Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Convergence of Events & a Confluence of Thoughts

My mind, or what’s left of it, is dealing with a confluence of thoughts that came to me today.

Here’s the sequence of events that produced those thoughts.

First, on the flight to Washington, I was reading Evangelicals in the Public Square by J. Budziszewski (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). My attention was drawn to that book by a convergence of events this week. First, I am in Washington, D.C., the seat of our government, and that set me to thinking about how blessed we are to live in this great land and about how we Christians have the great responsibility of bearing appropriate witness to our neighbors in ways that honor Christ but also respect the religious diversity that thrives in our nation. Second, I am here for a Baptist meeting, and that has me thinking about the historic Baptist emphases on religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and separation of church and state. Third, this Sunday is the Sunday before Independence Day and I plan to do what I customarily do on that Sunday: preach a sermon about religious liberty. My thoughts in those three areas prompted me to begin reading Budziszewski’s book.

In his introductory chapter, Budziszewski writes,

Although evangelicals are rightly committed to grounding their political reflection in revelation, the Bible provides insufficient materials for the task. This is I have called the evangelical dilemma. The missing piece of this puzzle lies in the recognition that the Bible is only part of revelation. “Special” revelation is that which God infallibly provides in actual words to the community of faith. But God has also provided “general” revelation, which he makes evident not only to believers but to all humankind. General revelation is divulged not through words but by other means…. The divine Word is imparted even without words. Such is general revelation. (pp. 30-31)

I would say that God has given us in the “special” revelation of the Bible the words that will infallibly lead us to salvation. But God has, as Budziszewski maintains, revealed his truth in many other ways and through many other avenues.

Budziszewski was talking about what he sees as one source of the shortcomings of evangelical political theory and action. He got me to wondering.

Then, after I arrived in Washington and checked into the Grand Hyatt, I decided to walk down to the National Mall and go to a couple of the Smithsonian museums. I first went to the Museum of Natural History where I spent all of the limited time that I had looking at the fossil exhibits. I was particularly fascinated by the dinosaur skeletons and by the narratives that accompanied them. The fossil record is there, of course, and it reveals what it reveals. Much of what it reveals is not found in our Bibles. That does not make it any less true. Once, after I had finished a talk about Genesis 1-11 and was taking questions, someone asked me why I hadn’t talked about the dinosaurs. “Because there are no dinosaurs in Genesis,” I answered. “Why aren’t they there?” he asked. “I suspect,” I answered, "they aren’t there because the biblical writers did not know about them.” They existed nonetheless. The fact is that life developed the way that it developed and God has given scientists the evidence in nature that they need to understand it. But he has given us in our Bibles an even greater and more important truth: how to know him.

Next I walked over to the National Gallery of Art. Now, I’m just a small town Southern boy with a decent education that included exactly one college level Art History class; I don’t know much about art. But as I stared at Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci and at Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait and Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, West Fa├žade, Sunlight, I had tears in my eyes, and I can’t tell you why. Part of the reason, I think, is that I was moved at the great gifts that those artists possessed and developed. God gave them those gifts and they honed them until they produced masterpieces. Did God reveal something through them? Perhaps. Did they reveal something from within themselves that speak of wondrous truth to us? Perhaps.

Christians, especially those of us who are of the evangelical stripe, need to open our eyes more to the ways that God has revealed himself outside the Bible. That will make us better able to converse with the world that knows and accepts and takes for granted many great truths that we choose to ignore or, even worse, to fight against. It will also make us more open to the truth wherever we find it. The Bible will always be our greatest guide, of course, and Jesus will always be our greatest and only perfect truth.

I’m just suggesting that we need to open our eyes ever wider to the special truth given to us in the Bible and that we need to open our eyes more to the general truth given to us in so many other places.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Off to D.C. for the CBF

On Wednesday morning I will be flying from Augusta to Washington, D.C. for the annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. While I have developed an intense dislike of being away from home, I am nonetheless looking forward to attending the meeting.

I like some of the things we don't do at these assemblies.

I like that we don't adopt resolutions.

I like that we don't spend a lot of time doing business.

I like that we don't expend a lot of energy talking about what we're against.

I also like a lot of the things that we do at these assemblies.

We do celebrate Jesus.

We do affirm historic Baptist principles.

We do hear positive reports about missions and ministry.

We do affirm diversity.

We do worship with warmth and reverence.

We do spend time in very helpful workshops.

It will be a good meeting, I'm sure. I hope to post my reflections about the meeting on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Home

Sara was released from the hospital this morning and we arrived at our home in Augusta at around 5:30. She is doing well. She tolerated the 3+ hours long ride well; we did as we were instructed and stopped every hour or so for her to get out and walk around. She will be taking it easy for the next few days.

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for her. As you continue to intercede for her, please pray that she will adjust well to the Coumadin that she will be taking for at least the next six months. Pray also that, if there is something there that needs to be found, the blood work will reveal it.

Of course, it would be great if this turns out to be some kind of flukey thing that never happens again. That's what we're hoping for.

God is good. We're glad to be home.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Going to Church

(Sabbath Blog #23)

Today is Sunday, and I’m going to go to church.

That’s not unusual. After all, I am a pastor, and so most weeks I go to the Sunday morning service, the Sunday evening service, and the Wednesday night service. It’s sort of expected of me. Because I am a pastor, usually when I go to church I have preaching and teaching responsibilities.

Today is different, though.

We are still in Rome, Georgia, where we have been since our daughter Sara was admitted to Redmond Regional Medical Center on Tuesday. Two of our church members are handling the pulpit ministry at The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta for me today (thanks, Carter and Steve). I am going to attend the morning worship service at a church here in Rome.

I go to church, whenever I go, to worship God. That is the case whether or not I have leadership responsibilities in the worship service.

I have a special reason to go today, though. I am going this morning because my heart is bursting with gratitude and I want to worship the God who has made my joy possible.

Sara is better. She is making great progress and we hope to be able to take her home in a couple of days. For that I thank Dr. Whitney, the nurses, the technicians, and all those doctors and researchers who have done the work that has led to the medicines and treatments that have enabled her to get better. Most of all, I thank God, from whom all healing finally and ultimately comes.

Would I still want to go to church if the news was not good? Of course. God is to be worshiped and praised in all the circumstances of life.

Still, I am grateful. I want to praise the Lord for all his blessings and especially for his blessings on Sara this week.

So I’m going to church.

Praise the Lord.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sara Ruffin News

Sara got out of ICU on Friday afternoon, thank the Lord. She is now on the 3rd floor at Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome. Many thanks for all the prayers!

As you continue to pray for her, please pray that the doctors will be able to determine why she developed this clot. Also pray that she will adjust well to the Coumadin (anti-coagulant) that she will have to take.

If all goes according to plan, she may get to go home on Tuesday.

Friday, June 22, 2007

To See and Be Seen: On the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant

One of the reasons that folks attend events, so I’ve always been told, is “to see and be seen.” The old phrase means that people go to meetings to see other people and to be seen by them. It’s even one of the valid reasons that we go to church. We want to see our brothers and sisters in Christ and we want to be seen by them.

Our motivations are not always pure, of course, even when we go to church. Posturing is a potential problem; we may try to position ourselves as being something that we really are not. Or, we might be so focused on our encounters with other people that we miss out on an encounter with God. Or, we might go to church to project a public image that is not matched by a dedicated private devotion. Or, we might go to solidify a place among the socially accepted in the community of which we are a part.

The Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant that will take place January 30-February 2, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia is an opportunity to see and to be seen. It is an opportunity for Baptists from all over the United States and Canada who do not ordinarily meet together to see one another. I have been to meetings in my life with Cooperative Baptists and with Southern Baptists but I have never been to a meeting where American Baptists, National Baptists, Canadian Baptists, General Baptists, Lott Carey Missionary Baptists, and other sorts of Baptists will be together. It will be good to see my brothers and sisters from those varied Baptist groups.

The Celebration is also an opportunity to be seen. The world will have its eyes on us as we meet together.

Some will be watching who want to see things that they can criticize. I hope that we don’t end up trying to make the message that emerges from the meeting so palatable to everybody that we end up saying nothing to nobody. I hope that people will see things that make them uncomfortable and maybe even a little bit mad, so long as what troubles them is the legitimate proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in all of its spiritual, social, and physical implications.

Some will be watching for signs that diverse groups of Baptists really can join in common cause. I hope that they will see that, because I think that great future ministry can be accomplished if we will indeed work together.

What else do I hope the world sees when it gazes upon the Baptists gathered in Atlanta in early 2008?

I hope that they see, as we all worship together, a preview of what future meetings of these Baptists are going to be like—and maybe even a little glimpse of what heaven is going to look like.

I hope that they see, as we all discuss ministry and missions together, the vanguard of a new movement of kingdom service that will be guided by kingdom principles.

I hope that they see, as we celebrate together what it means to be Baptist, people who appreciate—and practice—the priesthood of believers, soul competency, and religious liberty.

I hope that they see, as these varied and diverse Baptists from all over the United States and Canada meet together, a giant step forward in Baptist ecumenism that will lead to other steps forward in greater Baptist involvement in an even more broadly based ecumenism.

