Remembering a Man of the Word

Last week, one of God’s choice servants entered the presence of His Savior. Today many paid respect Dr_Steele_Dr_Spottsto Norman Spotts, a true man of the Word. Being able to say that about someone these days is no light matter.

He served many years as Bible professor, chaplain, and dean of students at Clearwater Christian College. That is why I have always referred to him as “Dean” Spotts (which many thought was his first name). Most of us remember him as dignified and reserved. Friendly and even-tempered. Drolly humorous with a signature smirk. His mind a vast resource of biblical knowledge.

Pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Bible, I had the opportunity to sit under his instruction in Old Testament Survey, Doctrines, and other courses in that department. Perhaps even more importantly, I sat at times on the other side of his desk in his office in Dambach as he offered godly counsel. One time in particular stands out. While still a student I felt that I had been slighted and unappreciated in a ministry opportunity. My pride had been stepped on, and I saw nothing but greener pastures serving elsewhere. With patience and perspective, he explained the right thing to do and the right way to do it. How to approach the situation biblically. How to respond to adversity appropriately. How to deal with people in general. Of course, his counsel was always drawn from and liberally seasoned with Scripture.

He was the instructor for the PMT class (Pastoral Ministry Training). He told us how to make the Bible the focal point of our preaching…how to safeguard our personal lives and ministries against temptation…how to perform a wedding…how to do a funeral (“Be careful that you don’t fall in the hole at a graveside service”). There were only a few of us in the class that semester; John Jackson, JC Nixon, Mike Mrkall. Occasionally, we would preach to each other in class and critique each other afterward. Each of us would stand behind a lectern and present our sermon as the others, including Dean Spotts, would take notes. In that small classroom on the side of the Easter Library, there was nowhere to hide if you made a mistake. During one of my attempts, I vividly remember my eyes, brain, and mouth refusing to cooperate with each other. I repeatedly mentioned the Apostle Paul throughout the sermon, when I clearly meant to say Peter instead. When I finished and it was their turn to weigh in, each of my classmates pointed out the obvious mistake – even counting how many times I had made it in just one short sermon. Truthfully, I would have done the same in their shoes. However, Dean Spotts, while acknowledging my gaffes, chose to focus on the biblical text and the content of my message. What gracious encouragement for a 21-year-old with extremely limited preaching experience.

Soon after I entered into ministry at New Testament Baptist Church, Pastor Ramsey invited a group from the college to sing in one of our services. He also invited Dean Spotts to preach. I remember being proud to say that I had been his student as he delivered a message about “The Man Who Picked Up Sticks” from Numbers 15. Although I have no notes from that morning, I have never forgotten the message. Within a year or two, we hosted another musical group from Clearwater Christian, and Dean Spotts would again be there to represent the college. However, this time Pastor Ramsey asked me to preach that morning. Equal parts of anxiety and anticipation filled my mind as I stood behind the pulpit that day. As much as I wanted to minister the Word to the congregation, I also wanted to see a look of approval on Dean Spotts’ face as he nodded his head in agreement. I wanted to make sure he knew I had listened and learned in his classes and was doing my best to rightly divide the Word of truth.

That was because I knew he was a man most familiar with the Word of God. Someone who understood its value. Who treasured it rightly. Who studied it diligently. Who preached it with sincerity and conviction, knowing that it was the power of God in the lives of those who would hear it. As his pastor shared several verses today from Psalm 119 about a love for Scripture, he noted the similarities between the psalmist and Dean Spotts. Pastor Haney summarized, “He was a man devoted to the Word of God and was blessed throughout his life because of it.”

The older I get, the more I have come to appreciate men who are more concerned with genuine substance than temporary style. More devoted to the Word of God than the trends of society. More concerned with the Lord’s approval than man’s applause. Men like Dean Spotts.

I can almost hear him closing a public prayer with these words from Ephesian 3:20-21, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”

And the Beat Goes On

It’s happened again. Another believer in the public eye has been hauled over the coals for something they said. This time one of the Duggar girls made a statement about our national shame surrounding the atrocity of abortion ending her thoughts with, “EVERY LIFE IS PRECIOUS.” Instantly, the opposition revealed itself.

In a fairly regular cycle, some Christian celebrity comes under fire for their perspective, words, or actions. As soon as the reports hit the media, the columnists from Slate, Salon, and the rest are offering their condemnations.

For a while, it seemed like Tim Tebow couldn’t smile at the camera without taking heat for his public faith. In fact, one of the most benign commercials ever produced featuring him and his mother was routinely bashed because of its anti-abortion stance. (I offered my thoughts about his situation back in 2011.)

While being interviewed in 2012, Dan Cathy (Chick-fil-A) clearly stated his personal and corporate support of the traditional family – marriage between one man and one woman. Suddenly, the boycotts and lawsuits from various groups hit the scene. Some colleges booted their stores off campus, and a California high school principal forbade the football booster club from selling their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. (See here and here.)

