Being Friends with Jesus

 

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I am working on a sermon for tomorrow on John 15:9-17 where Jesus tells his disciple,

“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

That idea of being friends with Jesus is interesting, because it really turns the way we normally see our relationship with God upside down.  As Frederich Buechner put it,

The love of God. The mercy of God. The judgment of God. You take the shoes off your feet and stand as you would before a mountain or at the edge of the sea. But the friendship of God?

What does it mean to be friends with Jesus?  To give up the vengeful, judgmental Jesus for one who might actually be on our side, hoping for the best in us.  It won’t make the sermon tomorrow, but I am still grappling with Caroline Simon’s idea:

A friend is someone who is on your side, someone who is willing to see the world from your point of view—but not the point of view of your prodigal self, the point of view of your best and truest self.

If Jesus can see us from the point of view of our best and truest self, what might happen if we did that for each other?

Just something I’m pondering as I get ready for worship tomorrow.

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Farewell Remarks to the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

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Yesterday I attended my last “in person” board meeting with the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.  I have had the honor of working with this group from the very beginning.  I am now an ’emeritus board member’–meaning the old guy who won’t go away!

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But with our impending move to Nova Scotia I will no longer be able to attend the meetings in person.  Through technology I will be able to occasionally share tidbits of wisdom!  They honored me by having a reception after the board meeting.  During that time, I had a few things I wanted to share.  Here are my remarks.

 

 

SCCTPTP Farewell
Nov 16, 2017

My mentor Hardy Clemons, once told me as I was about to leave Greenville that when you leave there are some things you need to say to people. This is one of those times.  You are some of those people!

I want to thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this wild adventure.  As I began my ministerial career, I had several girls to become pregnant or thought they were.  That was what got me started in learning about the issue of teen pregnancy.  I went to a meeting and next think I know I am the chair of the Caldwell County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Council.  Barbara Huberman took pity on this young minister and helped me along the way.

When I went to Greenville I really thought I was through with this issue.  What Baptist minister ever thinks that teen pregnancy is a career advancing issue? But I was invited to another meeting and before I knew what was happening I was the chair of the Greenville Council.

I am rotating off when I am sitting in my office one morning when I get a phone call from a Joy Campbell inviting me to a meeting.  It seemed that the March of Dimes wanted to get everyone concerned about teen pregnancy around the table to see what we could do.

I went.  I think there were 6 of us!

The only person I remember other than Joy was Anne Bageley.  She sat across the table from me, and at one point looked at me and said, “How can you call yourself a Christian, yet alone a minister, and be with them?”  That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship!  That continues to this day!

In my opinion, the meeting was an abject failure.  I went back home saying “Well, that was fun.”  But a few weeks later this Joy Campbell woman called again.  She said, “we are putting together a statewide coalition to address teen pregnancy and I have 2 questions.  1  Will you serve on our board?”  I agreed.  Then she said, the second is would you be the first chair?

That had to go to my boss and the personnel committee.  Both agreed, and then said they would share this with the Reasons.  (In Greenville that was 84 people!) It was presented as information.  But then, from the back of the room someone objected.  It was then Senator Sarah Manly.  A Democrat senator from the upstate.  They had those back then! 

I couldn’t believe that Sarah, of all people, was objecting.  But then she said, “We should not give our permission for Don to do this.  Rather we should endorse it as a part of his ministry because his work with this group will help individuals that will never come into this church.  He will be doing mission work!”

And the deacons unanimously approved.

And that has been the way I have approached my time on the board.  It has been ministry.  And so thank you for allowing me to live out this calling.

It has been an incredible journey, hasn’t it?  As I was cleaning out my office I came across the DHEC statistics from 1993.  That year there were 11,704 estimated pregnancies to teens.  11,704!  Can you think of the lives that have been altered with the annual reduction of 8,000 teen pregnancies?  We need, you need to be really proud of that!

There were 6 of us around that table that day.  Last summer we had over 300 people at the Summer Institute.

Our first office was a closet at the old Carolina Inn, now look at this place!

