Mother’s Day brings Joy and Pain

We’re approaching another Mother’s Day, and that means that it will be difficult to get into restaurants for lunch after worship on Sunday–so please be patient and especially kind to your servers.

There will also be more phone calls, flowers, and greeting cards sent out this week than just about any other time in the year.

It also means that we could see more people in the church building on that day. More people attend worship on Mother’s Day than any other Sunday except Easter.

In addition to these more consumer based thoughts about Mother’s Day, there are also more serious considerations to keep in mind. And these are more important for us pastor types to keep in mind, as this holiday is hard for some people to celebrate. In fact, it’s downright painful for some individuals.

In one of my first pastorates, Mother’s Day was recognized in such a way that it became almost a competition. We would recognize the “oldest mother” in the room. The “mother with the most family members” would be acknowledged. It would seem like the same women won the top prize year after year.

On one occasion we celebrated “the youngest mother” in the room. It was the celebration of this reality which would sometimes make for uncomfortable circumstances. On more than occasion, the “winner” of this award would go to someone barely a teenager. One could infer that the church was encouraging young girls to become pregnant.

I was unable to change the tradition in that small church very much. However, in the following church I served, we did something different. We handed out white flowers to those who moms were dead (and in heaven), and then red flowers to those whose moms were still living. Doing things in this way became complicated, especially when we asked the little children to hand out the flowers to the women in the room. The women had to stand up for “the white flower” and what that meant, and then for “the red flower” and what that meant.

Other than seeing confused children not know what flower to give to whom, I thought this was an acceptable way to acknowledge the holiday. This changed when one of our older members took a moment to tell me how painful it was to receive that white flower because it was a reminder of how much she missed her mom. She felt singled out and dreaded coming to worship on that day.

Her words made sense to me, and we started handing out the same color flowers to everyone.

These are not theological conundrums, but what I began to realize is that women approach Mother’s Day with a variety of emotions. It’s a challenging day because not every woman is a wife, not every woman is a mom, and not every mom has a good relationship with her children.

Proverbs 31 is quoted a lot on this day. I’ll be referring to it myself. However, it’s important how to handle this text because the expectations can seem unrealistic and discouraging to women. It should be used to encourage and celebrate the women in our lives.

Many women in our culture today are bombarded with incredible standards to live up to regarding how they look, what they wear, how and whether or not they have families, and what kind of career success they have.

One of the more personal aspects of the holiday relates to how our church views as equal with men in their abilities and right to serve in the church, be ordained, and hold leadership positions.

It’s important to realize that the book of Proverbs precedes the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible; and it’s also written as an acrostic poem–a detail that is lost in our English translations. So, one might say that the embodiment of these beautiful words is none other than the Ruth of our Old Testament.

Another important detail is the words from Proverbs 31 are not written by a man, but from a mother to her son, a King. She gives us a glimpse into what an upper class Israelite woman wants in a wife for her son.

I overheard a somewhat awkward exchange take place in the hallway outside our worship space. One of our older well-intentioned (I hope) women approached one of our younger couples to introduce herself. She learned that the couple had been attending our church for some time. Then she asked if they had any children, and the man said “No we don’t.” Then, the older woman said that they ought to get started on that right away.

What this older woman didn’t realize is that this young couple had been trying to have children, but had been unable to have one. I still cringe at this exchange because I knew this young couple and their pain, and they came to worship hoping to be encouraged, but were instead reminded of their sense of being somehow incomplete without a child.

On the other hand, I have a friend who will be celebrating her first Mother’s Day and she and her husband are thrilled about the upcoming weekend.

There are numerous stories like this one that come to mind, but my simple point is that Mother’s Day is a day of joy and pain. Pastors and churches need to realize that not everyone has the same perspective and experience as it relates to families.

Yes, it’s Mother’s Day. But most importantly, it’s the Lord’s Day. Let that be our focus and spiritual direction for the day.

 

 

 