I hope that they see, as we listen together to the words of Baptist preachers and Baptist politicians, that Baptists can preach about, teach about, and work to do something about the problems that afflict our society out of a biblical and Christ-centered worldview that is not beholden to any particular political philosophy or party.

Those are just a few of the things that I hope the world sees as they look upon our gathering.

Yes, we will gather in Atlanta to see and to be seen. It will be good to see each other. It will be even better to be seen by people “out there” who don’t know or care all that much about Baptists but who know a movement that just might bring some healing help to bear on a busted up world when they see one. Won’t it be great if they look at us and say, “Well look, there's one now”?

Further Update on Sara Ruffin

Sara had a good night on Thursday; it was the first night that she has slept well since all this started.

Her doctor has dismissed her from ICU; as is often the case, though, no room is available on the floor on which he wants her. Hopefully one will open up later today.

We are grateful to the good Lord and to the good medical personnel at the hospital for the improvement Sara has made. We anticipate that she will be in the hospital until at least Monday.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Update on Sara Ruffin

It has been a hard week for our daughter. Since Monday night, Sara has been at the Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome, Georgia. She has been dealing with an extensive blood clot that, as it turns out, extended from her left ankle, all the way up through her left leg, and even into her abdomen.

On Tuesday evening, a catheter was inserted behind her knee through which a “clot-busting” drug has been slowly administered. She has had to be in ICU while that was being done. She has also been receiving the blood thinner Heparin by IV. The good news is that the medicine largely dissolved the clot. Unfortunately, the part of the clot that was in her abdomen was not dissolving. Therefore, on Thursday night Dr. Whitney performed a procedure to “mechanically” break up and remove that part of the clot. The procedure appears to have been successful. The hope is that after spending Thursday night in ICU, Sara will be doing well enough to move to a private room.

There have been other struggles during the week, including difficulty drawing the blood required for periodic testing and a build-up of fluid.

Sara will still have to spend several days in the hospital as the doctor works to regulate the Coumadin that she will have to take upon leaving the hospital.

Please continue to pray for Sara. She has been very strong through all of this and her mother and I have been very proud of her. Many, many people have been praying for her and we want you to know how grateful we are.

If you would like to send her a note, the address is:

Redmond Regional Medical Center
501 Redmond Road
P.O. Box 107001
Rome, GA 30165-7001.

Sara cannot check her email now, but she should be able to get to it in a few days. If you would like to send her an email, her address is sara_kate05@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pray for Sara Ruffin

Regular readers of On the Jericho Road know that I usually post a new article every day of the week except for Saturday. You will also know that a few days ago I had announced a schedule for future posts concerning Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion. I did not post on Tuesday as I had planned to do.

The reason for that is that our daughter is in the hospital. Sara, who is a twenty-year old Mercer University student, drove from our home in Augusta to Rome, GA, on Sunday for a visit with her boyfriend Jared, who is also a Mercer student. Her leg began to swell shortly after her arrival and by Monday night it was quite swollen and painful. Jared and his mother took Sara to the hospital and she was admitted.

Sara has an extensive blood clot in her left leg; it extends from her ankle to the top of her leg. A procedure was done on Tuesday evening that involves inserting a catheter into the leg and slowly administering a "clot-busting" drug. She has to remain in ICU for monitoring purposes. We received good news this morning; the clot has diminished by 30%. She will remain on the medicine and in ICU until at least Thursday morning. Her spirits are good and she has been quite a trooper, especially given that this is her first experience with a serious health issue.

Debra and I are with her at the Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome. We are very pleased with the care she is receiving. If all goes well, we hope to be back in Augusta by the end of the week.

My next new posts will be on Friday, June 22. In one post I will give an update on Sara. In the other I will have something to say about the upcoming Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta.

Thank you for praying for Sara.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Pt. 1)

Make no mistake about it: Richard Dawkins is a heavyweight in his field. The author of many books, Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. A graduate of Oxford, he taught at the University of California at Berkeley before returning to his alma mater.

His latest book, The God Delusion, spent many weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. It is a blistering attack on the idea of a personal, supernatural deity and on those who believe in such a God. At the same time, the book is an invitation to readers to consider atheism as a reasonable choice of life-stance. Dawkins, therefore, critiques the belief in a personal God while offering a rationale for abandoning such belief and embracing atheism. Dawkins states his purpose clearly: “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down” (p. 5). So I guess, since I’m a Christian and a minister at that, that I’m taking quite a chance in reading it. Of course, when I am not converted by Dawkins’ brilliant arguments, he has given the reason ahead of time: I am one of those “dyed-in-the-wool faith heads” who “are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination…” (p. 5). It is clear from the beginning that Dawkins believes that all the weight of reason is on the atheist’s side and that believers in God are irrational and unable to think for themselves.

We’ll see.

The first chapter of the book is entitled “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer,” a phrase that Dawkins borrows from Einstein. Dawkins goes to great pains to define terms in this chapter, a necessary and helpful exercise. He reflects upon the way in which scientists such as Einstein or himself could think of themselves as “religious.” He quotes Einstein: “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious” (p. 19). Dawkins says that he is religious in that sense, too, provided that we say that those things that the “mind cannot grasp” may one be day be graspable.

Dawkins seems to have no place in his thinking for anything being a permanent mystery.

What Dawkins is trying to make clear, though, is important: that when most scientists refer to “God” they are using the word metaphorically to mean “nature” or “the universe” or something like that. Often, when religious folks quote an Einstein or Hawking or some other scientist who mentions God, they take the quote out of context and make the scientists sound “religious” in a way that they are not.

Dawkins spends the rest of chapter one discussing what he considers the “undeserved respect” accorded religious people, religious sensibilities, and religious ideas in modern Western society. He approvingly quotes Douglas Adams on the subject of the reticence in our culture to directly challenge religious tenets: “When you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be” (p. 21). In Dawkins’ opinion, religious folks and religious ideas receive a kind of special privilege in our society and, as the subtitle of the section indicates, he believes that such respect is undeserved.

It is clear after reading just one chapter of Dawkins’ book that for him, there is no reality beyond the observable, testable universe. For Dawkins, we don’t understand what we don’t understand because science has not yet found a way to test it or figure it out yet. For him, everything must be explained rationally.

Does he have a valid point? I’m still thinking about that. Let’s face it: often in our discussions about life and about how we are to explain certain things in light of our belief in the existence of a personal, supernatural God, we say some interesting things. For example, we say “Some things you just can’t explain” or “Some things you just have to take on faith” or “If you understood everything about everything, then you’d be God, wouldn’t you?” Is it insisting on too much to insist that any religious conviction, if it is to be taken seriously, must be rationally explainable? Might we not need to do the hard work of actually being able to explain and to defend our belief in God?

Or is the “leap of faith” the crucial thing?

As for the “undeserved respect” that religious ideas are accorded in our society, Dawkins may have a point. Still, is it such a bad thing that we insist on taking someone’s religious convictions seriously? Particularly in America, have not freedom of religion and freedom from religion provided much of the context for the development of personal human freedom? When we stop treating people’s religious convictions with respect, have we not stopped taking something seriously that is very vital to many, many people’s existence?

Tomorrow: I’ll look at chapter 2, “The God Hypothesis.”

In the meantime, while we're thinking about these issues, we might take this perspective into consideration.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Belated Tribute to Fathers

I know that we are now past Father's Day, but today I heard one of the greatest tributes to a father that I've ever heard. It's worth a listen.

A Note About Upcoming Posts

I, along with others, have been intrigued with the recent publication of notable works by notable authors that make a case against belief in God or against religion. I need to read some of those works. So, for the next few weeks, I will be dialoguing with two of them here at On the Jericho Road. The first book with which I will be dealing is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The other is God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.

Those posts will appear on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and most Fridays for several weeks. I hope that you will think along with me about the issues raised by these books.

Parenting Through Example

(A sermon based on Matthew 10:34-39)

[Note: Over the next few weeks, with a couple of interruptions on Sundays when I need to preach about other things, I’ll be engaged in a series of sermons on “Parenting.” This is the first one in the series.]

Church, school, and extended family all play a role in the nurturing of children. But parents have the greatest responsibility for the way that our children progress and develop. And, as with most things, in parenting, actions speak louder than words. Now, we are probably grateful for the fact that children never grow up to look exactly like their parents. Neither do they grow up to act exactly like their parents. Nevertheless, the basic attitudes, standards, mores, and behavior patterns of children are derived largely from what they see their parents doing.

Let me give you some examples. There are things about me that are different from some folks and most of those behavior traits were also in one or both of my parents. For instance, I do not smoke, and neither did my parents during my growing up years. I have a very corny sense of humor; so did my father. I tend to keep a lot of my feelings pent up inside; so did my mother. I am openly affectionate toward my family; that’s the way my parents were. So, I followed the example of my parents in many ways.

This idea that our children learn by watching us is important, for we want to be parents who desire the best for our children. To care for our children is to want them to live life in such a way that they will be sound, productive contributors to the human race. None of us want to be like what Erma Bombeck once called “Everybody Else’s Mother.”
She has no name. Her phone number is unlisted. But she exists in the mind of every child who has ever tried to get his own way and used her as a last resort.
Everybody Else’s Mother is right out of the pages of Greek mythology—mysterious, obscure, and surrounded by hearsay.
Traditional Mother: “Have the car home by eleven or you’re grounded for a month.”
Everybody Else’s Mother: “Come home when you feel like it.”
Traditional Mother: “The only way I’d let you wear that bikini is under a coat.”
Everybody Else’s Mother: “Wear it. You’re only young once.”
Traditional Mother: “You’re going to summer school and that’s that.”
Everybody Else’s Mother: “I’m letting Harold build a raft and go down the Ohio River for a learning experience.”
[Erma Bombeck, Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (Dell, 1984).