I could go on and on about the organization, and all we have accomplished.  But what I think I am most appreciative of are the incredible people I have gotten the opportunity to know.  I remember sitting in those early meetings with Cassie Barber, Joanne Emerson, Francis Rushton—and just learning by osmosis.  And what can I say about Murray Vincent?  

To sit in board meetings with so many of you, trying to behave.  I think we passed a motion that Martha Scott Smith and I couldn’t sit beside each other anymore! 

Those individuals who have so ably led this group—Grant, Sue, Melissa, Lica, Judy Davis.  I have learned so much from you. Your gifts, your passion make me hopeful for the future.

And to you the incredible staff.  I know that many times we board members just rush in from time to time, but I want you to know how much we, how much I appreciate your work.  You are the ones who give motion to our movement.  And you follow in the path of so many who have gone before.  Our first intern was Molly Talbot, now Molly Talbot Metz, former board chair, executive with the Mary Black Foundation.  You never know where this experience will lead.  And I want you to know how much I have learned from you, your expertise.  Whether it is watching the way Kim and her cohorts put together the best teen pregnancy conference year after year; wandering down the hall to the Math department asking you to tell me something I don’t know.

I will never forget Shannon Flynn and how she completely upended my thinking in a meeting.

And to the those who have led this organization.  Joy, I don’t know if I can every forgive you, or thank you enough for inviting me on this journey. Susan Boyd sent Gwen and Carol down to Charleston to see if I would be willing to come back on the board.  Wha a risk!

And Forrest—we grew up together. 

And Beth.  You do not know how much this means to me. 

One of my preacher friends called the other week and asked, rather nonchalantly, “How are you with leaving the campaign?”  He knows how much you mean.  But I nonchalantly brushed him off.  Until Kay called and asked about this. 

I just lost it!

There is a passage in the book of Hosea (you get this with a Baptist preacher) where as a rebuke to Israel, he names one of Lo-ammi.  Not my people.  My dearest friends know that you are Ammi.  My people.

Melissa Holmes wrote me a note saying that she couldn’t be here and then ended with, “Canada doesn’t have a problem with teen pregnancy or gun violence. What will you do to get in trouble?”

I am sure I can find something, but if not, I am still an emeritus board member, so I can always get in trouble here.

Thank you. Thank you!  Thank you for all you have meant, and will continue to mean!  I really am looking forward to the adventure ahead for all of us!

The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is the foremost state organization in the country focused on teen pregnancy prevention.  Over the past 26 years we have seen a 67% reduction in our teen birth rate!  It has been a joy and a privilege to be a part of this group.  I encourage you to be a part–with your financial gifts, with your support of comprehensive age appropriate sex education.  It works!  It makes a difference for all of us!

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Been to the Mountain Top

This Sunday our text is the final scene of Moses life.  Moses and God are atop Pigah where God allows Moses to look into the promised land, the land he has been traveling towards for 40 years.  This is the land he has been leading his people to.  But in one of the most unfair statements in the Bible God tells Moses “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there!”

Been to the Mountaintop!  Those words echo in our minds because they were part of the final sermon delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr, the night before he was killed.  I have been reading that sermon, and am going to use some of it, the part we know on Sunday.  (I hope you will come and hear it! Shameless plug!)

But I was stuck with a part I have never read before.  These are words that speak to us today just as poignantly as they did in April, 1968.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

I wonder when the church will show as much concern for the street where we live as the street flowing with milk and honey.

Just wondering.

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I Am an Eagle Scout

boy-scout-clipart-in-high-resolution-jpeg-15There was a schedule, a ritual to my growing up.  It was known and not to be broken.  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evenings were spent at church.  Sunday School, Worship, Youth Choir, Worship; RA’s, supper, Youth group.  That was how things were.  The teachings came from the pulpit, from the teachers and were as sacred and as inerrant as those words which Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai.

Monday nights were almost as sacred.  On Monday nights, every Monday night at 7:00, we would gather at the Boy Scout Hut.  We would gather in the yard and play football, baseball, some male-bashing game until Howell Stroup called us in.  The meeting would begin and we would work on merit badges, camping skills, knot tying—whatever was on the schedule.  We would begin to look forward to the monthly camping trip and hike—Mt. Mitchell, Kings Mountain, Crowder’s Mountain, Grandfather Mountain.  (When do we get to climb Brown Mountain and see “The Lights???)

