal marriage, monogamous fidelity within life-time covenantal marriage. That norm applies to all Christians.  It is demanding, countercultural, and essential to the well-being of adults and children.”


Jesus was clear in setting the bar high when it came to sexual standards.  “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you, he who looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:27-28).

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Special Edition - Sutherand Springs - When Violence Strikes

I was preaching in a little Baptist church in Estes Park, CO when Devin Kelly blasted his way into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.  We all know the statistics.  We have all heard the stories. The pastor’s 14 year old daughter dying on the floor, the Associate Pastor, Brian Holcombe, struck down as he stood up to preach, a 1 year old baby, 14 children, a 77 year old and others, massacred in a matter of minutes.

It left me deeply disturbed.

I have been disturbed before and grieved these last few weeks by the senseless slaughter of innocents on a bike path in New York, dozens gunned down in Las Vegas, a random shooting at a local Walmart on the outskirts of Denver. 

I have been disturbed and grieved over a life-time of senseless violence. The first I remember was a sniper atop the University of Texas tower in 1966, killing 13.  Others stand out: the gunman that opened fire at First Baptist Daingerfield in 1980 with and left 5 dead, including a 7 year old girl; The Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 including 19 children; West Paducah KY High School where a 14 year-old opened fire on a group of praying students; Columbine High School; The Twin Towers on 9/11 in 2001; the Amish school in Pennsylvania where a deranged gunman opened fire on innocent girls;” the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO; the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut where 20 children ages 6 and 7 were murdered;   the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead. These are just the horrific events that I remember. There are others along with senseless killings every day reported in local news across the country.

Perhaps I am especially disturbed and grieved by what happened in Sunderland Springs because I have spent a lifetime preaching in little Baptist churches across the country.  I know the smell of church, the feel of the “sanctuary” where people meet to worship, pray and encourage one other.  I know the fellowship of those who love God, love each other, and want to bless the world.

Like everyone else, it leaves me reeling with questions.  Why does God allow innocent people to die?  Why does evil and violence strike at such random and senseless moments?  How can people be so deranged and cruel? 

To remove all violence from our world, God would have to remove our human capacity for good and evil.  Instead, God chose the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate expression of innocent suffering and torture. When Jesus endured the Cross, He took our violence upon Himself. He embraced our broken and lost world with His love. 

The Cross is not an afterthought.  It is not a footnote.  The Cross on which Jesus died is the focal point of history. It is the place where God’s love meets our agony, our grief and confusion in a violent world.  He took our violence upon Himself and conquered it in the resurrection.  


According to the theologian N.T Wright, the day Jesus was crucified is “the day the revolution began.”  This is the reason crosses are raised above the rooftops, erected on hillsides, planted as grave markers and worn around our necks.  Violence will not prevail. Evil has been conquered. The revolution has begun. Another Kingdom is coming. (Romans 8:31-39).

Monday, November 6, 2017

When We Die

This week millions of customers are waiting for their iPhone X, the latest product from Apple, the company Steve Jobs launched forty years ago in 1977. His user-friendly computing innovations including the iPod, iPhone and iPad transformed the way we live.

Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. He had resigned just six weeks earlier as CEO of Apple. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer eight years earlier, he addressed his own mortality in a commencement speech at Stanford:

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

Death is inevitable. But what happens after we die? The book of Job asked the question we all ask sooner or later: “If a man die, shall he live again?” After years of suffering and serious arguments with his friends and with God, Job emerged with a powerful conclusion. “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! “ (Job 19:25-27).

The issue of life after death is central to the Christian faith. While most people believe that some kind of life exists after we die, Jesus provides the only verifiable evidence of life beyond the grave. Each of the Gospels gives an eyewitness account of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Luke says, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 The Message).

Jesus promised something far better for us when we are “cleared away” by death’s inevitability. He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Halloween That Changed the World

It was Halloween, October 31, 500 years ago.  A little known monk left the monastery where he lived and walked, almost unnoticed, the few blocks to a church at the other end of the street.  There he nailed a hand-written document to the wooden door for all to see.  Like a single flaming match dropped into the dry straw of a forest, Martin Luther’s 95 theses ignited a conflagration that engulfed all of Europe and continues to this day.

This week over 2 million people will descend on Wittenburg, Germany, current population 2,135. Many believe that this was the door by which Europe exited the Dark Ages and entered the Age of Enlightenment. Historians point to tiny Wittenberg as the cradle where the modern Western world was born.

I visited Wittenberg  a few years ago.  The ancient village is surrounded by modern development.  But the old streets have been preserved, much as they were 500 years ago.   I sat in the courtyard outside the monastery where Martin Luther worked through the book of Romans and wrestled with the words, “The just shall live by faith.”  (Romans 1:17).  I walked from the monastery to the church, the same path Luther took 500 years ago.

Luther was a young priest, only 34 years old, assigned to an obscure village.  He was devoted to the Roman Catholic Church.  But when Johann Tetzel came to his town promising his parishioners that their deceased family members could be released from Purgatory and enter Heaven if they would only make a contribution to the church, he could not contain himself. Tetzel’s efforts had been wildly successful in raising money. But, to Luther, it was wildly heretical.

It was a paradigm shift, 14 centuries after Jesus was born. Somehow the manuscripts recorded in the first century by those who saw Jesus, who listened to his words, who watched Him crucified and witnesses His resurrection had been buried beneath religious tradition and ritual.

