Pastor's Reflections from the "Announcer," the Newsletter of First Baptist Church
I would like to invite you to consider what makes for good leadership in your experience. Can you remember a person who had a molding, shaping, nurturing influence in your own life? Are you able to isolate the qualities that made that relationship so effective?
I consider this second quarter of the calendar year what I have come to call “the festival of the Christian home.” During this period we observe Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, graduations, family reunions, family vacations, and the Fourth of July. This is often a time of family togetherness. During these celebrations children and young adults have the opportunity to view parenthood as loving leadership, mirroring the love of the Good Shepherd.
Truly, embodying the love of God was the center of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father-Creator was the source of his power and direction. If we think of his ministry as the most perfect example of leadership the world has ever seen, the style of that leadership was servanthood, through which Jesus expressed the love of the Father. Jesus’ use of the term Father for God has nothing to do with the gender of God, who is beyond gender, but instead borrows from human experience to refer to an ideal relationship of Creator to creature, or parent to child. Jesus understood his ministry to be a mission given to him by his Father, whom he also called “Abba,” the Aramaic familiar and intimate name for father, something like “daddy.”
In John’s Gospel, chapter 10, we see the good shepherd laying down his life for his sheep. This refers back to the most genuine love there is, demonstrated in the death of Christ, and vindicated in his resurrection. Contrast this genuine love with the counterfeit care shown by the hired man, who defects when a wolf threatens the flock. Yes, the love of God transcends the narrow confines of our imagination. To the Jewish disciples, the thought that God’s love might also extend to Gentiles was a radical notion, yet Jesus hints at it here when he refers to the “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” (Jn. 10:16). The thought that the Kingdom of God, the new community, might be broader than they think must have been a real stretch for the disciples.
So often, human love will ultimately fail us, but the love of the Good Shepherd, who proved his love by laying down his life for the sheep, will never fail us. God’s love is ultimately satisfying because God alone has unlimited power, forgiveness, grace, resources, and pure motive to sustain an eternal relationship. When life fills us with despair, God, our perfectly loving Parent, has the capacity to comfort, sustain, and redirect our energies in positive directions.
The guiding and directing hand of God, as depicted in Psalm 23, is like the perfectly loving shepherd whose only concern is the welfare of the sheep. The Psalm, which again speaks of leadership at its best, speaks to the need we all feel for the guiding care of God through complex and threatening circumstances.
There is a crisis of leadership today. We see this everywhere we turn from shrinking Archdioceses in our nation’s leading cities, to thirty percent of ordained clergy leaving ministry within the first five years of service. We see this leadership void amid scandals in the highest places of honor and governance. Wherever there is a leadership vacuum we see corruption, unrest and/or uprisings. There is a human yearning for leadership with integrity, leadership from the heart, leadership that demonstrates love and concern for the wellbeing of all people. How grateful the believer is to be able to declare with confidence that even in the ambiguous dark valleys of our lives, just as surely as upon the mountain tops, God is with us, and God’s presence will give us strength and wisdom to handle the challenges of life.
May the genuine love of God, epitomized in the life of the Good Shepherd, impact and define your leadership style and be your source of power and direction.
In love and prayer,
SPRING INTO LOVE
Though February is the shortest of the months it often seems like the longest. Cold, snow, icy roads and sidewalks make getting around difficult. We are forced to slow down physically, however it does not mean that we have to slow down in developing our faith.
Don't the trees look dead and barren to you during winter? But they are not. Their life processes are still going on, inside them. We can learn from the trees as we use the more dormant days of winter to recharge our inner selves. Do you watch for God in the beautiful stillness of winter?
The season of Lent has begun. From the early church to today, Lent is a time set aside for prayer, introspection, turning afresh toward God, and spiritual renewal. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, the forty days of Lent are linked to the Matthew chapter 4 story of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness before his public ministry began. We use the days of Lent to prepare our hearts to welcome into our lives the resurrected Christ.
In Lent, it is customary among many Christians to "give something up." I want to suggest that we, rather, attempt to "take something up, or on" as part of our spiritual discipline. You may want to become part of a small study group. Or, you might volunteer in the community, at school, church, the library, local hospital, food pantry, etc. When you do something for others, you always gain more than you give. When we give love, we gather love. "What does love look like?," Augustine asked. "It has hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of others. That is what love looks like."
