Monday, September 18, 2006

SOME THINGS I'M SURE ABOUT--SOME THINGS I'M NOT

I have served as Pastor to several great churches not the least of which is Southcliff Baptist Church in Ft. Worth Texas. It was while there that a profound moment came to my life and ministry at the age of 40. To fully explain this event I will need to give a bit of background and follow this with a few individual posts on specific subjects. But the background first.

Having been born into an alcoholic family with little or no church ties at all, you can understand my lack of biblical knowledge of any kind into my first ten years of life. My sister then started dating a baptist preacher and all that changed for the good. It was off to church with some regularity. At age 13, under deep conviction and great fear, I responded to the gospel and was converted, baptized, and well on my way to a different life. My now Brother-in-law was my role model, the only real one I'd ever had, and like him I wanted to be. At age 15 I "felt called to preach" and told him so. He wisely accepted my leanings and tested them in September of 1955 by asking me to preach for him on a Wednesday evening. I did and the rest is history, you can do the math.

Ordained at 16, called to my first church as pastor at 17, three weeks before my 18th birthday, and married to a 17 year old girl whom I loved deeply, and still do, I was 18 at the time, I was on my way to being the best baptist preacher/pastor Southern Baptists had ever seen. [IMHO]

My hero in the faith, my brother-in-law, and my sister had long since gone to Chile as missionaries, where they served for over 35 years, so I had lost the one pointing the way. I found another. He was my father-in-law. A SBC evangelist lifted out of the oil industry and the planning and resources board for the state of Oklahoma, fired for witnessing on the job, he began to preach and replaced my need for a direction setter. It was at this time I began reading, not only J.M.Carroll's book "Trail of Blood," but the reformed writers old and new. It was A.W. Pink, with whom my father-in-law carried on a personal correspondance, that carried the day theologically for me. I now had my pace setters again. You can see the pattern setting up already. I wound up a rabid Landmarker, a Calvinist, a dispensationalist and having many other systems firmly in place. I then came to the place of a Christ in me/Holy Spirit life being as real to me as any system could possible be.

Don't misunderstand, all of this was genuine in me and I was learning to preach while developing sermons and reading all of this time. But it was a dependence on the regurgitated thoughts of others in which my confidence lay. My preaching was Truth as I heard and knew it, and, if people were to be believed, I did a fair to middling job of presenting it sunday after sunday. Add to that all the seminars and movements that capture preachers and I was one of the captured. I'm not condemning them or me, just setting the background for what I want to say later.

Before my friends jump to my defense and tell me how much I helped them, I want those friends to know I'm aware God did some extraordinary things in me, through me, in them, and through them to me. He takes us where we are and I, along with several churches, was hungry for God to be God and He said "Okay".

But in the late seventies and event took place. A couple, her husband had departed twenty years before leaving her to raise her daughters which she did marvelously, his wife had died of cancer, met and it was love. Marriage was decided upon. When I heard, the first thing I did was protect my theology. I couldn't do it according to my held view of divorce and remarriage which was embraced from a seminar teaching that I had jumped into with both feet. The funny thing is, they didn't ask me to or want me to, as a friend in Houston was going to perform the ceremony. Well, they married. They continued to love me, their somewhat self centered pastor, as evidenced by the fact that rather than rejoicing with them when they told me of their plans, my first thought was how it would affect me. In fact, those two now serve on my Board of Directors for my ministry and are dear lifelong friends.

But that brought me pause. Why had I been so quick to react to protect my theology? The answer came. It wasn't mine. It was another's and my fear of being challenged was to the level of my ignorance of my own. So in 1980, at the age of 40 years, I began a journey. No longer would I teach anything in the pulpit that I did not find in the text of the scriptures. I did not then nor do I now discount the value of baptist tradition. I simply believe it is not our guide for belief or behavior as an absolute standard. I do not hold the BF@M as an absolute standard either. While I greatly appreciate the effort to catalogue our uniqueness as baptists into a confession, I do believe we really are to be a people of the Book. So I can affirm such a confession with some reservations with a clear conscience but what I teach and believe must be the text of a scripture I trust.

The battle for inerrancy was now going on and I must plead ignorance of a lot of what was being done and said. I did not like the attitude of either side particularly and would defend my friends on both sides. It was during this time, arriving in Atlanta, a pastor, whom I did not know well, was speaking desparagingly about Daniel Vestal and I told him to keep his mouth shut or take me back to the airport. Daniel Vestal was a friend of mine and as conservative theologially and gracious personally as any person I'd known before or since. I may and did disagree with some of what Daniel and others were doing but I would not allow that kind if disrespect of a friend in my presence. I may have been a bit weak theologically but never lacked in ethics or guts. I would have told a moderate the same thing had he spoken the same way about my friends who were conservative. I will admit moving to Oklahoma, heart surgery, and many other things kept me from being politically involved along with a natural revulsion for it all. But my ministry continued with friends from both sides while I was hammering out my own place in the understanding of the scriptures.

