As I mentioned in my blog for last week, my “call story” to ministry was published in a collection of other such stories designed to encourage churches and individuals in hearing and responding to God’s call. Edited by Barry Howard, former pastor of Brookwood Baptist and First Baptist, Pensacola, Florida, the book is available on Amazon, either in paperback or Kindle.
One of the more imperceptible changes in personal communications that have come about in recent years is the shift from voice calls to text messages. Some of us will still remember the mad dash that ensued whenever the telephone rang in your home. Nowadays, not many of us have “landlines” and most of us leave our cellphones on “silent mode.” Consequently, we rarely acknowledge voice calls so that if someone really wants to catch up with us, text messages are the contact of choice.
One of today’s great puzzles is how many of the people who live “in the land of the free and the home of the brave” can feel so repressed and constrained. How can that be? How can so many Americans feel so restrained, especially in light of how unless one is literally in prison or on probation, he or she is able to go and do pretty much whatever he or she wants? And yet, there are many today who feel anything but free.
If you were a child during the last part of the 20th century or you had children, then you are more than familiar with the name Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers, the star of the PBS television show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” With his cardigan sweater and his comfortable sneakers, Mr. Rogers regaled us children and adults with his puppets and music and excursions into the Land of Make Believe. But most of all, Mr. Rogers drew us into his neighborhood by receiving us “just the way we are.”
In the concluding verses of each New Testament epistle penned by the Apostle Paul he states his desire to revisit the churches he helped establish so that they might be inspired by his presence and encouraged by his teaching. Some churches Paul was able to get back to; others he did not. But the letters remind us of how much those churches meant to Paul, especially during his latter years when he found himself imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel.
Part of the heritage of Mountain Brook Baptist Church is the privilege God has given us to have been a training ground for some of the finest young ministers in Baptist life. Because our church is an example of strong faithfulness and spiritual health we have groomed many a young minister for effective ministry in congregations near and far. Without a doubt, creating a “culture of call” not only refers to those young persons who have grown up in MBBC; it also encompasses those whom we have invited to join us for a season, who having fulfilled God’s call to our church have moved on to other places to advance God’s Kingdom purposes in our world.
One of the best indications of emotional and spiritual health is our desire to make a difference in life. Regardless of one’s state or occupation, a life of significance is a most worthy ambition. Unfortunately, living in such fashion requires a person to take some risks. No one can achieve anything without moving out of his comfort zone or stretching herself in uncomfortable ways.
I wore flip flops and shorts to church last Sunday, something I haven’t done since leading youth retreats back in college. Judy and I attended church at the beach, a small, enthusiastic congregation formed some 20 years ago to offer a witness to the beach crowd that descends on Navarre every vacation season.
My sabbatical leave begins this coming Sunday. As I’ve written earlier, I see this opportunity as a “time out, time off, and time away.” My hope is that I’ll return more revigorated for the work that we have before us at MBBC. But while I’m away there are some things I’d ask you to do.
You may have seen the news this past week regarding the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling that a lawsuit filed against Apple can proceed in which IPhone users may seek remedy for what they consider to be inflated prices charged them for apps they download. I haven’t followed the arguments that carefully, because I can’t think of any apps I have downloaded on my smartphone that have cost me anything. All of the apps on my phone are free ones. Call me a cheapskate, but I think it would be silly for me to purchase anything that I can get for free.
My sabbatical begins in a couple of weeks and I make no apologies for looking forward to the “time out, time off, and time away.” It’s almost as if my soul senses the approaching leave and I realize how I am more spiritually spent than I ever knew.
Back in the 1980’s Larry Walters was a security guard for a Hollywood animation studio that produced children’s television series. He had always wanted to be a pilot, but had been turned down because of poor eyesight. His dream, however, would not go away. So, one day in the summer of 1982, Larry decided to take matters into his own hands. He went down to a military surplus store and bought 45 eight-foot weather balloons, filled them with helium, put on a parachute, and had friends strap him and the balloons to a lawn chair in his backyard in Southern California. His intent was to float over the Mojave Desert at a relatively safe altitude, using a pellet gun he would take along with him to burst some of the balloons in order to land.
Have you ever set your hopes on something only to see them crumble into a bazillion pieces? Of course, you have. There’s not a soul among us who hasn’t found himself or herself in such a pitiable condition at one time or another.
For more than a century, the majestic statue, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” better known as the Statue of Liberty has towered over Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island) in New York Harbor as a symbol of the many freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Many of you have been to the island and have toured the national park associated with it. As you are aware, the famous statue was a gift from the people of France in appreciation for America’s contributions to the spirit of independence that lies deep in every human heart,
One of my favorite games as a child was “May I?” You probably remember the game. You would position yourself in one place and at a distance would be another person, whose role in the game was to give you commands as to the steps you would need to take to close the gap between the two of you. The person would invite you to take either a “giant step” or a “baby step.” Obviously, everyone on the receiving end relished the giant steps. The “catch” of the game was that before you took the assigned step, you had to respond, “May I?” If you gave the right response, you were allowed to take the step assigned. If you didn’t, you had to go all the way back to the starting point. Needless to say, only the patient souls made it to the other side. The impatient ones inevitably found themselves in an embarrassingly constant cycle of retreat.
