Baptism and Ordination

Tonight was a wonderful night at Ball Camp Baptist Church. Our service started with Christina entering the baptismal waters. Caroline, her sister, read her baptismal statement and then Brian, our Pastor to Students, immersed Christina in the water reenacting the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. Thank the Lord for Christina’s testimony that she is indeed living a new life in Christ.

After the baptism, we presented three people to be ordained as deacons. Brenda Bradley, Bailey Chambers and Debbi Graf had been elected by our church and each of them agreed to serve to the best of their abilities with the Lord’s help. During the service, they each expressed their willingness to answer the church’s call. Coming forward, they took their places in front of the altar and the whole church came forward to lay hands on them and speak words of blessing to them. The spirit of God was moving. The faces of God’s people plainly said that something special was happening.

Before the benediction, Christina came to the pulpit. She was given a towel to remind her and all of us of the service Jesus performed when he washed the feet of his disciples. The towel is her calling and ours. We departed to serve the Lord.

Being true Baptists, we could not leave the premises without stopping in the fellowship all for soup, sandwiches and homemade ice cream. God is good all the time, thanks be to God!

Working at the Car Wash, If We are not Careful

Have you noticed the new car wash in the neighborhood? It is at the corner of Middlebrook and Lovell. You pay $3.00 to get your car washed and then you get to use the vacuum for free. It is a pretty good deal. The name of the place is J.J.’s Super Shine Car Wash.

I would not have called it to your attention except that I am also wondering if you remember what used to be there. Really, you are perfectly capable of noticing a new business opening up in the community, especially one that is at such a prominent location, and a new building to boot. Do you remember what stood on that property before there was a car wash there?

The Martins used to live there. The home of J.J. and Mary Martin stood on that lot. Mr. Martin has been gone for many years, and I have no idea if the owners of the car wash even knew his name. Mary still lived there when I came to Ball Camp, almost nine years ago. Not long after I came, she moved to Arbor Terrace, as she was no longer able to live alone in the house that she and Martin, as she always called him, shared together. Next door to their house, about where Lovell intersects with Middlebrook, there used to be a store. It was demolished when Lovell Road was moved and the new intersection was built.

You may not remember J.J. Martin or know Mary Martin, but they surely know you — “you” being Ball Camp Baptist Church. They dedicated much of their time, energy and resources to your well being. When the current sanctuary was being built, Ball Camp Baptist Church met in the Martin’s store for Sunday worship. I am not familiar with all the ways that Mr. Martin served the church, but Mary taught Sunday school. She taught Sunday school for many, many years. Ask someone who has been at Ball Camp for a while and there is a pretty good chance that they had Mary for a Sunday school teacher. They may even have a plaster plaque depicting praying hands or with the Lord’s Prayer on it. Mary loved to send the children home with items that they had made. Mary also wrote an award winning history of the church.

Now, instead of the Martins, we have a car wash. For $3.00 we can have clean cars; but who will teach our children, care for them and tell them the stories of our faith that have so shaped our lives. A car wash is all well and good, but I cannot help but feel that we got short-changed in the exchange. How do we replace a couple that, time and again, demonstrated such faithfulness and commitment to their church?

In one sense, we don’t ever replace such people. Their hands have left their own unique prints on the work that God is doing in this place. More to the point, it is not us that do the replacing, but God who does it. In every generation, God raises up people to do and to be what God needs for them to do and to be. God continues to do that with ministry leaders and Bible teachers in our church. We are blessed each week by women and men who regularly and responsibly perform important work for the cause of Christ at Ball Camp Baptist Church. Yet, there are places in our church that still need dedicated and committed people to say yes to God’s call on their lives.

Do you have any sense that God might be calling you to a deeper level of commitment and responsibility? None of us can be somebody else, but each of us can be ourselves. When we give ourselves to God, God has an amazing way of making exceptional things happen. So what is God saying to you? Do you feel any closer to God than you did a year ago? Is your love for God deeper now than it was then?

If you are not satisfied with your answers to these questions, you might consider joining us for our regular time of prayer and worship in the sanctuary on Wednesday nights. God honors commitment and discipline. Such a setting may be just what you need to hear what God wants to say to you. On the other hand, you might hear a clearer word from the Lord if you chose to hang out in the nursery on Sunday mornings during worship time.

For over two hundred years, the Martins and scores like them have heard the call of God in this community of faith, and they have answered with a lifetime of commitment. Now is our time to listen, to respond and to commit.

