What is in a Name?

In the early days of the movement we know today as the Baptist branch of the Christian faith, those who were moving in a Baptist direction did not refer to themselves as Baptist.  They were called by Baptist by those who opposed them. It was a term of derision that was not meant as compliment. The Baptist accepted the name and made it their own by the mid 1600s.  They were small bunch of people with a whole lot of conviction and not much else.  Their status was bottom of the barrel and their ability to win friends and influence people was virtually nonexistent. For that reason, they always seemed to be getting kicked out or run off. In 1607, John Smyth, founder and leader of a band of believers that would become Baptists, led his people to Holland in order to escape religious persecution in England. In 1635, Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist Church in what would become the United States of America was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his nonconformist views on religious matters.  In 1770, James Ireland, a Virginia Baptist pastor, was kicked out of free society and into Culpepper County jail for preaching the Baptist understanding of Christianity. From the very beginning, Baptists have an established legacy of being made to feel less than welcome by those who had the power to make their lives uncomfortable.

Even in the 21st century some Baptists are still getting kicked out of places. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is about to kick the Tarrant Baptist Association out of the building that the seminary owns. The seminary is kicking the association out because the association has yet to make any effort to kick one of its member churches, Broadway Baptist Church, out of the association. The association is way behind schedule from the seminary’s point of view as Broadway has already been kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Broadway was kicked out of the SBC and BGCT because they would not kick any homosexuals out of their church. Now the seminary is kicking out the association because their failure to kick Broadway out of the association cannot viewed as anything other than tacit approval of Broadway’s decision to not kick homosexuals out of their church.

If all you know of Baptist history is the last thirty years, then you might be inclined to think that the Baptists in this latest dispute are the ones doing the kicking.  In the past three decades, Baptists have grown quite adept at kicking people out; running people off and making those different from them feel less than welcome. They seem to find a great deal of satisfaction in doing to others what was done in earlier times to very people who started the Baptist movement. Broadway Baptist Church and Tarrant Baptist Association are in good company. Smyth, Williams, Ireland and a host of Baptist forebears experienced the pain of exclusion, the threat of harm and the brute force of coercion at the hands of those who thought they were speaking for God.  Their courage and conviction bear fruit to this day in the resolve shown by Broadway, Tarrant and others who refuse to be bullied by church hierarchies that seem more concerned about their own agendas than in sharing the richness of God’s grace with one another and with the world.

In the beginning, it was the Baptists that were getting kick out of places.  Truth be told, it still is.

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Remembering Mary Martin

In Hebrews 12:1-3 we read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

That great cloud of witnesses is richer and fuller tonight because Ms. Mary Martin has taken her place among them. Tonight, her love for Christ and His church has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her passion for telling the story of God’s work in the world through Ball Camp Baptist Church has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her love for children and her dedication to teaching them the story of our faith has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her adventurous heart and her determined spirit have joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.

Monday morning of this week, Mary’s life on this earth came to an end. She was blessed with a long and full life, and we were blessed by the way she lived it.  For most of the last decade, Mary moved with grace and dignity through the halls of Arbor Terrace Assisted Living Facility.  She carried herself with a style and confidence that made you think that she was in charge of the whole place; and that is exactly what she wanted you to think.  Rarely, during those days did it occur to me to think of Mary as a person approaching 100 years of age. She was full of life.  Mary’s condition changed in the last couple of weeks. Those changes in Mary’s condition made me thankful that she had been able to be as active as she was during the last decade of her life.

We can be thankful that Mary lived such a long and full life that contributed so much to so many people. We can also be thankful her life was active and full for so long. Yet, even with good reason to be grateful in the face of Mary’s passing, we also grieve. Death always takes those we love sooner than we are ready to let them go.

Mary is at rest now. Her labor here on this earth is finished. She has left a legacy of commitment and service to God and God’s people. If we have ears to hear, her life and her example will continue to speak to us.  We would do well to listen carefully as the testimony of Mary’s witness echoes through our fellowship.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us of the importance of our children and our responsibility to teach them.  For 50 years, Mary taught children in Sunday School in this church. Long before a book was written telling us that it takes a whole village to raise a child, Mary was investing her life into the children of the Ball Camp Baptist Church and community. Were children important to Mary? Fifty years. How important were children to Mary? Fifty years. Did it matter to Mary that generations of children learned the lessons of faith and of God’s great love for each of them? Fifty years. With her life, she proclaimed clearly the value of our children and the vital necessity of teaching them, loving them, and leading them to a personal understanding of the love and grace of God.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us of the significance of our history.  Mary loved our church in many ways.  She had a particular passion for the history of our church. In 1970, her History of Ball Camp Baptist Church was awarded third place in a nationwide competition sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. (If you would like a copy of Mary’s book, there are two copies in very good condition available at Amazon.com.)