After the culmination of a season of preparation and celebration such as the one we recently shared from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, our tendency is to pause and catch our breaths for a moment before pressing on. I would be the first to say that we all deserve such a rest. So many in our church were so heavily invested in the multitude of ministry going on during this time, and our church was most definitely better for it. Consider the choirs and the cooks, the servers and the singers. Thanks to all who had a part in making these last days so productive.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about how a preacher should go about dealing with the message of resurrection. You’d think that after having preached 40 years, I’d have the Easter message down. But the challenge for me in this season of the year has always been not so much what to say but how to say it. In other words, the Easter message is so familiar and the Easter crowd is always so large (swelled by the numbers of people who tend to come only that one Sunday in the year) that a preacher feels compelled to “prove” to everyone that the Resurrection of Jesus actually occurred! But somehow, “proving Easter” always seems to leave everyone a bit unsatisfied, both preacher and congregant, much like tasting an Easter dessert that everyone has been bragging about but that doesn’t quite seem to live up to its billing.
Mircea Eliade was a Romanian historian of religion who taught for a number of years at the University of Chicago. Eliade’s most famous theological work, titled The Sacred and the Profane, is a treatment of that unique perspective enjoyed by people of faith, which enables them to tell the difference between ordinary experiences (profane) and supernatural ones (sacred). Sometimes in life, he contends, we believers simply find ourselves captivated by a “wholly other” phenomenon that represents an almost indescribable encounter with the divine.
Not long ago, NBC News teamed up with Esquire magazine on a study of the rage that characterizes American society today. They surveyed 3,000 Americans to determine who in our day is the angriest, what’s making them so angry, and, perhaps most importantly, who’s to blame. One of the more interesting statistics in the study revealed that half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago. In large measure this anger stems from the perception that life is not working out for those persons as they always assumed it would. They see others as standing in the way of their progress, and they don’t see things improving any time soon (“American Rage,” Esquire, 1/3/16).
When we look at the Gospels, we see Jesus always calling people to join him in a work that is beyond their comprehension. After all, nothing less really befits service on behalf of a God for whom all things are possible.
It wasn’t too long ago that Home and Garden Television attracted a good number of viewers with their popular series on “Tiny Houses.” Many of you probably are familiar with what I’m talking about. “Tiny Houses” involves a concept in home construction that saw people moving from large-scale home construction to minimalist footprints of something less than 600 square feet, which gives an entirely new spin to the old term “humble abode.”
In one of my previous churches we had a significant internationals ministry. Because the community was the site of a major university, people came there from all over the world. Our church, consequently, was one of the first churches in Baptist life to establish a conversational English ministry, which enabled us to minister to individuals from virtually every religious background on the planet.
Spring Break is a welcome time for many families. The demands of everyday life, whether they arise from work or studies, take their toll and the mid-semester break brings a measure of relief that always seems to come at precisely the right time. Well, perhaps the “rightness” of the time is something sometimes up for debate.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a Robert Frost poem in this column. Today, I’ll share the one other poem I remember having to memorize back in high school, a poem by Joyce Kilmer, titled “Trees” You probably remember how the poem begins as well. “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” That vivid line has been coopted in countless ways by numerous groups. But perhaps the best job of revising Kilmer’s poem for other purposes I’ve seen was what one church published in its weekly bulletin, which they titled, “The Perfect Church.”
One thing you see virtually everywhere you go in the Holy Land are the ruins of an old church. The vast majority of these churches date back to the Byzantine period in the fifth and sixth centuries when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and Christian churches, no longer scorned and persecuted, began to be constructed everywhere. In virtually all of these churches there is some type of mosaic design on the church floor that displayed the Gospel in some artistic way. Archeologists have uncovered portions of many of these mosaics and they reveal an era when Christianity ruled the world. The most impressive mosaic piece in this region is the famous Mosaic Map in the St. George Church in Madaba, which contains the oldest surviving cartological description of the Holy Land.
Water is a luxury in the Middle East. So precious is this essential commodity that experts here say that the next wars will be fought over water, not oil. Today in our journey through Jordan we have visited two places that have water in common, though the quality of the two sources are light years apart.
I don’t know of another story in the Bible, save the crucifixion, that reads as painfully to me as does the story of Moses and Nebo. His story is recounted in Deuteronomy 34, where Moses climbs to the top of Mount Pisgah to the peak of Nebo, where God reveals to him the entirety of the Promised Land, a land that unfortunately Moses will see, but never enter.
