Standing Out in the Crowd

Working in a concession stand in the cavernous underworld of Neyland Stadium, you meet some interesting people. He was wearing blue and white.  His shirt was blue and his hair was white. This was not his first football game.  The University of Kentucky insignia on his shirt made me wonder if he had lost his sense of direction.  Tennessee was getting ready to play Florida, and his Wildcats where 170-odd miles to the north, getting ready to play the Zips of Akron.  His explanation was that Kentucky was not playing an opponent worthy of his time and effort.  He wanted to see a more competitive game, so he came to Knoxville.

Still, he seemed just a little out of place.  I think he sensed that as well.  When I gave him the hot dog and Coca-Cola that he had ordered, he did not pick them up and return to his seat.  Rather, he moved down the counter a foot or two and started to unwrap his hot dog.  I thought he might just be checking to see if his packets of mustard, ketchup and relish were actually inside the wrapper, as I had told him they were. Instead, he turned his corner of the concession stand into a lunch counter, and proceeded to munch on his hot dog and drink his Coke.

His standing there to eat seemed a little strange to me, but then I realized he was most likely sitting in a section of the stadium that was full of Florida fans.  Perhaps that was the source of his reluctance to return to his seat.  Of course, he could well have been sitting next to Tennessee fans and that might not have been much better for someone wearing a University of Kentucky shirt.  Either way, I wondered if he felt a bit lonely and out of place.  He was the only person I saw wearing Kentucky blue.  Now, I doubt that he did feel lonely.  He obviously knew who he was and why he had come to this place.

Knowing who we are, and why we are where we are, is essential for followers of Christ if we are to be faithful to the call of Christ on our lives, while living in a world full of folks whose behavior and values sometimes, if not most of the time, cause us to stick out like a UK fan at a Tennessee/Florida game.  The way of Christ calls us to humility, concern for the needs of others, honesty about our own shortcomings, and trust in God and God alone. The world in which we live places great value on glitz and celebrity, power and personal gain, winning at all cost, and trusting  in whomever or whatever will get us what we think we want.

When Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves,” He was not exaggerating. Our culture has a riptide effect that can sweep us along through life, conforming us to its norms and values without our ever giving a second thought to what we believe, why we believe what we believe, or the implications of that belief. When Jesus said, “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” He was serious about making a distinction between the behavior and values of His followers and those who were not His followers. More importantly, He was concerned about making it clear to those who would follow Him that doing so would cost them the luxury of fitting snuggly and warmly into the world in which they lived.  Following Christ means intentionally entering into a process that forms us in the image of Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the others. Simply put, as followers of Christ we want to be spiritually formed by Christ and in Christ in order to transform the world, not to conform to it. Jesus does not send us out among wolves so that we will become wolves. So then there will be times if we are obedient to the call of Christ, that we will find ourselves sticking out like a UK fan at a Tennessee/Florida game.

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A Prayer for Hailey Rose

My niece, Hailey Rose Rowland, has started school.  She is in Kindergarten at Karns Elementary.  I want to say a prayer for her. Of course, I am praying for her safety and well-being as well as for my sister and brother-in-law as they continue to come to grips with their little girl going off to school. I know that she is going to do well in school because she shares her middle name with her Great-Aunt Connie, who is a very smart woman.

I am praying. . .

. . .that she gains an understanding of the world in which she lives, the good and the bad, which will serve her well through the course of her life.

. . .that she develops a sensitivity to the needs and experiences of other children, those with whom she shares a classroom and those from different parts of the world.

. . .that she learns to analyze problems in a way that leads to solutions that benefit everyone involved.

. . .that she is able to see that perception is not always reality, if it ever is.

. . .that she finds the ability to compromise when negotiation is needed and that she holds convictions about which she will not compromise.

. . .that she comes to understand what it means to seek the common good.

. . .that she learns what it is to be civil and how to have a conversation that reflects her appreciation for truth and integrity.

. . .that she discovers the importance of listening.

. . .that she looks at school not as something that she has to do, but as a gift that presents her with the opportunity to learn, grow and develop each day.

What I pray for my niece Hailey I pray for each of our students. I pray that wherever they go to school, whatever their learning environment that they learn everything that they can about the subjects they are studying and the world in which they will apply that knowledge. In seventeen short years, our kindergarteners will be out of college and finding their way in the life. May the journey they have just begun take them to a full and happy life.

