Monday, September 29, 2008

A Notoriously Bad Decision

On the final day of the regular baseball season in 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run, establishing a record that would stand until Roger Maris broke it with 61 in 1961. Ruth was playing at that time with the New York Yankees, but he had previously played with the Boston Red Sox from 1914 through 1919. Although the Yankees shifted Ruth to the outfield, he was an outstanding pitcher with the Red Sox, throwing 29 2/3 scoreless innings in World Series play from 1916 through 1918. The Red Sox fans were dismayed when the team’s owner traded Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 season to finance a musical production. Ruth went on to hit more home runs in 10 of the next 12 seasons than the entire Red Sox team. With Ruth’s trade to the Yankees, the Red Sox endured an 85-year drought without winning another World Series. It wasn’t until 2004 that the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” (Ruth’s nickname) was broken.

Have you ever made a decision that you were roundly criticized for making—whether justifiably or not? I doubt that most of our decisions are as monumental and as notorious as the one by the Red Sox owner to trade Ruth to the Yankees, but I suspect that in our own private worlds, they are equally painful at times. The question is, “What do we do when we’ve blown it?” If others have been negatively impacted by our decision, we can seek to right the wrong done to them—asking forgiveness and making restitution where possible. We also must learn to pick up the pieces and move on with our lives. Paul’s testimony to the Philippians is instructive at this point when he says that he forgets what lies behind and reaches forward to what lies ahead (Phil. 3:13). We cannot undo past mistakes, but we certainly can resolve not to live enslaved to the memory of them. Let’s press on together.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Ever Happened to Responsibility?

I read this morning on the CNN website a report about a father who brought in his nine children and left them at the Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The children ranged in ages from 1 to 17. The report stated that it is the fourth time that children who were 11, 13, and 15 years old had been left at the hospital since a “safe haven” law was passed in July, allowing children to be left at a hospital if they were in immediate danger. In the wake of the unexpected response of parents dumping teenaged children, Nebraska officials have scheduled a meeting for today to seek to clarify the provisions of the law.

I understand the original intent of the framers of the law as being that of providing emergency protection for newborn infants whose parents (or frequently one would suspect whose single, unwed mother) face the daunting task of being a parent with little or no preparation for raising a child and perhaps with extremely limited resources to do so. I’m not excusing such conduct even in these cases that the law is obviously designed to address, but when parents decide to opt out of their responsibilities after many years of raising a child, I can’t help but wonder where we are heading as a nation and a culture.

I am in no way advocating that there shouldn’t be protection afforded to children who might be at risk of physical, sexual, and other forms of abuse from unloving parents. Innocent children shouldn’t have to be subjected to such treatments under any circumstances and there ought to be safe havens where they can be cared for and protected. I suppose that I’m just utterly baffled and bewildered that in at least four cases, parents of teenagers would take advantage of the good intentions of lawmakers to protect newborns and would abuse that law by seeking to shirk their responsibilities of raising their children.

I’ll confess that I don’t know what the solution to this parenting crisis is and wouldn’t want to be sitting in the seats of those Nebraska officials who must wrestle today with the unexpected outcomes of the safe haven law passed in July. I fear that the growing economic crisis in our nation will only exacerbate these kinds of problems. Of course I’m firmly convinced that a right relationship with Christ is the fundamental need of these parents, together with meaningful membership in a nurturing and supportive local church. This disturbing trend should serve as a wake-up call for our churches to redouble our efforts to help families as they struggle with the pressures of everyday living.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Weathering Life's Storms

Those living along the Gulf Coast have certainly been pummeled in recent years by some severe hurricanes. Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, and others have wreaked havoc with people’s lives and property, forcing many to make difficult decisions about rebuilding or moving on to what is hopefully a safer location. For those who are lifelong residents of an area, the decision to pull up stakes and relocate elsewhere can be an emotionally devastating one. Those who have lived for many years in a place that has become home to them put down some rather deep roots, and the uprooting process is painful.

