First Lady Barbara Bush’s funeral was Saturday. It was an inspiring and a for a brief moment refreshing display of a kinder, gentler time in American politics.
David Priess posted an amazing photo on his twitter feed of each of the presidents in attendance and their wives. He made this comment, “Each president in this photo did things I disagreed with politically. Quite a lot, in fact, for most of them. And yet I never doubted that every single one of them acted based on core values, including love of country—not, primarily, love of self.”
Several persons offered meaningful eulogies about the former first lady, yet it was a line from the rector of the church that stood out to me. In referencing Bush’s approach to others, Dr. Russell Levenson said, “Her generosity did not draw lines to keep others out.”
That’s another way of reinforcing the words of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s not easy being a pastor. One of the great challenges I have is interacting with people who have such divergent political views. Yet, it is also a privilege to learn from people who are different from me and not make one’s political (or theological) approach a basis for my having a friendship with them.
The level of discourse in our country has deteriorated to toxic levels, and while that might not be all that surprising, what has me deeply concerned is what is happening in our churches. Specifically, I am most troubled by the behavior of those who call themselves ministers of the gospel.
Pastors, ministers, rectors, and clergy of all denominations (or lack thereof) must take responsibility for setting a positive tone of civility in our nation. I’ve heard people say that pastors shouldn’t be political, but I’m more inclined to think that partisanship is more detrimental than being political.
Our church hosted the ChurchNet Spring Gathering on April 20th. The keynote speaker was Jeremy Bell, Executive Director of the North American Baptist Fellowship. During his remarks, he talked about the fact that church members needed to be able to explain “the damage that our votes are making” upon our society. Bell indicated that no matter who or what you voted for, there would be a certain level of collateral damage upon our society. That’s because there is no perfect political viewpoint or candidate.
What I inferred from those remarks is that our primary emphasis needs to be on the prophetic message of Jesus Christ in our communities. And this message needs to be communicated to all persons, regardless of background or viewpoint.
I’m working on practicing a generosity that doesn’t “create lines to keep others out.” Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but that’s the kind of generosity Jesus had toward those around him.
It would be wonderful if it didn’t take a funeral to bring people together. Most people are naturally more sympathetic and supportive during times of grief and loss, but wouldn’t be great if we could hold differences of opinion without hating one another?
Fred Rogers, host of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” for so many years will be the focus of a movie this summer. One of the most meaningful things he said was this: “Love is at the root of everything; all learning, all relationships. Love, or the lack of it”
May God help us to have a generosity that doesn’t create boundaries or lines. Let all us of us as church leaders take the lead on creating a more positive world with room for differences of opinion. We can be influential and prophetic with the gospel without excluding people from its message.
Nick Cruz walked back into the high school he had been expelled from armed with an assault rifle. He pulled a fire alarm to get students into the hallways, and then began filling the air with a hail of gunfire. In the chaos that ensued, 17 students were killed.
I came through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at a good time (prior to 2000) and enjoyed sitting under the teaching of some remarkable professors. I was especially fortunate, as a theology student, to be influenced by Fisher Humphreys and Paul Robertson.
These two men were instrumental is helping me forge my own theology, and along the way they penned a work entitled “For God So Loved the World: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism.” This little book is a remarkable tool for making the argument for God’s great mercy and compassion for ALL people. Here is an excerpt:
“The most important truth in Christian theology is this: God is love. We believe the love of God lies behind the coming of Jesus Christ and is the reason God send Christ into the world. We believe in the love of God for all people (not just the elect) because the Bible teaches it and Jesus displayed it throughout his life and especially at his death. The love of God for all people underwrites the true meaning of our lives.”
There are several metaphors in the New Testament that describe that Divine-Human encounter that brings about eternal life. This Sunday I’ll be reviewing the term “born again” as we revisit that conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus as recorded in John 3. Conversations about spirituality and faith in Christ are still important today.
I’ve read numerous articles and heard stories about churches closing their doors. I’ve had people come into our church family who tell me that they don’t have a “membership to transfer” because their previous church had disbanded.
Churches close for a variety of reasons. These have been cited in numerous publications and played out in congregations in many different settings. Usually churches close due to declining attendance, decreasing financial contributions, and gradual and consistent change in the neighborhood around the building itself.
When I received a message that College Place Baptist Church was shutting down, I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know why I couldn’t believe it, except that I didn’t know of any churches on a personal level that had closed. This time was different.
I grew up in College Place, and started attending there when my family moved into a small farm house right down the street. I attended the elementary school right across from the church, so my world was Sherrouse avenue.
It’s been a few decades since I attended that church, but remember being part of youth choirs, missions organizations, and the puppet ministry. We went to Glorieta on more than a few occasions (it’s now defunct too), and had numerous other experiences which have stayed with me to this day.
I mention this church because it has had a profound influence upon my life, and a great deal of what I’ve been able to do and be has its roots in that congregation. I dare say no one (especially myself) could have envisioned that a boy roaming the halls of that building would grow up to be a pastor.
I’ve read a lot of articles and books about church growth and what a church is supposed to be about. There are all kinds of programs, activities, and events that are associated with the work of the church. Still, what is most important, in my view, is that lives are forever changed for the better because of a church’s witness and influence.
I received a wonderful Christmas card a few weeks ago from a woman named Julia. She is Carolyn’s grandmother, one of the Missouri State students who graduated this month and attended UHBC during her four years in school. Julia thanked our church for our encouragement of Carolyn and our investment in her life.
That card meant a lot to me, and I shared it during our last worship service of 2017. It’s a good reminder of what the church should be doing; our work should be about helping people deepen in their relationship with Christ.
That’s what College Place did for me more than four decades ago. I’m so grateful for all those who were in that church while I was growing up physically and spiritually. I hope that our church now can have that kind of impact on students who come our way, and also provide a spiritual home for others who can spend more time with us. Survival is not the ultimate goal of a church; it’s investing time and resources in human beings for the cause of Christ.
There’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to what’s yet ahead, but what is known is that God remains faithful and able to provide for what is needed and when it is needed. Yes, I am a pastor but much more than that, I’m a follower of The Way. And, I hope that I can trust the Lord for what is yet to come and be excited about the opportunities and challenges of a year.
Psalm 31:14-15 is a good place to begin 2018: But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Not one of those charter members could have imagined what College Place would accomplish in its seven decades of life. Today I celebrate its impact upon my life and for all the “saints” that have gone on to glory from that congregation. They entrusted their future in the Lord’s hands, and completed several generations of ministry while impacting thousands of lives with the gospel. That’s a wonderful legacy.
For now, and for where I am today, I celebrate the beginning of another year. I’ll do my best to live in the now and lean into each moment as it comes. I’m sure I’ll revisit the words of the psalmist when anxiety creeps in about what’s going on (or not going on) in the church and my family. And, I hope to remain secure in who I am as a follower of Christ regardless of my circumstances.