In the midst of the coldest February on record in central New York, as Lent dawns, let's find ways to warm the world around us by sharing God's love with others.
In love and prayer,
WHAT JOSEPH AND WE BRING TO
AND BEYOND THE CHRISTMAS STORY
In Matthew 1:25 we read, "and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us)." Against the teachings of modern cults such as the Jehovah Witnesses, God here becomes one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. This history changing act is God's own doing. However, it also involves human cooperation. In Matthew, Chapter 1, we see a young man named Joseph enter God's plan. God, being sovereign, could have sent his Son into the world without the willingness of Joseph to take Mary as his wife. But Joseph is part of God's story. In spite of Joseph's issue of self-esteem and his reputation in the community, we read in verse 24, "Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife." Joseph's willingness, in spite of what others might think or say, gave Mary the courage to carry the Christ child, the Savior of the world. As Dennis Hollinger, seminary president and professor, put it: "Joseph allowed God to work through him as our Maker, accomplishing his purpose for the human race. As we seek to carry on the Christmas Story in word and deed, we do so with the same two-fold recognition. This is God's doing, it is his work. But as with Joseph, God invites us to share in the amazing work of both telling the story and living the story -- that God came and lived among us. And, humankind has never been the same since."
As we journey into this new year, may we do so with the faith and trust of Joseph, for we, too are each a crucial part of God's salvation story; (of His Story -- history). And God wants, right now, right here, to use each of us to proclaim "Glory to God in the highest," ... "Joy to the world, the Lord has come,"... "On earth peace to all humankind,"... "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has NOT overcome it."
Fellow believers in Christ,
May the Prince of Peace bring calm to your soul.
May the Light of the World dispel your darkness.
May the Word made Flesh speak daily to your life.
In love and prayer,
GOD IN OUR MIDST
There's an old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest: if there is no one there to hear it's roaring crash, does it make a sound?
That riddle might be applied to Christmas, as well. If the event happens without God's presence, has it occurred at all ? If we have not seen the Christ of Christmas, did really happen for us? Christmas "falls" every year on December 25th. But of what impact, if the Christ of Christmas is not heard?
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Christian religion is an omnipresent God. Where other religions hold to a far-away deity or an unknown one represented by wood or stone idols, Christian theology -- and the Hebrew faith from which it comes has an intimate God who dwells among those who call themselves children of God. God is available to everyone wherever they are, though not spatially distributed himself.
In the early pages of the Bible, God is depicted as "present" with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8) . God talks with Abraham in the shade of the oaks (Gen. 18:1-8) and with Hagar beside a well (16:7-13). God wrestles with Jacob on the bank of a stream (32:22-32) in the Old Testament, and in all of them God is spatially localized as a personal being. The Ark of the Covenant which the Israelites transported in their trek from Egypt to the Promised Land was the localized presence of God. God himself within it ....
In the Books of Isaiah and Zephaniah the phrase "in your midst" is almost as omnipresent as Yahweh himself. The prophets repeatedly reminded the Israelites that God was present in Israel.
In the New Testament, God is clearly omnipresent as well (e.g. Romans 1:20). And, God is present in a new way, through the compassionate and powerful ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Emmanuel "God is with us," is the symbolic name given the baby Jesus (Matt. 1:23), the child foretold by Isaiah who would deliver Judah from its enemies.
The Gospels claim that God is present in Jesus in such a way as to amount to an incarnation of God (John 1:14; 20:28). Not only is God present among humanity in a special mode in Jesus, but also John promises that the Father will come to dwell with anyone who identifies with Jesus.
This tremendous truth has been obscured in our day. Christmas presents have crowded out Christmas Presence. We're throwing a party without the guest of honor. We celebrate, but is God in our midst? Let us during this forthcoming Advent season (and henceforth) seek to put Christ in our midst. God will be known, as God was to Israel of old, when spiritual preparation is made for Jesus Christ to spend Christmas with us. Start searching for the Christmas Presence.
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That morns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."
Onward now to glorious a season of Harvest and Thanksgiving, and then to a season of Preparation and Celebration!
In love and prayer,
THE DIGNITY OF INDIVIDUALS
I recently heard about a family who were on vacation and stopped for lunch at a restaurant. The waitress came and took their order. When she asked the little boy what he would like he nervously looked at his parents and then blurted out, “I’d like a hot dog, please.”