Theological education is near and dear to me. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel a debt of gratitude for the training I received at the “old” Southern Seminary. I use that terminology because of how my studies at Southern reflected a time in Baptist life when prospective ministers were formed to think critically about matters of faith and practice as opposed to the present-day model in SBC life that presumes theological education to be more about right content than right process. In other words, it’s not enough for students to think rightly; they must also know how to think about the right view of things. While I’m certainly understanding of the need to be orthodox in belief, an excessive orthodoxy can totally ignore the realities of one’s context and devolve into dead dogma. Perhaps that’s why when I have the opportunity to cross paths with people who get the value of connecting belief with background, my heart skips a beat or two.
One of Jesus’ clearest teachings was on the importance of ministering to the marginalized and dispossessed. Yet most of his followers tend to gravitate toward those who are just as they are. That’s just human nature. However, when we read the book of Genesis, we see that human nature is what caused Adam and Eve to move contrary to God’s perfect will, which resulted in their banishment from Eden and a lifetime of toil and struggle.
Every now and then it’s a good thing to look back and take a second look at past practices that served us well, particularly those practices that helped form us into the people we are. That’s also a good practice for a church to pursue from time to time. Indeed, in this 75th Anniversary year we have done so in various ways in order both to celebrate our heritage and to use it as a springboard for the good future we believe God has for us to know. I’m especially excited about our church’s Stewardship Team’s decision to take this approach with our annual Generosity Sunday, which this year will be on April 7.
Our annual Ash Wednesday service will take place in the Sanctuary on March 6 at 6 p.m. This service marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a time in which Christians prepare their hearts to celebrate the hope that is ours because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While we do not impose ashes as a part of our service, we do join with the larger Christian Church in considering our own mortality and our need to repent of our sins, while looking to the salvation that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ. To learn more about Ash Wednesday, read Dr. Kely Hatley's post about Ash Wednesday and the Baptist tradition.
How did the poet Robert Frost phrase it in his most famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening?” “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Frost’s line reminds us of the importance of showing how seriously we take our relationships by following through with the commitments we make to others.
DNA is a term that in recent years has moved from the lab or biology classroom to the marketplace as scores of people long to know the secrets locked in their genetic makeup that cause them to act as they do. If you want to know why certain situations set you off or why you gravitate toward particular stimuli, what the experts tell us is that it’s all because of our biological hard-wiring. That’s not to say that we can’t change course and rise above our innate urges from time to time; it’s only to say that we have these “default settings” that we do well to acknowledge, even leveraging them to our advantage when possible.
I don’t know of anything worse than to be on the “missing end” of some experience that left everyone on the “receiving end” talking non-stop about its significance. It doesn’t matter whether it was something on the news or something in the skies, the failure to experience its impact leaves you feeling small in soul, much smaller in fact.
If there’s anything that we Americans like, it’s the ability to have a plethora of choices at our disposal in any given situation. None of us wants to be in a position where we find ourselves limited in terms of options. When it comes time for us to make a decision about anything in life, our mantra is: “The more choices we have, the merrier we will be.”
I received an email recently, inviting me to endorse Dr. Paul Baxley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Athens, Georgia, as the next Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I was more than happy to do so, having worked with Paul so very closely as a member of the Governing Board in general and the Board’s Illumination Project committee in particular.
This past Wednesday our church came together at our Semi-Annual Church Conference to receive the final report and recommendation of our Vision 2020 Building Committee. The recommendation also came to the congregation with the unanimous support of the Deacons and Trustees. After hearing the presentation and following a time of discussion, the members in attendance voted overwhelmingly to approve the recommendation to proceed with the proposal as presented and to prepare for a Capital Campaign, which will help us to gauge how much of the proposal we feel God leading us to undertake.
Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker who burst on the public scene some twenty years ago with his astute observations of how so much of the social sciences – in particular, psychology, sociology, and economic theory – play out in everyday life. All of his books manage to make their way to the top of the best seller lists and for good reason. Gladwell simply has this knack for holding up a mirror to our souls so that we can see aspects of our lives that we knew about in our hearts by never bothered to bring to the surface for further examination.
The first of our semi-annual Church Conferences will be held this Wednesday, January 30, at 6:00 PM in Heritage Hall. Along with key committee and ministry team reports, the church will receive two important recommendations for congregational action.
Back in “the day,” a good part of my recreation involved doing something with sending some kind of ball across some kind of net, as in tennis or volleyball. What I quickly learned from those activities was that the person in charge of the serve most definitely had the advantage. It would be a lesson that I would come to see as having remarkable significance for Christian practice as well.
Everywhere I have gone in recent days it seems that all around me everything has been under some form of construction. Some of it has been new construction, others more a renovation. But regardless, the work being done has complicated my life by requiring detours, new routes, and in some cases a reversal of course. Needless to say, my level of exasperation has at times threatened to register off the charts.
Under the category of “New Year/New You,” I’d like to recommend a simple discipline that can hold remarkable promise for you in the coming days. I developed this discipline some years ago, and it has blessed me immensely. So, I offer it to you so that you too might know the benefits of practicing it in the New Year.