Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You Mean I Have to LIVE This Stuff, Too?

I have grown up in the conventional working world, more or less looking (far) forward to the time I could retire. At times, I've even been much less patient about it, than others. And I'm not one of those workaholics that always thought I'd keep working until the day I assumed room temperature.

Well, as of next January 3 or April 4, I'm going to retire. Hit the road. Call it a day. Close out the career.

I work a couple hours a day, maybe 4 days a week, now. Make the same money I always did, pretty much. But I'm ready to put an end to the stress of having a couple hundred clients looking to me to solve insurance problems. The spectre of seeing the weathermen talk about this oncoming storm that's going to .. seemingly .. drown ducks and move trash. And roofs. And then thinking about all my clients and did I do a good job.

We've got the details all planned; we'll sell our company stock, know where it'll be invested, know what the income will likely be, see how the bills will get paid ... all of that. Short of an economic collapse, we'll be fine.

So I'm ready. In fact, on the days I don't go to the office, I sit here thinking "Man .. I could do this!".

The thing that is puzzling is that I feel there may be something else to do. Just a sort of uneasy feeling that I am not just wanting to retire, but that I am supposed to retire. It's strange, and one of the things that provokes thoughts like this is that retirement is all about me. Just me (well, except that Peg will have a lot more husband and a lot less money). For umpteen years, as long as I've been trying to be a real practicing Christian, it hasn't been about me. It's been about Jesus, and serving Him. At the moment, though, I don't have a clue.

So, retirement is .. as of now .. about me. And that's the unusual, perhaps a bit uncomfortable, part. I teach my SS class that it's not about "me", but rather about Jesus and HIS work (not ours). I teach that Romans 8:28 talks about God working for the good of those who are called according to HIS purpose, which speaks to me about crucifying OUR purposes and adopting HIS purposes. And we KNOW God will bring His purposes to pass, without fail.

But retirement is, on its face, about me.


I also teach that Proverbs 3:5&6 tells us we are to recognize God in all our ways. The word used commonly there is "acknowledge" but my Strong's says that means to "ascertain by seeing". Sort of like acknowledging someone I see when I enter a room. And that's a high goal; we SHOULD see God in all our ways. He is just that pervasive in our lives, or wants to be, and we should be able to see Him in what we do. If we can't, then we oughtn't to be doing it.

Of course I have some ideas of stuff I'd like to do after I retire. But I don't want to just think of something to do so I can be doing something. I'd rather have God intervene with a task. Maybe I'll have to dust off "Experiencing God" and keep my eyes peeled. Well, I try to do that anyway.

I'd prefer God be subtle. Sure, He knows how to smack me in the face with a task; He's done that enough times in the past. But I prefer something subtle, so it'll take faith on my part, to follow His leading. I've said to my class so many times that, when you have a decision to make about a course of action, do that which requires the most faith on your part. Guess I have to want that for me, too.

So with the uncertainty of what I'll be doing next year, I now have to go to school on what I've been teaching. Why didn't anybody TELL ME I was supposed to be LISTENING too?

Oh ... right. They did.

Time to walk the talk, or however you say it. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Not All Answers Have Questions

One of the nice parts about being old is that you can say some off-the-wall things, and there's a chance folks will chalk it up to old age (which you can't do much about) rather than to ignorance (which you can). So I shall exercise the privilege of age.

What booms out louder than anything else, to me, in all this mess that has capable people firing salvos in every direction, has them checking out of the wrestling match over convention politics, and even alternately endorsing, and distancing themselves from, efforts to showcase SBC matters via the blogs (case in point: SBC Outpost)?

Something's got to give, that's what.

When I look at the SBC, I see what it was formed for, and what it is now. BIG difference. And I question why that happened, and the only thing I can observe is that people are people. If we don't learn from what has happened in the SBC, I suppose we'll be doomed to either perpetuate it, or duplicate it in another direction. And that's sad.

One possible answer: The current travail will generate a new denomination (oh, don't go shouting that we're not a denomination ... I know that but I'm not clever enough to invent some new term for it). At worst, a lot of churches are going to go their merry way alone, and become independent.