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.

Reunion

Walking into a new surgery waiting room at U.T. Medical Center, I was just a little perplexed.  If health care is in such a crisis in our country, why is it that every hospital in our community has been remodeled or expanded in the last ten years?  Why have two new hospitals been built?  No, health care — at least the hospital side of it — seems to be thriving if new and expanded facilities are any indication.

Sitting in that new waiting room in a newly expanded wing of the hospital, I noticed a woman.  In my mind, I said, “That woman looks just like Imogene Hutson.”  Imogene is the wife of Jim.  He was called to be pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockwood while I was a student at Carson-Newman.  While the woman I was looking at in the waiting room looked very much like his wife, I was not convinced that it was her; at least, not convinced enough to approach her and speak to her.  She, however, was convinced that I was me and she waved me over to where she was sitting.

We got started catching up.  Jim was in surgery.  Their daughter, Susan, was doing well. Their son, Steve, was serving a church in Murfreesboro.  Then I gave her an update on my mother, my sister, my wife and my boys.  We had a reunion of sorts.  It was unplanned and unexpected; but in just a few minutes of visiting together, I was reminded of some pleasant days, good memories, and wonderful relationships.

From time to time, it is good, even necessary, for us to be reminded of where we have come from and to whom we are indebted for nurturing us along our journey.  The Hutsons are just two of a great number of people who have given encouragement and direction to my life.  We do well to remember those who have given themselves to us along the way.

Every person who touches our lives is not necessarily someone that we have known or with whom we have had a personal relationship.  Our church covenant represents a way that our lives are touched by a number of people, many of whom we have not known personally.  For generations, men and women have sought to live out the commitments they have made to God and to each other as members of Ball Camp Baptist Church.  The fruit of their daily effort to keep those promises is seen today in our vibrant community of faith.

Consider these words from our church covenant:

We engage therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church in knowledge, holiness and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines, to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expense of the church, and the relief of the poor and those in need, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.

We are here today worshipping and serving God in no small part because those who have gone before us took seriously their promise to walk together, to sustain worship, and to spread the gospel to all nations.  Most of the time when we think about what we are doing to impact our community and our world for Christ, we think about what we can do right now to make a difference.  Yet, our efforts to keep the promise we have made to God and to each other will not merely impact the times in which we live.  No, the fruits of our efforts will be realized for generations to come.

Celebrating Religious Freedom!

I would not hazard a guess as to how many preachers in these United States will make some reference this Sunday morning to our nation’s founding fathers, and their reliance on the Ten Commandments in forging the laws for our new nation. My suspicion is that such references will be numerous, if unfounded.  That is not to say that those who founded our nation were persons without religious conviction. They no doubt were persons with unique and personal understanding of what it meant to be religious. However, in founding a new nation, they took every precaution to make certain that religion would be free from unnecessary government entanglement, and that government would not be controlled by religion. Their goal was novel. No nation had ever existed that sought to so intentionally and purposefully protect the religious freedom of its citizens.

That we worship this Sunday in the place of our choosing, with the group of our choosing, in the manner of our choosing, and that we direct our worship toward the deity of our choosing, is a testimony to the ongoing success of their efforts to provide religious liberty for all. That a fair number of our fellow citizens will choose to not worship at all this Sunday, or will have already worshipped on Saturday or Friday, only serves to further illustrate the extent to which religious liberty and freedom of conscience prevail in our country.

Those who would suggest that our nation’s founding was the work of men who wanted to create a decidedly religious nation in general, or a Christian one in particular, would seem not to have read the relevant material.  Reading the Ten Commandments and the Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, readily demonstrates that there are fundamental differences in the intent and purpose of those documents.  A brief review of the Ten Commandments will quickly show that they did not serve as a basis for the founding of our nation.

You shall have no other gods before me. In a nation relying on the Ten Commandments to form the foundation of its government, the first amendment would never have even been conceived much less ratified. It in no way dictates that citizens must worship only the God that gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. What the first amendment protects is everyone’s right to worship any god they choose, or no god at all.

