|September 01, 2012||Faith and Figs|
|June 28, 2012||The VBS That Changed My Life|
|May 21, 2012||The Myrrhbearers|
|March 10, 2012||Church Rummage|
|January 17, 2012||Dill Pickers Don't Disappoint|
|January 14, 2012||The Dill Pickers|
|January 09, 2012||Reading the Bible Through|
|October 23, 2011||Happy Halloween, er, ah, Fall!|
|October 17, 2011||Reformation Day is Coming|
|September 27, 2011||Thanks Andy & Betsy!|
Roy Nelson didn’t do anything in a small way. When he brought pecans to share, he brought a grocery sack full of them. He bought ice cream by the gallon, never the half gallon. And when he played bridge at the Methodist church, he played by the rules until they prevented him from bidding as high as he wanted to.
He loved to give things to people. He called me one morning to ask if I wanted a baby squirrel that he’d found. I did not. When he found out I liked figs, he brought me a bucket full every week during their season. Four years ago he brought me a seedling so I could plant my own fig tree - - - which I did. Too close to the house. Knowing Roy, I should have expected something way too big and unruly, but well, live and learn. The tree has completely blocked the view from my kitchen window and is taking over my deck. After the birds and squirrels get their snacks, there are still figs to pick twice a day.
The gospels of Matthew and Mark record an odd incident of Jesus cursing a fig tree. It seems that Jesus was hungry and saw a fig tree, but when he went to pick some fruit, the tree had only leaves, no figs. Jesus cursed the tree and it immediately withered away. The disciples are said to have “marveled” at this spectacle. I guess so. It makes me wonder how often I have professed a pious front, and practiced a fruitless faith.
When I went to Roy’s funeral, printed in the program was a prayer that he had written out and placed in his Bible. It reads: “God, whether I get anything else done today, I want to make sure that I spend time loving you and loving other people — because that’s what life is all about. I don’t want to waste this day.” When I got home, I cut the prayer out and put it in my own Bible. I think Roy would be amused by my gigantesque fig tree and that makes me happy. It’s a frequent reminder of one whose kindness was bigger than life.
The memory bank of most Southerners has a file for Vacation Bible School. Every summer for over half a century, children have spent a week at church playing games, eating cookies, making crafts, singing, and hearing Bible stories. Many of us would attend the one at our own church and then go to another one or two with our friends. I don’t remember the ones from my youth being major “theme” events like today, but we still had loads of fun. Every year, we kicked off with a parade. We’d decorate cars and trucks and ride around town honking the horns and inviting all the children in the community to VBS. Then one year during the planning some folks got worried about the parade.
Did I mention that this was Birmingham, Alabama in the 70s?
Our church, like many other white churches then, had a policy for dealing with black people who attended a worship service with us. There were men assigned to cancel the service and escort the “troublemakers” out. So, you see how the public VBS parade invitation could cause problems. How would we handle it if the wrong people thought they were invited? We would sing about red, and yellow, black and white all being precious in His sight, but that didn’t mean they could come in and eat cookies with us.
The reason this particular VBS changed my life was not because there were troublemakers. It stands out because of how our pastor, Rev. Jerry Curry, solved the problem. He announced --- from the pulpit, not in some committee meeting --- that the day our church turned away any child of any color from the Lord’s house, it would be his last day there too. After the shock wore off, I was so proud of him for making a stand for what was right. It was the day I realized that sometimes churches need to repent just like individuals do.
All this has come back to mind with the recent election of Rev. Fred Luter as the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s interesting that another black minister, Rev. Dwight McKissic authored a resolution in opposition to gay marriage. When asked if he saw similarities in the way gay people are treated now and the way black people were treated then, he said no. His exact words were, “They’re equating their sin with my skin.” I have news for Rev. McKissic. I was never taught that skin was the problem. I was taught that it was a sin for white people to associate with black people. And there are plenty of verses of scripture that can be cherry picked to prove it. I have no idea how the gay marriage issue will eventually play out in churches, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned in VBS --- It’s always risky to pronounce that God doesn’t mind my sins as much as He does yours.
The liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Christian Church designates a week each year to honor the Myrrbearing Women who came to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ after the crucifixion and burial. After most of the others had succumbed to fear and fled, these women showed up to do the right thing by seeing that their friend had a proper burial. There was no reward in doing so. In fact, it was quite the opposite, with a risk of being swept up into scandal for tampering with the corpse. Courageous people show up to do the difficult, sacrificial things in life.
One of my favorite church ladies is Mary Stinson. It’s actually Dr. Stinson, but I knew her for years before her title ever came up. She’s a retired JSU professor and a tireless worker for the Calhoun County Christian Women’s Job Corp (CWJC). This organization provides job readiness and life skills to women in need. They’re not always successful and they can’t reach a multitude of people, but faithful, dedicated volunteers show up to offer tutoring, mentoring, and enthusiastic support to women who seek help. At a recent CWJC fundraiser at Classic on Noble, I watched Mary’s joyful interaction with the attendees and her generous donations in the silent auction. I doubt she’ll ever be famous, but because of her, there are women whose lives will never be the same.
So what’s in it for the Myrrhbearers? Well, they were the first ones to see the risen Christ and to understand that there’s no reason to seek the living among the dead. Watching Mary helps me see what real living is.
Anniston Bible Church is presenting a series of lectures led by Bob St. John on The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther. The sessions meet at 6:30 pm on Mondays in October leading up to the anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It was October 31, 1517 when the Augustinian monk nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in an attempt to reform practices in the Catholic Church. It was the second time that the New Testament Church had experienced a major upheaval. The church had a united existence for about 1000 years when the Roman Church split off. The changes made by Rome included placing authority in a Pope instead of a council, requiring celibacy for its clergy and using unleavened bread for the Eucharist. These two Christian churches, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, existed separately for another 500 years before Luther. With the advent of Protestant churches, we were off to the races. While the Orthodox Church remains largely unchanged, it seems like a new Protestant or Evangelical church splits off daily. This is good and bad. We spend a lot of time bickering amongst ourselves about what the Bible really says and who’s really saved. But this diversity can also be positive in that whatever it is that you want from church, you can probably find it. And if not, just start your own church. One of the interesting things that I've learned from Rev. St. John is how consistent most of Luther's ideas are with the Orthodox Church. It would be interesting to know what would've happened if Luther had led a return to the Orthodox Church instead of a reform of the Catholic church.
The text that accompanies the lectures is Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen J. Nichols. He writes of Luther's conversion which began when he acknowledged that he "hated the righteous God who punishes sinners" ... and "raged with a fierce and troubled conscience." Luther's study of the book of Romans led to a spiritual breakthrough in which he was overwhelmed by an understanding of God's gift of grace. Thus the foundation of all Protestant and evangelical churches was laid. Anyone who worships today in this stream of faith would benefit from learning of Luther's discovery of how life-changing the gospel really is.
I've never heard more beautiful music in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. The orchestra, choir, and congregation were led by Rev. Andy Bumpus in a most reverent and meaningful worship experience. I've been singing in church since I was a Sunbeam, and I've been blessed to know many dedicated music ministers, but I can honestly say that Andy is the most talented of them all. He writes music; he arranges musical scores for both choir and orchestra; he's a soloist with the civic chorale; he is a brilliant conductor; he plays a variety of instruments at the professional level; and he has taught novices to play instruments so that they could participate in worship. The really amazing thing, though, is that he's so humble that many people in our own church do not realize the depth and quality of his talents. His concern is to be faithful with his spiritual gifts, not to be the center of attention. As churches continue to blur the line between worship and entertainment, Andy is an example of humility to all of us. If possible, his wife Betsy serves even further under the radar. She's in the background providing food for socials and funerals, folding clothes for tornado victims, sending messages of encouragement, singing in the choir and even filling in on the saxophone when needed.
As beautiful as last Sunday's service was, it was also quite sad since it was the last time that Andy will lead worship for us. He and Betsy have joyfully given of themselves to our congregation for 7 years, and they will be sorely missed. His position may be filled, but they will never be replaced.