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.