I have several reasons for thinking that something like this is going to happen:

1) After hearing the reaction of some heads of SBC entities at the convention, taking what was supposed to be "report time" to react to the Garner motion, I have no expectations that they will change their ways or their rules or their requirements, at all. None. They will continue to drift toward a matrix of rules, to the detriment of any spiritual sensitivity, the same way I've seen churches do with their Deacon requirements. The entities are putting up an image of success and seem to be willing to simply withhold information which indicates otherwise, and I really feel they will continue that for the foreseeable future.

2) As opposed to some leadership who seem to have vested interests in the status quo, we have a goodly number of eager, talented, young pastors who've studied what it means to be Baptist and disagree with the direction leadership is taking us. They've put up a good battle, a worthy one. Worthy, that is, if you want to perpetuate the SBC as a viable and God-controlled entity. But they sure seem to be getting tired. I don't know everyone, but I can think of (in no particular order) Micah Fries, Alan Cross, Art Rogers, Marty Duren, CB Scott (who isn't blogging about SBC stuff that I've noticed lately) and I'm sure there are others. They look as if they want to concentrate on their own church's mission, and be less vocal in SBC affairs. If you don't like the way the SBC has been drifting in the changes that have been broadcast enough already (see Boyd Luter's blog), just wait until we see what happens without the loyal objections of the faithful.

3) Like it or not, blogging about these matters, while it is worth doing, in my mind, will always attract big disagreements. I have no doubt that everyone has pure motives when they kick off a blog, but we've seen what happens in those comment threads enough to know what happens when we try to have a decent discourse about important matters. Human nature takes over and out come the claws. Sure, lots of folks .. maybe even most .. are civil enough. But debates degenerate, regardless.

4) The Sandy Creek/Charlestonian Roundtable showed great promise, and I attended the first meeting and the followup conference on the Holy Spirit. By the last meeting of the conference, attendance was perhaps 20% of the registration. I made the comment to Wade Burleson, standing in the back of the auditorium, that even the folks who cared enough to come, apparently didn't care enough to come.

5) The SBC has many, many different kinds of churches in it. Ours is a church of 2,500+/- members, and 900+/- in attendance. As our pastor said to the congregation upon return from San Antonio, nothing that took place there necessarily had any effect on our church. Looking at that another way, we view the Cooperative program as a way we can fulfill our obligation to reach out to the state, the nation, and the world (as I believe was the original purpose) and we can frankly get along without the SBC other than that. At least that's my take.

The SBC also has a lot of small churches that are not involved in SBC matters (41,000+ churches, 8400 messengers registered, mostly under 4,000 ever even voting in any of the ballots) and they have their hands full doing what they are doing where they are. They depend on Lifeway and the local association and perhaps the state convention for things, so they'll hang in there.

Then there's the establishment, whatever that is, who will stay right there (seemingly) forever.

6) Frankly, I think there IS a place for a Round table Baptist Association. I spent many years living close to an independent mission board in Indiana. They had several noteworthy things going for them. For one thing, they went to bed broke every night. When God blessed them with resources, they used them in Kingdom work right then. They depended on God to supply, every day. Also, everybody on staff made the same money. If you were full-time missionary staff, you made the same salary if you were a mail boy, a missionary, or the president. Those folks were all called to their own personal mission and were the most devoted folks I know. And they lived in the same sort of housing; the president's home was no bigger than the art director's. Incidentally, the mission's employees all raised their own support, other than a few domestic employees they hired for work in their home office.

So I know that mission-sending agencies CAN operate on such a basis. They always seemed so unspotted by the world, too. And, if God can generate such a missionary organization as that, He can do it funded by cooperating churches the way the SBC funds NAMB and IMB. Someone, one of these days, is going to wake up to that fact and say "Let's do that".

7) We saw the reaction to the Garner Motion. All that said was "The BF&M is a sufficient guide for SBC entities." Look at the brouhaha it generated. Well .. ... for one of my really off-the-wall thoughts .... SBC and NAMB and IMB leadership, in their recent re-definitions of the parameters for participation, seem to think that the Bible isn't sufficient, either. How else can you declare as unfit, people with God-given gifts, and who have been scripturally baptized?

Go beyond the BF&M? They're going beyond The Bible!

