Osceola McCarty was born in 1908 in Wayne County, MS and moved to Hattiesburg at an early age and spent her life there. In the 6th grade, her aunt became hospitalized and needed care. She had no children of her own, so Osceola quit school never to return in order to care for her. Osceola became a wash woman and did that until her arthritic hands prohibited her from doing so.
Throughout her life, she put back a small amount of her meager earnings at 1st MS National Bank, where someone noticed what she was doing and offered to help. A local attorney, one whom she was doing wash for, set up an estate plan for her in which she was able to contribute for more than seventy years. She left 60% of her estate to the University of MS for students who were in financial need. Her actions drew international attention when it was discovered that the amount would be $150,000 for USM. Osceola died in 1999, having been recognized by President Bill Clinton for her generosity and example.
Who would have imagined that someone like Osceola could leave such a profound impact on the world? Indeed, she is perhaps USM’s most famous benefactor.
This month our church is entering into a Stewardship emphasis entitled “Cheerful Giving, Joyful Living” in which I hope that all of our church family will participate in. We will have a commitment Sunday on the 30th, but rather than ask for a dollar amount commitment, there will be a place to mark different levels of involvement. The hope is that every single person, regardless of age or economic status, can indicate some level of giving to the Lord through our church. It is a commitment between each one of us and the Lord, but affects the overall community.
The Apostle Paul, during his last missionary journey, stopped prior to his arrival at Jerusalem to challenge the Ephesian church leaders. Paul defended himself from his critics and talked about his future sufferings. After his remarks, he closed by saying to remember the words of Jesus: “it is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20.35)
This was Paul’s last time to speak to these Ephesian leaders whom he loved, and what he wanted most was for them to remember what Jesus said rather than what he said. The CEV records “More blessings come from giving than receiving.”
On Wednesday nights, I am leading a study on “I am a Church Member” by Thom Rainer. One of the chapters relates to this truth: “I will not allow my church to be about my preferences and desires.” This has been one of the most helpful sections of this little book, and highlights a painful truth about life in the church. There is no way to satisfy every person’s preferences for music, for example, and this reality results in great conflict and pain in churches throughout our nation. Each one of us has a preference, and when we insist up getting our way, then disagreements lead to divisions. I will not add to the multitude of articles on this subject, but mention it because it is an example of how we can become fixated on our own way of doing things. In short, “there’s no way to please everybody.”
I don’t think church should be about pleasing people. Of course, if we end of displeasing enough people, there won’t be a church at all. Yet, our focus should be not on what we can get out of our church experience, but rather what we can give to the body of Christ. Church is about a community of faith who are united in their love and connection to Christ.
God gave to us first when Jesus came into the world (Jn 3.16). Our response should be one of giving too. And giving of ourselves, both in our time, energy, and yes finances, can make an eternal difference in the lives of others. That’s where the power is. And giving to others also changes us along the way.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of giving in the name of Jesus.
Jeff Keuss wrote an article entitled Vocation and the Call to Discipleship in which he noted the connection of what we do and who we are as followers of Christ. What he indicated was that anyone who is a follower of Christ has been “called”. Keuss maintains it comes down to this: “to be ‘called’ is the act of paying attention and following God or writes Annie Dillard, ‘waking up.’”
Growing up and around church most of my life, I have encountered this designation as something to be reserved for someone going into full-time ministry. That has certainly been true in my situation, and remember vividly an experience when I confirmed that belief with my church family who I was connected to in college. There are persons who have this kind of calling, a particular direction on one’s life to serve through the local church in some capacity. It is unique and has special meaning for those who have this experience.
Yet, I feel that all too often church members limit the definition to apply strictly and only to those who fit the above mentioned situation. When this is done, we get a skewed version of what it means to be “called”.
I’d like to make reference to the phrase “vocational discipleship” as a way to respond to this deficit in thinking.
This past week in particular, I have spoken to several of our own church members who have unique training and skill sets which allow them to serve in what might be considered “secular” jobs. However, they devote themselves to ministry in their own occupational settings. Some of them have been retired for a while, yet find ways to live out and share their faith in the community and through the church.
To the first century church the Apostle Paul wrote: “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4.1-3 NIV) He based his argument on a divine foundation, which he referenced in the following verses. In short, the principles for this unity are “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God the Father.” Paul used seven references, the number of completion, to posit his high view of the church as the family of God.