Several thoughts occurred to me as I pondered the plight of those most recently affected by Ike, including a cousin who was still without power more than a week after the storm. One is that these storms bring out the best in those whose hearts are bent toward serving their fellow man. Baptists from many states are volunteering their time—spending long hours in feeding the hungry, helping clean up the mess left behind, and counseling and consoling those who are hurting and grieving. It also occurred to me that those who do choose to settle elsewhere are going to face the unsettling task of finding a new house, perhaps looking for a new job and school for the children, making new friends, and hopefully finding a new church home.

I also considered the sobering truth that there really are no places that are absolutely safe to live. Sure, folks can leave the Gulf Coast and eliminate the risk of facing the full force of a hurricane, but where can you move where storm winds don’t blow, where lightning doesn’t strike, where car accidents don’t occur, and where the possibility of being the victim of a violent crime is non-existent? That utopia isn’t to be found on Earth. What we can do is to resolve to live each day without fear, remembering the words of Jesus that He will never leave us nor forsake us—even in the midst of life’s most severe storms. We can live with the knowledge that nothing in this universe can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Those truths will equip us to deal with the unexpected adversities of life, and hopefully will enable us to help others as they weather their own storms.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Senior Adult Ministry

I enjoyed the opportunity of preaching this morning at both of our services—probably a total crowd of 650-700 people I suspect. Our senior pastor has been doing a series on “Listening to James” and asked me to continue that by preaching from the text of James 2:1-13. I entitled the message “The Perils of Partiality.” I shared as an introduction the account of Rev. Derek Rigby, a Methodist minister in Northern Wales, who decided to conduct an experiment with his congregation to teach them about acceptance of others. The story about his disguising himself as an indigent person and the results of that experiment are told here. The photos of Rev. Rigby as an indigent person and in his normal clerical garb also appear.

We looked at James’ teaching about the need to not show partiality or favoritism in judging others, especially based on their appearance, wealth, etc. I mentioned that God isn’t one who plays favorites, citing the lesson that Peter learned in his encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10, especially his statements in vv. 34-35.

The other thing that I shared that really impacted me as I was preparing the message was a story that appeared in World magazine by Tony Woodlief, entitled “Missing Christ.” It’s a powerful piece and very convicting. It’s definitely worth reading. Here’s the link to the article.

As much as I enjoyed preaching in both morning services today, I was equally thrilled or perhaps even more so this afternoon when I went to one of the local nursing homes that I visit regularly and where I lead services on the third Sunday of each month. The crowd was obviously much smaller—about 20 or 25 I suspect, including one lady who will turn 102 next month if the Lord allows her to live until then. We always sing their favorite hymns from a large-print edition collection of hymns and then I share a brief message—usually not more than 15 minutes as at 3:00 in the afternoon, they tend to drift off to sleep if I speak longer than that. Some do so anyway, but that’s okay. I really love these folks and have become something of a pastor to many of them, including dropping by to visit them in the rooms and have prayer together at other times as well. Senior adult ministry is certainly a rewarding ministry for me—not just the 200 or so who regularly attend our services, but the homebound and those in nursing homes like the one I shared at today. Their kind words, encouragement, and appreciation for the visits and Bible studies means a lot.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Whirlwind Week and a Half

Last week was pretty much a blur for me and this one has been almost equally busy. I flew to Dallas Love Field a week ago Sunday evening to attend a 2-day board meeting of WorldconneX. It was a difficult meeting in some respects, as the BGCT's financial situation has prompted the finance committee to propose a deeper cut in WorldconneX's budget. I think the organization is doing some wonderful, innovative things and is filling a niche in Baptist life as a missions networking organization that practically no one else is addressing. Their plight though in some respects is like the individual in the Civil War who wished to show his sympathies for both sides so he donned the gray jacket of the Confederacy and the blue trousers of the Union. The result was that he was shot at by both sides.