Duck Dynasty’s patriarch Phil Robertson openly identified homosexuality as a sin according to Scripture and the howling dogs in the media were on full alert. The pervasive calls for tolerance were suddenly replaced with cries for censorship. (How ironic!) Never mind that Phil also identified adultery, idolatry, drunkenness, and extortion as sin when he referenced 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Never mind that he also said, “…the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

What is being overlooked in all of this is that these views and statements are really nothing new. For centuries everyday Americans – Christian and unbelievers alike – have understood that the Bible recognizes marriage as only between a man and a woman, homosexuality as sin, and abortion as murder. In fact, the great majority supported those views and lived accordingly. God’s Word has not changed. Our society has.

The truth is that this goes much further than even the founding of our nation. For millennia civilizations have for supported these truths. Even pagan societies recognized the internal witness of conscience that God placed within us and acknowledged some sense of right and wrong. Wise King Solomon told us that “there is no new thing under the sun.” Declaring biblical truth in words and actions is only radical today because of its rarity.

Perhaps instead of being shocked every time someone is attacked for their biblical perspective we should remember the words of Jesus Christ.

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. John 15:19

Maybe we should also embrace the fact that there are spiritual benefits attached to this type of treatment.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5:11  

Perhaps we should be asking why it doesn’t happen more often. Why doesn’t it happen in our own lives more regularly? Why aren’t we personally feeling the heat from the world around us? If we are living out our faith as Scripture calls us to do the results should be evident. If our Christian walk is genuine others should notice, and some will oppose.

Finally, if you are discouraged because your personal faith or witness has been rejected recently, remember this promise:

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 1 John 4:4 

Ever heard of Amos Alonzo Stagg?

 

As of today, Amos Alonzo Stagg holds the record for most losses in the history of major college football. Over his coaching career he lost 199 times! Interestingly, he also used to hold the record for most wins, until Bear Bryant passed him in 1981.

BrownWatson1Sometime Stagg’s long held record will fall. In fact, it could be as early as Saturday when Watson Brown’s Tennessee Golden Eagles face the University of Northern Iowa. After last week’s defeat, Coach Brown has struggled through 199 losses – with the next one likely to come at some point this season. Even though his teams have won 128 games, and he has led them to seven winning seasons, he will likely be better remembered for something far more negative – being the first coach to record 200 losses in his career. (Just to add insult to injury, his brother Mack Brown won a national championship at Texas in 2005.)

Watson Brown has been the head coach at several different schools including Austin Peay, Cincinnati, Rice, Vanderbilt, and UAB. Every time he came in with the goal of taking a struggling team or a fledgling program and making improvements. Sometimes he was able to do that, but never able to win more than seven games in a season. That adds up to a whole lot of “L”s on your résumé.

I read Watson Brown’s story this week and was encouraged. Sometimes when you are trying to serve well, things are just a bit trying. This has been one of “those weeks” personally. A struggle or setback here and there add up quickly. When you experience an unexpected loss you need a pick-me-up.

“Wait…encouraged by a guy who will be remembered as a loser?”

In fact, his win-loss record is not the full story. What must be said about Coach Brown is that his players – present and former – speak highly of his character and influence. They appreciate his investment in their lives and careers. His brother’s assessment was that Watson has always worked within the rules and guidelines. He’s never been reported to or investigated by the NCAA for infractions. Never had a violation during all those years. For 29 seasons as a head coach, he has worked hard and done his job to the best of his ability.

The Apostle Paul would summarize his life of ministry this way: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 2 Timothy 4:7

Recognizing the high value God places on faithfulness, Paul ignored the miles traveled, numbers of souls saved, churches founded, etc. Surely, these could be considered accurate measures of his ministry.  Yet, perhaps he understood that even if his ministry had taken a different course through the years – or had different results – he still would be considered successful if he remained faithful to God and His calling.

Maybe your week hasn’t turned out like you expected. Maybe even this year or longer. Maybe your best attempts to serve the Lord or others didn’t produce the results for which you had hoped. Perhaps you faced unexpected obstacles. Your attempt to witness was rebuffed by someone. Your efforts of service were unappreciated or ignored. The greater question is “Were you faithful to do what God asked?” If so, then consider your work a success.

A Song for Today

Music possesses the mighty power to leave a lasting impact on our spiritual lives. Recently, I read about the background of the well-loved hymn, How Great Thou Art. Like many, this song is a special favorite because of its message and majesty.daldorch valley a

Whenever I see this picture, I feel an emotional stirring in my soul and sometimes tears come to my eyes. Certainly, it is not because of the dramatic visual impact of this photograph! After all, this is a digital scan of a Kodak slide taken almost 35 years ago by a young boy with a 25 year-old Ansco camera. The color and quality is poor, at best, even after being retouched. (Slides don’t hold up as well as you might think). Yet, the strong feelings have more to do with the occasion associated with  this slide.

I remember as a 13 year-old boy spending my summer in Scotland working on a construction project with Teen Missions International. After several weeks of separation from home and family, long hours of laying bricks and digging trenches, and cold, drizzly weather, I was feeling low physical and emotionally. I took a walk late one afternoon to explore and was talking out loud to God about what I was feeling.