It is during this time, the last twenty-five years, that I began to be sure of some things and not so sure of others. I'm going to write about both. I'm not asking anyone to agree with me, but rest assured, it will be what I think. This excercise is probably of little significance for anyone but myself and a few friends, but it will be my attempt to share what I see as really important to my journey. If it is of interest or help to anyone else, that will be a special blessing to me personally.

More to come, for good or bad, in PART I

Paul Burleson

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Paul, I'm not beta so I have to post anonymously. I just wanted to write and say this. I'm praying for you and I am praying you will keep writing of the many things you have learned in Christ over the years because this is one young man who has found a mentor in you.

Bryan Riley

Bob Cleveland said...

You're the second person I know who has been revolutionized by a simple act: throw out all the "conclusions" of others, and let the Word of God speak for itself. That happened to me, too.

I heard Joseph Garlington's sermon "God's Strange Ways". In it he told of being unable to see a 3D picture until he took off his glasses and unfocused his eyes. When he saw it, he saw things no one had told him were there. God immediatly said HE had some things to show him, if he'd learn a new way to look at things.

That's prompted me to ask God to give me a new way to see the Bible. His response was to tell me to forget all the conclusions I'd heard, and let Him speak, unhindered.

Wow. What a ride it's been

Sonya D said...

Mr. Burleson,
I can't wait to read all of these posts. I thought so much like you did, unfortunately, for most of my Christian life. September 13th of this year, was my 25th spiritual birthday.
For the past two years, God has actively been "threshing the wheat" of my heart. I've had to throw out a lot of what I was taught, because there really was no Biblical basis for it. It has been painful much of the time. But there has also been an incredible amount of freedom in my walk with God that I longed for years ago. Thankfully, He longs for us to experience TRUE freedom found only in Him, not in any religious system.

It's great to have you back!

Faith Pedaler said...

Pastor Burleson,

I look forward to reading what you have to say. You are touching on matters that I am struggling with. Thank you for taking time to candidly share your insight and experience.

Kevin Bussey said...

Thanks Paul,

It is interesting how circumstances change views. Isn't that what one of the ways Blackaby says we experience God? My view of divorce changed when a very close relative's wife left him. He is one of the most Godly people I know.

Would you mind sending me your "white paper" that Wade said you wrote about divorce and deacons? Thanks in advance.

Paul Burleson said...

Bryan,
Bob,
Sonja,
Faith P.
Kevin,

Thanks one and all for reading and commenting. I was a little hesitant to do this but I must say that Paul Littleton was the inspiration for this direction of posting. His word picture of his personal journey was a real blessing to me and started the process of my taking a look at my own in a public way. I've shared all this many times in Pastors@Wives conferences held around the country, but that is a little more personal and private context that's for sure. I guess you always wonder if it will be taken as being self absorbed. But his accounting was so completely void of that concept and so honest and open I got hopeful I could accomplish it with the same heart and honesty as did he in this public forum. We'll see I guess. Thanks again.

Paul B.

Bryan Riley said...

I'd like the white papers too. And, I think God uses the difficult circumstances in our own lives to teach us truth like this. Praise God He can mold such hard headed men like me! It just breaks my heart that it often takes such tragically hard falls from the heighths of pride...

(i created a temp blog (not in beta) so that i could post with my name... but it won't lead to my normal active blog at charisshalom.

Paul said...

I'm really anxious to see where this goes. Your thoughts are always a blessing to me.

Ben Stratton said...

Paul,

Just a quick note, but it was J.M. Carroll, not J.R. Graves that wrote "The Trail of Blood". J.M. Carroll was B.H. Carroll's younger brother.

Paul Burleson said...

Bryan @ Kevin,

I'll have to look long and hard for that paper, but as long ago as it was, it probably should be called a "yellow" paper by now. :)

Paul,

Thanks and..."we was robbed"...:(

Ben, I appreciate the heads up, and it is obvious my old papers are not the only thing turning yellow with age...add to that my memory. The changes have been made.

Paul B.

art rogers said...

Paul,

I am looking forward to this series. The first is a good installment. ;)

art rogers

Paul said...

Robbed, beaten and left on the side of the road.

(Funny, true story: the first thing I thought of after the game was an old Sanford & Son episode in which Fred kept saying, "We was robbed...")

Bob Cleveland said...

Incidentally .. there may be some out there who'd accuse you of reading into the Bible, that which you want to see there. Simply because your conclusions don't match what "everybody knows" already.

Dad always said nothing needs explaining quite so often as that which needs no explanation (because "everybody knows").

Spurgeon 2005 said...