But at every meeting, at every meeting we would recite those words, that while they weren’t in the Bible were just as sacred.

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient cheerful thrifty brave clean and reverent.”

They are words that helped form who I am to this very day.  They are the law by which I still try to live, just as much as Micah 6:8. 

That is why I was so disturbed by the campaign address President Trump delivered to the Boy Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, WV last night.  (You can read the transcript here)   Going to a Jamboree for most scouts is a once in a lifetime experience.  To gather with fellow scouts from around the country, is something you never forget.  The chance to hear from the President of the United States is the same.  How many times have you ever heard the president speak live?  I can only imagine the excitement, the thrill.

So that is why his address hurt me so!  It was not a speech to Boy Scouts, but rather a campaign speech in which he lambasted his predecessor and former opponent.  He went on and on about how much HE has accomplished.  The truth is we have come to expect that.

But he went over the line when he dared blaspheme those sacred words.  “As the Scout law says, a scout is trustworthy, loyal — we could use some more loyalty I will tell that you that.” 

I wish our president would read the entirety of the Scout Law.  Even more I wish that he would live it.  The values listed there would serve him well. 

Trustworthy

Loyal

Helpful

Friendly

Courteous

Kind

Obedient

Cheerful

Thrifty

Brave

Clean

Reverent

It sounds like the antithesis of how this president has lived his life!

When the young men return home from the jamboree I hope what they will remember is not the speech that the president gave, but rather the variety of scouts in the audience—from all across America.  I hope they will remember the values lived out by their leaders who give time every week to help them tie knots, work on merit badges, work their way towards becoming an Eagle.  I hope they will remember the Scout Oath—On my honor, I will do my best. To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.  I hope they will remember, but even more live live out the Scout Law. 

Those values will continue to make America great. Just as they always have!

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Not that far away at all…..

As if we needed any reminder of how small our world has become…

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Last night we were sitting at home when the news of the latest terrorist attack began streaming across our TV.  This time it was a suicide bomber who detonated a bomb as people were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.  The video, the commentary, felt all too familiar.

But why?  Manchester England is far far away, across the ocean.  It was not one of the cities I visited when I was a student.  It wasn’t one of the places we went to when our youth group traveled to Glasgow.  It wasn’t on the itinerary when our family sojourned there one summer.  So it wasn’t a place that should have stirred up emotions.

Except

Manchester was where our daughter and son in law spent a summer.  He was working on a project and she spent her days at a coffee shop writing her first book.  It was where they met some lovely friends who traveled to Charleston for their wedding.  But I doubted very seriously if any of them were at a Monday night pop music concert.

Then I remembered our dear friends Andrew and Julie Henton Pusey.  We had met in Prague during one of my sabbaticals.  He is the pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in Hitchen, England.  During our visit we spent a few days with them.  Andrew took us to Cambridge where he had been a student.  He took us punting down the Cam.  Those days are some when we remember fondly!  A few years ago their family came to the States for a summer visit and we had the opportunity to repay the hospitality showing them around, going to the beach, just enjoying each other’s company.

Then came the horrific shootings at Mother Emanuel.  The next candles 5 reflectionmorning I received an email from Andrew, and later that week an announcement that our city would be remembered in their prayers as they lit candles that Sunday.  It was the email that broke my heart.

So this morning I wanted to be like Andrew, to reach out to them to let them know that even though Hitchen is not close to Manchester, I was remembering them in my prayers. 

And then came the reply.  Their daughter, Lizzie, is a student in Manchester.  She was not at the concert, but had friends who were.  They have two more young people from their church in Manchester—one whom not yet been in communication. 

Suddenly Manchester was very very close.  There aren’t that many degrees of separation.

As I texted with Julie, I promised her that she can sleep tonight knowing that we will be praying while she slumbers.  But at some point, I will have to sleep as well.  So if you are in Colorado, in California, Bali, in Australia, in China, or if you just stay up really really late at night—you know who you are—I hope that you will remember my friends who are waiting…..