About that time I discovered this wonderful vista of the River Ayr winding between the rolling hills. Having been raised in Florida (elevation 15 ft.), hills and mountains of any size seem especially majestic. Combined with the emotion of the moment and the spiritual impact of sincere prayer, I felt an overwhelming impulse to sing. The only song that seemed right was How Great Thou Art. It has always captured for me the goodness and greatness of our God and still reminds me of the wonder of those moments alone with Him.

The psalmist sang that the Lord had “put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:3)

No one was around to see or hear me out on that hillside in 1980. But our day-to-day purpose as God’s children should be that others are seeing the evidence of His presence in our lives. They should be hearing our mouths filled with praise and thanksgiving for what He has done. It is not always accomplished by singing a hymn, although that is a wonderful privilege of our personal relationship and a vital component of our corporate worship. Rather, every word that comes out of our mouth should reflect our Savior. Even the countenance of our face can reflect Him.

What will your song be today?

He told the truth

klose and refIt made news. In fact, that one simple act drew lots of attention.

Two years ago in an Italian soccer match, the ball sailed in front of the goal and Miroslav Klose knocked it in. The problem was that instead of hitting the ball with his head, he hit it with his arm. One team celebrated while the other protested.

After a few seconds, Klose walked over and spoke into the referee’s ear. He told the truth and the goal was cancelled. Members of the opposing team patted his shoulders and congratulated him, and the story of one man’s honest act began to spread.

In contrast, Argentine player Diego Maradona is remembered for a goal that he punched in with his fist during the 1986 World Cup competition. When asked about that goal afterward, he evasively described it as “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” Almost 20 years later, he admitted on a television program that he had purposely hit the ball with his hand and knew all along that it was illegitimate.

Honesty is strikingly absent in so many realms of our society. We’ve all been hurt by someone’s trickery or deceit. People distrust politicians (and others) because of broken promises. A man’s word is no longer considered his bond. A handshake means nothing to many.

Years ago, Dr. Madison Sarratt, who for many years taught mathematics at Vanderbilt University, would admonish his class before a test with this thought:

“Today I am giving two examinations – one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trig, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

As believers, we should be known for our integrity. Honest words. Trustworthy transactions. Honorable behavior. Consistent conduct. Through these traits we are able to fulfill our responsibilities as salt and light in the world. Commit today to demonstrate the change that God has made within you with every word and action.

Whose Way Will It Be?

A recent survey of British funeral directors revealed a significant change in the choices families made when arranging memorial services for their loved ones. Last year, 70% of funerals had replaced traditional hymns with pop music. The list of the most used tunes ranged from old standards to hits from recent years (including a dash of Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Adele). That’s not the most concerning aspect of this survey.

frank-sinatraThe most popular track at funerals (played at 15% of them) was My Way by Frank Sinatra. The song was originally written in French and reworked into English by Paul Anka. Even now, the tune is probably echoing in your mind. (I apologize if it stays there too long and annoys you later.) While that’s not my favorite tune by “Ol’ Blue Eyes”, it is a very well known song that speaks of triumph over adversity. There’s certainly nothing wrong with living a full life with few regrets.

What is troubling is the underlying theme of the song – especially when chosen for a memorial service. Think of it…having the final statement of your entire life summarized by an unyielding reliance upon self. Far too many act as if we answer only to ourselves. In fact, we invite trouble into our lives when we do things “our way.” The Bible describes in detail the failure of doing what is right in one’s own eyes…of failing to submit to an Almighty God.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
and did it my way! 

I’m all for strong character and firm convictions, but God’s Word reveals that the wisest move we ever make is to bow to the One who has created us. In contrast to Sinatra’s bold declaration, the psalmist asks a related question:

Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him!
or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!
Psalm 144:3

May we each learn to yield our will to God’s. Only when we act in humble obedience will we experience His greatest blessings on our lives.

A Legacy

I admired and appreciated him more than I expressed.  Unfortunately, that is often the case with relationships in this life.  And now Clair Smith has gone on to his long home and the reward of his Savior’s presence.

Today, I contemplated his life and legacy.  For full disclosure, I must state that I am not a Smith by blood.  However, he became Papaw to me when I married my wife.  My memories include golf during one of his stays in Clearwater…Thanksgiving dinner and some of the most competitive croquet I have ever played…driving with him to Morgantown to watch the Backyard Brawl at Mountaineer Field.

As a veteran of World War II, he served valiantly as a ball turret gunner on a B-17.  He crafted images with his words, writing poems of nature and history rich with emotion and experience.  The brush was also his tool, whether portrait or church baptistery scene.  When he casually broke into song, it was often a whimsical declaration of his love for a family member – perhaps an infant in his arms or Myrtle, his beloved wife of more than six decades.

He was a patriarch in every sense of the word.

And in that role he gave me his greatest gift.  It began with his genuine faith in Christ.  It continued as he lived out that faith before his family.  It bore fruit as they came to love the Lord and trust the Savior.

And 26 years ago, I met a godly, loving young woman who is a result of his legacy.

Even now I can hear my own children’s voices singing of the love of God and am reminded of those who have walked in faith so many years ago.

I have been blessed because of his life

and am grateful.