I see too many guys checking out of convention politics for the ship to ever really change course. What I haven't seen is any convention leadership wanting to change the status quo.

I smell a new denomination. There's room for one... Staid upon Jehovah.... Sitting at a round table.... Insisting on openness and honesty and integrity. And equality. Believing God to enable them to discern His Spirit over their rules. Followers responsive to leaders, and leaders responsive to followers.

If that doesn't happen, then something else ought to. And I suspect it will. The formation of a new mission-sending agency. One which will give God-gifted missionary candidates the chance to fulfill their role in the Kingdom work. And, one formed by Southern Baptists. If the Southern Baptist Convention and its entities won't give them the chance to do that, why shouldn't Southern Baptist Churches do it anyway?

Look ... SBC churches don't live in a vacuum. Some churches plant churches on their own, without Association or Convention involvement. Some churches don't use Lifeway Sunday School material. I suspect some even send missionaries other than through NAMB or IMB, on their own. Why shouldn't some churches group together to send workers to the field, in other ways than SBC entities?

There are also SBC pastors who didn't go to SBC seminaries or colleges, aren't there?

So, while the things that are going on may generate a new denomination, or may result in an exodus of the sort of churches the SBC really needs to keep, there may be another answer on the horizon. In fact, when the Sandy Creek-Charlestonian Roundtable was first announced, it included mention of exploring the possibility of alternate funding mechanisms for disenfranchised missionaries and missionary candidates.

I think it's time to start.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

What They ARE vs. What They WERE

I've heard more about "Essentials", and about unity, in the last 18 months than I ever did before. And I have a pretty big "before" to look back on, too, as I've been actively pursuing God for over 40 years. I guess that bears explanation.

When I was really young, the age at which I went to VBS, I got worried about dying. Looking back now, I know that I'd come to what's called the "age of reason" and was worried about my mortality. Dad saw me moping around and not eating right, and asked me what was wrong. I told him I was afraid to die and he said "Don't you remember what you heard in Bible School ... if you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven when you die." I recall saying "Oh, yeah!" and I went outside to play. I recall, as though it were yesterday, a hollow feeling in my chest and a weight on my shoulders, that disappeared when dad said that to me and I remembered what I'd learned.

I now know that's when I got saved, although I didn't really know it until later. When I got all churchy, I had to work through a lot of stuff that the church threw at me, I had to run around to some altars, and I had to talk to a lot of people and read a lot of Bible before I came full circle, back to that simple acceptance of the fact that if I believed in Jesus, I'd go to heaven when I die. Through the ages, and through all the garbage that satan and people and even the church throws in our way, Jesus' words come through once again ... loud and clear:

"Only believe".

I recounted all that as an introduction to the process I experienced in preparing my Sunday School lesson last Sunday. The (Lifeway) lesson concerned focusing on the essentials, and cited the passage in Acts 15, in which the Jews came from Jerusalem to tell the Gentile believers in Antioch to submit to the laws of Moses if they wanted to be Christians. I'd never really realized that most of the early, early church was Jewish, and this lesson brought that home. Paul and Barnabas went to the Council in Jerusalem, who sent a letter back to the converts in Antioch, telling them to 1) Avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols, 2) Not eat meat that had been strangled, or blood, and 3) Avoid sexual immorality. The Gentiles were told they'd do well to stick to those things.

Immediately, the growing list of essentials for SBC'ers came to mind. Who baptizes us, how we pray, what we say about the Bible (infallible, inerrant, sufficient, etc. etc.), must the convert know about the virgin birth, and on & on & on. Yet the "Executive Committee of Jerusalem" stated only the points made above. That struck me as really odd.

So I got to thinking about the 'essentials of the faith", and what they would have been, 2000 years ago. What would have been the basis of THEIR faith, that were "givens" that the Council in Jerusalem didn't even see the necessity to review in their letter? For that, I went to chapter two and read Peter's "sermon" delivered to the crowd that gathered around when the disciples declared the wonders of God in unknown tongues. It must have been a hum-dinger, as when Peter delivered it, 3000 folks got saved.

