Wednesday, February 25, 2015

All Things Must Pass

My Aunt Dot Abbott—I have to be specific because I also have an Aunt Dot Mulling—died last Friday, February 20. Aunt Dot was my aunt because she was married to my Uncle Sandy, my mother’s only brother.

My father had a big family; there were ten siblings in it. My mother, on the other hand, had only her sister Clara and her brother Sandy.

As I spoke at Aunt Dot’s funeral last Sunday I reminisced about my growing up years, years of which she was a vital part. I talked about how when Mama’s side of the family got together for Christmas it wasn’t a very big group; it consisted of Granny and Papa, Aunt Clara and Uncle Troy, Uncle Sandy and Aunt Dot and their daughters Denise and Rhonda (who were like big sisters to me), and Mama and Daddy and me.

With the passing of Aunt Dot only Rhonda and I remain from that family. We observed at the graveside that it’s down to our generation and that we would really like to take a break of a few decades before we have another funeral. Both Rhonda and I have been blessed with families of our own and we are very grateful for both the family we have and for the family we used to have.

It’s strange, though, when the last one of a generation in a family dies--and that’s what has happened with the passing of Aunt Dot. But all things must pass—people pass, generations pass, and eras pass. It is the way of the world. It is God’s way for us.

Soon my time as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, Georgia will pass, too as I retire from full-time pastoral ministry and move on to become a Curriculum Editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing. Soon the period of my ongoing contact with the First Baptist Church family and of our mutual nurturing of each other will pass.

There is sadness and anxiety in such passing. But there is also promise and hope and potential; after all, who knows what God is getting ready to lead all of us into as we move into the future? We can’t help but experience some grief but I hope we’ll experience a lot more wonder and trust.

All things must pass. Well, all things except for one thing—love never passes. We who remain of her family still love Aunt Dot and I believe that somewhere and somehow she still loves us. As Debra and I prepare to move on to the next chapter in our life, we will still love the people of First Baptist Church (as we still love the people in all the places we have lived and served) and they will still love us.

That’s because, as the Apostle Paul said, “Love never ends.”

Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

About Those Sins …

At the end of his song “These Days” the prophet Jackson Browne sings, “Don’t confront me with my failures; I had not forgotten them.”

Preach it, Brother Jackson!

I haven’t forgotten mine, either. Chances are that neither have you forgotten yours.

It may be, though, that we need to expand our definition of “failure”—of “sin,” if you will.

Perhaps many of us still think of sin in terms of those things that we do that are wrong. Many of us are, after all, carriers of baggage from a very legalistic background; we heard that salvation was by grace but we were treated as if everything came down to our works. Even now we may hear a lot of preaching and teaching that focuses so much on what we ought to do or ought not to do that we wonder if and where the grace can ever break in.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me say that how we live our lives does matter.

But there are two aspects of sin that we probably don’t think about as much as we should.

First is the communal aspect of sin. Our sins have an effect on other people; there is in a very real sense no such thing as a purely “personal” sin. So, for example, if I over-indulge in something that does harm to my body I might tell myself that no one is getting hurt but me. In reality, though, I am hurting my loved ones who have to contend with me in light of the damage I have inflicted on myself. Moreover, I am harming the greater community because I contribute to the rise in health care costs; everyone has to pay a little more to take care of people who could have avoided serious health problems through living a healthier lifestyle. We may need to think more about the effect our choices and actions have on other people.

Second is the internal aspect of sin. This is where we have to think about why we do what we do; we have to consider what motivates us to behave in the ways that we do. We also have to consider whether even our seemingly altruistic actions are in fact motivated by a desire to be self-giving or by a desire to be self-serving; even a cursory reading of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and of Paul’s ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13 reveals how important it is that the Christian’s heart be one that is characterized more and more by a love that changes the ways we think and feel about other people.

So sin has to do with much more than just doing bad things; it has to do with failing to take other people into account when we make our choices and it has to do with not letting our hearts and minds be shaped by the love and grace of God so that we think of other people as human beings to be loved rather than as objects to be used and as full partners in life rather than as means to an end.

As Christians we should think of others more than ourselves to such a degree that we even think more about the effect our sins will have on them than we do the effect our sins will have on us. Still, we need to deal with their effect on us so we can grow toward being the kind of people whose lives will have a positive rather than negative effect on others.

The season of Lent offers us an opportunity to reflect on the fact of our sins. I hope we will use this Lenten season to look long and hard at our lives to see where we fail to take the lives of others fully into account in the ways that we think, speak, and act.

Having faced our sins we are then in a position to confess our sins, to repent of our sins, and to receive forgiveness for our sins. It is by the grace of God that we are forgiven and it is by the grace of God that we can grow toward being who God intends for us to be on both the inside and the outside.

Oh who will come and grow with me during this season of Lent?