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Resurrection from the Ashes

This has been an eventful Lenten season and an especially emotional Holy Week. Several incidents have been related to church buildings being burned to the ground.
In Louisiana, three African-American churches were attacked in a racist and evil act. These three black churches were all burned in a nine-day period beginning March 26.
Pastor Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church said he knew the temptation was to lash out in hate at what has taken place. But, he offered this challenge, “That’s what we’re here for today, to say not just to our community but to our country: Be strong. Love one another. Be patient with one another. Help one another. Guide one another. Train up your children in the way they should go.”
And, of course, the world has been watching the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris go up in flames. The physical loss, in addition to the emotional and spiritual impact, is still being measured.
The Cathedral took 182 years to build, and construction began in 1163 and wasn’t finished until 1345. The historical, architectural, cultural, and spiritual presence is considerable–each year twice as many tourists visit that building than the Eiffel Tower.
The three Louisiana churches don’t have the magnificence of the Parisian cathedral, yet their loss is also significant to the faith communities who met there.
Out of the ashes of these flames, a movement has been born to restore these buildings. Support and money has poured in to rebuild the three churches in Louisiana, and hundreds of millions of dollars has been pledged to rebuild the Cathedral. Even the President of France says he wants their cathedral reconstructed in five years.
Tragedies (and acts of evil) like those mentioned above can bring out either the best of people, or the worst. It’s been wonderful to see how affected communities (and the nation) are coming together to support these congregations.
My hope is that we will see a revival break out among these churches and also the city of Paris as a result of these fires. Dare I hope that this Easter Sunday stir up the resurrection hope in Christ and His followers in those places?
Our church will gather this Sunday morning to worship a risen Savior. We’ll have people present who wouldn’t normally be in the building because of the holiday. The rest of us who regularly worship on Sunday will also be present, and I urge us all to show hospitality to our guests.
I’m hoping that we will be stirred by those immortal words, “He is not here, He is risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28.6). May we experience the Resurrection Hope of Jesus Christ once again, and let this bring about a renewal in each of our lives, and the life of our church.
Looking forward to Sunday: He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

April Fools’ Day Musings

It’s April. And you can’t start the month without a nod to April Fool’s day.

I was a little on edge coming in to work today, unsure of what might happen among one of my more mischievous co-workers. Fortunately, the Keurig and coffee worked in good shape and then I knew I could handle anything the day would bring.

There’s some history to this holiday, and depending on which version you embrace, its origins go back centuries. At the heart of this day, however, is a relationship with jokes, hilarity, teasing, and fictitious stories.

For example, in 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, tricked the public when it  announced it was going to purchase the Liberty Bell and rename it the “Taco Liberty Bell”.

Also, in 1998, after Burger King advertised the “Left-Handed Whopper,” many unsuspecting customers requested the fake sandwich.

These harmless pranks generated a lot of interest in these companies, and perhaps made some of the more clueless members of our society felt somewhat stupid for their ignorance.

As I look forward to Easter and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ once again, I’m reminded that the gospel is viewed by large portions of our society as a foolish belief system. Many people do not accept these faith claims and the testimony of those first witnesses to the resurrection.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this reality: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1.18).

I was having a conversation with one of our staff members about how easy it is to get distracted from the “main thing.” And by the main thing I am referring to the resurrection of Christ and how we’re planning on celebrating this through worship services, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday. That should be the number one thing on my radar.

However, I find myself constantly challenged by the things that are urgent, and these urgent things can squeeze out the important. People still get sick, they die, they get upset about things in their lives, and sometimes import their problems into the church. People who can’t control things in their own lives sometimes attempt to do this in their congregation.

These urgent things can diminish the Easter season and distract us from what’s most important in life, and what should definitely be our focal point during the days of Lent.

The apostle Paul didn’t have 21 century type problems to deal with, and I sometimes wonder how he would respond to the challenges of our day. His version of church would definitely be different from what ours looks like. Still, people are basically still people and wrestle with basic needs, anxieties, their hopes, and their fears.

As a pastor, I can appreciate the physical, emotional, and spiritual impact taking on his critics and opposition took on Paul. He went to great lengths to share the hope of Christ; he wanted others to know that if he could be forgiven and have new life, anyone could be forgiven.

Being a pastor around the Easter season brings about a great deal of excitement, in that I am seeking to lead and provide meaningful worship opportunities for our people. This is accomplished through the cooperation and partnership of talented staff members.

Even so, people in the pew still wrestle with day to day problems. I’ve recently performed two funerals in the past two weeks, and the cumulative impact of these losses plus the routine of caring for the sick, troubled, and anxiety ridden takes its toll.

April fool’s day is a good time to reflect upon one’s contributions to family, church, and the world. It’s easy to be discouraged when one sees how the world is going and the difficulties that are present on every cable news channel. And, not everyone appreciates the work of the church, and sometimes with good reason.

Still, the message of Jesus Christ still brings hope to our world. That message still brings hope to individuals. Those of us who are followers of Christ can be labeled along with the Apostle Paul as “fools for Christ’s sake.”

I’m hopeful that these remaining days leading up to the resurrection of Jesus will provide much needed time for reflection, prayer, and being grateful for what I’ve been given.

There may be some things I don’t get done before Easter. It’s possible that, despite all my effort, that things in the church won’t go the way I want them to or have planned. Yet, maybe that’s the point. There’s something much bigger to celebrate, and the resurrection of Christ transcends any of my own plans or expectations of myself or others.

