Associated Baptist Press carried a piece yesterday by Elizabeth Hagan entitled, “I Left the Church. Don’t Hate Me.” I recognized all the responses she received when she left the pulpit that five years before had become hers with such celebration. I do think in the Baptist world that women in senior pastorates must face some pressures that a man in his 50s can’t comprehend. Then again, I think we live in a time when expectations, opinions and reactions travel so fast and far.
I would like to offer a little perspective and help to all young ministers in this time. In a religious world that is so fast-changing and tumultuous, and in an information age in which every event feels global, I do not think these reactions are new at all, nor are they unique.
A chaplain once said in my hearing, “Jesus just kept defining himself and letting others bump up against that.” I have found this to be true, again and again. Everyone in your life has an opinion about what you ought to do with it. Many are good opinions, most are rooted in their own perspectives and interests. Expectations of us aren’t necessarily bad, but finally only God can tell us what to do with our lives and be 100% correct. Continue reading
Experiencing the Divine
Today is the last Sunday in the season the Church calls Epiphany. We have been looking at passages of scripture that remind us of wonderful manifestations of God. In today’s text we have perhaps the greatest epiphany before the glorious resurrection of Jesus. It is called the Transfiguration.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray. In Luke’s Gospel, prayer is usually the supreme posture for experiencing a divine manifestation. Remember how after his baptism Jesus was praying, and at that precise moment the heavens were opened, the Spirit descended, and the voice of God was heard.
Now Jesus was on a mountain praying. Suddenly he was transfigured. He face and clothing became a dazzling light. Those sleepy disciples became instantly awake! I can almost picture them shaking their heads and rubbing the eyes, then peering again into that light. Continue reading
Our Minister to Preschool and Children shared this resource with our staff for helping parents and children talk together.
We feed the hungry and minister to prisoners and
victims of domestic violence and we welcome strangers,
because Jesus Himself told us that he would be among them
In past months, I have received invitations to attend meetings on the issue of immigration. I have expressed myself both publicly and privately to my lawmakers about what I think about the issue and have written about the matter.
It is now getting new attention since the election, and has been for a while by political party leaders in both Republican and Democratic circles for a very pragmatic reason—the realization that Latinos are and will be ever more politically influential as a coalition that can turn an election. Many years ago, when I taught a course at Samford University’s night school on the history of American Christianity, one of the issues that the writers saw as emerging was how religion and democracy would fare in the 21st century as our nation became less and less a nation of majority European white Christians and more and more a pluralistic and diverse culture.
Politically, of course, the immediate implication is whether our way of government and our fundamental political faith in freedom and opportunity can survive without an underlying cultural and ethnic commonality. The jury is out in many commentators’ minds, but for Christians this is not really a central matter. Continue reading
Motives: Why We Do the Things We Do
Mark 12:38-44 & Philippians 1:15-18
King Duncan tells the story of a young soldier who was overseas. He was writing his girlfriend. He wanted to send her a telegram because he thought that would make more of an impression. So he gave the telegraph operator a message to send. The message was this: “I love you. I love you. I love you. John.”
The telegraph operator said, “Son, for the same amount of money you can send one more word.” So he amended his message and it read like this: “I love you. I love you. I love you. Cordially, John.”
Many of us profess our love for God, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” but when push comes to shove our devotion is more like “cordially” than it is love.
[This is a pastoral email that I wrote to our church family last week in the wake of a tragedy in our community.]
Over the last several weeks, Jim and I have been preaching a series entitled “What do I tell my kids about …?” and we have offered biblical answers to challenging questions that kids ask their parents. We’ve not shied away from talking about non-Christian religions, sexual orientation, and why bad things happen. But sometimes a question comes up that you just didn’t expect. Here’s one that came our way earlier this week:
You asked last week to send in any questions about this week’s subject (partying), but we had something different come up today. The question that I know I will have to talk with my kids about is suicide. A 6th grade boy at our son’s middle school has committed suicide. My kids know the definition of suicide, but not the why. Why would a kid feel that there was no other answer? Why would God not help this kid?
This issue isn’t in our message series, but it is worth addressing right now.
Often the crucial question is one that another mother has already called me about this week: “Is suicide the unforgiveable sin? Is it the one sin that guarantees eternity in hell?” So let’s start there.
The idea of an unforgiveable sin comes from the lips of Jesus himself. But it has nothing to do with suicide. Here’s what Jesus says:
And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)
Obviously the question on the table is, What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Here’s my analysis.
Let’s look at the story leading up to Jesus’ statement, so we can discover why he said it, and to whom.
Jesus had just cast out an evil spirit from a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. The commoners were amazed at the power that could make this man see and speak. But the religious leaders mocked Jesus and said, “You cast out demons by the prince of demons!” By rejecting God’s obvious sign of power in the person of Jesus, they were guilty of the unforgiveable sin. And it’s unforgiveable because at its heart it’s the sin of unbelief. To see Jesus display the awesome power of God in an obvious miracle, then doubt that God’s Spirit was behind it, is to reject God. That’s the only sin God can’t forgive: rejecting his power and grace.
Now for suicide. Obviously it’s a sin – meaning it’s not God’s will, it’s missing the mark, it’s falling short of God’s glory. But it’s not the unforgiveable sin. As Jesus said, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men” except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Suicide is therefore not unforgiveable. Or to remove the double negative, suicide is forgivable. It’s not what would send anyone to hell. As always, it’s our response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ that determines our eternal destiny – and our meaning in life now.
But that doesn’t cheapen the seriousness of suicide – it’s a tragedy for all involved on many levels. It’s tragic for the young man who took his life. None of us may ever know why he got so sad or depressed that death looked good to him – but as always, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That’s why it’s so tragic. In addition, the family that is left behind suffers in unspeakable ways. Parents and siblings are plagued with guilt (“If only I’d been more …”), sadness (“I’ll never see him grow up and …”), fear (“Is God angry with me …?”), and even despair (“How long will this pain last?”). If that’s not enough, the family will also be dogged by a haunting shame that follows them throughout life. If you have a family member who dies and later someone asks you how it happened, most of the answers are “noble” and acceptable: cancer, heart attack, kidney failure, car wreck, old age, serving your country. But if your family member took his or her life, there’s no good way to answer the question as to how the death occurred. The sad truth is that your loved one got so sad or low or confused that death looked more attractive than life. To the living, that’s an irrational answer. That’s why it’s clouded in shame.
I’ve taken a long time to address this matter, but it’s one of the toughest things any of us will ever face, regardless of age.
May God’s wisdom increase our understanding and compassion for the middle schooler who’s gone, and for his family. May God’s love renew our sensitivity to those around us, knowing that some are carrying burdens that we could never imagine. May God’s grace fill our mouths so that we can speak words of comfort to our children and to all who suffer this day. Amen.
Reflections on faith, music, culture, the arts, life and other related subjects by Gary A. Furr