Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Life in a Box, Part Two

Just a few more memories stirred as I look through my box, all the things my mother saved from my childhood. Here's the starting lineup, all ten of us, and that's me, front and center, looking very dapper in a tie and blazer. Mom seems to doubt my ability to keep my cup from spilling, but so far, so good.

Then I found this little piece of art work. In fact, I remember very clearly coloring and cutting and pasting this little man and the mail box. But, who the heck is Nancy? I have no idea what I was thinking, but I must had a big crush on some little girl named Nancy. Now here I sit, more than forty years later, just wondering. Somewhere out there, Nancy may be a concert pianist or a biology teacher or a brilliant surgeon. Or, my mysterious Nancy may have become a welfare mother or a construction worker or a high priced escort. Who knows? But her name is still on my little crayon mailbox.

So, Nancy, if you are out there, stop by and say "Hi" sometime. Until then, I'll live with the mystery.

One more childhood moment to share. I was nine years old when this last picture was taken and printed in the our local paper, the Windsor Review. I am second from the right in a striped sweater and proudly holding a Punt, Pass, and Kick trophy, first place, age nine.

I will never forget the afternoon when I brought home my trophy from school. My mother was the only one at home that day. I had told her that I thought I had done well, but we had not been given the final results on the day of the competition. So when I walked in the house with the first place trophy, my mom celebrated with me like I was Michael Phelps fresh out of the Olympic pool. She made me feel like a champion. Next stop - the Super Bowl!

Back to the picture. The little guy on my left is Howie. He became an all-state running back and then a banker and a salesman. On my right is my friend Steve, who as a man was convicted of murdering his wife and is serving a life sentence without parole. I grew up with Steve and I will never believe he could commit such a horrific crime.

No matter how life begins for us, there are no guarantees about where the journey ends. Our destination will be the sum of the choices we make, plus the things we can control, minus the things we cannot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Very First First Baptist Church

Sometimes it's embarrassing to be a Baptist. Being independent and congregational, just about any church or individual can call themselves a Baptist, even the guy in Arkansas a few years ago who kept his deceased mother in his freezer and held special services attempting to raise her from the dead. No luck.

With all the changes in Southern Baptist life in the past twenty-five years, being a Baptist pastor brings to mind a pretty negative stereotype for many people today. Can't say I blame them either. For many, the word 'Baptist' is a synonym for intolerance, sexism, and a narrow right wing political agenda.

People often ask me about why I am a Baptist or why I'm still a Baptist or why I ever became a Baptist. I have to remind them that being a Baptist has not always meant what it has appeared to mean in these recent years, and I stubbornly refuse to turn loose of the biblical values and timeless truths that Baptists have believed and practiced from the early days.

Bill Webb, editor of Word & Way, has written a fine piece describing his visit to the historic First Baptist Church of America and what a worthy and significant contribution Baptists have made to our national life and to the work of the Kingdom. If you are an occasionally embarrassed Baptist like myself, it will make you proud once again. If, on the other hand, you believe that the recent changes in the SBC have been a positive thing, you might just be surprised by what you read. I love the words on the church's sign. "We reserve the right to accept everybody." That sounds like the Gospel to me. That must make God smile.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Life in a Box, Part One

Like many parents, my mother has always collected special memorabilia for each of her eight children. She kept it all tucked away in an old file cabinet, overstuffed with baby books, grade cards, school pictures, various ribbons and clippings, and lots of really bad artwork. Mom's plan was to eventually turn each enormous file into a beautiful scrap book for each of us. And, bless her heart, she did make it through the first two kids before she went to K-Mart and bought six big plastic boxes and dumped a file of her precious treasures in each box. (Make your own beautiful scrap book!) A few weeks ago Mom gave me my box which I had never seen or gone through before.

Needless to say, it has been intriguing to work my way back through my childhood and relive some of those magic moments in my own story. And, if you don't mind, I would like to share a few of my thoughts and reflections from my life in a box.

First off, I was amazed to find a baby book with lots of stuff filled out and cards and notes glued in place. Suzanne and I have three children and I know we have a lot more pictures and things from Sam's birth than we do for the other two. It's not that we didn't love them as much. It's just that the novelty of being a parent begins to wear thin pretty quickly.

So for my folks, I figured by the time you get to your eighth child, everything is just old hat. "How was your day, Hon?" "Fine, dear. I had that baby we've been expecting for awhile, so we'll need to come up with a name pretty soon." "Oh yeah, I almost forgot about that. Everything go alright?" "Sure. No problem. I wasn't there an hour. In and out." "That's great, Hon. You're a real trooper. Boy or girl?" "Oh gosh, I didn't even notice. Oh, well the blanket was blue. Must be a boy." "Another boy? Well, just put him in the big bedroom with the other four. Do you ever wonder, Hon, if it's time we drew the line?" "Hey . . . 'Drew'. I like that name."

But no, not my mom. She had her eighth child (less than twelve years, first to last) and she still filled in my baby book, complete with our hospital wristbands, my footprints, a list of all my visitors, and even the weather report on the day of my birth - gray, overcast, and rainy. (Maybe I brightened things up a little bit.)

Yes, I was surprised and touched to open my baby book, but I don't know why. I really should have expected to find it just as it is. Why? Because my mom and dad never made me feel like an extra, like just another kid, one more mouth to feed, just another rug rat jumping on the bed. No, I have always felt that one-of-a-kind specialness that comes from being loved and accepted and cherished as a blessing from God. Is there a greater gift that we can give to our children?

There are lots of loose pictures in the bottom of my box, random shots tossed in the file from time to time. I found one picture of me when I was just six months old, and it proves a theory I have developed through my years as a pastor. I have heard countless proud moms and dads brag on their babies and debate who their newborn really looks like, favoring mom or dad or Uncle Richard or Aunt Joan. Here's my theory: for the first year of life, every baby looks like Winston Churchill. Then, gratefully, they start to have some distinct family resemblance.

I present, in support of my theory, my own baby picture at the age of six months. You see, if I had an overcoat and a cigar, I could pass for the prime minister, couldn't I? It happens all the time.

Thanks for letting me share my life in a box. Drop by soon for part two.

Monday, October 13, 2008

One Hundred Heads Are Better Than One

Got questions? Ever have trouble figuring out how life and faith are supposed to work? Do you wish you could find some practical help as you put it all together? Well, I've recently come across a great resource, Here's your chance to ask your questions to a large, growing network of Christian writers from all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives. And, yes, I am one of those writers that will take your questions. It doesn't matter whether you are doing in depth research or just puzzling over some life experience, ask away and see what insights and ideas others can offer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Just Another Day in Deep Space, Part Two

"When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" - Psalm 8:3-4

"He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit." - Psalm 147:4-5

"Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above. . . . Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him , you highest heavens . . . for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever." - Psalm 148:1-6

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Monday Morning Prayer

"Our Father, we are beginning to understand at last that the things that are wrong with our world are the sum total of all the things that are wrong with us as individuals. Thou hast made us after thine image, and our hearts can find no rest until they rest in Thee.

"We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it. Thy help is our only hope. Make us want to do what is right, and give us the ability to do it. In the name of Christ our Lord. Amen."

- Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate (1947-1949).