Homosexuality and the Local Church

The church is local and the church is universal. These seemingly contradictory claims have given expression to the way Baptists have sought to understand being the body of Christ for 400 years. While we have recognized that the church is made of all believers, we have found that the richest expressions of church are local ones. That is certainly not to say that local congregations cannot and do not join together to accomplish amazing deeds for the kingdom of God, because they can and they do. Yet, it is in and through those local congregations that God speaks most clearly and effectively to those local congregations. Who better to hear and to recognize the voice of God for a particular time, place and situation than the people of God living through that particular time, place and situation. We, as Baptists, have always given priority to the local church, while happily joining together with likeminded believers to share Christ’s love.

Two decisions rendered by national church bodies underscore for me the wisdom of this approach. The first occurred in Louisville, Kentucky, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Messengers there took all of thirty seconds to approve, without discussion, a recommendation to cease fellowship with Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. What made Broadway unworthy of fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention? They refused to distance themselves from members of their own church who are homosexual. Simply put, the Southern Baptist Convention was trying to tell Broadway Baptist what kind of church it should be and how it should conduct its business. Broadway refused to be bullied, which is their prerogative. The Southern Baptist Convention gave them the boot, which is their prerogative. What Broadway held onto through it all was the notion that the local church is the final authority for what happens in a local church, not some outside body.

Several months ago, a proposal was made for a workshop focused on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Church”, to be offered at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Houston this summer. The purpose of the proposed workshop was to give those who had an interest an hour to gather, listen and ask question about how homosexuality is impacting the church, and how the church could approach the issue. No decisions, pronouncements or recommendations would have resulted from the meeting, simply conversations — maybe heated conversations — but conversations nonetheless. Someone made a decision not to offer the workshop. It was not on the schedule. Why not? Because someone recognized that the only meaningful place to have such a conversation is in the local church. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship wisely chose to leave the matter there.

Those kinds of conversation do take place in our church, though I have never participated in one or known one that occurred in a large group setting. No, they happen informally between trusted friends. Such topics come up from time to time in Sunday School classes and in conversations in the parking lot. We have a way of seeking out the people we need to talk to and listen to when we face challenges in our lives.

We do have conversations about Sharing Christ’s Love. With whom do we share it? What restrictions or limitations do we put on it? Are there those with whom we will not share? What hungry person does Christ not want us to feed? What thirsty person does Christ not want us to give a cup of water to? What lonely person does Christ not want us to share coffee and conversation with? What we strive to do each day is to share the love of Christ with whomever comes our way. In short, love first, ask questions later. That is really what the Apostle Paul was saying last week to the Ephesians and to us when he wrote about living blameless lives. To be blameless is to love as Christ loved. To do less, to limit, to restrict, to exclude is to be less than blameless, less than Christ calls us to be.

Loved, just as we are

Relationships are what make our lives interesting. Sometimes interesting is good and other times interesting is a challenge. Our relationships can be a source of richness and joy. They can also be a source of frustration and disappointment. The relationships that are closest to us are sometimes the ones that can be the most complicated. They call forth from us intentional effort and thoughtful interaction. Even then, they are not always what we need, expect, or want them to be.

Our relationship with God presents its own challenges. Perhaps the greatest challenge in our relationship with God is when we try to figure out who God is. There is certainly no shortage of images and ideas about who God is. Many of the portrayals of God that have been passed on to us through the years are not so helpful when it comes to our relationship with God. God is often presented as angry and vindictive. God demands perfection and punishes us when we fail to meet God’s expectations. Such images of God make it difficult for most of us to let ourselves fall freely and fully into the kind of intimate love relationship that God so desires to have with us. As sometimes happens in our human relationships, we find ourselves waiting anxiously for something negative to happen. If our understanding of God is angry and punitive, we may even feel that we deserve something negative to happen. Or we find ourselves putting distance between us and God. It is only natural to want to protect ourselves from emotional and spiritual pain.

What we often forget or too easily overlook is that God created us in God’s own image. We were made to be in a relationship with God. That is what God designed us for. Just as our actions and behaviors have put stress on our relationship with God, so too have the thoughts and ideas expressed about who God is distorted our understanding of God. Yet, neither our actions nor our misconceptions have changed who God is or God’s purpose in creating us. God made us to love us, and be loved by us. And so God does love us, freely and unconditionally.

We are all too aware of our shortcomings, weaknesses and failures, so it is often difficult to imagine being loved with the kind of love that God offers to us. What is absolutely mind blowing is that God’s love is greater than our shortcomings, weaknesses and failures. God demonstrated the breadth and depth of his love for each of us through Jesus Christ. In Christ on the cross, God was reconciling Godself to the world. That is, God in Christ, made things right between us and God. Whatever would keep us from God or prevent us from experiencing God’s love is gone. We are forgiven again and again and again.