So what were the elements he talked about therein? I'll observe what I note about them:

A) In several points, Peter emphasizes that the Old Testament (which we call it and was the only bible they had) said this kind of thing would happen. That made what we see as the New Testament events merely a continuation of what they already believed.
B) Whoever calls on the name of Jesus shall be saved.
C) They crucified Jesus, Who'd been affirmed by the signs and wonders He did.
D) Jesus was crucified but resurrected, and was still alive (unlike David).
E) Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, as He said He would.

This simple statement of facts about Jesus, couched in language the people could understand, so impacted the listeners that they asked what they might do to be saved. I think Peter's answer was all-important, as the "plan of salvation" was completed at that point, and was about to be shared for the first time ever. Peter's answer:

"Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins."

For some strange reason, we add a ton of things to that. I wonder why; if you want "first tier doctrines" ... to me that means the ones you need to get saved ... I'd go back to the things Peter told the crowd in Acts 2.

Second tier doctrines, to me, are the ones that make us Baptist. Those are the ones that are under attack; it's almost as if the hierarchy sees them as alive, and procreating. I don't think that should happen.

I don't care about third tier. Except I think we should have a studied position on all of them, albeit the position may be we don't care.

UNITY: The focus of our unity is Jesus, the real common bond of our faith. The One outlined in Peter's sermon 2000 years ago. I'm sorry, but if your faith lets you have unity only with folks who believe the same on other issues, then I guess your definition will exclude me. And we'll both be the poorer for that.

As long as we see missions as a Southern Baptist function, rather than simply a Christian function, we're going to slip-slide further down that road that's taken us where we never really wanted to go. You know the road .. it's the one littered with the bodies of former missionaries and ex-candidates. And with ex-SBC churches.

I think, given enough Southern Baptists and enough committees and enough meetings, we could mess up a steel ball with a rubber hammer.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

They Thought 50 Out Of 120 Was Good Enough

The bridge collapse yesterday was a real tragedy. Folks were driving along, doing what they'd done almost every weekday, when suddenly the world fell away under them, dumping them into something they never anticipated. For others, perhaps things came crashing down from above when they least expected it. All associated with that tragedy certainly deserve our prayers.

The bridge in question had been inspected three years ago, and had scored 50 out of a possible 120, which was apparently acceptable and even common. I don't know how they're scored, but that's what I heard the news channels say, anyway.

Apparently, 50 out of 120 was NOT good enough.

By accounts I've heard, the bridge was well designed for its task. And it had done it admirably. How the traffic yesterday compared with 40 years ago, when it was designed, may be another story, though. But whatever it was, it wasn't good enough, yesterday.

The press said that there were numerous areas of flaws in the bridge when last inspected, but they were within limits. I wonder who set those limits..... the expectations and the actual events certainly did not coincide, yesterday, for those unfortunate folks who paid the price for the flaws.

I heard a story about a traveling salesman who saw hundreds of trees with targets painted on them, each with a bullet hole in the bulls-eye. When he asked, he was told they were all shot from a long rifle at a distance of 200 yards. When he said that was impossible, he was told it wasn't hard at all, if you shoot first and THEN paint the target!

Isn't life like that sometimes? Even the Christian life? We chug along doing what's set before us, but (all too often, I fear) never stopping to inspect the bridge and tally the score. And .. we know we'll stand before that Judge some day and explain some things, and I don't think we'll be happy if we have to review the scorecard that shows 50, when we should have been 120 (or maybe the goal is zero .. I don't know).

There were road signs on the bridge, and they are interesting things. They don't get us anywhere, but they tell us where we are, so we can figure how the journey's going. Well, God wants us to know the joy of serving Him on our journey, and He wants that enough that He told us about all the road signs. Put'em all down in a Book, in fact.

Before we get into a set-to about righteousness, I know full well that my righteousness was all imputed to me via faith in the substitutionary death of my Savior. And that I can add nothing to that righteousness He's covered me with. But I don't want to stand before God some day and explain why I thought 50 on a scale of 120, was a good enough response on my part, in gratitude for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords giving it all up for me.

Those engineers and inspectors will have to stand somewhere and explain to somebody, why the bridge collapsed, and why 50 was good enough.

I don't want to have to do that.