It is just returning the favor.  It is doing what we do for family!

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Dots and Other Questions

It is one of those annoyingly addictive games that I have downloaded on my iPad. 

Dots

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Simple enough.  All you have to do is connect the dots of the same color together and make them go away.  Connect a group in a square and all the dots of that color go away.

Easy enough!   Even for me!  Maybe that is why I find myself sitting at night while watching TV trying to get a higher score.

See that is the goal—to get a higher score.  It isn’t to make sure they all line up, that the yellow dots are all gone.  The goal is to get the highest score possible. 

It is important to remember that. 

But it raises an important question.  What is the goal of what you are doing?

The other morning I listened to Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.  He was talking with Joe Nocera about an incident that happened recently at American Airlines.  It seemed that the pilots and flight attendants were given a small raise, because after all, the airline is making a profit.  But Wall Street rebelled!  The price of the stock fell because the goal is to “maximize shareholder value.”  And you thought it was to get you from point A to point B safely and efficiently! 

The conversation was enlightening.  All of us who have a particular stock, or even a mutual fund that has invested in the company, want to stock to rise.  I do want to retire someday!  But is that the ultimate goal?  What about the workers?  What about the passengers?  (I think about this every time I try and wedge myself into the shrinking seats and get my small cup of coke to go with my peanuts.)  What about the communities that once relied on contributions from the company to support the symphony, the hospital, the Boy Scouts?

What is the bottom line?  What is the goal?

What is the goal for church?

I thought about that because I was heading to church listening to the show.  We were going out in the community for a day of service.  The next morning we would have worship.  We would pass the offering plates.  We would hope that people left with a deeper spirituality, a closer relationship with God.  We hoped someone would join.

But what is the goal? 

How do our “shareholders” want, expect? 

More people in the seats?

More offering in the plates?

More people doing good stuff?

More people “dedicating their lives to full-time Christian service?

More people walking the aisles?

What is the goal?  For the congregation?  For the minister?

It is a hard question to answer, but perhaps one with which we all need to wrestle.  It really is more than a night-time diversion.  It may be the most important thing we do!

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A Good Friday Reading

The people who heard me preach during Lent know that as a part of my Lenten discipline not only did I give up french fries, but I took on the challenge of participating in the Cooper River Bridge Run.  I am not a runner, nor do I play one on TV!  This was a major endeavor and one that the congregation seemed to enjoy.

There was another part that didn’t get near the publicity.  Each morning I added a reading to my morning routine from the wonderful little book Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.  It has been a wonderful addition to my day, often giving me something to ponder, something to store away, something that I wish I had said.

breadandwineIn the later category was a wonderful essay by Morton Kelsey entitled The Cross and the Cellar.  I am not preaching on Good Friday, but if I were, I think I might just “borrow” these words.  Something for us all to consider on this Good Friday.

Let us look at some of the people who brought Jesus of Nazareth to crucifixion.  They were not monsters, but ordinary men and women like you and me. 

Pilate was a coward who cared more about his comfortable position than he did about justice.  Whenever you and I are willing to sacrifice someone else for our own benefit, whenever we don’t have the courage to stand up for what we see is right, we step into the same course that Pilate took.

Caiaphas was a devout and sincerely religious man.  But his essential flaw was that he thought he had the whole truth.  He thought he had to protect God from this man.  Those who put their creeds above mercy and kindness and love, walk in his steps even today.

Judas wanted Jesus to call upon heavenly powers, take control of the situation, and throw the Romans out of Palestine.  When he failed to do this, Judas no longer wanted anything to do with him.  Judas’ fault was that he couldn’t wait.  When we can’t wait and want to push things through, when we think we can accomplish a noble end by human means, we are just like Judas.

These were the things that crucified Jesus on Friday in Passover week A.D. 29.  They were not wild viciousness or sadistic brutality or naked hate, but the civilized vices of cowardice, bigotry, impatience, timidity, falsehood, indifference – vices all of us share, the very vices which crucify human beings today.

This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves.  This confrontation often leads us to the pit.  The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory is possible if we strive on.

I so find myself in each of these individuals, which is why I really need to find myself at the foot of the cross to remember.

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