Even in our state of forgiveness, we can be weighed down by the burdens of life. While God is always faithful and just to forgive us, we are not always so ready to forgive ourselves. So we carry our failures with us, unable to let them go and move beyond them. They get heavy and they can make life miserable. Their weight robs us of the joy and peace that comes from being loved by God. God gives us the freedom to let go of those past failures and mistakes. In the context of our relationship with God, we can simply give those shortcomings and weaknesses to God. We need not be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed. God wants us to be free from the power of sin and death in our lives. God wants for us to fully experience the joy and peace of being in relationship with God. For that very reason God is always near us — not to catch us or punish us — but to receive our burdens and hear our confessions that we might feel again the depth of God’s love.

Not as old as we thought

I knew that it would happen eventually, I just did not think that it would happen to me. One day last week I went through the red light in Karns on my way home. As I went through the red light I saw a car in front of me waiting for traffic to clear so that he could turn into the Walgreens drugstore. I slowed down and stopped in order to wait for him to turn into Walgreens. Just as soon as I stopped my truck, wham! I felt a jolt from behind. Nothing major, but it did kind of knock the breath out of me.

While the lady who hit my truck was calling the police, I began collecting the documents that I would need to show to the Sheriff’s deputy. My license was in my wallet along with my proof of insurance card. My registration was in the folder that stays in the compartment underneath the armrest. Having all those pieces of paper ready to go when the deputy arrived made filing the report a breeze. In no time at all, I was on my way in spite of my truck’s slightly bruised rear bumper. For what it is worth, the front end of a Volkswagen Passat is no match for the rear bumper of Dodge Dakota. Not that this is a competition or anything like it.

The report is finished and I am leaving the scene when this voice screams at me from somewhere inside my head, “When did you get so old?” I knew immediately what the voice was referring to. Twenty-five years ago my license would have been in my wallet, but the registration would not have been stored neatly in its own easy to find folder. If it was in the car at all, it would have been crumpled up in the glove box. Insurance, did you even have to have insurance twenty-five years ago? If you did, I know that you did not have to have proof of it. Twenty-five years ago it would not have mattered either way I would not have been able to find it. But now, now I have all the documentation that is needed to file an accident report right at my fingertips. When did I get so old?

Sunday Christians all around the world will celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the church. The church is just under 2,000 years old depending on how you count your years. That is old. By now, we should have everything organized and figured out. Everything at our fingertips for whatever situation may arise. So much of what we talk about in church happened a long time ago, Creation, Exodus, birth of Jesus, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost for that matter. We have had all this time to catalog and categorize pretty much everything that God has ever done. If we are not careful even our own personal experience with God can get filed away in the things God did a long time ago drawer.

That is what makes Pentecost so very important to the Church. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came. Wind and fire were blowing all around. At Pentecost, the Church came to realize that God is not just Creator and not just Savior, but also Spirit. God is breathing life, love and hope into God’s people. God is not past. God is not something that happened a long time ago. God is present. God is now. God is future. God is not easily categorized, cataloged or figured out. God is alive. That is the frightening and awesome reality we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday.

Breathe

Saturday morning started with a telephone call from my son. He told me that his grandmother, my mother, was unresponsive and in the emergency room at UT Hospital. The details were few. All we knew at that point was that mom was on a ventilator. I quickly dressed and headed to the hospital.

Leaving the house, I knew that day was going to be long, different and potentially very sad. As I passed the first McDonalds on the way to the hospital the thought occurred to me that I ought to get something to eat. The drive-thru lane at the next one was way too long so I decided to park and go inside. The line inside was longer than I wanted to wait for as well. Turning to leave, my cell phone rang. It was my Uncle John in Texas. This would be the first of many conversations with him on this day. I told him what I knew oblivious to those around me. “She is in the emergency room at UT. I don’t know much, I have not talked to a doctor yet.” The call ended and I heard a man behind me speaking. He had heard my conversation and wanted me to take his place at the front of the line. That seemed strange to me. Something really bad must be happening in your life, if people in McDonalds offer to let you go in front of them. I accepted the offer still not unaware of just how different this day would be.

At the hospital, my sister and I listened to doctor tell us about mom. Mom had always told us that she did not want to be put on a ventilator. My sister was especially bothered that this had already happened. The doctor explained that she had no reason not to do it as there was nothing in mom’s paperwork to indicate her wishes. The doctor then explained that the ventilator was medically necessary as mom could not breathe without it.

Sister and I talked and decided that since mom was already on the ventilator, we ought to see how mom responds to the treatment before we made a decision about whether or not to remove the ventilator.