Mary did not just write history, she lived it. She lived it as a Baptist woman with a deep faith in the grace and mercy of God. Her faith was personal, and her soul was competent. She knew that she was a part of a royal priesthood, and she did not hesitate to use the gifts and talents that God had given to her to proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

When Mary left her home and moved to Arbor Terrace, she took with her scrapbooks of clippings and photos of the life and ministry of our church. She would not let go of that which was so dear to her.  If we listen carefully to Mary’s life, we will hear her saying that our past is important and that our heritage matters.  As Baptists, that means we each have both the freedom and responsibility to read our Bibles with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and to listen for what God would say to us, trusting in the word of God rather than man-made creeds and confessions. It means that church for us is a gathering of people for whom Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. It means that together we discern God’s direction for our common life without interference from ecclesiastical or governmental interference.

The history and heritage of her faith mattered to Mary. How much? Well, she wrote a book about it.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us that our own lives are gifts from God to be celebrated and to be shared.   I never met Mary’s husband. When she would tell me stories of their life together, she referred to him as Martin.  One of her favorite stories involved a night of dancing in a hotel ballroom in downtown Knoxville. After that night, Martin was smitten. Their destiny was to be together. In those days, as Mary would tell the story, the Baptists did not take kindly to those of their membership who frequented dance halls and such. “Such scandalous behavior,” Mary would say as she told me the story with a twinkle in her eye.

Together, they were faithful servants of the Lord at Ball Camp Baptist Church. When our present sanctuary was being built, the church met for worship in the Martin’s store. They gave themselves to God and their community in every way they could.

Whatever we have said tonight, as we remember Mary, will fade with time.  Yet, if we listen carefully, her life will continue to speak to us of what it means to live a rich life that brings glory and honor to God.

Finally, from Mary’s History of Ball Camp Baptist Church, the invitation that she accepted and offered each day of her life and that is offered to each one of us tonight:

To all who are weary and need rest, to all who are lonely and want friendship, to all who morn and need comfort, to all who pray and to all who do not, to all who sin and need a Savior, and to all whosoever will, this Church opens wide its doors and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ says, “Welcome!”

Mary has been welcomed home. She is at rest with the Lord. Amen.

Going Global with the Presence of Christ

Do you remember when you were lost, alone and separated from God? Do you remember when the guilt and shame of sin kept even a ray of hope from shining on your life? Do you remember when you were saved, forgiven? Do you remember the joy and the peace, the relief and the release that came from knowing how much God loved you? Do you remember discovering for the first time in your own life that God made a way for you to be accepted and whole, liberated and redeemed?

This week, at the annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, 16 people were commissioned to go to some remote places on this earth for the sole purpose of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that they who have never heard might experience the same joy and the same grace that you experienced when you first learned of God’s great love for you. These 16 will go to China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Spain, Eastern North Carolina, Chile, Georgia, Haiti and South Africa. They will join with others who have already gone. They go to plant churches, practice medicine, do poverty relief, train local church leaders, teach in universities and seminaries, minister to women and children, and facilitate the transformation of communities. All in all, they go to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, to be the presence of Jesus Christ, and to announce the Kingdom of God.

These people, along with those who have been sent before them, go where they are going on your behalf.  They go to more places to encounter more people than any of us ever could on our own. They go to tell and to live the story of God’s amazing grace for us.

They do a great service for us and for God’s Kingdom.  We ought to be eager to pray for them and to remember them when we are in the presence of the Lord. There names are:

Anna Anderson

Anjani and James Cole

Rachel Brunclikova

Lindsay, Cindy, and Ryan Clark

Mickael Eyraud

Kamille Krahwinkel

Blake and Rebecca Hart

Carole Jean and Jack Wehmiller

Jennifer Jenkins

Mark and Sarah Williams

Our prayers are vital for all those who serve and who are sent; but our prayers are not the only way that we need to support and stand behind them. We also need to share our resources.

At the conclusion of worship services next Sunday morning, we will be receiving an offering. That is our custom on Sundays when we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Normally our offering on Lord’s Supper Sundays is used to meet benevolent needs in our community. Right now, our benevolence fund is adequate for the needs we anticipate until we gather again at the Lord’s Table. Therefore, since the CBF Offering for Global Missions is running about 30% behind where it should be for this time of year, we are going to send our July offering for benevolence to the uttermost parts of the world.

