“There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
Monday morning our Worship Pastor and my young friend Chris Culpepper shared with me the news that God has led him into a new and different season of life and ministry. Beginning October 20, Chris will become the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church, Longwood, Florida. The good folks in this Orlando suburb are welcoming a fine musician, and an even finer young man. His amazing voice might only be exceeded by the broad range of talent and heart to use them all for our Lord and his people. They will be indeed blessed by his coming.
Every now and then I get to leverage these weekly lines to simply say to my people “I’m proud of you.” Some days and weeks the sources of that appreciation will just show up in mass. When it does, my heart sings and I have to find some way to give it a voice. This week, it takes three verses.
On Tuesday I went to Lynch Elementary to meet with my new lunch pal. That’s a mentoring program that pairs adults with kids for thirty minutes a week. Wouldn’t you know it, the boy I went to see was ill and absent that day. Wasted trip? By no means. I saw no fewer than eight folks from that Church on Gandy gladly making a difference. Some were there to see their new young friends. Others were helping teachers with stuff and making sure they got a lunch break. I even saw one with shovel in-hand going out to garden things up a bit. What was most evident was the joy exuding from our people and the deep appreciation expressed by the faculty and staff. We are just beginning to make an incredible difference in the life of Lynch and its people.
Hurt happens. It always has, still does, and certainly will. Lingering pain comes from lots of sources, takes lots of shapes, and often never goes away. But if you are human and remotely self-aware, you know that already. So, how do we handle this in such a way that it doesn’t handle us?
That’s the question I took on in last Sunday’s installment of “Give Up to Go Up.” Every day we choose to hold on to our hurt is a day that we have to live with the consequences of that decision. And so does everyone around you. Hurt people hurt. And intentionally or not, hurt people hurt people. They just do. Said more personally, we just do. Confessionally, I just do too. Here’s the silver bullet, the golden key, magic wand – any good metaphor will do:
What you do with your hurt is more important than the hurt itself.
Two years ago this week, we were hunkered down, preparing for the worst any hurricane could offer. Gratefully, a five degree shift left us largely inconvenienced and within a week or so, unscathed. That has not been the fortune of our friends to the east, particularly in the Bahamas. As I write this, North Carolina is somewhere between being pelted and hammered by Dorian’s second significant venture onto land. The next few hours will let us know how they fare and what the immediate needs may be.
One of the most important lessons I have learned in life is that the source of your greatest strength can also be the source of your greatest weakness. The ability to hold strong convictions can give way to shortsighted rigidity. Having a tender heart for others often leaves folks vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Same goes for trusting. The admirable and oft-needed practice of thriftiness can both prevent and cause a lot of anxiety. Waste not want not, sure, but sometimes you have to buy the memory. The capacity for self sacrifice often paves the road to miserable martyrdom in more than a few folks. You get the idea.
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.