One of the prayer points and hopes for 2014 that I presented to our people last month was to “pray for spiritual renewal and awakening in our church life.” I have been praying along those lines and encourage others to do the same.
There are multiple opportunities to share our faith in Christ and make a difference as the body of Christ, a metaphor Paul used almost 100 times in his writings. This beautiful image illustrates our connection and capacity for each other as followers of Christ.
Yes, I know there is a lot wrong with the church. There are a lot of hypocrites and self-righteous people rubbing shoulders with the sincere and unselfish folks. That’s just the way it is. That’s why Paul also said to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Unity takes work. It’s not always easy, and not everyone works as hard as others. That’s why we should only compare ourselves to Christ rather than each other.
The church isn’t perfect for sure. We shouldn’t make that claim either. We aren’t worthy of our calling, but let us live in a manner worthy of it instead. That should be our focus and our mission, for the Kingdom’s sake.
Rest. It’s a nice concept. . . in theory. I hear about it and talk about how important it is and yet the reality of it sometimes escapes me.
I’ve been working through the Matthew 12 passage dealing with subject of Sabbath. This was extremely important to the Pharisees. They knew their Bible back in the day and realized Ex 20 recorded those 10 commandments, and one of them was ‘remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.’ There was a reason for that, the example that God created the world in 6 days and on the 7th he “rested.” So, you didn’t do any work on that day.
The problem was that they couldn’t leave that admonition alone, but instead created hundreds of other little laws to protect the Big Ten so that there would no chance one of the Decalogue would be broken. It created a system of legalism and weighted down the people with rules and regulations. The Pharisees were especially good at citing infractions to their system of law and didn’t hesitate to condemn people for it.
Jesus’ disciples were hungry and, walking through some field, picked the heads of the grain. Then they rubbed their hands together and ate the remains. The Pharisees saw this and criticized for doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath and told Jesus about it. Rather than rebuke the disciples, Jesus used four arguments to offset the Pharisees. He related to Scripture on three issues and then said that “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
The text continues with Jesus entering the synagogue to see a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees pounced on this moment to see whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus used the sheep in the ditch story, which silenced them but nevertheless infuriated them enough to plot to kill him after Jesus healed the man. Yes, they plotted to kill Jesus on the Sabbath. It is lawful to do GOOD on the Sabbath, Jesus said, but certainly the behavior of the Pharisees didn’t relate to that position.
We don’t see things the same way. This of course is the basis for many of our disagreements. But, until we are able to recognize the things that Jesus saw as important, we won’t be able to make any lasting impression for the Kingdom. The Pharisees saw the disciples “breaking the law” but did not see that they were hungry. The Pharisees saw the man had a withered hand and were concerned about breaking the Sabbath law. But, they did not see that the man was hurting and needed healing.
It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. And other days too for that matter. Let us be about doing the good things on our Sabbath, which is Sunday. We ought not be legalistic about the day, but neither should we treat it like any other day of the week. We ought not allow church things burden us to the point that we are worn out and dread the day rather than enjoy it as a day of worship and celebration. Church types can busy ourselves and become blinded to the truly important matters in life relating to mercy and justice.
Jesus tells us to follow him and take on his burden and find rest. The only peace and rest is found in Christ and viewing the events around us through his eyes as recorded in Scripture. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want for others too.
I showed the Ethics Daily DVD “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism” last Wednesday night. It allowed for stories and testimonies of those who lived through the Civil Rights struggle. It also included passages of Scripture that had been used by Baptists to support and condone slavery, segregation, hatred, and violence. Baptists haven’t had the greatest track record in this area. One of the more moving images of the video included the “Colored Only, Whites Only” bathrooms. It’s hard to explain to millennials how this could happen in America. It’s difficult to understand how the patterns of prejudice and bigotry continue to exist in a variety of ways.
If there is going to lasting change in the world, it has to begin with me and the world around me. May God forgive us and help us seek genuine community with those who are unlike us and need it most. We could all use the rest.
It’s here, and I, like many of you are wondering “where did the time go?”
Our Executive Secretary, Carol, took down the 2013 calendar from the wall. It was 12 different sheets representing the different months, and 11 of them had a big black “X” on them. The 12th one is down for the count!
I want to wish all of my family and friends the best beginning to 2014 and to join me in praying for us to be sensitive to the Lord’s leadership in our homes and church. It’s important to enjoy these final few days of break before work and school resumes, and when that happens I hope to be energized for another year of life and service.
