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The Lord is My Shepherd

This last Sunday I started a sermon series on Psalm 23. I will be taking four Sundays to cover this very familiar passage of Scripture. It’s always a challenge to present something new to people who have heard so much about these verses.

Most of us associate this passage with death and funerals. As a matter of fact, just today I went to a funeral service and picked up a worship pamphlet with a picture of the deceased on the cover. On the inside was recorded Psalm 23. These are words are comfort during a painful and sad situations.

I am not sure exactly what David was going through when he penned these words, but some scholars suggest he was running for his life. His son Absalom had conspired to take over the throne and David abandoned his position for the time being. The other thought I have is that Psalm 23 follows Psalm 22 (of course), but that the previous psalm begins with the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a question that many of us have asked at one time or the other, and demonstrates the range of emotion David experienced during extreme difficulty. 

We don’t have a lot of sheep around here, or people wanting to a shepherd for that matter. I did come across an interesting explanation from Phillip Keller. He grew up in East Africa where they do have sheep, and penned a book entitled “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm.” Keller offers a number of observations, including the realization that sheep require much more attention than any other livestock. They can’t take care of themselves. They are nearsighted and very stubborn, and have no homing instincts. Dogs and cats can find their way home, but if a sheep gets lost, “it’s a gone sheep.”

I found that last thought particularly helpful. Sheep can’t find their way home. This reminded me of Isaiah 53 and the reminder that “all we like sheep have gone astray, each one of us to his own way.” There are a lot of lost people wandering around out in the world, and the good news is that the Good Shepherd knows each one and is searching for them. However, each person must respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd and determine to follow after Him (John 10).

In his book, “I Shall Not Want” Robert Ketchum tells a story about a little girl in a Sunday School class. The teacher asked the class if anyone knew the 23rd psalm. The little girl insisted that she did, and while the teacher was skeptical, told the girl to stand up and recite the familiar words. The little girl stood up, went before the class, and bowed. She then said, “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I need.” She then bowed once again and sat down.

I’ve been a pastor for 20 years and here at University Heights for seven of them. One thing I am learning by being around “the sheep” is that many of us are stressed and worried by a number of things. If the Lord is our (my) shepherd, then we (I) have the assurance that we (I) won’t be in lack. I can have the confidence of not lacking even though I might not be liking what going on. The English translation for Psalm 23.1 has nine words, the Hebrew only four. These are succinct and direct in their focus. The natural conclusion to the Lord being my shepherd is simply this: “I shall not want.” That means there is nothing I will lack or go without if it is important to the Shepherd for me to have. it also means I need to rely upon the Shepherd and trust Him to know what is best for me.

Psalm 23. It’s not just for funerals. “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I need.”



St. Francis and Ferguson, MO

I played baseball for a high school that had mostly black students. The sophomore class, of which I was in at the time, had a majority of the white students. I was part of a class of students that was bused to different schools in the Monroe, LA area to assist with integration.

Baseball was about the only sport I could play with any degree of competency, and I thought about playing for Neville High School, even though I didn’t attend there at the time. It was understood that players in their 10th grade year could play for NHS if they chose to do so, because that is where most of the sophomores went at the end of the year.  I remember being aware that Neville had seven seniors and two juniors in their lineup, and didn’t think I had too much of a chance to get any playing time. So, I decided to do something which was very unusual for a white athlete to do: I played for Carroll High School.

It was a unique and sometimes difficult experience, being a white player on that team. I remember the baseball coach at Carroll informing me that I would be the “white Jackie Robinson” and to consider what that might mean. I remember being introduced at the school assembly and the murmurs from the students, and the principal asking them to support this team and its players. I really wasn’t thinking of making such a social or political statement as a 16 year old. I just wanted to play baseball. Still, the social and racial overtones in that public school district became evident to me through the season.

I remember traveling to Grambling High School, and while arriving on the bus, seeing students and other players pointing at me. It was like they had never seen a white person on their campus before. Maybe that was the case. But, I never felt threatened by being there. I just had to overcome the unusual sense of being different and having some spectators staring at me and bringing it to my attention. It was more difficult playing our district schedule, against other high schools with people who knew me. They wondered what I was doing and some openly criticized me for it. They used a few select adjectives and monikers during the games too.

