A Happy Wi-Fi New Year

“Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you;
Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” (Isaiah 26:8, NIV)

Among the many wonderful gifts that I received this holiday season was a “Wi-Fi Repeater and Range Extender.” Now for those of you who might be unfamiliar with this particular technological doo-dad, let me assure you that it performs a very helpful function. In a place where a wireless internet signal is somewhat weak (like my house), the “Wi-Fi Repeater and Range Extender” repeats and extends the range of that signal (Well, duh!)…so that internet users (like a pastor and his family) can surf the web, send email, and download silly games that allow them to avoid doing the things they probably ought to be doing.

While I suppose it could be argued that we’ve reached a very sad day indeed when someone feels a need to take something that is already unbelievably fast and convenient (especially when compared to the technology that was available just a few years ago) and make it even more so…I also think we could learn something from this useful little device. Because you see, I think that we are meant to be “Wi-Fi Repeaters and Range Extenders.” Or put a little more accurately, we are meant to be “God-Fi Repeaters and Ranger Extenders.”

Regardless of whether we are “connected” to it or not, God is always sending out a signal. It’s a signal of love and grace and hope. It’s a signal that brings blessing to the least of these. It’s a signal that overcomes even the deepest prejudices and divisions, by “reconciling them to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16). But sometimes, God’s signal doesn’t get through very well. Sometimes it gets blocked by hearts that have become callous to the needs of others. Sometimes it gets garbled by spirits that are distracted by other concerns. Sometimes God’s signal needs to be repeated and extended so that others can not only hear about but experience the freedom that it brings.

What would it look like for you to be a “repeater and range extender” of God’s kingdom signal in the year ahead? What would it require of us as a church to be an “amplifier” of the love and grace and hope that our Heavenly Father longs for all His children to experience? Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah said, “Lord…Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” What might happen right here at Calvary Baptist if we could make that same statement and mean it with every fiber of our being?

As we journey through this New Year, I’ll be inviting our church family to give some attention to those questions. We’ll be trying to discern what God is saying to us – and what He’s inviting us to do – as we follow faithfully in the steps of our Savior Jesus. I hope you’ll respond to those invitations when they arrive. But even now, I hope that you’ll be looking for that signal. What is God saying to you? What part of His kingdom promise needs to be “repeated and extended” more faithfully in your life and in the life of our church family?

May God make this a truly Happy New Year – as we expand the embrace of His kingdom together.

Portion Control

[This is actually a re-posting of an earlier reflection that for reasons unknown failed to show up on my Facebook page. While I don’t think the reflection was particularly brilliant, I did want to share it before memories of Thanksgiving got pushed aside by the approaching Christmas holiday.]

Today is “Thanksgiving Eve,” and after wrapping up a few things in the office, I’ll be taking a couple days off to celebrate. There’s no question that I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. God has blessed me with a wonderful family. I have the privilege of serving a fantastic congregation. For a guy who’s slowly closing in on the “Big 5-0″ I’m in reasonably good health. And I won’t even begin to enumerate the spiritual blessings that continue to keep me grounded, challenge me and give me hope.

I must say, however, that this year (as in recent years) I’ve struggled a bit to discern how I could most appropriately celebrate a holiday like Thanksgiving (and – for that matter – the Christmas season beyond). I’m certainly not knocking “feasting and merriment.” After all, Jesus was known to frequent parties, and it seems like several of the proscribed Old Testament festivals had whole-hearted jubilation at their center. But I guess I’ve come to have a certain degree of discomfort with the sense of “excess” that sometimes pervades this season. At first glance, our annual celebration of gratitude seems to have drifted from its moorings to the extent that it is less about thanks and more about too-much-food followed by too-much-football followed by too-much-shopping. As a picture on a friend’s Facebook page described this upcoming holiday weekend: “Black Friday: Because only in America would people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.

My devotional reading for this week has included daily meditation on Psalm 16. Among the beautiful reflections of this text are the following words: “Lord, you alone are my portion.” What might it look like for me (and for all of us) to live through the coming days as though that sentiment is true for us?

Friends, may your Thanksgiving be filled with true gratitude; and amid the feasting and celebration, may you discover that God alone is your portion – and that He is enough.

A Special Note Concerning Recent Events in the Local Baptist Association

Dear Members of Calvary Baptist in Mount Airy,

As many of you have heard, messengers of the Surry Baptist Association voted in their most recent meeting to withdraw fellowship from the Flat Rock Baptist Church. The reason for this action was Flat Rock’s recent decision to call a woman as their pastor – a move which the messengers ”present and voting felt placed the church outside the boundaries of appropriate biblical leadership.

Because of the significance of this decision, a little context might be appropriate. When association leaders learned of Flat Rock’s decision to call a woman as pastor, they requested a meeting with the church – apparently in an effort to dissuade them from this course. The members of Flat Rock declined this request, feeling that it was the church’s place to discern the directions in which God was leading them. Of course, associational leaders felt a similar duty to discern the directions in which God was leading Surry Baptists, and this is why they brought the motion to withdraw fellowship. It is worth noting, however, that this motion was made without giving any advance notice to Flat Rock Baptist …without giving any advance notice to the churches of the association…and with only 5 minutes allotted for discussion.

I think it’s fair to say that the issues involved here are numerous and complex. Examining the role of women in ministry forces us to consider the ways we think about scripture, church, and God’s call (to name a few)…along with our interpretations of many specific biblical passages. Because of this, I doubt that all of us in this church (and certainly not all of us in the churches of the Surry Association) are likely to see eye-to-eye on all the matters that are involved.

For my part, I am affirming of women in ministry—including pastoral ministry—and I am led to this conclusion by what I feel to be the weight of biblical evidence. I do not share this with you, however, in the hope that you’ll adopt my position. If anyone wishes to chat about the biblical and theological particulars, I’m happy to do so. But when it comes to our shared life as brothers and sisters in Christ, I think that our goal should be to live by the maxim (attributed to St. Augustine): “In essentials, unity…in non-essentials, liberty…in all things, charity.” (Of course, the very fact that I’d quote this line reveals that I consider the issue of ‘women in ministry’ to be a ‘non-essential’…and that, in itself, is something about which we could disagree.)

I also do not share any of this information with you in the hope that our church will take some action related to our relationship with the Surry Baptist Association. The last thing I’d want is for a “non-essential issue” to distract Calvary Baptist from our core mission of “glorifying God by being a Christ-centered, caring church through worship, discipleship, missions and ministry.” What’s more, because I feel like it’s appropriate for Christians to “agree to disagree” on certain issues, I have no problem whatsoever in partnering with individuals and churches whose views differ from mine. Finally, since I think that it’s often better to “stop to pray” rather than “rush to act” (see my previous post: Don’t Just Do Something. Stand There.), the only action that I could possibly recommend at this time would be that of prayer and dialogue, conducted in a loving spirit that seeks understanding.

But I will ask you to pray. The question of “women in ministry” might be for you a minor issue or a major one, but I would hope that the way brothers and sisters in Christ treat each other ranks up there as being fairly significant. And while I affirm the right and the responsibility of the Surry Baptist Association to take the actions that it deems to be appropriate, I am disappointed by the way that our brothers and sisters at Flat Rock have been treated in this situation.

The work of the local association is important. The mission of God’s kingdom is too big for any one church to handle on its own, and so we need the partnership of other local congregations. I’m grateful for all the good things the Surry Association is doing, and I’m grateful for Calvary’s long history of fruitful cooperation with the Surry Association. I look forward to this relationship continuing to bear fruit for God’s glory as we discern His will together.