As the day wore on, nothing seemed to be improving. Doctors and nurses alike were kind, considerate and honest. Their words gave us very little encouragement about mom’s condition. When a person is on a ventilator sedation is required to keep the person from panicking and struggling against it. Mom needed that sedation in the morning. By lunchtime, she no longer required it. She was in effect sedating herself. This was not a good sign.

Sometime in the afternoon they moved mom from the emergency room to a critical care unit. Her condition did not seem to improve. The day was moving on and we had the lingering thought all the while that that we were not doing what mom had told us to do.

Meanwhile, sister’s friends from high school and college started to show up at the hospital. Steve and Brian had been at the hospital most of the day, but now other people from church were sitting in the critical care unit waiting room. Why are all these people here I wondered. They were there to support and love my sister and myself during a very difficult time. Seeing all those people made what was happening real.

Late Saturday evening, my sister and I told the nurse to remove the ventilator. We made it clear that we wanted all treatment to continue. We just did not want mom on a ventilator any longer. We did this not as an act of faith in God, but as act of obedience to mom. It was what she wanted.

After we made the request, I realized my time with my mother was now potentially measured in minutes. No one had given mom much chance of breathing without the ventilator. When the person from respiratory came and removed it, mom would in all likelihood no longer be breathing.

She did breathe though. She breathed through that night and every night since then. Still, she is sick and she has a long recovery in front of her.

After mom had started breathing on her own, I went back to the waiting room. I had long ago lost track of time, but it must have around midnight or later. There in the waiting room were eight or ten folks from Ball Camp Baptist Church. Church! Thank you.

What is Church?

What is church? There are many ways to answer that question. Some would answer it by saying it is a place. It is the place one goes to worship God and study about the things of God. Place can be significant factor in determining what church is for us. Church is that place our mothers and fathers or our grandparents brought us to when we were too young to where we where or what any of it meant. It is the place where we were baptized. It is the place where we made a decision to follow Christ. Our weddings very often take place in sanctuaries, thereby giving even more significance to that place we call church. For some, church is the place where they said good-by to a loved one during a funeral service. What is Church? Church is that place where milestones occur in our lives. Things happen there that we will always remember.

Others would say that church is not primarily a place. It is not fixed or built, but it is something alive and dynamic. Church accepts us when we do not feel so very acceptable to even ourselves. Church sees something in us that is not readily discernible when we reflect on our own lives. Church gives to us well before we give anything to anyone and while we still think we have nothing to give. Church reaches out to us even when we are not certain we like the idea of being reached. Church has a door open for us even while we feel more comfortable somewhere else. Church does these sorts of things because these are the sorts of things that Church has always done. The church did those kinds of things for the people who are there now doing them for people who have just arrived or who are nearby, but not quiet there just yet. All of these sorts of things point toward the grace and acceptance that God offers to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, lives with that Grace and offers that acceptance. In so doing, it is Church.

Still others might say that Church is people first and foremost. People who gather at a place and act in ways that God has gifted them and called them to act. They teach. They serve. They give. They hug. They hold onto one another. They believe. They teach. They serve. They feed hungry people. They help those in need. They laugh. They share. They play. They enjoy being together. They hate to someone hurting. They are Church. Without them, there would be no place and no living body of Christ doing the things that Christ would do if he were here.

Each of those answers would sound right to some folks and each of those answers describes Church. While questions about what Church is or even about what Church has been are important and helpful to ask, the question of what will become of Church is perhaps the more important question. What will Church be? Answering that question gets a little more complicated in a hurry. A host of issues and factors come to mind in determining what lies in the future for Church.

For those of us in Church, we have something to say about how this question gets answered in the days ahead. While the specifics of what it will look like may be beyond the scope of our ability to forecast, we can say with some certainty what some of the factors in determining that future will be.

One of the factors that will shape our church will be our praying. By praying, I mean praying for the strength and well-being of Church to be certain, but not simply praying for Church. I also mean being a Church that prays. Collectively and as individuals, our time in prayer, perhaps more than anything else we do, will contribute to what Church looks like in the future. Church belongs to God. Church is what God is waiting on and preparing a place for. Prayer is getting to know God and being known by God. What we do as Church is born out of our relationship with God. Prayer gives God the opportunity to speak into our lives and form us as God would have us to be. If we do not give God that opportunity, then we miss becoming what we might have been had we done so.

Someone might say “pray for the church” or “the church needs your prayers.” While either of those requests might be true and timely at any given point in time, the deeper truth is that we will always need to pray more than the church will need our prayers. Praying is how we know God. We need to know God more and more each day. Does the Church need our prayers? Always, but not as much as we need to pray them.