We are accustomed to promoting the Offering for Global Missions and giving to it at Christmas and Easter. Giving to it on the Fourth of July may seem a little odd. Yet, it is altogether appropriate in one sense, because in giving to it, we are extending to those who are still held captive by the power of sin and death the opportunity to be set free. What better way to celebrate the earthly freedom, that has been bought for us by the sacrifice of so many, than to give the gift of eternal freedom paid for by the sacrifice of the One who said, “. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Shakespeare, Football and Faith

If you follow college athletics, and college football in particular, you have been intrigued in recent days about schools switching conferences. There was talk for a time of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech leaving the Big 12 Conference and joining the Pac-10 Conference.  As it turns out, Texas was just trying to get a better deal from the Big 12, and used the threat of leaving as leverage to do so.  In the midst of the frenzy, Nebraska did leave the Big 12 to join the Big 10. The Big 10, which now has 12 member schools instead of 11, will no doubt continue to refer to itself as the Big 10. They seem to think that the historical value of the name is more important than whether or not it provides an accurate description of their conference. Meanwhile, Colorado has left the Big 12 to join the Pac-10. There is no word yet as to whether the Pac-10 will now be the Pac-11 or not.

Those two defections leave the Big 12 with only ten member institutions. Again, there is a bit of  an “accuracy in labeling” issue. Can the Big 12 still be the Big 12 if they only have 10 schools? One thing is for sure, they can not be the Big 10; which, while it does have 12 schools, still has prior claim to the Big 10 moniker. So what will the Big 12 do? Rumor has it that there is a possibility that Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University might be invited to join the Big 12. If this were to happen, it would be a reunion of sorts. TCU and SMU used to play ball with many current members of the Big 12 in what used to the Southwest Conference before it was dissolved some 17 years ago.  “The wheel has come full circle. . .”

Years ago, when the fundamentalist began their takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, T. C. Pickney was a leader in that effort. Before they gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention, many of them were not eager to support the mission efforts of the convention.  Moderates tried unsuccessfully to make support of the Cooperative Program a litmus test of sorts. They argued that elected leaders of the SBC should come from churches that support the Cooperative Program with at least 10 percent of their undesignated receipts. The fundamentalists countered that argument by saying they should not have to support that with which they did not agree. Their success in taking over the Convention proved that they were right. Ironically, T.C. Pickney, at this week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, made a motion that one of the qualifications of being an elected leader in the Southern Baptist Convention be membership in a local church that gives at least 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program. Maybe now they wish they had not been so right. They are discovering that taking over something is easier than taking care of something.  “The wheel has come full circle. . .”

As we look together toward our future as the people of God in this place, we ought to ever be humbly aware of how little we can actually see. As we discern together the direction God might have for us, we ought to do so with the same faithfulness and willingness to sacrifice that motivated the widow to cast her coins in the temple treasury so long ago. What we are doing 10 or 15 years from now is not the most important thing for us to know. Neither is knowing where and how we will be expressing our faith or with what other groups or individuals we will be working with to share the love of Christ.  What is important, vitally important, is knowing Who has called us, has saved us, Who has commissioned us to go into the world with words of life.  Some things are just too far into the future for us to see, whether we are talking about tomorrow or next year; but what is possible for us to always know is that God is with us and will be with us.  More than that, God will not stop calling us, stop inviting us to join in the task of living and telling the story of God’s great love for every person, in every nation, in all of God’s creation.

Future, Forward, Faith is about asking questions, dreaming answers, and listening to one another.  We may have all kinds of questions about our future. We may explore an array of ways to go forward. Yet, our questions about faith will not be as uncertain as perhaps those about the future and going forward into it are. This is true because yesterday, today, and tomorrow God’s desire is the same. God wants to be in an intimate, loving relationship with everyone in the human race. That includes each one of us. God not only wants to be in that kind of relationship with us, God also wants us to be a part of introducing others to that kind of relationship.

Therefore, the questions about our faith will be more about us than they are about God. As we go forward into the future together, how will our faith grow deeper, richer, and broader? Will we be more in love with God? That depends to some extent on us, on how we answer some of those questions, and on the ways we choose to serve our Lord. Ultimately, we circle back to the cross of Calvary and sacrificial love. That amazing love calls us to sacrificial living. If the cross is before us, our faith cannot help but grow deeper, richer and broader.

