Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Maston Remembrance

Dr. Maston had been retired for seventeen years by the time I arrived on the campus of Southwestern Seminary in 1980. He was still an active presence on the campus, however, as he worked in his office day by day. When I took my first course in Christian Ethics with Dr. Guy Greenfield, we were assigned two Maston texts--Biblical Ethics and Why Live the Christian Life?--for reading.
It was about then that I realized I had already come under the influence of Dr. Maston, even before I had gotten to Fort Worth. I had become a Christian my first year in college and a youth minister quickly put into my hands a little book published by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention entitled God's Will and Your Life by T. B. Maston. I was challenged by reading chapters such as "His Will Applies to All" and "His Will is Always Best." That little book played an important role in my search for God's direction in my life and likely contributed to me ending up in Dr. Greenfield's class in Christian Ethics at Southwestern Seminary.
By that semester I had already sensed that I was to continue on in school for doctoral work to prepare for a ministry in teaching. But in what field? I vividly remember sitting in Roberts Library with a classmate who held up Dr. Maston's Why Live the Christian Life? and said, "You know, this is where it all comes together." Indeed, that is where it all came together for me and I knew that the field of Christian Ethics was to demand my attention and commitment from then on.
Dr. Maston died two years before I began my own teaching ministry. Today, thirty-five years after I was first introduced to his wisdom, I teach Christian Ethics at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. I am still persuaded that the concerns and issues raised by Dr. Maston are "where it all comes together," still persuaded that "His Will Applies to All," and "His Will is Always Best." Those simple assertions are enough to answer the question "Why live the Christian life?"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seeking - and Giving - Refuge: University Hills Baptist Church of Denver

The Denver Post reports that the doors have been slammed shut on a Denver church that has a long history of faithful ministry to a southeast Denver community. In fact, they were slammed shut on the church's own members. In the business world, this would be called a hostile takeover.

Now, I have to admit to some bias here. My wife and I spent several years, early in our marriage, as part of the fellowship of University Hills Baptist Church. In fact, Joanna was baptized there in 1981, while she was carrying our first child; the pastor then, Davis Cooper, joked that it was the first "infant baptism" that he had ever performed. We left in 1985 but returned for the 1987 dedication of the church's new sanctuary.

When Joanna and I were there, from 1979-1985, University Hills was one of the leading churches in Denver - a vibrant faith community, a loving fellowship of believers. So I was stunned to read the Denver Post account. It tells of an ambitious young pastor who - impatient over the prospect of growing a church in a community that had grown old - led the church to "merge" with one in a younger community, 15 miles away in the suburbs. Then, according to the article, he abruptly abandoned those faithful University Hills members.

If you read the Denver Post article, you will likely be stunned by the depth and ramifications of this betrayal: broken promises; a merger vote riddled with irregularities; the new congregation's seizure of church property from those whose money had paid for it; and the new congregation's eviction of the University Hills fellowship from its longtime home, apparently for the purpose of selling the property to help pay off its own considerable debt.

Now the University Hills "remnant" is suing its former pastor and his new congregation, alleging fraud and seeking compensation for what has been taken from them.

So there are a lot of issues here. Some might cite the Apostle Paul's admonition, in 1 Corinthians 6, against Christians suing fellow Christians. But ethics - even Christian ethics - are rarely tied in one neat little bundle. Christian ethics often deal with competing principles and priorities. After all, Christ urged us to stand for justice against the oppressor, and to call to account those who exercise power over others. So, to sue or not to sue? That is just one of the questions here.

But what does this have to do with you and me? Well, I don't think any Christian can afford to ignore a situation like this. Hurting, dysfunctional churches are becoming the rule rather than the exception these days. As Christians, we need to stand up for what is right and seek healing and restoration for all concerned - and repentance, too, where it's needed.

God is healing these folks. Their story isn't over. As the article relates, having moved to rented space in a recreation center, the University Hills congregation has found a new mission field and a new ministry to dozens of refugees and immigrants whom they have welcomed into their fellowship. Funny how that works . . . the University Hills congregation is ministering to kindred spirits, for they themselves are displaced refugees and immigrants. Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love. And thanks be to our God, who blesses our brokenness beyond anything we can imagine.

So what are your thoughts on this situation? For that matter, have you experienced something similar, and how was it handled? What do Christian ethics have to say about what was done here? Is it acceptable for Christians to sue fellow Christians who have wronged them?

While you're thinking about all of that, be sure to pray for these folks in Denver as they celebrate Christmas in a new place and as they minister faithfully to a new community of believers. Giving refuge . . . even as they seek it for themselves.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

So Who's the Real Grinch?

The Dallas Morning News recently reported that Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, has created a Web site - - that "outs" businesses that don't fully acknowledge the religious aspect of Christmas.