It’s tempting to get distracted and discouraged by the things of this life. We have to navigate through the joys and challenges of each day. But, let us commit ourselves as God’s people to embracing the message of the cross for the remainder of this Lenten season. Let’s slow down long enough to realize that suffering, disappointment, and sometimes death are part of life. Life in Jesus Christ through his resurrection is also possible as well.

It’s pretty much guaranteed that many unbelievers and nominal church members will find their way through the doors of a local church on Easter Sunday. The more faithful attenders may be tempted to succumb to cynicism at this development.

I’ve been through a gambit of emotions on Easter and the days leading up to that special day. What I am seeking to do is live out my faith rather than judge others for how they choose (or not choose) to live out theirs.

Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. The church needs to reflect that hope through what we say and what we do with the remaining time we have on earth.

And that is no joke.

 

 

Our Journey to Easter

We are in the midst of “March Madness”–a sometimes serious condition which manifests itself in physical symptoms like sweating, nausea, and anxiety. It’s a temporary affliction and its severity depends on your investment in a particular basketball team’s outcome in the NCAA tournament.
Our community has been fortunate to have two teams representing us well. The MSU Lady Bears made it to the “Sweet Sixteen” in the NCAA Division I tournament and the Drury Lady Panthers to the Final Four in the Division II tournament. As of this writing, I don’t know the outcome to the Bears future but commend the Panthers on a great season as they came up just short in the semi-final game.
We’re finishing up the fiscal year THIS Sunday–which means that we have one more Sunday to make a financial contribution to the current budget. As you know, we’ve missed two Sundays due to weather, so let’s do our best to give this Lord’s Day!
Deacon Election is also this Sunday. There are four vacancies to be filled and four candidates: Shirley Dodds, Phil Jones, Patrick Twibell, and Susan Ang. Shirley and Phil have already been ordained, and Patrick and Susan will need to be ordained after our vote.
I’m very much looking forward to the next several weeks, especially as we enter the month of April. We will be making our “Journey to Easter” and this involves some very special worship services led by our music ministry. Make every effort to take part in the gatherings we have as a community of faith!
We’re continuing through the Lenten season. Let’s find time to be still before the Lord to count your blessings and thank Jesus for his tremendous sacrifice.
I don’t know if all our basketball teams will get as far as we want them to in the tournament, but let’s give thanks that we’re on the team known as University Heights Baptist Church. Our future and victory is certain in Jesus Christ–let’s spend time celebrating that as we look forward to Easter.

“Oh, I’m just church shopping”

“Only in the western world is the phrase ‘church shopping’ used.”
These words from Sentness, Six Postures of Missional Christians caught my attention. Consider the rest of the quote:
“The consumer church does not require enough from its members. People look for church as a place to go to meet their needs, rather than a base to be sent from to serve their community. We consider what we got out of a worship service, and go home feeling well fed or not. So, church turns into a mall for consuming goods and services, rather than an equipping station to send us into the world.”
I’ve heard this phrase “church shopping” numerous times.
Recently, we had a woman visiting our worship service for the first time. As usual, I greeted people as they left the worship service and she stopped by to see me. As I found out a little more about her, and her being new to the community, I asked what brought her to worship. She said, “well, to be honest, I’ve been church shopping and thought I’d drop in on you all today.”
She talked about how she liked to “church shop” and that she might be back to see us. I got the impression she thought she was doing us a favor by showing up for an hour on that Sunday morning.
I wanted to hand her a bill for services rendered and tell her to pay the deacon next to the coffee and doughnuts on the way out.
This sentiment was illustrated by a recent Instagram post. A woman was leaving a worship service and told the pastor “I didn’t like worship today.” The pastor responded, “That’s okay. We’re weren’t worshipping you.”
When asked about how I feel about the church, I usually respond that I am hopeful for the kind of church my children will have as they get older.
Recently, our church had a “Family Night.” in which we viewed a video presentation of a dozen or so new and younger members to our church. It was inspiring to see what brought them to our church and what keeps them at our church.
Frequently, the reasons for their getting connected to the church related to our hospitality and specific persons showing interest in them. I was impressed to learn this perspective, especially from those who don’t have the history or institutional memory like some of our older members.
It was also important that these older members recognize that what they found important for “young people” wasn’t necessarily what was important to them.
We learned from watching that video together, people of all ages and backgrounds, that what connects us is our love for Jesus and a desire to belong without being judged. And of course we learned that doughnuts and coffee are a staple for conversation and we’ll keep that going after worship for a while longer.
Let’s be mindful of our consumer driven culture and its not so subtle impact upon the American church. The result is an attractional approach to doing church–we are supposed to find a way to “attract” people into the walls of church building.
I very much understand the temptation to do church this way. It involves trying to find the one thing, one activity, one event, one solution, which, when implemented, will result in droves of people coming into the church.
What I’ve been thinking about over the last several months, and more recently emphasized through the video presentation, is how important it is for the church to continually ask itself whether it is creating consumers or disciples.
In my study of I John these last several weeks, and in particular with the sermon text for Sunday, John called people who claimed to love God but hated other people “liars”–a scathing rebuke of the early church as well as the 21st century church.
The church is known for its love for others. Let that be our calling card as well. God has been good to us, so let’s share that Good News with those around us.
There’s no digital substitute for being involved in a family of faith. No amount of church shopping will fill that void for belonging and connection with real flesh and blood people. It’s still about what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called, “Life Together.”