“. . .Particular Knowledge”

Thomas Helwys penned these words nearly 400 years ago:

That the members of every Church or Congregation ought to know one another, so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another, both to soul and body.  And especially the Elders ought to know the whole flock, whereof the HOLY GHOST hath made them overseers. And therefore a Church ought not to consist of such a multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another.

They are from a lengthier confession of faith written by Helwys for a small group of Baptists who remained in Amsterdam, for fear of persecution if they returned to England. The Baptist faith was still young and fragile at this time. Helwys’ words were the first attempt to put the Baptist faith in the form of a confession.  One Baptist history estimates that the number of members of Helwys’ church to be 10 or so, which makes his emphasis on a church being of such a size that members can “have particular knowledge of one another” particularly interesting. If there were only a dozen people in the church, how could you not know them all?

Whatever else Helwys thought about the church, its mission, and its purpose, he understood that knowing one another was a central part of being church.  The connections made in the context of one’s participation in a local church are not merely the result of human need for social interaction; they are an expression of New Testament Christianity.

Last Sunday as we celebrated our 213th anniversary, I was reminded of Helwys’ words in both positive and negative ways. Negative because it is difficult to have a “particular knowledge” of one another on Sunday mornings when we worship in three different services; positive because in each of those services we gather to worship a living Savior that we have come to understand through the unique and rich experience of being members of Ball Camp Baptist Church.

As I watched us worship, eat, worship again, baptize new believers and dedicate new hymnals last week, I saw so many wonderful people who walk daily with the Lord and serve Him with enormous dedication.  We are so blessed to have each other.  There is much that we can learn from one another, and much we have to share with our community and the world.

Jesus taught his disciples saying, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Look around you at the faces of those gathered to worship this morning. We have been given much and entrusted with much. Nowhere is that more evident than in the lives of those that we join together with for worship each Sunday.

Let us continue to celebrate the joy and grace that we find in each other, as we deepen our “particular knowledge” of one another, by being thankful for long-time friends and by introducing ourselves to soon-to-be friends in the body of Christ at Ball Camp Baptist Church.

How do Women Preachers Dress on Easter?

Early in the morning she is on her way to the cemetery, to the place where he was laid to rest. What is going through her mind as she makes her way to his grave?

Maybe she is blaming herself. Reliving the last few days or even years to try to figure what she might have done to cause his death or what she might have done to prevent it.  Painstakingly, she examines her words, her actions trying to find a clue to help her understand why this has happened. What could she have done that would cause things to turn out differently?

Perhaps she is too scared to be thinking of what she might have done or not done, said or not said. Maybe she is concerned for her own safety.  After all, he is dead. Will they stop with him or will they come after those who followed him?  If she is afraid, her fear is not enough to keep from going to where he is buried. Others may be too frightened to venture out, but not her. Fear or no fear, she will go to him.

She may well be numb. Grief does that sometimes, just leaves a person mercifully numb. With the immense tragedy of the loss floating somewhere beyond the reaches of her mind, she puts one foot in front of the other. At least, she is moving. One step at a time, she goes to him. What will she do when she gets there? Cry some more. Who knows? All she can handle right now is putting one foot in front of the other. She will figure the rest out when the time comes.

She does get there. They all have her there on that first Easter morning, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some of the details and characters vary, but each of them place Mary Magdalene at the tomb of her Lord that morning.

Weeping outside the tomb she hears a voice. He calls her name. In that moment the first Easter sermon gets written. Later she will proclaim to the others, “I have seen the Lord!”

Every sermon preached this Sunday will in some way expand on what Mary said that first Easter morning.  No doubt, they will be longer than hers. Filled out with illustrations and a poem or two they will be meaningless without the truth of her first Easter sermon.  If her words are not true, there is no church.  A movement that gave hope, healing and meaning to a good many people merely fades into annals of time.  Without the truth of her words, all that could be said is that a good man died. The same thing could be said of many good men and good women over the last 2000 years. Their names are in history books and they are remembered from time to time.

However, because of the truth of her witness, people don’t just think about Jesus from time to time.  Some people think of him every day. Some gather weekly with others to worship him. A good many more find their way to a sanctuary each year to celebrate Christmas and Easter. All the words in all the years since that resurrection morning spoken in all the places were the name of Jesus has been praised are preceded by Mary’s simple, yet earth changing message, “I have seen the Lord.”

I know that there are those who would say that five words do not make a sermon. Yet, on that first Easter morning those five words are the best preachin’ available. If that is all the preaching that happens on the first Easter, some may wonder why God did not arrange the order of things so that those words come from the mouth of a man rather than Mary’s.  If God did not want women to preach, then why is it that on the most significant day in Christian history the most significant message in Christian history, along with specific instructions to deliver it is given to a woman?