I do keep a journal, but haven’t gone back to reread the experiences I have had this past year. I can tell you that these last 12 months have been very challenging yet rewarding in terms of spiritual formation. The verse out of James: “Count it all joy when you experience trials of every kind, because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance” has meant a lot to me. I am grateful for the patience and prayers of our church family and their interest in my own family.
There were several developments this past year that I found interesting and I’ll close my last blog entry of 2013 with a mention of only a few.
Well, we paid off our debt! When I came to University Heights Baptist Church over six years ago, it had a $1.1 million debt remaining from significant building improvements and renovations. Our church leadership came together and with the faithful giving of our people, we managed to finish the five year capital campaign and burn the note around Thanksgiving. This was such an incredible accomplishment and I am eager to begin another year without the stress of promoting a debt payoff.
The Auburn Tigers football team’s remarkable turnaround has been exciting for us to watch. This development was called the story of the year by numerous sports magazines, and it’s easy to see why. Last year AU didn’t win a single SEC game, and now they are heading to Pasadena to play Florida State for the national championship. Unbelievable finishes against Georgia and Alabama in the Iron Bowl are seared into our memory. My family and I look forward to seeing how this “team of destiny” finishes it’s football season. We’ll see, but regardless we’ve been given quite an exciting ride this year.
It’s been rewarding to see Cally, Lucy, and Matt grow this year. In addition to the physical changes, they continue to grow in their relationships through the school and church. A highlight has to be the baptism of Matt, and with that I can say that each of our children have been baptized and made their professions of faith in Christ. No matter what else happens in my life or career, I am eternally thankful to know that they are on the road of spiritual formation in a deepening walk with Christ. I am also thankful that they are influenced by wonderful men and men through our community of faith and have caring teachers too. This realization doesn’t resolve all the problems out there, but it does put them in greater perspective.
I’ll stop with this and get back to the ball game. For now, let me say “Happy New Year!” to all of you. I look forward to what’s next this upcoming year.
In the book “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” C.S. Lewis takes us to the land of Narnia. When it is living under the authority of the witch, it is “always winter, never Christmas.”
There are people living today who are living in a kind of winter because Christmas never comes to them.
The human rights group Open Doors is reporting that Christmas is a day of terror for Christians in the Middle East, particularly Iraq. Christians around the world celebrate this holy day, but believers in Iraq mark the birth of Christ either privately or not at all. They are afraid to decorate, put up a tree, or acknowledge the meaning of this special day.
It’s not that way here in America, but we too are in desperate need of good news. The birth of a child is good news. On this occasion when the world remembers the birth of Christ, I am also reminded of the births of my three children. I was fortunate to have been there on each blessed event, and celebrated the moment with pictures and video. Cally’s 16th birthday was a few days ago, and Lucy will have her 11th in a few days from now also, and I am sure photos and Facebook will be involved.
Mary didn’t have access to that kind of social media, but she did have angels and shepherds. And upon seeing the shepherds come and go, she “treasured up” all these things in her heart. When Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus for 3 days when he was a 12 year old, they found him in the temple. He mildly chided them for not knowing where he was, and once again Mary “treasured” these things in her heart.
“Treasuring up” is still a good idea. We need to be able to draw upon the memories of the season and the special meaning it holds for those of us who hold on to the truths of the manger, shepherds, angels, and the first family of Christmas. It’s important to be able to recall this Story in order to share it with others around us. Christmas is about sharing good news. We are all sinners in need of a savior. We can rejoice in the truth of Emmanuel, God with us, and how this transforms us out of darkness of sin into the light of Christ.
America is our home, and each one of us has the freedom to share the Christmas story and our own opinions. No one prevents us from doing this. However, we are not free to choose the consequences after we share the gospel or our beliefs. Others have the same freedom too. Some people might not like what we have to say. We might be laughed at or make people angry. We might be disappointed or find out we have disappointed someone else. Freedom goes both ways. America is a melting pot of ideas and ideals, of people who are similar to us and also radically different. We need to move beyond the skirmishes of whether or not the cashier says “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” when we leave the department shore, and realize that there are Christians in some parts of the world who are in danger for being associated with Christ. Many of them live in places where “it is always winter, but never Christmas.”
