One of the privileges of being at UHBC is that our building is in close proximity to the Missouri State University campus. Our church has been grateful to support Bear nation and in particular the MSU Pride Band and their leader, Jerry Hoover. Rather than attempt to describe his accomplishments, I’ll simply refer you to the university website to learn more.
Jerry announced his retirement after a great 31 year career as Director of Bands at Missouri State University. He has brought a great deal of attention to the school and has impacted thousands of students during his three decade tenure. MSU along with the Springfield community have benefited greatly from his leadership. His efforts have brought national attention to MSU and the Ozarks.
I’ve enjoyed knowing Jerry and wish him all the best in the days ahead. My hope is that UHBC can maintain a connection with the Pride Band, as we always look forward to our annual “Feed the Band” event at the beginning of the academic year.
Our church will be honoring Jerry and his wife Betty with a reception after the worship service on May 15th. We look forward to that time with him and appreciate his willingness to make UHBC part of the Pride Band experience.
I don’t know where time went! One minute I was holding a newborn daughter and the next minute she was graduating high school. Amazing. Congratulations to my not so little girl Cally and the entire class of 2016!
These graduates are entering a rapidly changing world. Most recently, Prince (the artist formerly known as) died. ISIS remains an ongoing threat and these graduates will be voting in a presidential election for the first time. A much less significant yet more notable development, Kelly Ripa came back to “Kelly and Michael” after a brief hiatus caused by the shocking news of Michael Strahan’s departure. Upon her return she said, “Our long national nightmare is over.” A Nixon parody for sure.
I don’t remember much about my graduation ceremony, but I did finish third in the class. This doesn’t sound as impressive when you consider there were only 16 students involved. I also don’t recall who the commencement speaker happened to be or what was said. This is probably a common occurrence among graduates. However, I did find a notable quote offered by Dr. Seuss at a graduation ceremony: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I’m proud of Cally and look forward to what is ahead for her. I also care a great deal about this millennial generation and what the church can do to minister to them. Wesley Spears-Newsom wrote about this recently in “6 Essentials for Churches Engaging Millennials.” He indicated that millennials are the largest generation in the United States, and church pews are now filled with those who are 50 and older. We can’t afford to ignore this younger demographic, and as a pastor, I can appreciate how the older generation is lamenting their shrinking population and the changes that are taking place is society.
Churches must also change to remain relevant. While this is a vital topic for our congregations, I won’t be talking about what churches ought to do for millennials on this graduation Sunday. Instead, I will be offering a challenge to our graduates about what they can do as they enter this next phase of their lives. I’ll be using 2 Timothy 3.10-17, as the Apostle Paul is instructing Timothy how he is to live faithfully to the gospel message.
In short, I will be challenging our graduates to remember who they are in relationship to Christ and the church. I will also be praying that they realize what’s truly foundational for their lives so that they might know why they are in the world.
I memorized 2 Timothy 3:16-17 early on. I don’t remember how old I was, but these verses have served me well as I’ve gotten older. However, I have also learned that not everyone interprets the Scripture the same way. I’ve also come to see how people have used the Bible to hurt and cause great harm to others. For this reason (among others), millennials have skepticism about the Bible and the church.
CNN is producing a documentary called “United Shades of America.” It is hosted by a black comedian named W. Kamau Bell who was invited to meet the KKK. It is funny, sad, and disturbing. In one scene, Bell meets the president of the local Klan who is wearing a white robe and hood. The encounter happens on a dark country road outside of Harrison, Arkansas. Bell asks who can be in the Klan. The Klansman responds, “You have to be white, and you have to be a Christian.”
The climax of the show occurred at a cross lighting. The Klansmen gathered around the wood cross and each one was asked, “Do you receive the light of Christ?” Each responded “I receive the light of Christ” and then would walk up and light the cross with a flaming torch. After witnessing this cross burning, Bell said he left that place reminded of the horrifying role the Klan played in terrorizing black people.
The show illustrates the point that people can do hateful things in the name of Christ and the Bible. The challenge for graduates is to realize that these kinds of behaviors do not accurately portray the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. I recall the words from the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message in stating that “the criterion by which we interpret Scripture is Jesus Christ” (even though this was later changed by Southern Baptists, it is still the most accurate depiction of how to view the Bible).
It’s paramount that our graduates have mentors and churches who not only talk about Jesus but also live out his teachings. I have confidence in our graduates and pray that they follow the admonition of Paul given to Timothy so long ago. Many graduates will not enter the ministry as Timothy did, but they are created to make a difference in our world for Christ.