You shall not make for yourself an idol. From the soaring Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, the monuments and memorials that mark the American experience serve as vivid and poignant reminders of the lives and events that have formed and shaped our nation. Some would say that a monument is not an idol. Someone else would insist that it is. That debate can take place in a peaceful way in a nation were no law either for or against idols has been passed.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God. The framers of the U.S. Constitution took no chance on violating this commandment since they did not mention God even once in the document, wrongfully or otherwise.

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. One might suggest that the observance of the fourth commandment was one of the rights reserved to the states or the people by the 10th amendment.  I have childhood memories of stores being closed on Sundays. Some cities had “blue laws” that enforced religious standards such as forbidding the sale of certain items on a certain day.  The framers were wise to leave this one alone, as even Southern Baptists no longer prohibit secular employment on the Lord’s day so long as it is “. . .commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Honor your father and mother. There is no mention of mom or dad in the constitution.

You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. This section of the Ten Commandment most closely resembles long-standing laws in our nation. The problem with trying to say that our founders used the Ten Commandments as the source for those laws is that most every country on earth, regardless of religious heritage, has similar laws.  Refraining from murder, adultery, theft or perjury is not a distinctively Christian practice. 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.  This final commandment would seem to completely banish the notion that the Ten Commandments were a source for founding fathers. They did, after all, birth a nation on land that belonged to another. It was land that their fathers and grandfathers had coveted, and that there sons would continue to covet until, in some cases, whole tribes of people who once inhabited the land were extinguished.

This is not to say that those who sacrificed so much in order to found our nation were not men of good moral character. They were.  Yet, their morality was subject to the times in which they lived. Some of them owned slaves. They denied women the right to vote.

While most of the founders were connected to a Christian denomination, they were also doing their work as the age of enlightenment drew to a close. No doubt their work was influenced by John Locke and other enlightenment thinkers as much, if not more, than it was by their religious experience.

The Treaty of Tripoli was not ratified until John Adams held the office of President of the United States. Article 11 of that treaty reads as follow: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. . . no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” The treaty, only two pages long, was ratified in June of 1797 by a unanimous vote of the United States Senate.  A fair number of founders would have still been around the government at this time, if not actually in the government, not the least of which was Adams himself.  While it is doubtful that a treaty with such an article could be ratified in today’s hyper-charged environment of religious revisionism, it is ironic that some of the men who actually helped found our country did pass a treaty containing such sentiments.

Five years later, Thomas Jefferson penned his now famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. In it, he said, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’  thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Few words sum up any better the tremendous gift that our founding fathers gave to people of faith in our nation. Baptist founder Thomas Helwys said much the same thing in 17th century England, “If the King’s people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all humane lawes made by the King, our Lord the King can require no more: for men’s religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither may the King be judge between God and man.”

For expressing such an idea Helwys was imprisoned by King James I. Yes, the same King James whose bible so many Baptist still read. Helwys died in prison because he would not violate his conscience. Today we celebrate the freedom we have to worship and relate to God as we feel led by the Holy Spirit, and not according to the dictates of state-enforced religion. It is a wonderful freedom that we ought to cherish with gratitude and humility. Let us be mindful of the many believers around the world who have no such freedom, and still they worship the risen Lord, putting at risk their well-being and in some cases even their lives.

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.

What if Brother Lawrence had a Dishwasher?

Is possible to pray while loading the dishwasher? This may seem like an odd question, but there is historical precedence for asking it in the midst our 21st century business when we often do not seem to have time for spiritual matters and expressions of devotion to God.

Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1610. Near the middle of his life he entered a new monastery in Paris, France. His daily work was in the monastery kitchen providing meals for a community of monks that at one time numbered one hundred or so men. While Brother Lawrence was obedient to the daily routine of the monastery and went to the chapel at all the appointed times in order to pray and worship, he also found a way to pray in the kitchen. He practiced the presence of God in the ordinary routine tasks associated with the kitchen. Whether slicing bread, peeling potatoes or washing dishes he did whatever he was doing for the love of God. He did what he was doing as God was right next to him doing whatever it was with him. He practiced the presence of God. Lawrence was already in God’s presence, had already been praying, had already been worshipping when it came time to pray or worship according to the monastery schedule. His practice was to establish himself in a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with God. In a monastery kitchen, the conversations would have had rather mundane topics, but Brother Lawrence did not let that keep him from continually talking to God about the bread, the meat or the vegetables. The topic was not the essential element; the conversation partner was the crucial ingredient. Brother Lawrence’s example seems to suggest that prayer while loading the dishwasher is not only possible, but also spiritually profitable.