No, we want to be good parents, but we all know that we cannot be perfect parents. The perfect parent is a myth born out of the desires of children of imperfect parents and out of the frustrations of those same parents. So we will not kid ourselves; I have no suggestions on how to be a perfect parent. We want to deal with realism that can be liberating, not with idealism that can be constraining. Bill Butterworth has put it this way:
Idealism teaches us perfect family living based on the Bible.
Realism tells us that the Bible presents principles for our encouragement—but no promises of perfection.
[Bill Butterworth, Peanut Butter Families Stick Together (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming & Revell, 1985), p. 18.

What does the Bible teach us realistically about parenting? Today we will discuss parenting by example. What kind of lifestyle do we model for our children? Let me state a basic principle: every Christian parent must model a consistent Christian lifestyle for his/her child. The best way to enable our children to live as Christians is to live as Christians ourselves. Our passage teaches us some very basic things about the Christian life. We will move to specifics in a moment, but two general thoughts based on this passage must shape our thinking as we consider the lifestyle we will model for our children.

First, absolutely nothing takes precedence over our relationship with Jesus Christ. That is the basic meaning of Jesus’ statement that “whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Not even the most basic and most vital of human relationships comes before our walk with Christ. If those relationships do not come before our walk with Christ, then surely nothing else does.

Second, sometimes things must and will be given up in order to live up to our primary commitment to Jesus Christ. That is the basic meaning of his saying “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Sometimes even the things that ordinarily seem most important must be abandoned for Christ’s sake.

There are vast implications of these truths for the Christian lifestyle. What sort of lifestyle ought we, as Christian parents, model for our children? A good way to approach this is to ask, “How would Christ have us live?” And we answer that question by asking, “What sort of lifestyle did Christ follow?” In these ways we will know the kind of lifestyle we should model for our children.

A Lifestyle of Simplicity

There are two levels of concern here.

First, there is a concern for health. How many of us are leaving our children a legacy marked by ulcers, high blood pressure, and emotional distress? The modern “success is the most important thing” attitude has led us and will lead our children to the precipice of anxiety-based illness. If we model a lifestyle that tells our children that the accumulation of things is most important, then we do potential harm to them.

Second, there is a concern for spiritual discipline. We need to remember that the Son of Man, by his own account, had “no place to lay his head.” There is no indication that Jesus lived anything but a simple life and he should be the model for the model that we give our children. Why else should we live simply? For one thing, because riches fade, as the Bible often states. For another thing, because the giving up of things to which most people look for fulfillment is a basic part of the Christian life. If we parents are going to live as Christians, we must live simply and not opulently, for such living illustrates Christian discipline. Our children should be spiritual searchers, not material seekers.

A Lifestyle of Church Commitment

One key to the future of our children is their consistent involvement in the life of the church—but do we parents model that for them? Jesus said that “he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Do we need to lose a selfish part of our lives that says that church can be a low priority? Do we tell our children by our lives that church is really a “take it or leave it” affair?

A Lifestyle of Acceptance

I’m speaking here of the acceptance of change. It is appropriate to begin generally.

Change and loss are integral to life. Some of the most miserable people in the world are those who will not adjust to the changes in life. Some college students go home every chance they get and more often than they should because they are unable or unwilling to adjust to a life away from home. Some people have a very difficult struggle because they are unable to adjust to the loss of a person or of some aspect of their health. The fact is, though, that change is a part of life and the happiest and healthiest people are those who learn to adjust. We need to model such adjustability for our children.

Change and loss are integral to the Christian life. We all want our children to be Christians but we need to be more aware of the cost of being a Christian. To be a Christian is to be constantly confronted with change and potentially with loss, and we need to show our children how to adjust to such change. Jesus pointed out that because of him there would be division in families. Obviously, that constitutes a radical change. It is also a loss because no one likes to lose a family connection. But understand this: Christianity brings change to relationships. It can, when applied properly, cost us in friends, in profits, in social standing—and it especially costs us ourselves. We parents need to see such change as a natural part of our lives as Christians and to take it in stride. That way our children will not be shocked and disillusioned by such changes in their own lives. They will also learn from us to take the stands for Christ that they ought to take.

A Lifestyle of Sharing and Caring

Jesus spoke the words of our text to his disciples as he was sending them out to share in his mission. They went out to preach and to heal. Thus, theirs was a ministry of sharing and caring. Such should be the lifestyle of our children and we should model it for them.

Sharing. Each and every Christian must be involved in the sharing of the gospel. The salvation of the next generation depends largely on the commitment of our children to share through word and deed. Are they learning from us to share the gospel?

Caring. Basic to the lifestyle of Jesus was his caring for people’s needs. The Christian must care for the needs of all people without regard for who they are or who they appear to be. Now, you may be thinking, “If someone needs help I will help them. If someone is in need, I’ll assist them.” And I hope you do. But listen: are there any subtle ways in which we may discourage our children from helping people in need? When we make that disparaging remark about some person or some group of people, are we not telling our children that such folks are unworthy of our help? When we passively allow the fantasy to persist that this little corner of the world is all there is and therefore that the problems of the world do not really affect us, are we not telling our children that those beyond our own area are unworthy of our caring? We need to avoid such subtle traps, because in Jesus’ view, all people are worthy of our caring attention.

A Lifestyle of Maturing Christianity

Two final questions need to be asked and they are really the basic ones.

Can we model Christian lives for our children? We can if we are Christians. If you are an adult, if you are a parent, and if you have been putting off placing your faith in Jesus Christ, you need to do so for your own sake. But can your children afford for you to teach them to wait?

Can we model maturing Christian lives for our children? Yes, we can. For as long as we live, we ought to set a pattern, we ought to be an example, we ought to live at a level of Christian maturity, which will serve as a role model for our children. I often hear it said that parents want their children to have a better life than they had. In a recent list of “Ten Things You May Not Know About Dads” that I wrote for the Metro Augusta Parent, I said, “A father wants his child to have a better life than he has, but what he really wants is for his child to be a better person than he is.” We can model the kind of maturing Christianity for our children that will help them grow into an even stronger faith than we have.

Conclusion

Where are you in your commitment as a Christian? Where are you in your commitment as a Christian parent? Have you accepted Christ? Have you made decisions, have you made the progress that you need to make? How are you modeling the Christian life for your children?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Two New CD Reviews by Josh Ruffin

You can read them here and here. They're in the new issue of the Metro Spirit, an alternative weekly published here in Augusta, GA.

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Fathers

(Sabbath Blog #22)

I was recently invited by the Metro Augusta Parent, a monthly publication here in our city, to create a list of “ten things you don’t know about fathers.” The list, along with a very nice photograph of Joshua, Sara, and me (we actually had a “photo shoot”—I’m thinking of going into modeling as a side career) appeared in the June 2007 issue. Here is my list.

1. A father doesn’t need to be told that he is appreciated. He doesn’t mind it, either.

2. A father likes to hug and to be hugged by his children, no matter how old they (the father or the children) are.

3. A father hopes that his children view his vocation as harmful to no one and helpful to at least some.

4. A father is most proud of his children when they do something that makes him proud but they don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

5. A father wants his child to have a better life than he has, but what he really wants is for his child to be a better person than he is.

6. A father has at least one thing that he wishes he had tried but never did and that’s why he keeps telling his children to take a chance and follow their dreams. Me, I wish I had tried being a rock and roll singer. I would have failed, but I wish I had tried. Trying and failing is better than not trying.

7. A father appreciates the mother of his children more than she could possibly imagine.

8. A father wants his children to be healthy and happy but he also wants them to have the faith and strength of character to move closer to God and not away from him when their health or happiness are at risk.

9. A father would wish for more than one life to live if he knew that he could give them all up for his family.

10. A father knows everything. If you find something that he doesn’t know, he knew that he didn’t know it and he knew that you would figure it out.

Happy Father’s Day!

Friday, June 15, 2007

And There You Go....

We saw this message today on a church sign:

You don't have to be brain dead to follow Jesus, but when you are, you'll be glad you did.

The Castle and the Wall, Revisited

The 2007 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in San Antonio, Texas, has now ended.

When the last SBC annual meeting held in San Antonio ended in 1988, I took the long ride back to South Georgia thinking that the only bright spot in the meeting had been the convention sermon that was preached by Dr. Joel Gregory. The title of the sermon, which is perhaps one of the most famous sermons in the history of SBC annual meetings, was entitled “The Castle and the Wall.” I remember praying, as I sat in the convention center listening to the sermon, that the 32,000 messengers in attendance, who were split right down the middle on the controversial issues of the day, would heed the wise words of that good preacher. But I also remember thinking, because of what we had experienced in the ten years leading up to that San Antonio meeting, that our hearts were too hard and our feelings too hurt and our minds too made up for his words to have any real impact.

I was, I am sad to say but as everyone involved now knows, right. We had become a convention dominated by people who could, with a straight face and apparently without a twinge of conscience, shout “Amen” and warmly applaud words that called us to reconciliation and love while having absolutely no intention of heeding those words.

The sermon was nonetheless a powerful call for us to deal with our theological controversies with hearts and words that befit Christian brothers and sisters. It offered a powerful reminder that our public vilification of one another was doing tremendous harm to our Christian witness. It called us to consider the possibility that in the effort to construct a wall of orthodoxy around the convention we might be building a wall but tearing down the castle.

We didn’t listen. It was too late; the battle had become a winner take all contest and it had become clear who the winner was going to be. Still, the castle was not torn down. The institutions underwent significant change; whether that change was for the better or for the worse depends on which side you were on. But the institutions continued. Because of the changes that came about in those institutions, other institutions with a more moderate bent were birthed.

The wall of orthodoxy was indeed constructed. The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) took on a more creedal character and then was rewritten in 2000 to under gird the now fundamentalist perspective of SBC leadership. Seminary professors were forced to move on or saw the handwriting on the wall and found other places of service. International Mission Board missionaries lost their jobs because they would not sign the new BFM. But, as SBC loyalists are now finding, building a wall of orthodoxy is a lot like that old potato chip slogan: “no one can eat just one.” One wall is not enough. The SBC built a wall called “biblical inerrancy.” Then they built one called “no female pastors.” Now some want to build one called “no private prayer language” or “no Calvinism” or “more Calvinism.”

Here’s the thing, though: each new wall gets built inside the previous wall, so the boundaries of the SBC just keep getting narrower and narrower.

In an article that appeared on June 13 at EthicsDaily.com, Dr. Gregory reflected on his sermon.
Forty years old and still believing that 80 percent of Southern Baptists might come together, I hoped to sound a note of reconciliation. What I did not know then was the Nietzschean will-to-power of the fundamentalists. Having known Baptists of a more genteel character, I did not credit the juggernaut its actual motivation.
They were indeed intent on building that wall. Some of them are intent on building other walls. And that, I fear, will be the way of life in the SBC for years and maybe even generations to come.

Wall-builders do not like for the walls to be challenged. In an op-ed piece written for Baptist Press (BP), the official news agency of the SBC, Douglas E. Baker reflected upon the 1988 convention in general and upon Gregory’s sermon in particular. Then he said,
Much has changed since that noon hour 19 years ago in the Alamo City when words calmed the vast torrents of theological warfare. … The irony: The denomination seems to be still at war.
The very identity of the Southern Baptist Convention still stands in question for many. New frontiers of ministry in the postmodern age are demanding a re-evaluation of long-standing Southern Baptist programs, and the overall impression that seismic shifts are at work beneath the feet of the denomination have many worried that the way forward might be hidden in plain sight.
Some predict the inevitable loss of the denomination, and if history is a guide, they are correct. The effects of the Fall seldom enable people—even Christians—to work well together for very long. Pride rears its ugly head and personal agendas quickly choke the life out of good efforts and sanctified innovation.
Yet, this could be the Southern Baptist Convention's finest hour if, by the sheer force of God's grace, men of God will rise to remember the heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention and those who gave their lives to establish her in 1845.... Perhaps ... a study of the Baptist past might enable the pastors of the present to press toward the goal of future ministry armed with history's warning that if great humility and prayer do not mark all who perform ministry in the name of Christ, the wall of human arrogance will replace the castle of Christian theology.

It seems to me that the continual building of walls is motivated by fear. For evidence that SBC leadership is still motivated by fear, know this: Baker’s excellent piece was posted on the BP website for only twenty-four hours before it was taken down. That’s not surprising, because frightened wall-builders do not do well with challenge or with truth. But you can still read the BP version here and thankfully a slightly modified version is available on Christianity Today’s website—they have no motivation to take it down!

I’m thankful that Dr. Gregory tried all those years ago. I’m thankful that there are still Baptists who try. I hope that more and more of us will become more and more interested in doing ministry in Jesus’ name and less and less interested in putting up walls to keep the world—and other Christians who don’t say it just like we do—out.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Article from On the Jericho Road at EthicsDaily.com

The article "What's Your Biggest Sin?", which appeared on the blog on June 8, is published today at EthicsDaily.com.

I am grateful to Bob Allen for using my material.

Thursdays with Luke #7

The Presentation of Jesus

Luke 2:21-40

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that Jesus was born as the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people. God had chosen Abraham all those centuries before and his promises to Abraham’s descendants eventually became the promise of the Messiah, the anointed one of God who would embody and carry out the salvation of his people. He was born in Israel and he was born to Israel. As Christians, our roots lie in Israel. Our spiritual ancestors are those faithful Israelites who longed for the coming of the Messiah and who lived expectantly and hopefully.

And so Mary and Joseph are shown to be faithful and obedient Israelites. When Jesus was eight days old they had him circumcised as the law dictated. They named him Jesus in accordance with the instruction given them by the angel. That the name had been given before he was conceived underscores that faith and hope are being fulfilled in the events now being described. The law furthermore instructed that a woman was to submit herself for ritual purification forty days after the birth of a male child and that a firstborn son was to be dedicated to the Lord. Actually, the child was to be redeemed by giving a monetary offering. Is it significant that nothing is said about such redemption? Are we being told that Jesus is to be totally dedicated to God and that his life would be given up in his service? The sacrifice offered by Mary and Joseph was that allowed for poor folks who could not afford a sheep. They are of the poor, of the people of the land.

At the temple they encounter Simeon and Anna. Simeon is the epitome of the faithful Israelite. He loves God, he is looking for God to extend his comfort to Israel, and he is inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you put all of that together, you have a picture of someone who has lived his whole life trusting in the promises of God. He had been truly blessed: the Holy Spirit had communicated to him that he would live to see the Messiah. I’ll bet that he visited the temple with great expectation now that he was in his latter years. The Spirit led him to the infant Jesus and his parents.

His words of praise are interesting. First, he is now ready to go because he has witnessed the dawn of the new age. He expresses no disappointment at not being able to see how it will all work out; having seen the beginning is enough.

Second, he recognizes that Jesus is the embodiment of salvation. The baby is God’s great inbreaking into this sinful world.

Third, he knows that this salvation is for both Jews and Gentiles; it is for “all peoples” (v. 31). When he turned his attention to the parents, he revealed a very clear understanding of the nature of the Messiah’s ministry. Jesus’ life, while it embodied salvation, would not produce just peace and joy and light. The nature of his witness would be that he would force people to decide for or against God. Some would stumble and fall because of him; some would stand and rise. It is still that way. Very pointedly, Simeon tells Mary of the pain she will feel before the whole story is told.

Anna basically seconds Simeon’s motion. She is a faithful and inspired Israelite, too. A prophet and a faithful worshipper of God, she also recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah.

Some observations for us based on this text:

1. Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah.
2. Rituals and traditions, such as the dedication of children, have a place in our lives. They remind us of who we are and of whose we are.
3. We should live expectantly, always being ready for what God is going to do. That way, we can recognize it, celebrate it, and share it.
4. The message of God embodied in Jesus and continued in the Church is serious business that does not always gain a popular hearing. It is not our task to offend, but it is our task to tell the truth.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Clarification

I would like to clarify a statement that I made in my post of June 12, "I Remember the Alamo." In that article I said, "I believe that it was the second major nail in the coffin (the first being the adoption of the “Peace Committee” Report in 1987) of the kind of SBC that I had known and loved."

The "it" and the "second nail" to which the article referred is the 1988 SBC resolution on the Priesthood of the Believer.

I would like to clarify what I meant by my reference to the Peace Committee report. The document itself was fairly balanced and, had its recommendations been followed, could have provided a way through the SBC controversy that would have allowed the convention to remain fairly unified. The reason that it proved to be a "nail in the coffin" of the SBC that we had known and supported is that the report was adopted, including its recommendations, and then the fundamentalist party in the convention, having seized power, proceeded to ignore those recommendations. It became very clear very quickly that nothing was going to be done about it and that nothing could be done about it.

Where is the integrity in adopting and supporting such an important report whose findings you have no intention of following?

Article from On the Jericho Road at EthicsDaily.com

The article "I Remember the Alamo" appears today at EthicsDaily.com.

Iron Man

They played the old Black Sabbath song Iron Man last night at Lake Olmstead Stadium, the home of the Augusta GreenJackets, the low Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

That was appropriate, since Cal Ripken, Jr. was there to throw out the first pitch. Ripken is the head of Ripken Baseball, which owns the GreenJackets franchise as well as the Aberdeen (MD) IronBirds. I stood no more than twelve feet from him as he was signing autographs for the kids in attendance.

Ripken is known as the Iron Man of major league baseball because he broke one of those “unbreakable” records, Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games between June 1, 1925 and May 2, 1939. That record was broken by Ripken on September 6, 1995. His timing was fortuitous. Many people give Ripken credit for almost single-handedly overcoming the bad feelings that existed among fans over the labor stoppage that had ended the 1994 season and that had caused the cancellation of the postseason.

