As a youngster I was well-schooled in the virtue of perseverance. I heard over and over how Churchill told his people “Never give up.” By the way, he didn’t say that. It was actually a lot of nevers followed by “give in.” Not quite the same, but still a great exhortation. I played a lot of sports, so Vince Lombardi’s words sounded as sacrosanct as most scripture. “Winners never quit and quitters never win”, he said. And history showed that few teams or players under his charge rarely did. And for good reason; one of his other quotes was “You must be fired with enthusiasm, or you will be fired with enthusiasm.” That certainly kept not keeping up to a minimum.
Let’s say a church wants to find the best possible way to be Jesus in the city in our city. We want to find a way to do the things that can bring impact that lives far beyond the act of caring. We can hope that our pointed efforts would pass the muster of making the world more like God would want it to be. Beyond acts of strategic generosity, we might want to prioritize building relationships to add depth, longevity, and authenticity. We would hope to find an opportunity that mirrors every challenge our community faces, and then simply ask the question “How can we help you?” Oh yeah, and we really work hard to do this with no agenda other than to be Jesus for some people and do it in a way that absolutely reflects the spirit of love that is uniquely his.
The last installment in the Finding Our Freedoms series arrives this Sunday. It has been an interesting walk for me pastorally and personally – as it oft happens when the implications of certain truths appear both pastoral and personal. It is my calling to bear witness of the Spirit that sets us free, free indeed. But once in a while that same Spirit will rise up to say “Hold on a minute, Glen; I need to bear you a bit of witness before you do.” And then He does; and did.
Sunday sermons are funny things. Confession; sometimes I step up to the plate totally convinced that the message is a home run, only to find out it’s a soft single or a short fly ball at best. Then there are the days I have walked gingerly to the pulpit praying my words might at least be serviceable, maybe even help somebody and, dear Lord, do no harm. As one preacher put it, sometimes you’ve got something to say; and sometimes you have to say something. One of the most important sermons I remember preaching pitched its tent in that second camp.
It was about our need to forgive others, if for no other reason than resentment just doesn’t work. There were some other reasons, but the offer of laying down some long-lugged load was suddenly inviting to folks. They leaned in and listened, and afterwards a dusty altar was swept clean by praying knees and long held back tears. And I really didn’t see it coming.
For the better part of a month I have been working my way series called “Finding Our Freedom.” The more I prepare and preach, the more I see that I should have out an “S” on the end of it. While freedom is singularly wonderful word, its pursuit comes from the core of every craving, from desires dwelling deep down in the soul and psyche. There are a lot of freedoms we need to know and know. That’s true for everybody. And every church.
Our congregation is deeply rooted in the free church tradition, specifically its Baptist branch. We have been accused over the centuries of being too individualistic when it comes to personal faith and its corporate expression through the church. Five hundred years ago it was more than a rowdy idea that every person was competent to read the Bible and, under the leadership of the Spirit, interpret it. It seemed heresy to say that all souls could claim access to God through Jesus, and nobody else. Governments didn’t like it much when folks defied the dictate to stick to the nationally endorsed church and stay loyal to both. Neither did the power religious institutions who had cozied up to them. And if individuals could chart their faith and practice, it stood to reason our forebearers would claim the same for the local church.
Lisa has always said that Independence Day was her favorite family holiday. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are pretty wonderful, mind you, but are often be marked with a heaping helping of expectations. Demands and stress. Not so with The Fourth. No days of decorating and gift gathering. Hot dogs and watermelon are easier to assemble than the full fare of a Thanksgiving feast. And the kids will find shorts, flip flops, and an Old Navy T-shirt preferable to any springtime primp and pose.
As for our clan, we are off to Atlanta to join sixty thousand of our closest friends for the six point two miles of painful patriotism known as the Peachtree Road Race. For a decade and a half, that’s what we have done by the dawn’s early light. And post race recovery can only take place at The Nuevo Laredo Cantina. Later, the twilight’s last gleaming will fall on us and the Atlanta Braves, followed by some serious rocket’s red glare. And it’s all in the company of people we want to be with, and nobody we don’t. How good is that? Let freedom ring.
Earlier this week a dear friend entered my office with a big plastic bag filled with, well, I had no idea what, and an even bigger smile. I could tell that he was dying to unveil some treasure that I might find interesting and significant. He was right. In time I’ll reveal more about the contents, but today, let me talk about the context of this one of a kind artifact, chocked full of photographs and memories from the annals of old FBC.
Comparing one’s self to others to fix our place in the world is about as human as it gets. From the day Cain told Abel “I think Mama loves you more'”, people have been using others as the measuring stick for self worth, justice, status; you name it. Everyone’s baby is prettier than the one in the crib next door. Grades, sports statistics, social placement, special talents, fitness, and beauty all come into play. And now the Facebook world has us comparing our saddest self to other people’s highlight reels. It’s a treadmill that’s hard to stay on – and harder to get off. And that is just not helpful to anyone.
For the bulk of my ministry, I have been intrigued with the biblical concept of servant leadership. And if you have paid attention, its tenets have enjoyed resurgence in both organizational and personal development over the past couple of decades. As Christ followers, we should not be surprised; after all, that is the way Jesus lived and led. And it’s the way he clearly encouraged his disciples to follow the lead of his words and actions. Still does.
The book of Acts is an intriguing narrative about the beginnings and establishment of the early Christian church. Referred to as “The Acts of the Apostles”, this sequel to Luke’s gospel is neatly divided into the stories of Peter and Paul and the cast of characters that accompanied them. This first post-gospel biblical entry presents a story line of the unbelievable and the absolutely predictable happenings surrounding the first century church. And it didn’t take them long to arrive at the intersection of practical need and personal response. The answer was the calling of the first deacons.
It felt odd but good to sit at our kitchen table right in the middle of a sermon. The “Breakfast With Jesus” theme kind of sent me on a sermonic detour. I do love the image of sitting with Jesus over grits and eggs (I know it was bread and fish, but go with me here) and share meaningful time with him at a real high leverage moment.
I think of all the things that Jesus could have said to them in that moment. “Still don’t get it do you? How many times am I going to have to come back to you? And Peter, I told you you would melt under pressure. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?” But he didn’t. He simply said, “Sit down boys; let’s talk?” I’m pretty sure that came after he asked djeetyet?
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