WorldconneX was born out of controversy at a time when some Texas Baptists were upset with the general direction of the SBC and specifically the decision of the IMB to require missionaries to sign the BF&M 2000 when they had been told they would not have to do so. Many also resisted the changes introduced in the document, preferring the language and spirit of the 1963 BF&M. Some in this camp evidently anticipated that WorldconneX would become a missionary sending agency and were disappointed when it did not. On the other hand, those who continued to strongly support the SBC and the IMB feared that WorldconneX would indeed become a sending agency and interpreted steps taken to enable local churches to send and support their own missionaries through the Front-Line Sending focus of WorldconneX as confirmation that the organization was trying to supplant the IMB.

The truth is that WorldconneX isn't a sending agency but does facilitate helping local churches to engage the world with a strategic missions focus. That in some cases has included these churches choosing to send out missionaries from their own congregations with WorldconneX's assistance, but not in the traditional sense of a sending agency that directly interviews, appoints, supports, and directs the activities of these missionaries. WorldconneX's task is to help churches with things like logistics, training, and assisting with money transfers, etc.

WorldconneX will continue to operate with a reduced budget, drawing upon reserves that it has and carrying on its ministry for the time being. My hope and prayer is that Texas Baptists will recognize the unique contribution WorldconneX is making to global missions and will take concrete steps to ensure its future vitality, or at the very least, to preserve the focus and emphasis of the organization.

Following the board meeting, I rented a car and drove to Granbury where I spent the rest of Tuesday through Thursday afternoon visiting with my mother in a rehab center where she is recovering from a fall that produced 3 fractures of her pelvis. She's making some slow progress but has had a few setbacks along the way also. I flew home on Thursday evening, arriving home about 11:00 p.m.

Friday morning early it was off to Columbia, MO for a quarterly meeting of the BGCM board of directors. We had a very positive meeting and I was able to give an update on our partnership work in Guatemala that was well-received. It appears that we will have a larger group of pastors participating in the next leadership training trip in January and I'm extremely grateful for that. I've been hoping that more would participate so that they in turn will lead their churches to engage in some church-to-church partnerships and trips.

I arrived home about 5:30 and since I hadn't seen the family in a week, we went out to eat Mexican food and catch up a bit. Afterwards, it was off to meet with a family in preparation for a funeral message on Saturday morning. The man was an outstanding Christian who had been a member of our church for almost 40 years and had served as a deacon, Sunday School superintendent, teacher, etc. I visited with them as they reminisced about his life, jotting down notes to help prepare a fitting eulogy. His favorite Bible verse was Romans 6:23 so I used this as the basis for the message. The funeral was a wonderful celebration of a life lived well.

On Monday and Tuesday our senior pastor and I traveled together to Windermere Baptist Encampment for the annual CBF pastors' retreat. It was a wonderful gathering with excellent fellowship, and some quality teaching from Dr. Mike Graves, a homiletics professor, and Bo Prosser, coordinator for Congregational Life with CBF National. Danny Chisolm has shared some reflections about the gathering over on his blog.

With Scott, our senior pastor, heading for Denver to visit his daughter in her new apartment this weekend, I also get the chance to preach this Sunday. That has kept me busy with sermon preparation the last couple of days. A phone call this morning means that I'll be presiding over my second Saturday funeral in a row also.

I'm looking forward to next week when, the good Lord willing, life returns to more of a normal pace. I apologize for the lack of posting in these days, but things have been a bit hectic.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Texas Trip

I'm in the big state of Texas for a few days this week. I flew down Sunday evening to Dallas for a 2-day meeting of the WorldconneX board that begins this morning (Monday) and wraps up early tomorrow afternoon. Afterwards, I'm going to spend a couple of days with my mom in Granbury, TX. She had headed to South Texas a few weeks back to attend the funeral of a 106-year old aunt and had been at the home of her younger sister in George West (my hometown) for about an hour when she slipped and fell off of a three-legged stool.

My brother, who was acting as chauffeur, took her back to Granbury without staying to attend the funeral as she was experiencing some numbness and pain in her leg. The attending physician at the ER said she had evidence of an old fracture of the pelvis and sent her home with some pain meds. This was on a Friday. On Monday, her primary physician informed her that it was a new break and advised her to stay off of it for about 3-4 weeks and then be rechecked. She saw an orthopedic specialist a week ago Friday who discovered 3 fractures actually of the pelvis and sent her to a rehab center without even allowing her to go home. I'm going to take advantage of the trip to Texas to spend some time with her as she is recovering.