His mother interrupted, telling the waitress he would have what they were ordering, but the waitress ignored the mother and said to the boy, “Do you want ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?” Somewhat startled the boy said, “I’ll have ketchup.” The waitress looked toward the kitchen and called out, “One hot dog coming up.” There was a stunned silence at the table. Finally the little boy spoke up, “Gee, she thinks I’m a real person!”
We all can relate to wanting to be treated like a real person…a person of value in and of oneself. As our society has become more urbanized and suburbanized and technology becomes more dominant, we all have an increasing number of experiences in which we feel dehumanized.
We need to understand the growing need of so many people to be looked on as unique, not merely as a means to someone else’s end or an item in someone’s work day.
Years ago Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote a classic work on interpersonal relations. He said there are basically two kinds of relationships: one is what he calls an I AND IT relationship that we have with things or inanimate objects such as cars, tables, etc. The other is the kind of relationship we have with people that he called an I AND THOU relationship. This relationship is different because people are ends in themselves and not a means to achieve our own purposes.
Buber went on to explain that depersonalization sets in when a thou or a person, is treated like an it, something to be manipulated and used by others. A person who is treated this way begins to feel dehumanized and less than a real person.
A challenge for today’s church is to be a center of caring where people are looked upon and treated as special. As members of Christ’s body, the church, we need to continually be sensitive to the way we work with people and to the expectations we have of one another. When a new person comes into our fellowship do we see a statistic, or a committee/board member, someone who can fill a need in our church; or do we see a unique, special person that we will have the opportunity to become better acquainted with and discover his or her needs desires and aspirations?
Jesus had a beautiful way of relating to people. He treated everyone as though they were a miracle of existence and someone special in the eyes of God. Christ’s belief in the divine worth of every life led him to dignify derelicts and priests, women of the streets and lawyers, fishermen and farmers, lepers and merchants, the poor and the rich, the troubled and the stable, the weak and the strong.
Jesus would allow nothing to stand in the way of confirming dignity on individuals whether it be religious rules, social conventions, prejudice, stereotypes or expectation about status.
We should ask if our church is a center of caring, where the spirit of Christ is present, where people are appreciated and where church members also make the effort to reach out to others in the same way.
Near the end of one of his books, Ernest Gordon, former Dean of Chapel at Princeton University wrote, “In the wild seas of violence that characterize our time we are in deepest need of islands of sanity or harbors of humanity, in which the art of being human may be learned.” Isn’t that one excellent way to describe an important task of the church?
Let each of us help one another find full humanity by helping others find a relationship with the Lord and Savior of life, Jesus Christ.
Dwight Moody regularly stopped complete strangers to ask them about their spiritual lives. One day he met a young man and asked him if he were a Christian. The young man indignantly answered, “That is none of your business.” “Yes it is,” Moody replied. “Then you must be D.L. Moody.” What a splendid reputation to precede any Christian. If there were but one word to describe our lives what would that be, and how would others describe us?
In love and prayer,
SHAPED BY MORE THAN THE PAST
"And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes, and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live. . . " Deuteronomy 4:1
Over the entrance of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where all of the great documents of our heritage lie in state, the following words appear: "The Past is Prologue." In this spirit, Thomas Jefferson once said, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." Jefferson was aware that America is a concept not an accomplishment. It is not what we have done that is so important as what we are trying, under God, to become.
In Deuteronomy 4, God is speaking to the people of Israel. They had been set free from Egypt and had obtained possession of some land. God was telling them that it was not being free from Egypt, or their power, or the land on which they dwelled, that would make them a place among nations, but rather, how they lived, how faithful they were to the ordinances God had given them.
It is not our history that has made us, but our principles -- the way that we choose to live. America is a concept, an idea, and a dream that must be claimed as our own and carried into the future.
So, may we through our liberation in Christ, approach our world with a sense of wonder, and with a reverence for life and may our lives be translated into life-nourishing, life supporting values.
Do our personal habits and attitudes reflect life-nourishing values? Are we living in a way that reflects the life of Christ and the call he makes on our lives? If we are, then we can be assured that we are preserving tomorrow for generations yet unborn.
As has been said so often, "The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it." May it be so.
In love and prayer,
First Baptist Church
27 Broad Street, Hamilton, NY 13346 315-824-2780