His discovery changed everything.  Heaven, the one thing he desired most, could not be earned by good works and penance, nor by contributions to the church.  It could not be bestowed by the words of any man, priest or pope.  Heaven was a free gift to anyone willing to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ.

Heaven could not be earned by our efforts or bought with our money.  The Bible was clear. Peter had stated it to Simon, a Samaritan magician who wanted to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit, “May your silver perish with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money.” (Acts 8:20).


From the first century until now it has always been the same, for rich or poor, for people of every nationality, language or ethnicity, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;  for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13).

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Halloween

Next week miniature ghosts, goblins and super heroes will emerge at dusk to comb the streets in search of candy.  It is a long tradition in America, one I grew up with as a child and one I enjoyed as a parent. It is, perhaps, one of the few traditions we still celebrate outside with our neighbors. Manicured lawns are transformed into a mystical world of floating cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and tombstones.

Watchful parents huddle at the curb and visit while their little ghouls cheerfully threaten their neighbors with tricks for treats. Expectant children hold open hopeful bags and peer into their dark recesses trying to determine what luck they might have had at the door. 

I always enjoyed taking our kids trick-or-treating. We had fun dressing them up and entering, at least for a night, into their fantasy world.  I liked watching them celebrate their growing assortment of candy gathered from well-wishing neighbors, until a costumed spook jumped from the bushes and convinced our five year old he had enough candy for one night. 

I still look forward to answering our door bell on Halloween.  I enjoy trying to guess who is hiding behind the princess mask, what little boy is growling in the Ninja Turtle costume.  I like it when ET and Yoda drop by for a visit with their pet ghost-dog. They are polite ghosts and witches and extra-terrestrials. They almost always say, “Thank you.” 

Halloween, of course, has its dark side. Our nightly news reports of abducted children and maps dotted with sexual predators have erased the na├»ve world of Halloween past.  We are more aware that we live in a dangerous world where evil is real and present.   

Many churches are more than a little uncomfortable with Halloween.  On the one hand, it is enjoyable to celebrate community with imagination, fantasy and neighborly generosity.   On the other hand, there are demonic and destructive forces at work in the world that kill and destroy.  It is one thing to celebrate fall and indulge in imagination.  It is another to celebrate the occult, witchcraft, the devil and demons.

Many struggle with addictions and impulses they seem unable to control.  They find themselves on a collision course with destruction.  Our world needs the deliverance from evil.

Jesus once met a man filled with destructive demons.  He lived among the tombs of the dead, often cutting himself with sharp stones.  Local citizens tried to control him by putting him in chains, but he broke the chains and escaped back to his home among the graves.  When Jesus ordered the demons that were destroying the man to leave him the demons entered a nearby herd of swine that immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned.  The man was healed.  When his neighbors found him, he was in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, no longer a threat to himself or to them. But it scared them. They asked Jesus to leave their country and not to come back.  (Mark 5:1-20). Forces that we cannot understand or control always scare us.

This Halloween we will celebrate an occasion to enjoy our children and their imagination. We will celebrate the turning leaves, dry corn, pumpkins and harvest.  Halloween can also serve as a reminder that in our struggles with the unseen forces of  good and evil, both in our hearts and in the world, we have a Deliverer

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Same Kind of Different As Me

Same Kind of Different As Me opens in movie theaters this week on October 20.  I first stumbled across the story in 2010 when my son-in-law suggested it to me.  The book had been out since 2005, a true story that bridges the social and racial divisions of our day.

Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron Hall spent his childhood summers on a farm near my boyhood home of Corsicana Texas. His descriptions of Corsicana resonated with my memories growing up on Collin Street, one of the signature brick streets that reflect the glory days when the city boasted more millionaires per capita than any other town in Texas. Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron and Denver intersect in the slums of Fort Worth east of downtown where my wife started her teaching career forty years ago.

Same Kind of Different As Me is actually two stories. One, the story of an illiterate black man named Denver who was raised in the cotton fields of Louisiana and ended up homeless on the streets of Fort Worth. The other, an upwardly mobile white man named Ron Hall who graduated from TCU and made a fortune in the art world. They each tell their story, and the remarkable intersection of their journeys.

But the true stories of Ron Hall and Denver Moore are not the main stories in the book. They represent other stories: the story of our country and its culture. Ron represents those who rise from middle class with professional opportunities that can lead to great wealth. He also represents the dangers of that path that include temptations for greed, materialism, shallow and broken relationships. Denver represents the alarmingly huge segment of our population that falls between the cracks, victims of prejudice, oppression, injustice and neglect. He also represents the dangers of that downward spiral that includes temptations of bitterness, anger, isolation and despair.

The greatest story underlying and connecting all of these is God’s story. Ron’s wife, Deborah is the entry point for His work, one person who was open, willing and obedient. She became the catalyst for connecting these two broken men from different ends of the social spectrum.

In a day when many look to government to heal our wounds and solve our social problems, Same Kind of Different As Me serves as a reminder that the real solution to our personal and social problems lies within us. It is often buried beneath our own prejudices and fears, but it can be unlocked and released with the keys of acceptance, trust, faith and love, all the things Jesus demonstrated and talked about.

God wants to use each of us, whatever our race, whatever our circumstance, whatever our background to make a difference in the world.