I’ve thought about the people of Ferguson, as everyone else has, and have a deep sadness at what is being portrayed. There is the terrible loss of an 18 year old’s life, and the expectation and hope of his having made a positive contribution to his community and world. I understand he was enrolled to attend college. I also think about the police officer whose life has also been forever changed, and wondering what the grand jury will do as they review the evidence. The world is watching to see how this unfolds.

There has been so much written and said about Ferguson, and no doubt there will be more. I did not realize that 50 of the 53 police officers on its force were white. That will have to change. Still, my initial thought is that I hope and pray that the rush to judgment can be avoided. I hope and pray that threats of violence and actual violence can be avoided, and that in fact justice can be blind in this case. I hope and pray that the facts and situation can be considered for not only the Brown family, but also for this police officer. I hope and pray that leaders who are close to the situation will rise up and call for peace and justice for everyone concerned.

Many people have already made up their mind about this case. This is disturbing to me. It also bothers me to see the incredible police presence at the protests, and the escalation of rhetoric from those who aren’t witnesses of what actually happened. If you want to hear some of that, you can go to YouTube. And I don’t think all the violence at those protests are coming from residents of Ferguson.

I’ve come across a few balanced editorials about Ferguson, and think this is one of the better ones I have read. It comes from a minister of a CBF congregation in the St.Louis area. This tragedy is going to take a while to sort out. No matter what happens, that young man won’t get his life back. But, how things are settled and the process may have a profound impact on the future of Ferguson and our nation.

I don’t pretend for a moment that playing baseball and being close to black players and coaches for that year makes me an expert on race relations. But, it did put me in a position to listen and learn from a different perspective. It has helped me to understand a little bit about the anxiety and fear that come from stereotypes and a lack of communication. It also informed me that friendships can be made regardless of a person’s color or economic background. We didn’t win many games that year, but I still have good memories of that season. I think playing together as a team made us winners of another more important type.

A few words of a prayer by St. Francis come to mind: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I am not naive enough to think that simply asking for peace and justice will be enough, but that is a good starting point. In times like these, we need to use as many (wise) words as possible.

Robin Williams: Laughter and just a few lessons

I never knew him.

But I felt like I knew him. Just a little bit anyway.

The death and apparent suicide of Robin Williams has shocked and rocked the entertainment industry, and millions of fans around the world. It is hard to believe that the 63 year old comedian and actor is gone. It is a loss that impacts many, many people, even if they never knew him personally.

The news tonight took a little bit out of me, mainly because of how Williams presented himself to the world. Williams was public about his bouts with depression, and apparently was no longer able to deal with it and took his own life.

All of us know about how talented he was. I remember “Mork and Mindy” as a spin off of the “Happy Days” show decades ago. I was talking to a college student today about the magnitude of Williams’ death and about this show, and she acted like she had never heard about Williams. But, as I went through what I could recall about his acting contributions, I think I got her on board with some of his more recent efforts. I hope she’ll go back and do a bit of research on the broader scope of his work.

There will many people who will write tributes to Williams. There’s no way to really know what he was like unless you knew him, but I wanted to offer a few thoughts about this tragic loss of life.

First of all, people who are outwardly happy can be dealing with their own demons on the inside. It’s hard to imagine a man who brought laughter to millions could struggle so much with depression. He was wealthy, successful, well-liked, and had the admiration off many people. It wasn’t enough.

Second, despite his own struggles, he was able to bring a smile to the people around him, and we need more people like that. There’s an adage “there’s always someone else who has more problems that you.” We need to remember that.

I was reading a post on facebook by someone who was complaining about how they were unhappy about their children not getting their preferences met at school, and then I remember a family whose grandson was killed in an accident and won’t be starting kindergarten this Fall. We need to be a little more grateful about what we have when we start to complain. Maybe it would help us not to gripe so much. We should especially be mindful not to voice our “problems” in the presence of those who have endured more significant and life-changing losses. There’s no comparison.