Tonight our church family and friends will gather for our Christmas Eve Communion and Candlelight service. it will be the highlight of the Advent season and year. We will gather around the Lord’s Supper table to be reminded about why Jesus came in the first place and how his life, death, and resurrection makes all the difference in our lives. When Jesus explained the purpose for his life, he did so by sharing a meal with them. As UHBC obeys Christ’s command to “do this in remembrance of me”, I will bring to mind brothers and sisters in Christ in places around the world where persecution is a real danger and where faith in Christ is costly. They can only imagine what it is like to worship in freedom and without fear.
Christians in this country typically don’t appreciate what we have in terms of religious freedom. May we be inspired by the courage and sacrifice of fellow believers. Let us also understand that people live in different kinds of winter, but that the hope of Christmas is real and the “Word became flesh, and lived among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
Christmas is here!
I watched Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation last night. . . well most of it. I had heard about it but hadn’t seen it. Now I am humming the national anthem with the image of the Santa and his reindeer twirling through the night sky. Never mind about the squirrel.
There are so many images and sounds this season. Cash registers and crying children and people eager to get through the line. There are also signs of generosity as people give to support Global Missions, underprivileged children and families, Toys for Tots, and the Mitten Tree. You don’t have to look too far to find a way to exercise your spirit of giving this year.
Growing up in the church, I didn’t hear too much said about Mary the mother of Jesus. She made her appearance as a porcelain figurine next to the other nativity characters, but she wasn’t mentioned as a key player. I knew that the couple was always “Mary and Joseph” and that there aren’t any recorded words that Joseph uttered. Yet, there was a reluctance to elevate Mary in the Christmas story.
I think some of that has to do with views like her perpetual virginity, even though Mark 3 mentions her along with Jesus’ brothers. And in some circles she is the focal point of prayers: “Hail Mary, full of grace. . . ” I suppose those are reasons to avoid the subject, but by doing so we miss out of some important information about the one who brought the Christ child into the world.
Mary is not “meek and mild” but rather an active and honest participant in the narrative. She asks the angel “how?” and upon hearing the explanation responds “I am the Lord’s servant, let it be according to your word.” Her response of faith follows the key component of the angel’s message: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
In short, Mary gets the last word. And that word is “yes.”
It’s a tough thing to say yes to God when you don’t know all the details, yet that is pretty much what she did. She didn’t know about the upcoming trip to Bethlehem, no room in the inn, no crib, and the humble beginnings for their family. She also didn’t know about the shepherds or magi who were destined to come. I wonder whether she had a clue about the pain and rejection her son would experience, as well as the joy that he brought to others. A lot of details were yet to come. She didn’t know all of those. She didn’t need to know. What she built her faith on was the phrase, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
It’s important to celebrate Christmas with Easter in mind. There was a purpose in God sending his Son to the earth. We know that purpose now, and realize that without the faith of Mary there would be no stories of redemption and hope and love and joy. Her obedience is a great example to each of us that no matter what it is we are supposed to do, our answer to the Lord should be YES. Let Him handle the details.
It had to have been an exciting time for Mary and Joseph. It doesn’t mean it was easy, however. The same is true for us.
As we lighted the Advent candle of Joy last Sunday, it served as a reminder of God’s presence in and through us as his people. Joy is not necessarily dependent on circumstances, but a mindset that keeps us focused and at peace.
It’s an emotional season, and that’s okay. Some people are having Christmas without a spouse or other loved one for the first time this month. It will be difficult. For this reason, it is so important to have connections with the body of Christ so that through our shared life experiences the story of Christmas can be shared and gain increased meaning.
And now for something completely different.
Congratulations to the Auburn University Tigers for winning the SEC Championship and finding their way into the BCS Championship game, with special appreciation for Michigan State getting it done against Ohio State.
Gus Malzahn has to be coach of the year. Auburn has gone from worst to first after his first year at the helm of the football team. The tigers have been exciting and heart-stopping through their literal last minute victories.
It is easy to say that this turn around is unbelievable, but the BCS show says that it is now time to believe it. This will be the last BCS Championship game to be played, and if Auburn wins it will mean that the state of Alabama will have won the last five championship games. Regardless of the outcome, right now I marvel at the turnaround of this program with substantially the same players. Yes the quarterback absolutely makes a difference, but for me this is about “buying in” to a system and changing the mentality and attitudes of the players.
It’s amazing to me how these players have played and turned things around. They have been fun to watch. One more to go.