Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The First Five and Those Who Follow

I have a confession to make. As the new pastor of Memorial Baptist Church I must say, the church's conference room gives me the heebie-jeebies. It's not the paint or the furniture, and it's certainly not the people, our great staff and dedicated lay leaders. But I do have that uncomfortable feeling of being watched. You see, there on the walls hang the large portraits of my predecessors, five stately gentlemen who invested much of their lives and ministries in this fine church. It's a thoughtful and entirely appropriate way to remember their faithful service, yet it does give me pause.

During our first staff meeting I found myself wondering how those men felt on their first day as pastor of Memorial. Most sobering of all was the thought that some day in the distant future, my big smiling mug will be up there, too.

It seems to me that there are two groups of people who should always have our attention: those who we follow and those who follow us. May we never forget that someone went before us, some bold spirit blazed the trail, and what we have today is due to the hard work and sacrifice of others. We all have big shoes to fill.

But even more critical is our responsibility to those who come after us. Someone, someday, will inherit our efforts and move into whatever world we leave behind. Come to think of it, my picture is already hanging on the wall at First Baptist Church in Sedalia. Before long, another pastor will be putting his books on the shelf and his name on the church sign. I hope and pray that I have left a strong and sturdy foundation on which to build.

Those we follow and those who follow us - God bless them all.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed

I don't know who took this remarkable picture, but it captures for me the spirit of Memorial Day. The eagle descends to honor the fallen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beginning with the Basics

It feels a little different to me, sitting in a strange office that still seems like it must belong to someone else. I know it's mine now, but I haven't really moved in. All of my files and books and pictures and even my rhinos are still boxed up in my garage in Sedalia, waiting for the big moving day still about ten weeks away. So for now, it's just me and my Bible and my laptop.

And maybe that's a good thing for me, a healthy reminder to focus on the basics of being a pastor. What matters most is the call of God and the subsequent call of a congregation. Just reading about theories and approaches to ministry is no substitute for actually ministering to people. And, every other tool or resource in the church is secondary to the Word of God itself.

So, here I sit in a chair shaped like somebody else writing my first few words in a new chapter of life and faith. Can't wait to see how it turns out.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Only One Mother in the Whole World

"Most of all the other beautiful things in life come by twos and threes by dozens and hundreds. Plenty of roses, stars, sunsets, rainbows, brothers, and sisters, aunts and cousins, but only one mother in the whole world." -- Kate Douglas Wiggin

My mother married young, not quite sixteen, and gave birth to eight children in twelve years. I am her baby, the youngest child, born when Mom was twenty-eight years old. As we celebrate this Mother's Day, Eva Hill is eighty, and has 26 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren, and more to come.

Just a few thoughts in tribute to a truly remarkable lady.
  • I have always been loved.
  • I have always felt safe.
  • I have never known hunger.
  • I never noticed when we had less than others.
  • I never wondered who was in charge.
  • I was never made to feel like a burden or a problem or a pest.
  • I always knew that someone believed in me.
  • I was always taught that God's way was the best way.
These were just some of the wonderful gifts that my mother gave to me and to each of her eight children. God bless you, Mom. (I'll be over to sit with you in church this Sunday on Mother's Day. You better bring some mints or gum. You know how I get fidgety in church sometimes.)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"Disturb Us, Lord"

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land
We shall find stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push us in the future
In strength, courage, hope and love. Amen.

            - Sir Francis Drake, December 1577

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mr. Hill Goes to Washington

I've been pulling things together here in Sedalia, packing up my study, and preparing to head east to Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, DC. More than a few people have referenced the old Jimmy Stewart classic film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Do you remember the story? A junior senator from an unnamed western state arrives in the nation's capital flush with naive idealism and overwhelmed to think that he has been called upon to serve in the center of such power and prestige.

Some people are wondering if I might be in a similar situation. Can a small town pastor from the Midwest take his game to the big city? It started me thinking about the differences between my home for the past 14 years, and my new home in Arlington.What is unique and different and what is pretty much the same? A few comparisons:

Pettis County Courthouse or the U.S. Capitol? The Missouri State Fairgrounds or the National Mall? The Liberty Center or the Kennedy Center? Crown Hill Cemetery or Arlington National Cemetery? Muddy Creek or the Potomac? Whiteman Air Force Base or the Pentagon? State Fair Community College or Georgetown University? Bothwell Lodge or Mount Vernon? The differences are pretty dramatic, aren't they?

But, what's the same? How about people, to begin with. It seems to me that basic human needs are universal, and I'm not just talking about food, shelter, and clothing. Every person, young or old, rich or poor, wherever he hails from, whatever her accent or skin color or politics, desires to love and be loved, to find acceptance and a place to belong. We all need encouragement and the support of friends and family. And, each one of us has to face our own set of challenges and hardships and an unknown, unpredictable future. Crisis comes down every street. Loss is a part of life. And sometimes in the middle of life, people need a pastor.

Here's the other major constant - the Gospel itself. The Good News is good news for all people in all places, to the ends of the earth, to the end of time. This world is populated by sinners in need of a Savior, wandering prodigals trying to find their way home, empty people desperate to fill an aching void. Everyone, everywhere needs Jesus.

So, off I go as the Spirit leads, knowing that for all the differences, my calling remains the same.