The question arises “How do women preachers dress?” Well, the first one dressed like a grief stricken soul whose deep sadness was turned to great joy.   Cloaked in numbing sorrow, she was wearing resurrection life before she was finished. This is to say that what a woman wears when she is proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not really the point at all.  The point is that she has had an experience with the risen Lord,   an experience so real, so life-changing that she cannot help but tell others.

May the church that bears his name have ears to hear the words of his servants, male and female, as Mary’s sermon gets reused again.

How do Women Preachers Dress?

“I am going to be a preacher,” she told me.  “Wonderful,” I said.  Of course, I knew that she was talking about her role in the upcoming youth Easter drama, but I was excited for her nonetheless.  Then she asked, “Should I dress as a woman or a man?”  I told her that she should dress as a woman and that she was going to be a great preacher.  Yet, I was troubled by her question.

I was troubled because the question on her part represented an uncertainty as to whether or not a woman could be a preacher, so much so that she considered dressing as a man necessary to more accurately portray the role she had been given in the play.  Her church ordains women as Deacons.  There is no leadership position in her church from which women are excluded.  From time to time, women fill the pulpit as guest preachers, though obviously not enough to give her a clear impression that she did not need to dress as a man in order to play a preacher in the Easter drama.

The uncertainty about women in pastoral roles, not just of a teen-aged girl but of the rest of us as well, demonstrates just how effective the cultural in which we live is undermining the teachings of a local church.  The Bible we read gives us countless examples of women working for the Lord and leading young churches.  Our scriptures are bold to say that “. . .in Christ, there is neither male nor female. . .,” and that in the last days God will pour out God’s spirit on all flesh so that our “. . .sons and (y)our daughters shall prophesy.”

How then do we find ourselves, at times, uncertain and ambivalent about who God can call to do God’s work?  Consider for a moment that women have been allowed to vote in our country for less than a hundred years.  Generally speaking, the arguments against women voting sounded high-minded and moral.  The Holy Scriptures were often invoked to undergird arguments against women voting.  Of course, voting was not the only thing that women were not allowed to do.  There were any number of professions and careers that were off limits to women simply because they were women.  Preaching was high on the list of occupations unsuitable for women.  Today, the list of careers that women cannot pursue is whittled down to one – preaching — and then only in certain pockets of the Christian faith.  Of all the activities that society once deemed off limits to women, preaching remains.

Those opposed to women preaching unfailingly state their position with passages from the Bible that would seem to suggest that women should not have leadership roles in the church.  I would grant that there are such passages of scripture, but there are also passages of scripture that would suggest just the opposite.  So then, the question becomes not so much what the Bible says, but how do we read what the Bible says.  Will we read it as people who long for the days when women were denied freedom and opportunity, or will we read it as a people who believe that the God who said God’s spirit would be poured out on all flesh is, in fact, doing that very thing even as we speak?

Today the pastor of Pingdu Christian Church in Pingdu, China is a woman.  This church was started in 1885, when a tiny woman from Virginia ventured, on her own, 120 miles inland to share the Gospel in a city that had no Christian witness.  That woman’s name was Lottie Moon.  She was appointed as a missionary to China by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.  No, she would not have been allowed to pastor a church in the United States at that time, but it was fine for her to go where no man was willing to and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Today, pastor Wang Xia, leads multiple congregations and meeting points, along with her pastoral associates, telling the same story that was told the residents of her city long ago by Miss Lottie Moon.

Baptists have had women preachers throughout our history.  We have just not always appreciated them as such.  Even today, as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary prepares to reconstruct Miss Moon’s Pingdu house into an on-campus historical display, the living legacy of Miss Moon’s devotion to the cause of Christ is ignored and rejected by Southern Baptists.  They have trademarked her name, but they have shackled her spirit.  They are happy to use their fundamentalized version of Lottie Moon to raise money for their enterprise, even while they ignore and demean the gifts and callings of her spiritual descendants.

We honor the legacy of Lottie Moon, and others like her, when we help our children, our sons and our daughters, listen to whatever God is saying in their lives.  We keep that legacy alive when in faith we, along with our children, say yes to God’s call in our lives.

No doubt Catherine B. Allen says it best in this months Baptists Today, “The stones in Fort Worth will cry out a message the seminary has officially rejected. Ye who have ears, listen to what the Spirit says!”