Cal Ripken, who played his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles, will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29 after being elected, along with the great San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, on the first ballot. Ripken truly had a great career. He was the 1982 American League Rookie of the Year. He was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1983 and 1991. He was a nineteen-time All-Star, a two-time Golden Glove winner, and an eight-time Silver Slugger winner. He played on a World Series championship team in 1983. He finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .276, 431 home runs, and 1,695 RBI.

Those are truly remarkable statistics, but Ripken will always be remembered for his consecutive games played streak that eventually extended from May 30, 1982 - September 20, 1998 and ended at an “unbreakable” 2,632.

It was Woody Allen who said, “80% of success is showing up.” Cal Ripken, Jr., the Iron Man of baseball, certainly proved that. He provided a model for all of us, no matter what our calling and no matter what our career. We should be dedicated. We should be faithful. We should be committed.

We should show up. When we do, amazing things just might happen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Remember the Alamo

The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) begins today in San Antonio, Texas.

I am in Augusta, Georgia. And I’m ok with that. Oh, I’d like to visit San Antonio again; it’s a beautiful city and the Riverwalk is everything it’s purported to be. But I chose not to attend the SBC this year. Truth be told, the meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2006 was the first SBC meeting I had attended since 1991. More truth be told, I attended the Greensboro meeting for three reasons: (1) It was close enough to drive; (2) Some folks from our church wanted to go; and (3) The movement among some young SBC leaders to try to stop the continual narrowing of the parameters of participation in the convention caught my attention and I wanted to get a firsthand look at what was going on.

I had stopped attending because the fundamentalist takeover/conservative resurgence had, in my opinion, turned the SBC meetings into right-wing love fests that I could not stomach (for what it’s worth, a left-wing love fest would not make me feel any better). As a matter of fact, in 1991, every time I tried to sit through a session I would feel physically ill. My “side” (we liked to be known by the insipid label “moderates”; our opponents used what was to them the curse above all curses, “liberals,” to name us) had lost and there was nothing to be done about it. So, I have attended one SBC meeting in the last sixteen years, and that’s one more than most of my friends and fellow travelers have attended.

I actually thought about going this year; because of the efforts of the Baptist bloggers and other young leaders, it’s going to be another interesting meeting. But, one only has so much time and money to travel, and I decided that I would rather attend the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Washington, D.C. at the end of June. I suppose that will tell some folks all that they need or want to know about me. I have good reasons for choosing that meeting over the SBC gathering, though, and I will write more about those reasons when the time for the CBF gathering draws closer.

In this context, though, I do want to mention one reason that I am drawn philosophically to the CBF: those Baptists still take the historic and cherished Baptist doctrine of the priesthood of the believer seriously. Mentioning the priesthood of the believer brings me back to the SBC meeting in San Antonio. I am not there this year, but I was there the last time the SBC met in that city. It was 1988. I was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Adel, Georgia. Two fine retired couples from our church, Grover and Margaret Newton and Virgil and Louise Griffis, accompanied Debra and me on the trip. Grover had one of those big customized vans and we drove all the way to San Antonio and back, spending the night in Lake Charles, Louisiana on the way out and in Lafayette on the way back. It was a fun trip.

The meeting, though, was not fun; something happened there that showed me and just about everybody else who was paying attention that, from the moderates’ perspective, the battle for the soul of the SBC was lost. That something was the adoption of the following resolution.

Resolution On The Priesthood Of The Believer
June 1988

WHEREAS, None of the five major writing systematic theologians in Southern Baptist history have given more than passing reference to the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer in their systematic theologies; and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message preamble refers to the priesthood of the believer, but provides no definition or content to the term; and

WHEREAS, The high profile emphasis on the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer in Southern Baptist life is a recent historical development; and

WHEREAS, The priesthood of the believer is a term which is subject to both misunderstanding and abuse; and

WHEREAS, The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer has been used to justify wrongly the attitude that a Christian may believe whatever he so chooses and still be considered a loyal Southern Baptist; and

WHEREAS, The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer can be used to justify the undermining of pastoral authority in the local church.

Be it therefore RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 14-16, 1988, affirm its belief in the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of the believer (1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 1:6); and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we affirm that this doctrine in no way gives license to misinterpret, explain away, demythologize, or extrapolate out elements of the supernatural from the Bible; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer in no way contradicts the biblical understanding of the role, responsibility, and authority of the pastor which is seen in the command to the local church in Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account;" and

Be finally RESOLVED, That we affirm the truth that elders, or pastors, are called of God to lead the local church (Acts 20:28).


On the Sunday following the adoption of that resolution, a veteran pastor in my area went to his pulpit and told his congregation, “The Southern Baptist Convention that I have loved all my life died this week in San Antonio, Texas.”

The truth is that the priesthood of the believer is a vital doctrine not only of the Baptist movement but of the Protestant Reformation in general. The resolution says, “The Baptist Faith and Message preamble refers to the priesthood of the believer, but provides no definition or content to the term”; I would imagine that the framers of the preamble thought that Southern Baptists would be well-schooled in such “definition and content.” For the record, here is the section of the preamble of the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), which was the version that was in effect in 1988, to which the resolution refers:
Baptists emphasize the soul’s competency before God, freedom in religion, and the priesthood of the believer. However, this emphasis should not be interpreted to mean that there is an absence of certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified.
I would note also the irony in the fact that, while the resolution regards it as problematical that the BF&M did not provide “definition and content” of the phrase “priesthood of the believer,” neither did the resolution! The resolution makes many assertions about what the phrase allegedly does not mean but nothing about what it does mean.

The resolution went on to state, “The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer has been used to justify wrongly the attitude that a Christian may believe whatever he so chooses and still be considered a loyal Southern Baptist.” There may have been some truth to that assertion although I don’t personally know anyone who actually thought that. The real difference was between those who believed that there are “certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified” and those who believed that the lines past which one could not go and still be considered a Baptist should be drawn tighter and tighter. The “draw the lines tighter and tighter” crowd wanted this resolution and they eventually won the day in the SBC; I think it is safe to say that the SBC is still dealing with the aftermath of that victory. Indeed, the kinds of matters that the younger SBC leaders are dealing with now revolve largely around the continual narrowing of the parameters that define who will and won’t be considered a loyal and cooperating Southern Baptist.

It seemed at the time, and I believe that with the passing of the years this has become more and more obvious, that the real intent behind the resolution was to make a statement about where the authority in the church lies. You will notice that the resolution makes a big deal of pastoral authority; one “whereas” and two “resolveds” address it. It is fair to say that the resolution strongly implied that rank and file Southern Baptists did not have the right to arrive at positions on matters of biblical interpretation that might lead them to oppose some position of their pastor. The resolution was an attack on the freedom of Baptists to follow the dictates of their consciences as guided by the Holy Spirit as they read and interpreted the Bible and as they helped to determine the course their church would follow. As my friend said, an SBC that could adopt such a resolution was not the SBC that we had known and loved.

Jerry Sutton, the now retired pastor of the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, was the chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions at the 1988 San Antonio Convention and the author of the resolution on the priesthood of the believer. In his book The Baptist Reformation: the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), Sutton included a chapter called “Priesthood of the Believer and Its Corollaries” that is basically a long apologia for the resolution. It’s worth reading, especially his comments about his belief that moderate leaders were trying to use the priesthood of the believers doctrine for political ends, given that fundamentalist leaders were using every tactic in the book for their political ends. To be fair, though, I want to offer these words of Sutton that express what he believed the resolution expressed:
The resolution clearly stated that the priesthood of the believer doctrine was a legitimate doctrine. What it did was establish two parameters to the doctrine which kept it from being prostituted for ulterior motives. One was that the doctrine had been used as a covering for heresy, and the other was that it had been used to undercut the biblical role of the pastor. (p. 432)

In his memoir What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention? (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1993) Grady C. Cothen, who served Baptists in many capacities but was probably best known as President of the Baptist Sunday School Board, gave the following account of an incident that occurred after the resolution was passed (based on a Baptist Press account):
About a hundred messengers in protest turned in their ballots. Led by Randall Lolley, past president of Southeastern Seminary, about 200 gathered at the Alamo. Standing in front of the site where Americans died for the cause of freedom more than 150 years ago, Lolley declared that the resolution on priesthood was “the most non-Baptistic, most heretical, from the Baptist free-church point of view, statement ever made.” He wrote the word “heresy” across the resolution and tore it up. (p. 247)

I’m sure that many Southern Baptists gathered in San Antonio in 1988 voted for that resolution believing in their hearts that it was a good and sound resolution. I believe that it was the second major nail in the coffin (the first being the adoption of the “Peace Committee” Report in 1987) of the kind of SBC that I had known and loved. I also believe that the priesthood of the believer is a cardinal Baptist teaching that is absolutely crucial in the life of legitimate faith. I gravitate toward Baptists who believe that, too.

I’m not there to see what Southern Baptists gathered in San Antonio in 2007 will do. But, if somebody can get them to move toward reclaiming their birthright as free Baptists, I will give out a grateful “Praise the Lord!”

Monday, June 11, 2007

So Close and Yet So Far

(A sermon based on Luke 4:16-30)

Sometimes people will just not listen to a preacher. In the cartoon strip Kudzu, one of the major characters is the preacher Rev. Will B. Dunn. His primary reclamation project is Dub Dubose, the local mechanic. One day Rev. Dunn was talking with Dub and said, “You know, Dub, there’s a lot to be said for the old system of trading services. I mean, for instance, you could fix my carburetor and in return, I would preach you a sermon.” Dub replied, “I’ll tell you what, Preacher, “I’ll fix your carburetor if you won’t preach me a sermon.” Some folks just do not want to listen to a preacher. Other folks will listen but they won’t take the preacher seriously.

There is precedent for people not listening to the word that is proclaimed to them. In fact, the Bible contains many examples of this phenomenon. People would not listen in Noah’s day. While Genesis says nothing about it, a Jewish tradition developed that Noah preached to the people of his era. That tradition is reflected in 2 Peter 2:5, where Noah is called a “herald of righteousness.” We know the end of that story, so we know that the people did not listen.

People would not listen in Stephen’s day. Stephen, one of the seven Hellenists who were chosen to serve in the ministry of the church in Acts 6, preached his only recorded sermon before the Sanhedrin. Three-fourths of his sermon contained teachings with which his Jewish audience would have been in total agreement. But toward the end of his sermon, he began criticizing his hearers for being like their forefathers who killed the prophets; indeed, they themselves had killed the Messiah. Then, the Bible says, “They cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him” (Acts 7:57). And they stoned him to death.

Those two stories are in our Bibles. But it is any different today? No, for people will not listen in our day. The film Mass Appeal is the story of the relationship between a middle-aged, veteran priest and a young seminarian who is assigned to the older priest’s parish in order to learn from him. The veteran priest advised his young associate not to rock the boat, but to preach easily digested, non-threatening sermons. So the student priest gave it his best shot, attempting to follow his mentor’s advice. But after a few minutes he could stand it no longer, so he launched into a critique of the country club nature of the church. Folks were not pleased. As one man exited the sanctuary, he complained to the older priest, “I don’t come to church to be preached to!” Lots of folks today do not want to listen, either.

We might be surprised at who these people are who sometimes won’t listen. Can you imagine people hearing Jesus himself preach but not listening and not believing? Well, it happened; people would not listen in Jesus’ day—they would not listen to Jesus’ preaching! Why not?

The basic issue is the familiarity factor. Following his baptism, Jesus ministered successfully for some period of time in Galilee (vv. 14-15). Eventually, he worked his way home to Nazareth, where he had grown up. You’ve heard it said that “home is where the heart is,” but for Jesus it was also where the heartache was. Jesus was rejected in his hometown largely because it was his hometown.

After all, the reason for the rejection could hardly have been his message on that day. The passage he read is primarily from Isaiah 61. Originally, these were auto-biographical words of the prophet as he expressed his ministry to a people still figuratively in captivity following the Babylonian Exile. But Jesus saw them as prophetic words that summarized his messianic mission. The words were good news (v. 18b) because they proclaimed the advent of what all faithful Jews had anticipated for centuries: the coming of the Messiah. The words proclaimed that God’s power was behind his mission. Jesus proclaimed that in himself the Day of the Lord had come. That was good news, the best news.

The greatness of the news is even clearer when we comprehend the background of the verses. What the writer of Isaiah 61 had in mind was a great Jubilee celebration. In the Hebrew law was a requirement that every fiftieth year was to be a Jubilee year. In that year, Hebrews who had sold themselves into slavery were to go free and those who had sold their ancestral lands were to get them back. It was, then, a year of release and of liberty. Such a year was good news for the poor, for the captives, and for the oppressed. Now, in Jesus the great Jubilee had come and through Jesus those who were oppressed by the greedy and the powerful could be liberated and those who were captive to sin could be set free.

Initially, the people recognized the good nature of the news. “All spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth…” (v. 22). The words he spoke were words of purpose and of grace. The messianic year had come and the implication was that Jesus was the Messiah. So what happened? Why did their reaction turn from positive to negative? Why did their actions change from speaking positive words to trying to murder Jesus?

First, it was their realization of who lay behind the message. The people’s attitude change can be detected in the words “Is not this Joseph’s son?” How ironic all of this is! Perhaps we can imagine Jesus’ hopes as he approached Nazareth. Maybe fond memories flooded his mind—memories of working in Joseph’s carpenter’s shop, of chatting lightly with people as they came in to leave items or to pick them up; memories of playing in the streets with other children of the town; memories of hanging around with other teenagers when he was that age; memories of neighbors and friends; memories of the combined excitement and sadness he felt when he left home. Perhaps he excitedly anticipated sharing his good news with them. And they remembered Jesus, too, only their memories provoked a reaction of disdain—“Is not this Joseph’s son?” “Why, he’s just a carpenter.” “He used to play with my son all over Nazareth.” “Who does this kid think he is, anyway?”

You see, the people’s problem was not the message but the messenger. The primary barrier to communication was the Nazareth citizenry’s over-familiarity with Jesus. They thought of him as not deserving of their respect. In this case, the old saying held true: familiarity bred contempt. Now, you may wonder, “What does all of this have to do with us here today? We are not overly familiar with Jesus. We do not treat him with contempt. We do not reject the message because of the messenger.”

But I wonder. Do we really take the life and words of Jesus seriously? Do we take seriously the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who came to deliver the oppressed from their oppression and the sinful from their sin? After all, who grows up with Jesus nowadays? We do. We who have been going to Sunday School and church and maybe even Sunday and Wednesday night services all of our lives. We have grown up with Jesus. And I fear that as we have grown familiar with and comfortable with him we have come to hold him in contempt. When we recognize the authority of someone we obey and respect that person; to fail to do so is to hold him or her in contempt. How do we treat Jesus? Do we refuse to listen to the message because we hold the messenger in the contempt of easy familiarity?

Second, it was what lay beneath the message. Jesus’ message always has implications that make the hearers shift nervously and self-consciously. Jesus perceived the growing negative reaction to what he had said and summarized the result of that reaction with two Old Testament examples. A three-year famine once came on Israel and lots of widows in Israel could have used the help of the prophet Elijah, but he went only to a widow in Sidon—a Gentile woman! And in the days of Elisha there were many lepers in Israel, but Elisha cured only one leper: Naaman the Syrian—a Gentile! That was all the people of Nazareth could stand and they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.

The implication of Jesus’ words hit his audience squarely in the comfort zone—their secure sense of privilege. How dare Jesus shatter their confidence by presenting them with the facts! Well, here are the facts of what Jesus said. (1) His message of salvation and liberation is for everyone who will hear and obey. Jew and Gentile, black and white, male and female, rich and poor—the good news is presented to all but is effective only for those who hear and obey. The widow was blessed by God because she did what his spokesman Elijah said to do; Naaman the Syrian was healed because he did what Elisha told him to do. (2) God does not pander to the privileged. The people of Nazareth were in a very privileged position as the friends and neighbors of Jesus. Nevertheless, the bottom line was their lack of a faithful response to who he was. They did not hear and obey. As Baptists in the South, we are the privileged. But the bottom line is whether or not we respond in faith to him—whether or not we respect him enough to hear him and to obey him.

The end of this sad story is that Jesus just walked through them and away from them, on to a place and a people who would hear, believe, and obey. How utterly sad—the people of Nazareth were so close to Jesus and yet so far away from him. They had lived with him and they had known him—but they had no respect for him. God forbid that such should be our lot—that we should be this close to him, this privileged, and yet fail to respond with respectful obedience. Jesus can go to people who will obey; my prayer, and I hope yours, is that we will invite him to stay among us—not with our words, but with our actions of faith and of obedience.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Homecoming at Midway

(Sabbath Blog #21)

The church of my childhood was the Midway Baptist Church, located on City Pond Road just off Georgia Highway 36 about four miles outside of my hometown of Barnesville. Lord willing, I will have the chance to write many posts over the years about my experiences at that church. Today I want to talk about the annual Homecoming celebration which always fell on the second Sunday in June.

Homecoming at Midway was about music. Most years we had no preaching on Homecoming Day. Preacher Bill (who will be the subject of his own post someday soon) seemed to enjoy the day off. What we did have was Gospel singing. Midway was a center for Southern Gospel singing. We held a Gospel sing one Saturday night a month. On Homecoming Sunday we’d have anywhere from two to four singing groups come in. Typically, one group would sing in the morning service and then all the groups would perform during the afternoon. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, we heard such groups as the Crossroads Quartet, the Canadians, and the Melody Makers. Most of the groups were not headliners; they made the rounds of the churches that liked to hear such music. Most of them seemed to my youthful eyes to be earnest enough about what they were doing.

Homecoming at Midway was also about food. For years, the food-laden tables were lined up right out in the open in the church’s back yard. At some point in the early ‘70s, a National Guard engineering unit build a long shelter back there, which was nice, church/state concerns notwithstanding! To me, the amazing amount of food was a foretaste of the glory divine that I anticipated the great messianic banquet being. There was fried chicken, deviled eggs, pickled peaches, baked ham, pork & beans, pecan pie, and coconut cake. But above all else, there was barbecue and Brunswick stew. Sometimes, the men of the church would labor all night on Homecoming Eve to cook the hog; sometimes, the church would hire the job out. Either way, the meat was delicious. There were four aluminum washtubs on the tables: one for the barbecue, one for the Brunswick stew, one for the sweet tea, and one for the lemonade. Goodness, it was good.

Homecoming at Midway was also about atmosphere. People sat around in the yard on folding chairs that they would take from Sunday School rooms. There they told tall tales, gossiped, and just chatted, all the while trying to cool themselves with funeral home fans. Folks meandered in and out of the sanctuary during the afternoon singing; nobody was surprised or offended if someone nodded off in the heat while listening to the music. Children played on the swings. Folks who had enough got in their cars and left. Folks who went to their own churches in the morning drove up in their cars for lunch and the afternoon singing. Midway was always a laid-back church but things were especially laid-back on Homecoming Day.

If my memory serves me well, the last Homecoming Day that I attended at Midway was thirty years ago today. I guess that they’ve been having it every year since. Yesterday, I looked at the church’s website and saw that today they are having Homecoming at 10:30 featuring the Southern Gospel singing group the Diplomats. It’s good to know that some things never change.

This job I have requires me to work on Sundays so I can’t be there. I sure do hope that somebody will eat some barbecue for me!

Friday, June 8, 2007

What’s Your Biggest Sin?

I posted earlier this week about the Presidential Forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty that was sponsored by Sojourners/Call to Renewal on Sunday, June 3. The name given to the forum would lead one to think that the forum was going to focus on the way that the faith and values of the three presidential candidates who participated (Clinton, Edwards, and Obama) would influence their administration’s policies on dealing with the problem of poverty in this nation. To Jim Wallis’s (Sojourners Editor-in-Chief and Call to Renewal CEO) credit, when he got a chance to ask a question he zeroed in on the poverty issue. The discussions that grew out of questions like those asked by Wallis in which the candidates addressed how their faith would inform their policies were helpful.

But there were other kinds of questions, too.

The question of the night, and I don’t mean that in a positive way, was asked by moderator Soledad O’Brien, who works for CNN.

She asked John Edwards, right there in front of a studio audience of 1,300 and a national television audience, “What is the biggest sin you’ve ever committed?”

Edwards’ answer was not bad. He said,

I'd have a very hard time telling you one thing, one specific sin. If I've had a day -- I turn 54 years old this Sunday -- and if I've had a day in my 54 years where I haven't sinned multiple times, I would be amazed. I believe I have. I sin every single day. We are all sinners. We all fall short, which is why we have to ask for forgiveness from the Lord. I can't -- to try to identify one particular sin that was worse or more extreme than the others, the list is too long.

As I said, that’s not a bad answer, and it’s one that you would expect a Baptist like Edwards to offer.

As a public service, I’d like to offer some other answers that one could give to that question. So, if you’re ever asked in public (or in private, for that matter), what the biggest sin you’ve ever committed is, you have my permission to use one of these, free of charge.

1. “Thank you for this opportunity to come clean; I’ve been craving an opportunity to tell everybody about this.”

2. “Lying. Take my word for it.”

3. “Thank you for giving me the chance to finally make my mother proud.”

4. “Never been a sinner, I’ve never sinned. I’ve got a friend in Jesus. So I know that when I die, he’s gonna set me up with the Spirit in the sky.” (Credit: Norman Greenbaum’s song Spirit in the Sky). Note: this one will work better if you’re wearing ratty jeans, a tie-dyed t-shirt, and have a vacant look in your eyes.

5. “Tag; you’re it.” Then run away.

6. “I really can’t tell you, but you know those seven deadly sins? If anybody knew about it, they’d have to expand the list to eight.”

7. “I don’t remember exactly, but I think it involved a weedeater, a live chicken, and some peach preserves.” (Credit: Ray Stevens’ song It’s Me Again, Margaret)

8. “*%#*^&*!*&#^*#!!^!!!!!”

9. "I plan to post it on my blog tomorrow."

10. "I can't tell you, but believe this: the Southern Baptist Convention has not even dreamed of passing a resolution against it."

11. “My psychiatrist told me that if I talked about it, it would just set me off again.” Note: this one is more effective if you clinch your fists really tight and stop blinking.

12. “That’s a very good question. Now let me try to evade you.” (Credit: the late Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas)

13. “I’ll bet you can’t guess what I’m thinking.” Note: this one should be accompanied by a leer.

14. “I served as technical advisor for Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Gigli.”

15. “From a psychological perspective, I doubt you could handle the answer; from a theological perspective, I doubt that you have the depth to understand the question; from an anthropological perspective, I doubt that this discussion will in any way enhance this or any other culture; from a sociological perspective, I refuse to reduce the crises of my life to the standards set by our cultural mores; from a personal perspective, it’s none of your business; and from a physical perspective, I’m now too tired to talk any more about it.”

16. “I asked Jesus about that. He said he didn’t remember.”

17. “I don’t know, but at least I’ve never asked somebody a question as dumb as ‘What’s the biggest sin you’ve ever committed?’”

Thursday, June 7, 2007

7 Reasons to Attend the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant

Bruce Prescott has posted seven reasons why you don't want to miss the celebration that will take place January 30-February 2, 2008 in Atlanta. They're worth a read.

Thursdays with Luke #6

God’s Work and Our Work

Luke 2:1-20

It has always struck me as being very strange. The Savior of the world, the King of all Creation, is born. That’s a very big deal. But look—he is born nowhere to nobody. Bethlehem wasn’t much of a town, and frankly, despite its rich tradition, Israel at that point wasn’t much of a country. Looking in the rearview mirror we revere Joseph and Mary, but at the time of Jesus’ birth, who were they? Nobody, really. Just peasants, a working stiff and his young bride, probably scared out of their wits like all first-time parents are only even more scared than normal because of the wonder of it all.

Of course, the birth of a king is supposed to be announced, “heralded” we might say. I remember all the hoopla that surrounded the births of the children of Charles and Diana. You’d have thought that something had happened that actually mattered. But look at the announcement of the birth of Jesus: it was announced nowhere to nobody. Oh, it was announced by angels, by those heavenly messengers of God, and the announcement was quite impressive, with the glorious presence of the Lord being much in evidence. But the impressive display took place out in the fields before a bunch of ordinary shepherds. The greatest announcement that was ever made, and it was made nowhere to a bunch of nobodies.

We learn something here about the ways in which God works. I don’t mean to say that God always works in the way I’m about to describe. He has certainly done some things that were big and noisy and obvious. There’s the crossing of the sea during the Exodus, for example. Then there’s the destruction of Jericho. Moreover, the NT teaches that when Jesus comes the second time it will be in an astoundingly obvious way. Still, the fact is that when God brought about the greatest event in the history of the world he did it in a very mysterious and amazingly quiet way. The further fact is that the vast majority of the time God works in quiet, seemingly unremarkable ways to accomplish his will, and he accomplishes it in ordinary places and through ordinary people.

What makes the events extraordinary is that God is the one who is working. Yes, we’re dealing with ordinary places and ordinary people, but God is directly active in what is taking place. It was because of the activity of the Spirit of God that Mary was to have Jesus. It was because God sent his heavenly messengers that the shepherds had their astounding experience.

We can count on God being active in our lives. He stands behind our lives and works within our lives to bring about his will. There is nothing ordinary in the life of a Christian. Everything is about God working his purposes out. He works with us and through us in our everyday lives. Sometimes we set ourselves up for frustration because we are always holding out for the blatantly miraculous or the amazingly extraordinary as if without such events God is not doing anything. Such is a narrow way of viewing the Christian experience.

If we’ll pay attention to what God is doing and follow up on the ways he leads us, we’ll have the opportunity to influence the world for his sake and on his behalf. The shepherds praised God and told their story. Mary kept those things in her heart, and I suspect became a primary source for the gospel story. Experiencing the activity of God in whatever ways we experience it leads to our having a job to do. Eugene Peterson, speaking of the call of Isaiah, makes comments along these lines.
God speaks vocationally; there is work to be done. Holiness always involves this word of God: God spoke to Moses at the burning bush; God spoke to John in the Patmos vision; God spoke to Isaiah in the Jerusalem temple. The effusion, the overflow of life that is holiness is not something to be hoarded, but delivered, spread around, spoken and acted. Holiness can never be reduced to an emotional, devotional experience that we cultivate in order to “feel spiritual.” It has command-content to it. Holiness is not an experience of sublimity that abstracts us from the world of work; it is an invitation to enter into what God is doing and intending to get done in the world. [Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), pp. 74-75]

So let’s look for what God is doing. Then let’s obey his command to share our experience of him with our lives and with our words.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

When Politicians Talk About Religion

When politicians talk about religion, I get real skeptical real fast.

And I’m not sure that that’s a good thing. But I’m hardly the only one who has that reaction.

On Monday, June 4, leading Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and John Edwards appeared on a nationally televised program that originated from George Washington University. The forum was sponsored by Sojourners/Call to Renewal and in line with that movement’s particular interests, it was called a Presidential Forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty. The transcript offers some interesting quotes.

John Edwards was asked about the role that prayer plays in his life. He replied,
I can tell you that I pray daily. I've been through a faith journey in my life, you know? I'll be the first to admit that. I grew up in the Baptist church. I was baptized in the Baptist church, personal strong faith when I was young. I strayed away from the Lord for a period of time, and then came back, in my adulthood, and my faith came roaring back during some crises that my own family was faced with.
And I can tell you, it is prayer that played a huge role in my survival through that. You know, when Elizabeth and I lost our son, we were nonfunctional for some period of time. And it was the Lord that got me through that. And the same thing is true when Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer and then re-diagnosed more recently.