We have so much to be thankful for. And there are many people who could be encouraged by our cheerfulness. There are people who “fill our buckets” and those who empty them. We have a finite amount of energy in those buckets, and I know I more drawn to those who fill mine than those who constantly drain it. From time to time we get sad, but we can all work on our attitude. Williams seemed to be someone who filled a lot of emotional buckets.

Third, depression is for real. It’s hard to understand how this affects the mind and a person’s thinking. Sometimes we can more readily grasp the reality of someone who is struggling outwardly having this condition. It’s much more difficult to fathom a wealthy person dealing with this problem. And, if you have someone who struggles in this way, then you can relate to the pain of what the Williams family is going through.

Finally, life can seem incredibly short and we need to enjoy the time we have. I’ve often quoted John Claypool’s statement that “Life is a gift.” We aren’t guaranteed a certain number of days in this life, so that ought to make the most of the time we have.

So, take time to tell someone how much you care about them and what they mean to you. Do it today, there’s only so much time that we have to use.

Braces, Backpacks, and Millennial Musings

   My little girl got braces this week.
   Lori and I took Lucy to the orthodontist to address some corrections that needed to be made with her teeth. Through this process I learned that there have been wonderful advances in this procedure through the years. One of them has to with choosing what color you want on your teeth.
   When asked what color she wanted her braces to be, Lucy said “orange and blue.”–colors of the Auburn Tigers. 
   I laughed at her choice. I wasn’t ready for that response, it was a complete surprise but appropriate too. It showed her desire to make the best of a challenging and new situation. She’ll have some pain and discomfort for a while but the ultimate goal will be worth it.  
   Associated Baptist Press released an article this week entitled “Millennials warn churches against catering to their generation.” It is a good read. We must be careful not to stereotype all millennials (born 1980-2000) into one category regarding what they like as far as worship style is concerned.
   George Bullard, church consultant and contributor to the article, states that congregations are contorting themselves into contemporary expressions that attract few young people. The problem is that churches aren’t staying true to their own identities.
   There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach that “works” with this generation. A key factor seems to be creating an atmosphere of authenticity and hospitality for them to make new friends and explore their relationship with God. 
   I’ve been expecting an article like this to come out for a while. Because, like many of you, I desire to see more millennials take part in worship. I have sensed the desperation of trying to find that one idea that will work, but it’s like nailing jello to a wall. Nothing seems to stick. . 
   It’s a challenging time for churches all across our nation. For decades, churches have been facing declining numbers and financial resources. An older and more faithful church-going generation is aging out and dying. Yet, churches also face some of the most amazing opportunities to share the gospel. In some ways, the 21st century church is dealing with the same kinds of issues that the 1st century had. We live in a pluralistic society, have complex social and political landscapes, and deal with people who don’t share our worldview or values. The same was true more than 2000 years ago.
   Students go through a lot of changes in their lives, and like Lucy, learn to adapt and want to make the most of the life experiences that come their way. Let’s love those who come are way and be excited about the opportunities for us to gather for worship and then scatter to be a witness for Christ. Let’s also remember that the church isn’t a one or two hour meeting during the week, but a way of life that reflects our relationship with Christ.
   I think we underestimate the sincerity of millennials who genuinely seek a deeper relationship with God and ways to develop that in their own lives. Not all of them are satisfied with the loudest and latest form of worship style. I believe there is a segment of them who are looking for something more significant and deeper than what happens on an hour on Sunday morning. 
   UHBC has long had relationships with Rountree Elementary School, MSU, and Drury. Some of you are graduates, professors, and former faculty at the schools. Our church is promoting and asking you to provide backpacks of school supplies for the elementatary school. We are also hosting the MSU Pride Band soon and you can help out with that too. Soon the “Adopt-a-Student” program will be in place once again, and Trey has some great ideas to cultivate relationships with students.
   Let us desire to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and allow the Holy Spirit to continue to transform us into the kind of church that brings glory to God and love for others. 
   I appreciate Paul Bass and Ethan Bryan filling in for me these last two Sundays. My family and I appreciated the time away to be together and visit family. We are thankful to have a home to return to in Springfield and to see our church family once again.
    The Apostle Paul told the church not be afraid of the challenges around them. We’ll talk more about that Sunday. I hope to see you then. We’ll gather around the Lord’s Supper table and be reminded of our blessings as God’s people. The choir will have a wonderful anthem to share with us as well. I look forward to seeing you
    And, don’t forget the Talent Show this Wednesday night! It will kick off the beginning of another church year. 
   There’s a lot of good things taking place in our church. I hope you will do your best to take part in them and encourage others to do the same

