I love Halley’s Bible Handbook. Not the new, updated one. The one you want is the old blue version of Halley’s Bible Handbook. Some of the archeological information in it is a little out of date, but the rest of it is great. The new version in the white cover has more up-to-date archeological articles, but it has edited out nearly all of the charm of Henry Hampton Halley’s original. Halley started self-publishing his Handbook in 1924 as a 17-page pamphlet, and he kept adding to it up until he died in 1965. Zondervan Publishing House acquired the rights in 1960. By then it had sold over five million copies.
I’d seen the little blue Bible handbook on bookstore shelves for years before I ever bought one. It just seemed so humble and unassuming, sitting there next to weightier tomes of Biblical knowledge.
There doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate in America right now, does there? Our country is a mess. My grandfather once told me politics was a dirty business. I thought he was just being cynical. But I don’t think so anymore.
I know I’m supposed to write these articles to help you understand spiritual things better. Instead, this time I’m going to tell you some things I just don’t understand.
I don’t understand why some politicians will say the most outrageous things just to score points with potential voters. I don’t understand how politicians can reverse themselves and say something with a straight face that is diametrically opposite of something they’d said before.
There’s an old curse which says “May you live in interesting times.” It sounds fairly innocuous, but on reflection you can see the meaning: uninteresting times are times of peace and tranquility; interesting times are times of upheaval and unrest. We are certainly living in interesting times! Historic, in fact.
I wanted to take a few moments to elaborate on something I spoke about from the pulpit last Sunday. I’d like you to know the process the Deacons and I went through in deciding about reopening the church for services on Sunday mornings. It was not a snap decision.
Well, this was all very surreal.
After Easter morning I was just exhausted. We had put on the service with a “skeleton crew” worship team for our live radio broadcast on WQTY 93.3 FM. I always feel extra keyed-up for Easter, and I still felt that way even though the stay-at-home order had left us without a congregation. In order to limit the number of people who needed to come in to put on the service, I played all the music on my guitar. I confess I felt some extra pressure because of that. Normally if I miss a chord or a beat, I know Charlene will carry the music with the piano. Without her there I had to make sure I played things right!
And I always feel a keen anticipation about the Easter sermon. I love to preach about the resurrection of Christ and why there are solid reasons to believe that it actually happened. Easter is my favorite Sunday of the year, and while I was disappointed that we didn’t get to have a Sunrise Service or an Easter breakfast, I still anticipated preaching the resurrection sermon.
I just started crying.
I was quite unprepared for the
wave of emotion I felt when I walked in the church. It was Sunday morning,
March 22, the first “quarantine Sunday”. I had just arrived, unlocked the east
doors and turned on the lights. And as I walked across the east entry area, my
throat tightened and I began to cry. I thought, “A church is supposed to be met
in!” Not the best grammar, I know, but that’s what I thought. And I continued
to be choked up as I went around turning on some lights and getting things
ready for the stripped-down worship service we were about to do for the radio
broadcast and over the internet.
When the federal and state government’s guidelines were announced the previous week, this was a situation none of us had faced before. Not knowing exactly what to do or what was safe, I consulted with Dennis Babcock, our chairman of Trustees, and we gave our church secretary and church custodian some “emergency days” and encouraged them to stay home. Without Wednesday or Sunday services to get ready for, there was no need to print bulletins or prayer lists, or to have the building “spic and span”. So until we had a clearer idea of what we should and shouldn’t do, we told our employees to stay home.
Last week I lost a good friend. His name was John Montgomery. He was about ten years older and six inches shorter than me. He had iron gray hair, a gravelly voice, a ready smile, and a great laugh. He was a Southern Baptist preacher from the Northeast. He’d been a chaplain in the Federal prison system in the Washington DC area, pastored three churches, and worked as a chaplain in a retirement complex. And he was a left-handed guitar player with arthritis, who still loved to hear the guitar. And he could make a lamp out of anything…even old guitars.
I first met him at the weekly Pastors’ coffee and donut thing at the Baptist Collegiate Mission house in Terre Haute. It didn’t take long for his gentle, genial laughter to draw my attention. Somebody told him I played guitar, and his face lit up. “Hey, I’m a guitar player, too!” After that, John and I didn’t really hear much of what the brethren discussed. We had our heads together, talking about guitars and guitar playing and bands we’ve been in and places we’d played. It was great! He did played left-handed, though.
I recently attended the Midwest Leadership Conference held in Springfield, Illinois, on January 21st through the 23rd. I didn’t want to go. Scott Kallem made me.
Actually that’s not entirely true. I had decided not to go, since I was already committed to attend another conference in the spring. But Scott, who is our fearless leader—Moderator of the West Central Baptist Association—called me and said they needed one more person to go, to be a roommate with Tom Savage. I have never seen a person drink as much sweet tea as Tom Savage, and that’s always fun to watch. So I reluctantly looked over the list of breakout sessions offered, and found that there were several I was interested in. So I called Scott back and told him I’d go. And I said, “Tell Savage he’d better not snore!”
I got a phone call recently from Alistair Begg.
Some of you are thinking, “You’re kidding!” And some of you are thinking, “Who’s Alistair Begg?”
After I came to the church in 1997 I learned of a conference being
held in Anaheim, California called “Preach the Word”. It was being hosted by
Greg Laurie and Harvest Church, and featured the top three expository preachers
in the country at that time: Chuck Swindoll, Chuck Smith and John MacArthur. I
had benefited from the ministries of each of these men, through their radio
broadcasts and their books.
Charles Swindoll’s wonderful sermons had impacted me several times
at key moments in my life, and I loved his laughter. Chuck Smith had a
wonderful, laid-back way of teaching the Bible. He used to say, “The secret
that I seek to impart to those eager to enter the ministry is to simply teach
the Word of God simply.” And John MacArthur, while extremely serious in his
delivery, always put the Biblical text in its historical context and took pains
to explain exactly what the Bible says. All three of these men were heroes to
me in the ministry, and examples of what a Biblical preacher ought to be.