So what message is Dr. Jeffress sending? Well, maybe my "receiver" is out of whack, but here are the three messages - all of them disturbing - that I hear in his campaign to identify businesses as either "naughty" or "nice." One is that we honor Christ by bringing economic pain and suffering on those who - in our view - don't honor Him. Another is that Christ is all about the economy and commerce rather than personal relationship.

But the message that rings loudest - and that most disturbs me - is that following Christ is something to be coerced, brought about through threatening and taunting and shaming rather than through sharing one's personal faith experience.

Dr. Jeffress boasted that he is "bringing the Gospel into Christmas." Pardon me, Dr. Jeffress, but God already brought the Gospel - the Good News - into Christmas 2000 years ago. And Christmas should be good news to a wounded and hurting world. But it seems to me that Dr. Jeffress is the grinch who has robbed Christmas of its good news for some this year.

That's how I see it, anyway. What are your thoughts?

He Went About Doing Good (by T. B. Maston)

(Published in the Baptist Standard, April 17, 1968, as part of the "Problems of the Christian Life" series of articles written by Dr. T. B. Maston; this article is as timely today as it was when Dr. Maston wrote it, as Christian denominations and institutions search for new ways to "move out of our church buildings and reach people where they are.")

This five-word biography of Jesus, "He went about doing good," was part of the sermon of Peter in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:38). This statement has deep meaning for followers of Christ.
Hoke Smith, an area representative of our Foreign Mission Board, recently said that the essence of missionary theory and practice could be reduced to a very concise formula: "To be like Jesus in attitudes, words, and deeds." This is not only the essence of missionary theory and practice, but it is also the essence of the Christian life.
If we are like Jesus, we will have a wayside ministry. He went about from place to place, and as He went He was helpful in His relation to suffering, sinning, seeking men and women. Jesus did not settle down in one spot and invite the people to come to Him. He went out where they were.
Our contemporary institutionalized concept of Christian work tends to localize and circumscribe our ministry for Him. We must move out of our church buildings and reach people where they are, or we will not reach the vast majority.
This does not mean that there will be no need for our buildings. We will still need them for worship and fellowship. But that worship and fellowship should be primarily preparatory. Also, we should seek to discover new approaches and techniques to transport some of that fellowship out where the people are.
Let us never forget that as Jesus went from place to place He ministered to the needs of the people.
What was the secret to the kind of life Jesus lived? Peter says that He went about doing good "for God was with him." Here was the source of His power. It was also the reason or the motive for the kind of life He lived.
At least His life was a natural expression of an inner desire. He could have used His miraculous power to perform miracles even more spectacular than most of those He performed. They would have been proof to the people that He was the Messiah, that He was the Son of God.
Why did He use His power so exclusively to relieve human needs? Approximately two-thirds of His recorded miracles were healing miracles. All others, with the possible exception of one or two, were miracles to relieve some human need. Why? He had a deep concern for people.
The more vital our relation is to Him, the deeper will be our desire to go about doing good. Also, the only source of the power that will enable us to have an effective wayside ministry is the power that comes from a vital relationship to Him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Welcome to Weighty Matters, the blog of the TBMaston Foundation. Or, as I like to call it, a "blog-a-logue," because it's intended to promote serious dialogue on current ethical issues.

For over 30 years, the TBMaston Foundation has worked to carry out its mission, as stated on our Web site, to "promote the legacy of Dr. T. B. Maston, a lifelong advocate for the deeper understanding and wider application of the life and ethical teaching of Jesus Christ." To learn more about Dr. Maston and the Foundation, please go to our Web site.

Last week, we published the first issue of the Foundation's e-newsletter. If you are not yet receiving it, you can subscribe from the home page of our Web site or by clicking here.

We anticipate a vigorous dialogue on Weighty Matters, discussing the issues of the day and how applied biblical Christian ethics can shed light on them. Some of our authors actually studied under Dr. Maston, who taught Christian Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for over 40 years, retiring in 1965. Other authors knew him well or have studied his writings. Several serve on the Foundation's Board of Trustees.

I will be moderating the blog and occasionally posing questions for our authors - and our readers - to discuss.

Throughout their lives, Dr. Maston and his wife, Essie Mae McDonald Maston, lived out the ethics that he taught - ethics that profoundly reflected the presence of the living Christ in their lives. Dr. Maston prophetically challenged Baptists - actually, all Christians, for that matter - to live out the ethics that Christ lived and taught. His stand against segregation and racial inequality, for example, at a time that lynchings were still common in some parts of our country, brought him hate mail by the bushel. But he faithfully and courageously stood fast in the face of the threats that came his way.

The TBMaston Foundation exists to promote Dr. Maston's legacy and to honor Jesus Christ. One of Dr. Maston's favorite verses of Scripture, which is quoted on the masthead of the Foundation's Web site, says it all: "Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6).

We welcome you to join the conversation. As you read the posts on this blog, please join us by posting comments that further a vigorous dialogue on these issues.