Momma Goose and Romans 16

   ‘Momma Goose” died two weeks ago.
   Her real name was Annette Harvey, and I met her while I was Minister of Youth at Monticello Baptist Church in Monticello, MS. This was a part-time position, as I would make the 2 1/2 hour drive back and forth from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary each Friday and Monday. This was my first church staff position.
    People called her Momma Goose for several reasons, but I suppose it related to her desire to take in strays. This applied to both people and animals. She also had a tendency to hover over people and try to take care of everybody, usually by feeding them or being an attentive ear. She was someone that you would call “a mess.” Her son Anthony was in my youth group, so we were able to spend time together that way too.
    I received a call from someone who let me know about her funeral. Even though it has been a long time since I’ve been in that small Lawrence County community, the news still had an impact on me. I am sure it had an even greater affect on those still living in that town and remaining involved in that church.
   There are many things that go into keeping a church going, and the same is true with ours. We know about the impending roof replacement, flooding in the choir room, panic bar installation and other maintenance needs like the compressor going out that cools the choir room and loft (thus the robe-free summer). Then there are all the sick people in the hospital and at home.
   However, we have enjoyed meaningful reports from our children who went to Windermere for Camp Connect, and the youth talked about their recent trip to Louisville, KY for Mission Fuge.
   Then, there’s the matter of Carol Baumberger deciding to break her arm and get a concussion a few weeks ago. Fortunately, she is on the mend and back in the office keeping things running smoothly.
   It is also a privilege to be part of families for signficant moments. It was also a great pleasure to perform the wedding ceremony for Trey and Abby last weekend. We wish them all the best in their life together and as they share their lives with us through their work with our children, youth, and college students. And, this past Wednesday, I conducted a funeral service for Erma Wehr. That’s how life goes in the ministry.
   The Apostle Paul compiled a list of persons who were important to him while he worked with the church at Rome. A lot of times we skim over the names, but they remind us that the church IS the people. There was one person in particular who made a difference for Paul. He wrote, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother for me, too” (Romans 16.13 NIV).
   This woman was like a mother to Paul, and Annette was like a mother to me when I was still finding my way during seminary years. I will always be grateful to the Lord for that.
   Two Sundays ago, you all graciously recognized my family and me for seven years of ministry with UHBC. I appreciate the gift card very much (already been used) and more importantly my connection with this church family. Lori and I are grateful in particular for the ways you have loved Cally, Lucy, and Matt and made them part of your lives. Lucy and Matt were baptized here, and for that reason alone this church will always be special to us.
   Romans 16 reminds me that the reason I am where I am today is because of the many members of the family of faith who, through the years, have prayed for, encouraged, and been part of my life too. Maybe you could create your own list as well, and perhaps several of those persons who come from your connection with UHBC.
   Each Sunday is a kind of “family reunion” and I hope to see you this upcoming Lord’s Day. I realize it is a holiday weekend, one in which we celebrate the birthday of our nation and the freedoms we all enjoy. Regardless of the challenges that face us, it is a wonderful blessing to live in the United States of America.


From the Mouths of Babes

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It is one of those worship services that affects people in different ways. We choose to acknowledge the emphasis by lighting candles to represent those men who have been our dads as well as those men who aren’t biological dads, but have influence over us through their witness and example. The story of the Prodigal son was shared and I reminded the people that, like the younger son, we have to come to ourselves before we can come home to the Father.

Part of the worship service involved having our children talk about their recent camp experience. We usually invite the children down to the steps for a children’s message, but this time the ones who went to Windermere Retreat Center for those few days last week were the ones talking. Each one shared about the Bible stories, games, and events of the week. However, one of our precious girls talked about the significance of being an American and how much we have to be thankful for. She talked about the hunger offering that was received for the people of Guatemala, and that there are many people there who do not have anything to eat. She talked about how we have cars and houses, and that the people in this impoverished area had to dig around in garbage dumps for food, and use refuge to build meager houses to live in.

There weren’t many dry eyes in the house, and without intending to do so, Elle gave a remarkable testimony of how much we have to be thankful for and that our mission should be to help those in need.

I am waking up this morning to a number of challenges relating to work and life in general, but after spending time in prayer this morning and recalling her gentle words, realize that I have too much to be grateful for to worry about things I can’t control. What I can control, are my actions and leadership in remaining outward focused and keeping in touch with the hurts and needs of others.

The younger son in the Story of the Prodigal Son, or as it is more accurately depicted “The Story of the Loving Father” reminds us that God continues to love us no matter what we have done. We don’t have to remain surrounded by pigs in the distant country. Also, that quite often it is only when we run out of our means that we recognize our need for God. While the younger son was in that place, he hired himself out to work with the pigs, and he was so hungry that he “would have been glad to eat what the pigs were eating, but no one gave him a thing” (Luke 15.16 CEV).

No one gave him a thing.

Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you.” And this was offered in response to the generous offering of a woman who broke open a very expensive jar of perfume to poor on Jesus’ feet. He indicated this action of affection was anointing his body for burial. Those around him didn’t understand what that was about.

There is a time for extravagance. There are times when we must invest in our facilities and house of worship. It’s not often something we want to do, but it is necessary to maintain a strong base of operations when it comes to reaching people for Christ and expanding the Kingdom of God. At the same time, however, we must keep our eyes focused on what is happening around us and remain engaged with the hurting and hopelessness around us too.

This young child, in her sweet voice, reminded us that we have a lot to thankful for and that there are many people in this world who have far less that we do. With that perspective, our “1st world problems” pale in comparison to those who are wondering where their next meal is coming from today.

She also gave a wonderful lesson on the tremendous capacity of children to learn and care about others. Let us continue giving voice to our children, while at the same time providing the kind of atmosphere where they can grow and have opportunities to share from their own experiences. We might be surprised at what they teach us.  


The “Tables” of Deacon Ministry

Daniel Vestal, in his article “Deacons and other servants” referred to these words of challenge he once heard at a deacon ordination service: “This is not a position of prestige or self-importance. It is a role that requires a humble mindset to do whatever is required to glorify God and benefit the Kingdom even when those tasks are too menial for others to consider or worth their efforts.” Vestal offered other meaningful thoughts about the deacon ministry, and challenged deacons to serve “when every eye in the world is upon you, and when there is no one else to see; For the world is watching and God always sees. . . “

Our church is having a deacon ordination service this Sunday morning. We will hear from the two deacon candidates as they talk about their faith journey and how their relationship with Christ impacts them on a daily basis. Our Chairman of Deacons will offer his own challenge, and then I will follow with a message on “The tables of Deacon Ministry.” This idea emerges from Acts 6, as the disciples informed the congregation that “it is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables.” As a result of the church’s growth and ongoing internal needs, the church appointed seven men to carry out this administrative and ministerial function in order to release the disciples to focus on prayer and the proclamation of the gospel.

There are several “tables” of deacon ministry that I’ll be talking about on Sunday, the first of which is the family’s table. Deacons must be ministers in their own homes before they can be authentic in their service outside the home. I Timothy 3 records admonitions for deacons to be faithful in their marriage and manage their children and household well. It’s important to reflect Christ not only while around church people, but more importantly in one’s home and around one’s family. Too often there are individuals who want to be seen as pious in their dealings in the church or community, only to be harsh toward their children or spouse. This is called the “saint elsewhere syndrome.” This cannot be, because the deacon ministry is shared by the spouse and children too, and the love of Christ must be demonstrated to them first and foremost. This is the first circle of ministry for the deacon, and one that should be cultivated with prayer, compassion, and leadership.

A second table relates to the church family. The church in Acts was growing and changing, and conflict was emerging as a result. Some people weren’t getting enough attention and something had to be done to avert a crisis. Things haven’t changed in that regard today. Deacons were birthed out of a conflict to help deal with a conflict. Those first seven were “filled with the Spirit and wisdom” and became a stabilizing force in that community of faith, allowing growth to continue. In other words, deacons should “put fires out, not start them.”  This means that deacons should be especially mindful of what they say and do. The fellowship of the church is a precious and sometimes fragile community, and deacons are to promote, protect, and pray for its well-being. There should be a certain level of spiritual maturity expected for those in the deacon ministry, and the church should select men and women who demonstrate this quality into service as deacons.

Another area of service should be the pastor’s table. Deacons enable the pastor to focus his or her attention on “prayer and the preaching of the word.” Practically speaking, I have found this to be a great challenge. It is the desired but not always the practical result of ministry. This might describe the “professional” side of the pastor’s life, although I use the word “professional” with great caution and only to emphasize the task and work that the pastor does. The “personal” side of the pastor’s life is especially if not more vital that the former, as it involves one’s spouse and family. John Killinger, in his work “The seven things they don’t teach you in seminary” devoted one chapter to this topic: “there is a meanness in some people that is simply incredible.” Pastors are responsible for things over which they have little or no control, and pastors and their families are especially vunerable to verbal and spiritual attack. Pastors deal with a loneliness that is unique to their profession as well. In short, deacons should “have the back of their pastor” and do what they can to intervene and intercept criticism before it is harmful to the pastor. Deacons should be the best friends of the pastor in the church. This too is the ideal and not always the reality in the local church.

The final table is the most important one, and that is the Lord’s table. Deacon ministry should not be reduced to simply “going to meetings and doing church stuff.” It is an important component to the well-being of the body of Christ, and is part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus told his disciples, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33 NIV). Deacons should certainly reflect this priority in their own lives. They should also embrace the Great Commission and Great Commandments of our Lord in their beliefs and actions. Nothing should be as important as serving the Lord and doing so with a spirit of joy and gladness. Deacons should reflect Christ in their words and actions, and by doing so be an example and encouragement to others in the church. If deacons can serve the Lord’s table sincerely and wholeheartedly, then the other tables will necessarily be taken care of as well.

That first church prayed over the seven and laid hands on them, an action indicating their affirmation of them to service in the church. We’ll do that again in our church this Sunday. It’s a beautiful practice and one that I hope will be a blessing to our new deacons and the rest of our church family.


Guess Who’s Coming to Seminary?

Life in the church is not always easy. Sometimes it is downright confusing and difficult to understand. Christians are part of a community of a common faith in Christ, and from what I have learned, this does not always mean we come to the same conclusions about social or ethical issues. But, we do agree that “Jesus Christ is Lord” and that should be the maypole that we all dance around in sharing life together. Of course, that doesn’t mean we dance the same way or to the same tune.

Marv Knox has written an excellent article entitled “When ideology trumps theology” in which he discusses the unbelievable yet not so surprising move of Paige Patterson in allowing a Muslim student to be admitted to Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary. This is a breach of the school’s purpose in receiving students who demonstrate “mature Christian character.” It is possible to have good character and not be Christian, but in order to receive an education for the local Church at a seminary this should exclude persons who do not share a common faith in Christ.

Also, and Knox rightly points out, Patterson spent the bulk of his life kicking out fellow Baptists out of SBC positions whom he deemed as “not believing the Bible” yet apparently now it is okay to demonstrate understanding to someone who agrees philosophically with him while not believing the Bible.

I share Knox’s reaction at this development, yet recognize that many Baptists have moved on beyond denominational ties and designations. I was fortunate to receive a good education at a Southern Baptist seminary, and while there studied alongside persons from different denominational backgrounds. These students did not benefit from the Cooperative Program monies given by the local churches, but came to learn at a greatly reduced price compared to other schools of advanced learning. This experience was the closest to an ecumenical perspective I had while earning my degree, and it was helpful to hear different perspectives from fellow Christians.