MLK Day 2019

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide not the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
These words uttered in 1967 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are as relevant in 2019 as they were more than 50 years ago.
Far too often, prominent pastors and churches allow themselves to be used as political pawns, espousing a Christianity that is foreign to the gospels while palatable to the political winds of the day. It’s a temptation for the church and its leaders to align themselves with whatever politicians happen to be in power at the time. When this occurs, the prophetic voice of the church is muted.
This Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Our church office will be closed in observance of this day. I’m so grateful that our church understands the significance of our acknowledging this event as well as the important message it sends to our community.
The New Baptist Covenant is a community of faith that promotes unity and cooperation among Baptists of all kinds and backgrounds. One of their more recent publications highlighted the fact that this holiday is an important time to “hold up a mirror” to both the church and our nation. We need time to reflect upon the kind of people we are becoming and the examples we are setting for our children.
There’s a lot bitterness present in our nation. Even now, our government remains closed with seemingly no end in sight. I’m reminded of the hundreds of thousands of workers who have missed paychecks and are unable to meet their financial obligations. This situation has generated a lot of animosity and fear; with uncertainty about what is yet to come.
Individuals, congregations, and non-profits are working together to meet physical and social needs in those communities most impacted by the government shutdown. As Dr. King once remarked, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
This Sunday, I’m preaching on the familiar story known as “The Good Samaritan.” This phrase would have been viewed as an oxymoron in the 1st century; Samaritans were a people group vilified by the Jewish community. There was nothing good about Samaritans–they were the object of racial hatred and discrimination.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the MLK assassination. He compared the Pharisees in Jesus’s day to the evangelical church in America–the Pharisees had no problem honoring the prophets because they were no longer alive to disrupt their social order; in same way MLK is not controversial in evangelical church today because he hasn’t spoken in 50 years.
It’s imperative that we maintain our prophetic voice and posture in the political and public arenas. There’s been far too much racial unrest, violence, and hate speech in recent years and we as a church must stand against it.
Let’s be honest about where we are as a nation and as a church by using Monday as a day to “hold up a mirror” to our beliefs and behavior.

Thankful for Epiphany

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

It’s a common practice for many Americans; recent surveys indicate that 40% of Americans engage in the practice.

There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and having ambition, but what seems to happen is that the enthusiasm for doing more, giving up certain vices, or starting good habits wanes over a period of time.

Ed Stetzer commented on this kind of behavior in his recent article “Gospel-Centered Resolutions: Not all About You, but God working in You.”

He writes, “New Year’s is, without a doubt, every try-hard’s favorite holiday. But the thing is, this whole ‘do more, work harder’ mentality hasn’t just become evident in our celebration of a once-in-a-year goal setting tradition. In fact, many of us now live in a culture that is more achievement focused than any other in recent history.”

I’m excited about starting a new year; I learned a lot of lessons from last year which I hope will help me in my walk with Christ and as I lead His church. One key lesson I’ll be bringing into 2019 is simply this: “If you’re a follower, then you’re not the leader.”

Profound, right? Yet, it’s imperative that recognize that walking with Christ is a process of learning and growth, and yielding to His purpose of our lives. This is a simple truth but one that is difficult to grasp.

I’m so grateful our church acknowledges Epiphany Sunday. Many churches tend to truncate the Christmas season and have the Magi showing up at the stable along with the shepherds. Epiphany is a culmination of the “12 days of Christmas” and a time to soak in and realize the true meaning of Christ’s birth.

In a sense, each one of us in on a journey. This new year signifies our beginning a new chapter walking together and walking with the Lord. We’re not in the same place we were this time last year, nor will we be in the same place as we end this year. We learn on the way, walking in faith, and by sharing life together.

I want to thank Dr. Bob Perry for preaching last Sunday which allowed time away for me to be with family. It was greatly appreciated and much needed.

Sunday’s coming. I haven’t seen some of you since last year, and look forward to being with you once again for worship. Let’s begin the New Year in the Lord’s House for LifeGroups and worship together. Happy New Year!