I’ll keep praying for Cally and there might be a few tears at her graduation. But, I’ll look to Dr. Seuss and celebrate “not because it’s over, but because it happened.” I’m excited for Cally and her fellow graduates, and hope that the church will remain a vital part of their lives. The church needs them, and they need the church.
Recently I visited a friend who happens to be a university president. During our conversation, she told me a story about a group of missionaries who were making their way into the jungle to share the gospel. Some local people were hired to be tour guides and assist them on the journey. It was going to be a challenging and potentially dangerous effort, but the missionaries were eager to get to their ultimate destination. On the first day, they got up before dawn, encountered few obstacles, and covered a great distance. The second morning they did the same thing and had the same results. The missionaries were thrilled and went to bed that night thinking they were going to arrive ahead of schedule!
They got up the next day, early and rearing to go. But, the missionaries were surprised to see that their tour guides were not moving and breaking camp in order to proceed on with the trip. Instead, they sat around in the shade and rested. Frustrated, one of the missionaries remarked to the translator, “What’s going on ? This is a waste of valuable time. Why aren’t they getting up and moving on?” The translator looked calmly at the man and answered, “They’re waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”
That’s a good description of a sabbatical.
I can’t thank UHBC enough for allowing me this time for rest and renewal. I’m taking the month of April and then the month of June for this purpose. In their wisdom, UHBC included in its personnel manual a sabbatical stipulation for its senior pastor. For a variety of reasons, I had postponed, rescheduled, and delayed taking advantage of this provision. Fortunately, there were a number of concerned friends and leaders who realized that this was important for me to do. I am thankful for what I have experienced thus far.
It means a lot to know there are capable leaders who are taking care of the preaching and teaching in my absence. Our church has a wonderful staff who are supportive of me and each other, and are doing a little bit more than usual to make sure things are taken care of while I’m gone.
When speaking when other ministers who have returned from sabbatical, to a person each one has said in one way or the other, “I didn’t realize how tired I was.” I am beginning to realize this to be true in my own experience.
Pete Scazzero talks about the importance of solitude as a spiritual discipline. He writes, “Elijah understood that silence and listening are the starting points for true, authentic spiritual leadership. Without it we lead from our own mind and ideas. But the only way to listen is to deeply engage the radical spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude – the most challenging and least experienced disciplines in the church today.
Elijah lived in the desert for years – dependent on God alone for food and sustenance without projects or programs. The silence and solitude positioned him to listen and be formed into the leader God desired. The longer he remained in the silence of the desert, the more free he became to follow God’s direction.”
I’ve been going back through the gospels and am amazed at how Jesus dealt with the issue of time management. I do wonder how he would have handled twitter, Facebook, and cell phones though (what would his profile picture look like?). In a variety of situations, Jesus opted to withdraw from people and look to find time for himself, and sometimes his disciples. I find this incredible because he only had three years to do his work, yet Jesus recognized the limitations of humanity and how fatigue weakens the mind and spirit. These references to rest and “withdrawing from the crowd” are meant for all of us, but especially us minister types who feel guilty about not working 24/7.
Not everybody can take a sabbatical, but we can take a Sabbath. For Christians, this relates to Sunday. And, while I realize many people have to work on this day, we all should seek to find a time for reflection and rest. Ironically, Christians are not always the best examples of doing this for the world.
So, I want to thank our church for allowing me some time away and for all those who are stepping up in my absence. This is turning into a time to “allow my soul to catch up with my body.”
We buried the Alleluia on February 14th. This was kind of strange doing this on Valentine’s Day, but we made it work.
On this first Sunday of Lent, several children came down the center aisle carrying a banner which had one word on it: Alleluia. The went to the chancel area, folded the banner, and placed it on the floor. They then piled rocks on it. It made an awful sound which echoed through the room. Good sound effects, but later caused some older members to tell me they were concerned the marble had been chipped.
It’s quite a spectacle, really. Having those rocks on the platform in front of the Lord’s Supper table. But, this simple symbol reminds us that there was a period of suffering and sacrifice culminating in the death of Jesus. It’s not a very attractive sight. It doesn’t seem to fit up there with all the other beautiful candles, tables, pulpits, and stained glass. But, I guess that’s the entire point.
I didn’t grow up in churches that recognized the Lenten season. At the time, I didn’t know what I was missing. As I got older, however, this commemoration became important to me after I got beyond the “this isn’t Baptist” kind of thinking. I was thankful to be in churches that introduced me to this season.
I’m not sure why the Southern Baptist churches I grew up in didn’t talk about Lent, but I suspect it had to do with the fear of looking too much like a Catholic church. Southern Baptists tended to stay to themselves.
Fortunately, I’m in a spot now that doesn’t worry about that too much. It’s more important to embrace our unity as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ across denominational lines. Christians should come together to worship and remember the One who suffered and died for our sins.
Lent should help us slow down a little bit. I think that’s important. As I said, growing up the main (and only) emphasis was Easter Sunday. There wasn’t a build up or preparation or explanation to why this Sunday was so significant. We avoided talking about death or “from dust you are, and from dust you shall return.” There certainly wasn’t any notice of Ash Wednesday (I do remember hearing criticisms of Mardi Gras and to stay away from what was going on in the Big Easy). Anyway, it seemed like we fast forwarded through all the suffering of Jesus in order to get to the good part–the resurrection. Of course, that is the main and most important thing, but what about death, sorrow, and loss?
Lore Ferguson wrote an article entitled, “When Doubt is More than Just a Season” which appeared in Christianity Today. She writes, “Christian culture has groomed me to believe that as sure as spring, summer, autumn, and winter, my spiritual life operates in seasons. Elation. Joy, Discouragement. Fear. Worship. Obedience. Death.Life. During extended times of doubt, someone is always ready to tell me, ‘This is just a season, wait it out!’ But are they right?”
If for no other reason, we ought to recognize Lent as a season in which we can acknowledge our disappointment and pain. It’s okay to do this. I find it helpful in relating to my own disappointments and attempting to help others who are wrestling with their own kind of pain. It might be uncomfortable, and may be tempting to skip it all to get to Easter Sunday. But, slowing down helps us marinate our difficulties in the context of what Jesus experienced. We can embrace his humanity and be thankful for it as well.
So, we’re going to leave the Alleluia buried. We know what’s coming, but let’s not miss out on some powerful lessons about disappointment and pain. And, let’s be thankful for the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”
A few days ago I learned that one of my fellow pastor friends agreed to serve on a political committee to get one of his party’s candidates elected president of the United States. My friend is currently serving as a pastor of a local church. I am disappointed that he is taking such a prominent role in influencing people to vote for a certain candidate.
This sort of thing has gotten ministers in trouble before. On more than one occasion candidates have not been completely”vetted.” When unflattering revelations about the candidate are revealed, it makes those pastors who endorse them look foolish. It is even more problematic when pastors espouse biblical values yet endorse those who have a track record of doing the opposite. I believe this confuses the people in the pew who are being challenged to live holy and effective lives for Christ.
It’s also made me more aware that in certain states, the divide between religion and politics has become almost non-existent.
Each one of us has an opinion and can participate in the political process. However, for ministers, there is an inherit danger in aligning oneself with a presidential hopeful. This is even more significant when the candidate has a long track record of character flaws and has made harsh and questionable remarks about people of non-Christian backgrounds. It’s also troubling when the candidate has somehow developed recent proclamations of faith that seemingly coincide with his effort to earn the nomination of a political party.
We’re not electing a pastor of the United States. We’re electing a president of the United States. Still, it baffles me how ministers can choose to jettison their own moral and theological views for the purpose of endorsing political candidates. This is not aimed or limited to Democrats or Republicans.
Some ministers, especially the more visible ones, feel the necessity and cannot resist the fascination in endorsing a candidate and all the publicity that this generates. This practice is dangerous and ministers are setting themselves up to be disappointed. Politicians seek to get people to vote for them, and will frequently say and do anything to accomplish that end.
This realization was demonstrated well in the television show “The West Wing.” In the episode, “In God We Trust,” the Republican candidate Arnold Vinick is having problems with his own political party who expect him to take on religious views to satisfy their concerns. Ironically, this political problem was caused by his Democratic rival who affirmed theistic evolution during a town hall meeting at an elementary school.
When asked by reporters whether he would attend the church of a well-known pastor to gain his support, Vinnick responds: “I don’t see how we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religious test to get in this government. And I want to warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there if you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They won’t all lie to you but a lot of them will. And it will be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes. So, every day until the end of this campaign, I’ll answer any question anyone has on government, But if you have a question on religion, please go to church.”
Christians need to get involved in the political process to enact positive change in our country. There any number of ways to do this. However, I think our primary task as ministers is to enact Kingdom change in our world. Our people need to know that the most important cause we have is leading people to Christ.
The other thought about this political business is that the church in general is losing influence in the world. It’s disappointing yet not unsurprising to see prominent pastors bless one candidate over the other. I believe this alienates persons in the pew who hold different political views, and it also exaggerates the influence that pastors have in getting people to vote a certain way.
It’s important to learn about the presidential candidates and the issues of our day. But, pastors should be careful about how they utilize their influence. We don’t want to exchange our eternal calling for one that lasts only for a political season.
I have two teenagers in the house now. And they both have birthdays in December. Cally is 18, and now Lucy is beginning her ‘ager’ years at 13 (the photo is when I baptized her a few years ago!).Seeing both my daughters as teenagers give me pause to think about what kind of world they are going to inherit. I also am keenly aware that Matt, at 11, is coming along all to quickly as well.
This upcoming year is an election year. This will mark the beginning of a new president taking us into the next four or eight years. But, there’s also other matters to consider.
One of the things I have learned (re-learned) is that the church has a great capacity to enact change without the government’s involvement. There are numerous occasions in which I’d like our politicians to do more and say less. Yet, the same could be true of churches as well.
This past year has been a good one, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. I’ve done my share of funerals and seen our church family grieve the absence of loved ones. It’s difficult to absorb the loss of friends who have been part of the church for decades. This ongoing season of death and dying can have an adverse impact on the body of Christ. It leaves pastors and people discouraged as they see fewer people sitting in the pew.
When our church engaged in a 40 day period of prayer earlier this year, I asked God to show me and our people what it was He wanted us to do. That season of intercession has concluded, but there are lessons still being learned after that informative time. I pray that these lessons will translate into hopes for a new year.
First of all, the Holy Spirit is still involved in the world. I hope I can tune in to what He is doing all around me. He is not out of ideas and is still creating new ways to influence the world for Christ. I’ve been surprised at the ways that our church has been able to make a positive impact on persons in our community. I would never have imagined that we could get involved in payday loan debt relief and provide a model for other churches in how this could be done. I am so grateful to the credit union across the street from our building for their willingness to work with us on this issue. This is one example of how the church can do more and say less when it comes to improving the lives of the poor and oppressed around us.
I’ve also been thrilled to see the Holy Spirit convict individuals about their need for Christ. It has been rewarding to baptize men and women into the fellowship of believers. There’s nothing more powerful than when an adult comes to Christ. The gospel still makes a difference, and I am thankful to be a small part of that process of transformation.
Second, I am learning to “bloom where I’m planted.” I hope I can focus on doing my best and let the Lord handle the rest. I enjoy cultivating friendships over a period of years, yet know anxiety is just around the corner. Our church, like many others, is an intergenerational community that is continually adjusting to changes brought about by aging and death. This can create a sadness for long time members. However, it’s also exciting to see younger individuals and families find a home among us. We’ll continue to show hospitality and look for creative ways to share Christ.
Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to persons who have been in the church a very long time how the world has changed. This has an impact on the place of the church in the lives of boomers and millennials. Rachel Held Evans described the new normal in this way: “As nearly every denomination in the United States is facing declining membership and waning influence, Christians may need to get used to the idea of measuring our significance by something other than money, fame or power.” I agree with her sentiment. Our effectiveness as the church isn’t always about how many people show up for an hour or two on Sunday. We have to discover more accurate metrics to describe whether or not the church is effective in its work in a 21st century culture.
Finally, I hope I can find balance and stay healthy. I want to keep things in perspective and keep my priorities straight. I may never be the pastor of the largest church, but I can make a difference in the lives of those around me, beginning with those in my own house. This will mean showing concern for others while realizing I can’t fix all the problems that are brought to my attention.
Pete Scazzero stresses the importance of living your own life and not someone else’s. He puts it a better way: “To quit living someone else’s life requires not trying to run other people’s lives. It means not overfunctioning – doing for others what they can and should do for themselves. Controlling the lives of others takes time and energy; it also takes the focus off God’s call for your own life.”
That’s great advice. I hope I can implement that, because it’s not easy to be self-differentiated person. It’s difficult to distinguish between success and faithfulness, and knowing when to let go and allow the Holy Spirit to take care of things. So much of who we are can be tethered to what we do, while this is often reality, it is not always healthy.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the Hope of the world. Our value is found in Him. I hope I can be an authentic witness and be part of a church that shares that desire as well. There’s never been a more important time.