There is a place for tolerance and diversity in learning alongside persons of different faith backgrounds. Much can be gained in that process regarding love, compassion, and tolerance. Unfortunately, there was not much of these qualities evidenced during the so called “denominational controversy” and Baptists who decided they could not in good conscience describe the Bible as “inerrant” were labeled and libeled and told they didn’t believe the Bible. Now a prominent SBC leader who led in that denominational purging has determined that agreement on moral and social issues trumps salvation through Christ Jesus as a criterion for admission into a Southern Baptist seminary.

Before I could be admitted into New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I had to give a written testimony of my conversion experience and have letters of support from Christian leaders. I was asked to give evidence of “a call to ministry.” I would think such criterion remains part of the process. I wonder if this remains part of the process of admissions and if so, how does a non-Christian qualify for admission?

No doubt, there are many SBC refugees who are looking at this development at SWBTS and wondering where the graciousness was when they were being told that “you don’t believe the Bible.”

There is good learning point from all this. It is a good opportunity to go back and review what it takes and means to be part of the body of Christ. In his book “Life Together” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it is a brief single encounter or daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. What does that mean? It means that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and unity for eternity.”

It’s not always easy being part of the body of Christ. It means rubbing shoulders with people who don’t always agree with us on certain social, ethical, or theological issues. We should use these opportunities to learn, debate, and disagree without diminishing the value and relationship the other person has to Christ. Baptists remain a “believers church” and that means belief in Jesus Christ, not necessarily believing all the same things about our sacred book. That’s what makes life together a challenge, and that’s what makes life together important.

Let’s show graciousness to those of other religious backgrounds and beliefs. Let’s share our faith, listen, and learn. Let’s build relationships. But, let’s also be sure to do same to persons who share a common faith in Christ even if they don’t agree with us certain matters of biblical interpretation. After all, they are part of the family of faith known as the body of Christ.  






Mother’s Day Musings

This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of “Mother’s Day.” In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law a bill which would make the observance a national holiday.

Florists love this day, as many people choose to show their love and affection for moms by sending her flowers. Last year, the industry made $2.6 billion in flower sales and related gifts for the occasion. It is the 2nd highest gift giving holiday, behind only Christmas. Make sure you get those restaurant reservations for Sunday if you can, if the place where you go won’t take them, just hope your pastor doesn’t forget what going on and gets you out around noon.

While this can be a very meaningful day, it’s also a difficult one for some people. Not all women are mothers, first of all. And, not all children have good memories of their moms. For some families, this is the first Mother’s Day since mom’s death and for this reason it’s tough. We also must keep in mind the many single moms out there, and that some women feel alienated on this day because they wanted children but were unable to have them. Infertility affects about 10% Americans, so for these individuals and others, it’s a hard day dealing with loss and grief.

This holiday in particular, is a good time to remember the school girls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by terrorists. These men are threatening to sell these girls into slavery and the sex trade. On April 15, 230 of these young women were studying to better themselves by a government sponsored school, and now no on knows where they are. The world is rallying to their cause, and social media is abuzz with #bringbackourgirls with the hopes of raising awareness and speeding up the process of locating them before its too late. There will be many moms and dads in Nigeria who are going through a nightmare right now, and we need to remember them. We must also remember especially those young girls and pray for their safety and release.

It’s tough to know how to recognize the holiday without alienating people. It’s on everyone’ mind, yet there are many different emotional reactions to Mother’s Day. As a pastor, I want to be sympathetic and affirming of women who approach this day with their own backgrounds and family dynamics.

Sermon wise, I’ve decided to go with a passage of Scripture that relates to Jesus and his mother. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, the disciple took her into his home (John 19.25-27 NIV).

Mary was standing by her son as he died on the cross. She was there with him at a wedding at Cana of Galilee where he performed his first miracle, which began his public ministry (John 2.1-5). Mary was there when his ministry started. Now, she is here when he ministry was coming to an end. She was with him at a wedding. Now she is here at his funeral. Mary was there.

I don’t sense that Jesus was overly sentimental about his mother or family. It’s not to say that he didn’t care, which is evidenced that one of the last seven “words” of Jesus on the cross related to his mother. However, it’s important to note that Jesus’ overall view was the Kingdom of God and the family of God. On one occasion when the crowd was accusing Jesus of being crazy, Jesus’ mother and his brothers arrived near the house, supposedly to get control of the situation. “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him and told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ Then Jesus asked, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother‘” (Mk 3.31-34).