Barak Obama was asked if God takes sides in a war. He answered,
Well, you know, I always remember Abraham Lincoln, when, during the Civil War, he said, "We shouldn't be asking whose side God is on, but whether we're on his side." And I think that's the question that all of us have to ask ourselves during any battle that's taking place, whether it's political or military, is, are we following his dictates? Are we advancing the causes of justice and freedom? Are we our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper? And that's how I measure whether what we're doing is right.

Hillary Clinton was asked about how her faith helped her deal with the infidelity in her marriage. She said,
Well, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith….
For some people, being tested leads them to faith. For some people, being tested in cruel and tragic ways leads them away from faith. For me, because I have been tested in ways that are both publicly known and those that are not so well known or not known at all, my faith and the support of my extended faith family, people whom I knew who were literally praying for me in prayer chains, who were prayer warriors for me, and people whom I didn't know, who I would meet or get a letter from, sustained me through a very difficult time.
But I -- I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought. And that's all one can expect or hope for.


It’s interesting to hear anybody, candidates for political office included, talk about their faith. Again, though, many and maybe most of us tend to be skeptical when we hear such talk. “They’re only saying that because they want to get more votes from religious people,” we think. Indeed, a lot of the pundits are talking about how the Democratic candidates need to find some common ground with religious voters, by which I think they usually mean Evangelical Christian voters. The perception seems to be that there may be some gains possible for Democrats since those voters don’t seem to have a Republican candidate who quite sings their tune. Given the strong anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and pro-war stance of many Evangelicals, I personally find it hard to believe that those voters will migrate to any Democratic candidate in great numbers. Still, that doesn’t stop people from assuming that Democrats only talk about religion when they want to score political points.

Folks will say the same thing about Republicans, too. In a debate in Iowa in December 1999, George W. Bush said that his favorite philosopher was Jesus Christ. Lots of Christians were thrilled that a presidential contender would make what they took to be a blatant statement of faith in Jesus; other people figured that it was just another politician trying to use the Savior to score political points.

There is reason to be discerning in how we take God-talk that comes from the mouths of politicians. They do want to get elected, after all, and they will say what they think people want to hear if that will get them a few more votes. And they and their advisors are smart enough to know that God-talk matters in American culture.

I’m going to try hard to take the personal faith statements of presidential candidates at face value. What choice do I have, really? When politicians describe what their faith means to them personally, how can I possibly say that they are not telling the truth? “Well,” you might say, “I can judge what they say by how they live. I can judge the truthfulness of their faith statements by how they live out their faith.” It’s the old “fruit inspector” argument. It has limited value. We would all do well to remember that the best of us fall far short to living up to the ideals of our faith.

A heavier and harder issue is the role that a candidate’s faith would play in the development and execution of his or her policies were he or she to be elected president. A president has to be the president of all the people of the United States, not just the Christian ones and certainly not just those of this or that segment of American Christianity. A president swears to defend the Constitution of the United States, not the Bible of the Christian faith. A president does well to foster the ideals that grow from our Constitution. Still, a president is a human being and if that human being is a person of faith, I see no way for that faith to be kept separate from the president’s decision making processes. And, I would be pleased to have a president who incorporates the great biblical values of peace, liberty, and justice in his or her policies.

A few years ago a church member asked me if, given a choice between a Christian and a non-Christian candidate, a Christian voter should always vote for the Christian candidate. I thought hard about that one and then I answered, “I can envision a circumstance in which I would conclude that the policies of a particular non-Christian presidential candidate might strike me as more Christian in their orientation than those of a candidate that openly professes faith in Christ.”

You see, the faith statements of the candidates do matter. But they may not matter as much as what their record reflects they will actually do if elected. So if they tell me they have faith in God, I’ll take their word for it and be grateful for it. But if they think that such words will earn my vote, they’ve got another think coming. What I want to know is, what will they do to work for peace, freedom, and justice for all?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

When Leaders Lose Their Cool

I was watching the Atlanta Braves play the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. It had been a tough series for the Cubbies. They had not been playing well. To make things worse, on Friday, pitcher Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett had gotten into a fight in the dugout that they continued in the clubhouse. Tensions were running high. When an umpire’s call on a close play went against the Cubs, manager Lou Piniella charged out of the dugout, kicked dirt on the umpire, and threw his Cubs cap on the ground and kicked it a couple of times. According to Major League Baseball officials, he made contact with the umpire, so he has been suspended for four games.

I’ve seen some of the best at arguing with umpires and getting themselves thrown out of games. Leo “The Lip” Durocher and Billy Martin were very entertaining when they got upset at the men in blue. Bobby Cox, the longtime manager of my beloved Braves, will soon set a major league record for most times being ejected from a game. He says he’s not all that proud of it. Most of the time, though, he’s sticking up for his players, and I guess that’s a good thing.

Never, though, have I seen antics like those perpetrated last Friday night by Phillip Wellman, the manager of the Atlanta Braves’ AA affiliate the Mississippi Braves. In a game against the Lookouts in Chattanooga, he launched into theatrics that would make a seasoned thespian proud. He got down on his hands and knees, covered home plate with dirt, and drew a larger home plate in the dirt. He crawled, soldier-style, toward the pitcher’s mound, grabbed the resin bag, and tossed it toward the home plate umpire as if it was a hand grenade. He took the second and third base bags with him when he left the field. It’s entertaining stuff; the video is all over the internet. Even though it’s entertaining, one has to question such behavior. After all, as former New York Mets General Manager and current ESPN baseball commentator Steve Phillips said, a minor league manager is responsible for teaching young players how to be professionals and how to play the game the right way. Throwing a childish tantrum is hardly setting a good example. It is appropriate that the Braves have suspended Wellman for three games; the Southern League may hand down other penalties.

It’s not a good thing when leaders lose their cool. I have usually been able to keep my emotions in check when I am in my pastoral role. There have been times, though, when I let my temper get away from me.

The church that I served as pastor during my seminary days was in tobacco growing country in Northern Kentucky. I had announced my resignation so that I could devote more time to writing my Ph.D. dissertation. As fate would have it, our monthly church conference fell on my last Sunday. We held the conferences immediately following the Sunday morning service because that was the only time we had enough people there to constitute a quorum. The Southern Baptist Convention had just concluded and at that convention a resolution had been adopted against tobacco. When we got to new business, one of our tobacco farmers made a motion that our church stop contributing to the Cooperative Program, the unified giving plan of the denomination that supports missionaries, seminaries, and various agencies. He said, “I don’t see why we should support them when they’re trying to hurt us.” Even though I was the moderator, I spoke against the motion; we weren’t running over with parliamentary experts so nobody stopped me. “Now, let’s not overreact,” I said. “Remember that a resolution has no binding effect on the churches” (I’m not sure I could honestly say that now, but that’s another story), I said. “We don’t need to cut off our support just because you’re mad,” I said. I should have referred the motion to a committee so that the next pastor could deal with it (that would have been Christian of me, wouldn’t it?) but I wasn’t thinking clearly. So we voted. A handful of people voted “yes,” a smaller handful voted “no,” and about half the congregation abstained. And I got mad. “I won’t be pastor for even one service of a church that doesn’t support the Cooperative Program,” I said, “so consider my tenure as your pastor over as of the benediction.” That showed them. That evening’s service was to be my last one, anyway.

Given that the portion of my tithe that my church sends on to the SBC through the CP now supports a good many efforts that I’m not too enamored of, there is irony in my story. Nonetheless, that’s how I felt then and I did in fact let my temper get the best of me. I suppose that I was standing up in the only way that I could think of for a principle that was at the time very important to me, but now, twenty-three years later, I’m not happy with the way that I left. My brother’s motion was unnecessary, but he had his reasons, and my relationship with him was in the long run more important than our disagreement over that issue.

Then there was the time when, in a meeting of just a few people at which we were discussing a contentious issue, I felt that one of the people in the conversation was presenting a very limited vision of what it was to be a church that was engaged in Christ-like ministry. Before I knew what was happening, I realized that I was pounding my (thankfully) empty Diet Coke (thankfully) plastic bottle on the table while I expressed my view of exactly how we should exhibit the love of Jesus in our daily lives. Again, the irony is not lost on me.

I guess that I should be grateful that after thirty years of ministry I can think of only those two instances where I lost my cool.

Not that I haven’t been tempted at other times. It might even be fun.

I can see me now, kicking dust from the carpet onto the shoes of some wayward usher, tossing my hymnal hand grenade-style toward a snoozing parishioner, and turning the tables over at the potluck supper to express my displeasure at our members’ gluttony.

I can also see me in the unemployment line.

No, we leaders, especially we church leaders, should not give vent to our anger in such ways; we bear inadequate witness to the grace and love of Jesus Christ when we do. Still, maybe it would be good if our members saw, understood, and accepted that we are human, too. Sometimes I am disappointed. Sometimes I am discouraged. Sometimes I am irritated. And sometimes I am angry.

I need to express those emotions in healthy ways. I need to be mature enough to show how it’s done. And my beloved parishioners need to be mature enough not to be surprised to learn that their gentle pastor does in fact—I hope you’re sitting down—have feelings.