Brother Paul, I will eagerly await future installments of this series on your blog. It will be exciting to see the development of "my pastor" from seminary days. I am thankful that God has "reconnected" us at this time in both our lives.

This week's meeting at FBC Somerset, KY has been one of the most Spirit-filled meetings I have ever been a part of in my 35 years of ministry. Thank you for your faithfulness in preaching/teaching God's word. It is amazing that this is the 4th time I have heard you teach the Tabernacle series and it is just as fresh as the first.

Bill Haynes

Alycelee said...

Thank you for this inspiring word.
I believe that our strength comes from being willing to be vulnerable in God. Being willing to "not no" and not have it all figured it all out. The older I get in God, the less I know and yet the more comfortable I am in "Christ and Him crucified."
I'm looking forward to the rest of the story.

Kiki Cherry said...

Paul,

I can't wait to read what you have to say. I appreciate your wisdom and insights.

And yes....we were robbed. Doug searched all over Pittsburgh to find a place that was actually broadcasting the game.

We are refusing to wear anything with black and white stripes for the next three weeks as a sign of protest. :)

Paul Burleson said...

Alycelee,

It's amazing when I think back how much I thought I knew. But it's fun learning after you really discover the truth about much of that former knowledge. Things like it just wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Thanks for stopping by.

Kiki,

I was in Ky during the game and had to have my wife put the phone next to a radio so I heard it all. Yes, we were robbed. :(

Also, I wrote you two e-mails this week but could not get them sent. I don't know what the problem was but, yes, write him. Do it just as you did me. My suggestion only.

Paul B.

Paul Burleson said...

Bill,

Thanks for dropping by, and, I must say, this week with you and your church was second to none that I can remember. It is a rare privilage to be present when God chooses to bless so very powerfully. And bless He did. Stay in touch.

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

I do not know you.....have never heard you speak, but I am intrigued by this article. I appreciate the integrity that I see in your character, whether I agree with your theology or not. Your loyalty to integrity and standing up to those who chastise others who disagree with them catched my attention. I look forward to other posts on this subject.

Sincerely,
Michael

Paul Burleson said...

Michael,

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I appreciate your words and will attempt to maintain that integrity that you believe you see. I trust your observation is correct.

Paul B.

IMBLITS said...

How long do we have to wait for Part 2?

Paul Burleson said...

Imblits,

I'm one of those hunt and peck kind of guys. It is a long process for me to write out long hand [which I do] and then type an article. And, since this is my busy season in travel and preaching/teaching, it is even a bit more difficult to do it. Well, you can see I'm going to be as slow as molasses on a post. No excuses, just fact. But thanks for being interested enough to ask. :)

Paul B.

IMBLITS said...

And thank you for answering but in the Blog-World we think you need to readdress your priorities. Just kidding. Feel perfectly free to live your other life at your own pace, even though we wait impatiently. Think you're great!

Anonymous said...

Paul,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and what was happening during those years while we were in Seminary. As members of Southcliff, my Wife and I were involved in the Men's seminar and Mary's women's class and were impressed with your love of God and desire to grow. You imparted so much to us and we have been grateful for your desire to share. The 5 years at Southcliff were years of growth, learning and watching God work in so many lives. We knew some of what you are now sharing and are looking forward to filling in lots of gaps.
Ken and Rhonda Colson
Missoula, Montana

Paul Burleson said...

Ken @ Rhonda,

Thanks for commenting. What a delight to hear from you guys. I have fond memories from those days at Southcliff also, but it was because of the hunger and commitment of folks like you two more than anything else.

Stay in touch.

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

Brother Paul,

Its good to read someone who is a big picture guy and takes time to put all the events in their lives in perspective.

As Christians, we should believe that our lives are not just some random series of events. There are purposes and connections of these events.

God has a purpose for each one of us. I'm looking foward to hearing more of your story and seeing how He connected all your experiences to grow you in wisdom and character and bring glory to His name.

This is an exercise that many of us could benefit from.

Blessings!
Informed M

Brett & Kelly Burleson said...

Dad,

This blog is awesome for me. This is insight into my father that I have not been smart enough to stop and "take in" like a sponge throughout my life. I've heard so many people say that they wished they had taken the time to listen to their parents along the way and then wait until it is too late. It seems I have a way to do that now.

Thank you for sharing your life.
And thank you for the never ending example of Our Heavenly Father.

I love you,
Brett

Paul Burleson said...

Informed M,

"AMEN" to your comment. Life is a journey and it takes it all to really make sense of any of it.


Brett,

As you well know I'm spending a lot of time wishing I'd been more real early on. It is a testimony to you and your siblings willingness to forgive that is as profound as anything I'll ever say.
Someone said "Our kids make it often in spite, not because of us."
Truer words were never spoken.

I love you too,

Dad