Jesus showed compassion and care for his mother in making sure she had a place to live after his death. John took her “into his home” from that point on. The care of mothers can be complicated one, especially as they age. I have had numerous conversations with older children who have told me “we had to put mother in a nursing home” because they couldn’t take care of her on their own. It’s a hard decision.

While on the cross, Jesus made mention of his mother to ensure she was cared for and she would have John to take his place in the family. That’s a good lesson. I also believe it’s important to see that Mary was “standing by the cross” near her son during the most difficult and painful period of his life (and hers). I wonder if she recalled the words of the priest in the temple upon presenting Jesus “a sword will pierce your soul.”

Mary was standing by Jesus. That’s where we need to be on this Mother’s Day weekend. Let’s give thanks for the godly women in our lives and recognize that we are part of a larger and more lasting family as brothers and sisters in Christ.




Not so Sterling comments a cautionary tale

We could see this coming. With so much attention given to Donald Sterling’s remarks, he was bound to get a severe rebuke from Commissioner Adam Silver. And so he Sterling receives a lifetime ban and a hefty $2.5 million fine. Silver hopes that pressure from other sources can be enough to push Sterling out of ownership of the Clippers. We’ll see, but I would expect this to take place. There will be significant pressure to carry this penalty through.

Watching this story develop, I began thinking more about how any one of us could say something offensive and hateful to or about another person. Granted and hopefully, not to the extent of the racist tones that Sterling offered, albeit in a private conversation it still has no place in the NBA for an owner. This is someone who is in a position of power to hire and fire people. However, the whole situation does make you wonder what the NCAAP was thinking to plan to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award next month. That’s another subject.

We need words to get along, communicate, express our feelings, and let others know what we are thinking. Sometimes we don’t think carefully prior to verbalizing those unedited thoughts, and when this occurs, the results can be costly.

It used to be that the only forms of communication were in person and by writing a letter and mailing it, a process which could take a long time. It also allowed you to write something down and throw it away prior to sending it in the mail. Nowadays, there is all sorts of social media and email which allows for instant and unedited reaction to whatever is bothering you. These verbal and electronic bombshells explode and leave a lot of collateral damage.I’ve been told and agree with the sentiment, that it’s better to write out an email of criticism without putting the name in the address bar, to prevent from sending it out prematurely.

These issues of the tongue have been around for a long time, and there have been cautions given to those who wish to be teachers or in positions of authority. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. . . The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3.1,5 NIV).

What (and who) inspires me is a person who is able to “hold his tongue” when being berated unfairly by others. When Jesus was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge–to the great amazement of the governor (Matthew 27.12-14 NIV).

I’m always looking for applications, and the incident with Sterling offers several. His remarks were recorded and played for the whole world to hear, and it cost him dearly. He didn’t know that what he was saying would beyond his intended audience. One of the enduring lessons from this story is that each one of us has said things that we regret. We have the freedom to say whatever is on our minds and whatever we believe to be true, but this does not grant us the freedom from the consequences of those opinions. Sometimes this means that our beliefs clash with culture and we expose ourselves to criticism and ridicule. Other times it means that our spiteful and cute remarks go beyond their intended and desired audience to a wider circle of listeners.

A rule of thumb is to assume that whatever you say is going to be repeated at least once, and you need to be able to feel good about those comments if they should get back to you. This is a goal rather than a reality in some cases, but being mindful of one’s words might diffuse some difficult situations before they get out of hand.

The other application is that I don’t have to always respond to an accusation simply because it is there. The reaction to the criticism can be heard more loudly than the complaint itself. Silence can be a powerful tool when facing unfair criticism. It doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t anything to say, but it can result in the verbal barbs of the accuser hanging the air a bit longer on their own merits. I marvel at how Jesus was able to do that.

Sterling isn’t the first and won’t be the last to have his private comments made public. Let’s be cautious in what we say, and more importantly let’s learn how to be kind and gracious to people regardless of who they are or what they look like. Even if Sterling had never said them, his views on this subject are disturbing and deserve to be condemned.


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