I hope to be able to post a bit later about the WorldconneX board meeting. It's the one of the three each year that is a 2-day meeting and there are some major things to look at in light of the BGCT's restructuring of their financial support.

It seems that I also left town just ahead of McCain and Palin's visit to our own Lee's Summit this morning. They'll be speaking at John Knox Village pavilion. John Knox is a senior adult community with several thousand residents, a number of whom are members of our church.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Accidental or Intentional Growth?

The following is another article that I shared in our monthly Senior Adult newsletter, "Joyful Tidings."

The dictionary defines the word accident as follows: "an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss." Clearly none of us wakes up in the morning planning on experiencing an accident, or looking forward to having one. That’s why the dictionary defines them as undesirable and unintentional. We don’t want to have an accident—-whether it’s a collision with another vehicle or a fall we take while walking-—because we know there can be painful and costly consequences. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent all accidents, paying careful attention to our surroundings and using good judgment will help us avoid them. Engaging in risky behaviors, whether behind the wheel of an automobile or elsewhere, will certainly increase the odds of suffering an accident.

In thinking about accidents, I was reflecting on the tendency of children to offer the excuse that “it was an accident” when they have been caught doing something they shouldn’t have and something winds up being broken or damaged. They didn’t intend for the item to be damaged, but perhaps they didn’t exercise good judgment and the “accident” occurred.

In seeking to relate the idea of accidents to our spiritual lives, it struck me that many Christians somehow seem to expect or hope that they will mature in their walk with Christ “accidentally.” That is, they do little purposefully or consciously to grow in their faith and seem mystified when they fail to mature spiritually. Our growth as Christians is rarely the result of an accident. It comes as we discipline ourselves to engage in activities that will create a climate for growth—-prayer, Bible study, fellowship with others, service, and worship. Let’s purpose to be intentional rather than accidental Christians.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Extreme Uses of the Superlative "Greatest"

I’ve observed a growing tendency among some Christians to utilize the superlative “greatest” to drive home their point when making an argument. More often than not, it seems to be used in a negative sense. Let me share a couple of illustrations that come to mind. The former Executive Director of the Missouri Baptist Convention wrote a series of four articles in The Pathway in which he made the bold claim that the greatest obstacle to evangelism in America comes from the political activism of the homosexual movement. Just on a quick reflection, I think I could easily come up with a list of many other factors that would rank far higher on the scale of obstacles to evangelism in America—-spiritual apathy of believers, fear of witnessing, lack of filling of the Holy Spirit, etc.-—than the clamor of those promoting a homosexual agenda.

As a second example, this weekend I happened to be driving my mother-in-law’s van and turned on the radio. It was tuned to a Christian talk station and I listened for about 2-3 minutes. The preacher (whose name I didn’t linger long enough to hear) was lambasting those who deny a pre-tribulation, premillenial rapture and he accused those who would undermine this belief of having committed the greatest heresy in the history of Christianity. Once again, it occurs to me that there are many beliefs far more heretical in nature than the issue of questioning a given interpretation of the Second Coming. The denial of the deity of Jesus Christ, the rejection of the Scriptures as the Word of God, and the denial of the Trinity come to mind as heretical views far more egregious than the questioning of the rapture.

My take on this is that certain Christians become fixated on issues that they elevate to a place of importance far beyond all merit and reason. The issue, whatever it may be, assumes the role of a hobby horse that the individual rides into the ground. Anyone who seeks to introduce a bit of balance into the picture and fails to appreciate the overarching role that this issue plays in the life of its proponent is swiftly accused of heresy, or at the least, of being a theological liberal. It’s a shame that well-meaning Christians should be guilty of questioning the legitimacy of another’s faith just because that person opts not to mount the hobby horse of the former. Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as He loved us too quickly gets lost in the use of such extreme superlatives and the corresponding rejection of those who take issue with the proponent’s favorite topic.