Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good news from Amarillo

Tim and I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week in Amarillo, TX at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. For those of you unfamiliar with Baptist life, the BGCT is the place where Baptist churches from all over the state gather to set the budget and agenda for our cooperative mission endeavors next year. This work includes Texas Baptist universities, children’s homes, chaplaincy programs, collegiate ministries on state campuses, and much more.

Beyond the business meeting side of it, the annual meeting always a good time for ministers to see old friends from around the state. I enjoyed catching up with seminary classmates who now serve in churches in almost every corner of Texas. I was glad to hear from the dean of Truett Seminary that theological education in Texas continues to thrive and grow. Nationally, seminary attendance dropped 2% last year. Truett’s attendance increased by 10%. Two of those new Truett students have Southland connections – Isa Torres and Jeremy Boucher.

Another highlight of the meeting included the Christian Life Commission’s Hunger Luncheon. The Christian Life Commission is the arm of the BGCT that manages the Texas Baptist World Hunger Offering that we collect each time we observe the Lord’s Supper. My heart was moved by testimonies from ministers who receive those funds to feed the hungry. One such testimony came from a pastor in the Houston area whose church feeds over 100 children every day after school. Many of these children are from immigrant families who are hearing about Jesus for the very first time. Another testimony came from missionaries to a country in North Africa who use a grant from the hunger offering to feed girls who have been abandoned by their families. In doing so, they are also spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in that predominantly Muslim country.

All in all, I left Amarillo encouraged by the work that’s being done through Texas Baptist ministries here in our great state and across the globe. You should be encouraged that every time you place money in the offering plate a portion of it goes beyond the walls of our church to support the various ministries of the BGCT, ministries that are doing good work for the kingdom of God.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What makes your heart sing?

Having just finished up a sermon series on music, I’m reminded of a delightful question my former pastor used to inquire of those in her care. “What makes your heart sing?” she’d ask. And then she’d listen. It was a way of getting to the heart of the matter. Inevitably, a blank look would come over the person’s face as they began to search their brain, unprepared for this moment of introspection. You always knew the moment they’d found what they were looking for because the blank stare would give way to a broad smile. The very thought of this thing that makes them sing created an involuntary light upon their face.

 The answers would vary: family, making music, teaching, one guy loved classic cars. In the two years I attended that church, I never once heard someone reply, “Making money.” Apparently, we all had enough sense to know that wasn’t the correct answer for church. And yet, I wonder, if money doesn’t make many of our hearts sing? It certainly can make us most of smile when we have it and frown when we don’t. Of course, the second part of that sentence may be a key reason why nobody ever mentioned money as a something that makes their heart sing. As often as money makes us smile, it can also make us want to curse.

Jesus said that where a person’s treasure is, there will be that person’s heart. In fact, what we treasure tends to dictate how we spend our lives (and not just our cash). Some treasures prove better investments than others. Some treasures fill us with songs of joy, while others leave us constantly singing the blues. The wise person learns to treasure that which cannot be lost to the whims of the market or the current status of the job market.

 This leaves us all with the question, “What makes your heart sing?”

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Luke 12:33-34

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You keep funeral files on people?! Yep. I do.

This morning a friend of mine stopped me and said, “This may be weird, but I want you to know that if I die, I have a slip of paper in the front of my Bible that has all the songs I want sung at my funeral. I thought you might want to know since you’d be the one doing my service.” I told her that wasn’t weird at all. In fact, it was really good idea. If she wanted to, she could e-mail me the list because I keep file of that sort of thing for folks and I’d be glad to make a file with her name on it. She thought that was weird! “You keep funeral files on people?!” Yep. It may be weird, but it goes with the job. Actually, it goes with life.

If the Lord doesn’t return in our lifetime, all of us will die. It’s one of the most basic truths about life, and yet, a truth we ignore. One time, I was sitting in a hearse with a funeral director and he admitted “My life is funerals and yet I don’t ever think about what I’d like done at mine.” We might wonder how that could be for someone who works with dead people every day, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. As humans, we have this logic defying ability to look at reality and say, “Yeah, but it won’t happen to me.” Just drive by the hospital and look at how many doctors and nurses are outside smoking! Denying death doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We will all die.

A wise person will seek to be prepared. On a very practical level, we can think about what we would like to happen at our own funeral. Making a list of your favorite songs and passages of scripture for use in your service can be a big help to the loved ones you leave behind. On a deeper level, facing one’s mortality helps you to be prepared to meet your Maker. If I were to die soon, what things would be left undone? Would there be sins that needed to be confessed? Relationships left unreconciled? Words left unsaid? Taking care of those things today not only helps you be prepared for your death somewhere in the future, it also helps you to be the person God wants you to be today.

“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life. 
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man’s life is but a breath.
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.
But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.
Psalm 39:4-7