So then what sort of prayer do you offer or conversation do you have with God as you load a dishwasher? The obvious place to start seems to be with the cause of the dirty dishes. If there are dirty dishes, then food has been prepared and eaten. A family has been fed. With that thought in mind, does it feel weird imagining yourself saying to God, “Thank you for these dirty dishes?” Perhaps it would be more to the point to express gratitude for those who were fed and that they were fed. However, to just give thanks for dirty dishes would be a short prayer easily completed before much of the dishwasher was loaded. Each item in the sink has the potential to be a conversation starter with God.

For example, the coffee cups in our sink will have most likely have been used by wife, Patti as she is the only person in our home who regularly drinks coffee. Placing a coffee cup in the dishwasher could be an occasion to speak to God about her health and well being or perhaps just think of her and remember her in God’s presence.

In our cupboard, we have a child’s plate, bowl and cup that we keep for when our niece comes to visit. Placing those items in the dishwasher could be an occasion for remembering the gift that her life is along with all the potential that it holds. She is an especially appropriate reason to be in conversation with as her words and actions are so often a playful reminder of the wonderful creativity of God.

There is a simple chopper in our knife draw that is exactly like the one that my grandmother used in her kitchen. Many times when I pick it up I think of her. You may have items in your kitchen that remind you of a special friend or family member. Take a moment to be in God’s presence with your memories of that person and give thanks for the gift of family and friends.

Other items may well bring other people and situations to mind. The secret that Brother Lawrence discovered was that no task was too small or too mundane to do with God. In fact any task, even loading the dishwasher, is an occasion to practice the presence of God.

A Prostate Prayer

Not so many years ago I turned forty.  The whole thing was more or less anticlimactic. There were not many noticeable changes in my life, at least not many that I noticed.  One change that I did reluctantly make was to find a doctor so that I could have one to see for regular checkups and such.

I made this change reluctantly for two reasons.  First, I hate needles.  I always have. While I was well aware of advances in medical technology, I suspected that on some occasions needles would still be used.  I was right; they are.

My second reason for being reluctant was the pattern that I had observed among the members of the churches that I served — that being that once people start going to the doctor they always seem to need to go back to the doctor, or to go to another doctor and then go back to the first doctor, so that it seems that there is always a visit to the doctor looming in their future.  Turns out I was right again.

I have several friends, and more acquaintances, that have completed degrees in ministry and theology.  Discussing theology with them is something that I enjoy. My newest and best friend is Dr. Chris Ramsey.  His degree is not in theology.  His degree is in urology.  He is a great guy, though our conversations are not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as those that I have with other friends.  Yet he has pastoral sense about him.  I felt his gentleness and his concern when he told me that my prostate is cancerous.  He is thoughtful as well.  Yesterday he promised to see me regularly until he retires.  You see what I mean?  That was exactly why I was reluctant to go the doctor in the first place.  Once you start, they always find a reason for you to come back for another visit.

So now I am thankful.  I am thankful that there is something that can be done.  In fact, I have options.  I have to make a choice about which treatment I want.  How different that is from being in a situation where there are no options, no treatment, nothing that can be done.

I am thankful for all the people I have known who have faced disease, sickness and surgery and live to tell the tale.  I am especially grateful for those men that I know who have had prostate cancer and continue to live life to its fullest.  There have been many occasions in my life when I sought to give comfort to those who were facing medical challenges.  Little did I realize that they were teaching me and preparing me to face my own challenges.

I am thankful for Patti, Josh and Will for who they are to me and what they mean to me. While my condition is a long way from being life threatening, nonetheless it does give me pause to consider those people who are most important to me.  In a similar way, I think of others in my family who mean much to me.  Likewise, I am blessed with dear friends who freely share their love with me and lift prayers for me.

I am also thankful for church people.  Even before I told you about my condition, I was already drawing strength from you.  You are a gift.  You bring the presence of Christ to whomever you meet, even me.  Thank you.

I am also a little scared.  I still do not like needles, nor am I sure how I feel about a robot being turned loose inside of me.  If I knew more, I would most likely be more afraid.  But I do know that God is with me and that God will never leave me nor forsake me.  Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers.