Monthly Archives: December 2009

Fifty the New Thirty!

On December 22, 2009, I crossed the threshold of the ripe old age of fifty years old. My daughter Madison, who is fifteen going on twenty-five is mortified her father was born in the Fifties! In my defense, I spent only nine days in the Fifties and most of those were in the hospital!

I have received my fair share of well meaning wishes, and practical jokes these past few days. My “former” youth minister read a satirical poem at the close of our church services last week noting that I entered the world when Alaska and Hawaii joined the United States of America! I am still trying to let that sink in. In my front yard is a sign celebrating my birthday complete with “black balloons.”

Many of those who cross this threshold before me had shared words of encouragement to me like “fifty is the new thirty” or maybe the new “forty.” Who are we trying to kid?  Fifty is fifty. I am getting older. I  have already received my AARP card in the mail, but who gets to retire at fifty years old any more. I suspect I will have to work until I am at least seventy—that is if I can find a church willing to have an older pastor in the cult of the young.

In Numbers 8, the Levites were commanded to actively serve from twenty-five to fifty, but at the ripe old age of fifty a change was called for.

“This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.” Num 8:24-26 (NIV)

This transition implies the “older” leader was to pass the mantle on to the next generation of leaders who would claim the next day. I wonder if this principle still holds true today for those of us who have served our time on the front lines?

In the recent past many pastors left the “active” pastorate to serve the LORD in a number of different ways in religious life. Among Baptists, these effective pastors became denominational leaders and consultants, Directors of Missions, college and seminary professors, or other forms of investing ministry that had less of the day to day grind of the pastorate. However, most of these traditional paths no longer exist or have lost their savor. My generation will have to blaze a new path, but what path will we take? Better yet, what path will I take?

This change in the landscape of ministry also coincides with a looming pastor shortage especially among traditional smaller churches across the land. Young men and women no longer have a sense of calling to the traditions of the past and are venturing out in new ministry forms and structures leaving the local traditional church in the lurch looking for leadership. Sadly many of the leaders who are willing are not really able to be effective pastors and think ministry is an easy escape or life. True effective leaders ready for the rigors of communal life are few and far between.

This year I am completing thirty years of active ministry, and twenty-seven years of being a full-time, on-call, pastor. Last week I met a former pastor who had completed twenty-five years of being a pastor and who was thrilled to be an auto mechanic!  He joked he would never had to attend another deacons meeting or conduct another business meeting. Burn-out is a real challenge for the veteran pastor. The day to day grind of useful ministry takes its toll on the pastor and his wife. I fear I have hit the wall from time to time in recent years.

As I venture into the new world before me, its my prayer that I will have the passion of Joshua and Caleb and that God will allow me to inspire a new generation of leaders by finishing well. I realize now whether I continue to be a pastor or take another form of meaningful ministry I need to pour myself into the next generation. The challenges of tomorrow will demand the best of all of us, I pray I will continue to grow so I can be up to the challenge of speaking into a new day.

As I enter my fifties, I believe the best days are yet to come. I like what Robert Browning wrote:

Grow old with me!  The best is yet to be.

I am especially challenged by the words of John Barrymore who wrote:

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.

It’s my prayer, that I will always be a dreamer!

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Wright Moves

As I prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I must admit there is heaviness in my heart. My dear friend and mentor Bill Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Plains, is living out his last days among us. As many of my readers are aware, Bill was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago. With his indomitable spirit Bill took on cancer like David took on Goliath. The doctors used experimental drugs to destroy the cancer, but the cancer continues its death march.

A few days ago, Bill received the news that his days had a small diminishing number. As we all know our days are numbered, but when the number is less than one hundred eighty days it gets our attention. So if you had six months to live what would you do? Would you pull out your “bucket list” and busily get to work finally living.

I doubt Bill had a “bucket list,” but if he did I suspect the list is marked off from A to Z. Bill lived and loved with a gusto that inspired me to be more than I thought I could be. I realize I would not be the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas if it was not for the fact that Bill believed in me, and was willing to stick his neck out for a young, naïve leader.  Many have wondered how we became lifelong friends. The journey will take you back to a hospital hallway as we waited together with a young couple whose little girl was in surgery again. Little Shelly had countless surgeries from birth. She was born under Bill’s watchful care, and she came into my life when her parents moved to Flower Mound and join my little mission church. It was our love for people that brought us together, and I suspect it has been this same love that has kept us together.  In fact, Bill and I stood over the grave of Shelly’s father Rusty, and I stood at the front of the sanctuary when Bill escorted Shelly down the aisle in her wheelchair when she got married.

In many ways, Bill is everything I hope to be when I grow up. He lives with abandonment. He says what he thinks. He is not calculating or manipulative. Bill is real. Bill is Bill. He is not what you want him to be. Bill is who you need him to be. Too often, I test the wind before decisions. Too often my fears color and hide my faith. I needed a push onto the stage, and Bill gave me a gentle firm shove.

When Bill and I started this adventure of calling for change in the BGCT many questioned our sanity. They wondered how two so unlikely friends ever got together. I remember vividly when I was being strongly encouraged to accept an offer to be vice president one year, so I could be president the next without opposition, that I was asked, “Exactly how many people approached you about being president?” I answered, “You mean besides Bill Wright?” The answer was “yes.” I replied, “No one.” Yes, only two crazy West Texas pastors came up with this plan. Talk about two Texas Baptists that needed to be “committed” in a place complete with padded walls. Like Bill said, “if you can’t vote for David, vote for Joy!” (My only instructions to him about the nomination speech were “please don’t cuss!”)

I want to let you in on a secret, Bill had a covert motive. Bill wanted to get back to the hallways at the annual meetings. This is where Bill shined as he held court with a laughing circle of young pastors. Bill made disciples just like Jesus. He lived out his faith in such a way that young men wanted to follow him, and wanted to be just like him. So my mission was to put our core values of evangelism, Christian education, and caring back on the front page, and then get back to the hallway as quickly as I could.

In Bill’s world, Baptists were at their best when we were out in the hallway together laughing, loving, and caring for each other. Don’t get me wrong, Bill was about making first things first, but the annual meeting was supposed to be a family reunion, a reprieve from the front lines. It was R & R for the warrior, it was not the battle. Bill knew who the real enemy was and it was not a brother or sister wearing a label attached to them by others. Besides, labels like moderate and fundamentalist don’t make for good relationships. First names are a much better starting place.

Even though Bill’s days may be numbered, I am so thankful Bill has an amazing way of making every day count by loving like he does.

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Courage in Face of Opposition

Recently I read an op-ed piece written by Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari. The article was entitled “How to Mend Fences With Pakistan.” Zardari pointed out in the article many of struggles between the Pakistan people and the United States. From his perspective, the U.S. has used Pakistan as a pawn in its international struggles with superpowers like the former Soviet Union, or in its current war on terror.

To be frank, I learned a great deal from the article. It helped me to put together some of the pieces about the struggles in the Middle East. However, it was a quote in the latter part of the article that captured my imagination, especially in light of the fact that this morning I began reading Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve.

Zardari wrote:

“In recent days, I have thought often of something my wife, Benazir, wrote in the days before her death: ‘It is so much easier to blame others for our problems than to take responsibility ourselves.’ Benazir added that conspiracy theories and ‘toxic rhetoric’ were ‘an opiate that keeps Muslims angry against external enemies and allows them to pay little attention to the internal causes of intellectual and economic decline.”

Zardari’s wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated for thinking like a leader, calling for her nation and her people to take a hard look in the mirror and to accept responsibility for its future and its current plight.

Friedman wrote for leaders ready for “adventure” rather than “safety”, and for those daring few who chose “progress” over “peace.”  However, with a note of caution and warning, he points out that people often seek to “sabotage” such leaders. He wrote:

“For, whether we are considering a family, a work system, or an entire nation, the resistance that sabotages a leader’s initiative usually has less to do with the ‘issue’ that ensues than with the fact that the leader took initiative.”

Benazir Bhutto found herself in the crosshairs of opposition, when she stood up to lead for meaning and real change.

Jesus challenged a crowd to be world-changers warning:

22 Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. Luke 6:22-23 (NIV)

Jesus knew all too well that real leaders for positive change must move from an inner conviction of truth and right and cannot be motivated or manipulated by the pull of the crowds. Sadly, we long for leaders we can control, not leaders who lead from inner strength, and a higher sense of right.

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HPU Chapel: Twas the Night Before Finals

Brownwood: This week I had the opportunity to speak in chapel at Howard Payne University in Brownwood.  My daughter Kalie is the Media Director for the university and I have the honor of being on the board of trustees. At this last chapel of the year before finals, historically Dr. Newbury has been the key note speaker. Unfortunately he was not able to be there, so I had the honor of stepping into his big shoes. Dr. Newbury has a way of making you laugh and teaching you at the same time, so I attempted to follow in his steps. Below is my attempt a college humor. This poem is like most sermons, it is some of mine and some of others I uncovered on the internet. I want to give credit to fellow bloggers Andrew Hund, Comedy Bytes, and a young coed named Shannon.

Twas the night before finals

When all through the college

All the students were praying

For last minute knowledge

Note: there is no use in praying for divine intervention

If in class you paid no attention!

Most freshmen were quite sleepy,

But none went to bed

Because of the nightmares of finals

Dancing in their heads

There was a study party at Skillets for the Greeks

And a study group with Tristen Summers for the Geeks

The sophomores were in their dorm rooms studying like mad

While the juniors came up with creative excuses for mom and dad

Meanwhile the seniors were out on the town

They knew better than to let a little exam get them down

Besides armed with coffee and twelve hour energy drinks

All things were possible with graduation on the brink

At last it was “dead” day

So what can I say

My future depends on the grades I make

Please Buzzsaw, oh I mean, Dr. Ellis pass the pancakes

At the last minute I stared blankly at my notes

My thoughts were quite blurry and confused

My only memory from Dr. Gramling were his lame jokes

And neither then nor now was I amused

I had nearly given up when to my surprise

I began to hear strange noises outside

When my door flung open wide

And the Patron Saint of Procrastination ambled inside

(Speaking of poor jokes let me take a test: What would you call our nation if everyone drove a red car! —A Red Car Nation. Please note it rhymes with procrastination!)

His spirit was careless

His manner quite mellow

When all of a sudden he started to bellow

“On Cliff notes, On Crib notes! On Last year’s exams.

On wingit, and slingit, and last minute crams!”

His message delivered, he vanished from sight

But I heard him laughing outside in the night.

“Your professors are out to get you, so just do your best.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all good luck on the test!

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